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The Untold Story of Michael Oher’s Conservatorship in Tennessee

The Untold Story of Michael Oher’s Conservatorship in Tennessee

Did Michael Oher need a conservatorship? The real question behind the recent news that Oher requested (and has been granted) a termination of his conservatorship is whether or not he needed one in the first place.

Today we’ll go over the necessary criteria for a conservatorship, and what information courts need in order to grant one. We’ll cover the usual processes for putting a conservatorship in place, and look at how Oher’s conservatorship was different, based on public records available. 

Who is Michael Oher?

Michael Oher’s football success began long before his rise to fame. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Oher grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood. Through the guidance of the adults in his life, he was able to show his football skills to the right people and become a successful NFL player. This eventually led to the publication of The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis, which was adapted into the movie “The Blind Side”.

Understanding Michael Oher’s early years is crucial to grasp the circumstances that led to his conservatorship.

Growing up in a disadvantaged environment, Oher faced numerous challenges. However, he was not without adult guidance. He moved in with the Tuohy family before his senior year of high school with the understanding that they were adopting him.

Recent news articles have made it clear that the adoption didn’t happen. Michael Oher was not adopted, even though he could have been; the state of Tennessee has laws  in place that permit adult adoption, which 18-year-old Oher would have been eligible for.

Instead, Michael Oher was placed into a conservatorship run by the Tuohys.

A Quick Look at Conservatorship

There are a few finer points to conservatorship in Tennessee that are important to know.

The Purpose of Conservatorship

Conservatorship is a legal arrangement where an appointed conservator assumes the responsibility of managing the personal and/or financial affairs of an individual who is unable to do so themselves.

This legal process exists to protect vulnerable individuals, ensuring their well-being and safeguarding their interests. There have been ongoing updates to conservatorship law in Tennessee in order to guarantee that a conservatorship is in the best interests of the individual.

The conservator’s job is to manage the personal and/or financial affairs of the individual under conservatorship because they cannot perform those duties themselves. Most commonly, conservatorships are a way for adult children to take care of aging parents when they can no longer take care of themselves.

The Conservator’s Role

A conservator is tasked with making important decisions related to the individual’s well-being, which could include medical care, housing, and financial management. Their responsibilities extend to ensuring the individual’s safety, providing necessary support, and advocating for their best interests.

With the authority granted by the court, the conservator has the power to make significant decisions on behalf of the individual under conservatorship. This often includes medical decisions, which means that taking on a conservatorship requires careful consideration of the individual’s needs and preferences while adhering to legal and ethical guidelines.

Michael Oher’s Conservatorship

Since the court granted a conservatorship over Oher in 2004, the Tuohy’s have been responsible for his important decisions for the past two decades, despite Oher being a legal adult. Now he’s filed a petition to end the conservatorship, which places the motivations and processes behind the original decision under heavy scrutiny.

The big question: did the Tuohys place Oher under conservatorship to protect his best interests, or did they use it to take advantage of him? Could the guidance they provided him have been given without a conservatorship?

Initiation of Conservatorship

In order to be granted a conservatorship in Tennessee, one of two criteria must be met:

One, there has to be an emergency situation, or two, the person under conservatorship has to live with a medically evaluated disability that affects their ability to take care of themselves.

There was no emergency, urgent or otherwise, when Oher was placed under conservatorship, and there was no qualifying disability. In fact, Oher’s order specifically states that he doesn’t have a disability, which raises more questions than it answers.

Without either of those criteria being met, it seems odd that the Court found a conservatorship to be in his best interest. In addition, there was only one court hearing to review the conservatorship, and it did not involve the input of any medical experts. 

They also waived the guardian ad litem, which is unusual. The guardian ad litem is an attorney appointed by the court to make a recommendation following an investigation into whether someone needs a conservatorship. They’re the safeguard on behalf of the individual, and the guardian ad litem is hardly ever waived. In the cases where it is waived, it’s typically because the person filing for conservatorship is a biological parent of a disabled adult child who has been cared for by their parents their whole life. 

The fact that the guardian ad litem was waived means that there was one less person to look out for Oher’s best interests.

Problems with Oher’s Conservatorship

The main problem with Oher’s conservatorship is that he didn’t know he was under one. He’d been told it was an adoption equivalent, which it was not. When he discovered this in 2023, he started to take steps to end the conservatorship.

While it’s important for young adults to have the guidance of trusted adults, there appears to be no logical reason why Oher couldn’t have made his own medical and financial decisions, which is why this conservatorship is under so much scrutiny. Oher alleges that the Tuohy family has made money from the selling of Oher’s image and life story, which raises questions about the intention of the conservatorship.

The level of guidance and support that Oher received from the Tuohys was not a result of conservatorship. Adult adoption and even just mentoring are two common ways to provide the same level of guidance and support provided by the Tuohys without  legal oversight by the courts. 

Conservatorships are Intended to Improve Quality of Life

The purpose of conservatorship in the state of Tennessee is to improve the quality of life for the person under conservatorship. Since the time that Michael Oher’s conservatorship was granted, there have been some changes to the process of obtaining a conservatorship, but it is generally the same as in 2004 when Oher’s conservatorship was granted. 

Today, a judge has to find that conservatorship is the least restrictive alternative for the individual. If the individual has the ability to understand and sign a power of attorney that would fulfill the same intentions of those filing for conservatorship, the conservatorship is unlikely to be granted.

Get Help Understanding Conservatorship Today

Though there are plenty of questions surrounding Michael Oher’s conservatorship, there are laws in place to prevent a situation like this from happening.

Used properly, a conservatorship can be a helpful legal process to improve the quality of life and care for your loved ones. If you want to discuss whether conservatorship may be right for your situation, Graceful Aging Legal Services is here to help. Schedule a call with us today to start the conversation about what’s best for your loved ones.

Navigating the Complexities of Conservatorship: A Comprehensive Guide

Navigating the Complexities of Conservatorship: A Comprehensive Guide

Conservatorship is a legal status granted by a court to a person to manage financial and/or personal affairs for another person. Conservatorships are typically used to give a family member or close friend the legal authority to make legal decisions on behalf of someone with a disability. This may include a special needs adult child, a person living with dementia, or other medical conditions that impact day-to-day life., etc. The person granted the conservatorship is known as the conservator, and the person whose affairs are managed is called the conservatee. (You may also see them referred to as the “ward” or “respondent” in a legal context.) 

Conservators are appointed for many reasons, including a variety of medical conditions, inability to recognize fraud, or if a power of attorney document is invalidated or abused. With great ability comes great accountability, so it’s important that conservators carefully adhere to their legal obligations. Conservatorship is overseen by the courts, so transparency and accountability are vital. A conservator can hold extensive legal power concerning the conservatee’s financial and personal life. 

Types of Conservatorship

There are multiple options for establishing a conservatorship, and each one impacts what that conservator or conservatee is responsible for and capable of doing after a conservatorship is granted. The semi-recent dispute between Britney Spears and her father brought to light everything that can go wrong in a conservatorship. If you wondered about what type of legal proceeding Britney was involved in, below is a list of different types of conservatorship. At one point or another, Britney was involved in each of them under the California case. 

Here’s what the equivalent cases look like in Tennessee: 

  • Conservatorship over the Person: In a conservatorship over the person, the conservator has complete control over the conservatee’s health and physical life, including healthcare and living arrangements. This includes deciding what treatments the conservatee undergoes, whether they’re placed in a care community, etc.
  • Conservatorship over the Property: In a conservatorship over the property, the conservator has complete control of the conservatee’s financials, including bill payment, day-to-day cash flow, and management of all financial accounts. When this type of conservatorship is granted, the conservatee only has access to their financial accounts with authorization from the court.
  • General Conservatorship: A general conservatorship is comprehensive, giving the conservator complete control of the conservatee’s person, property,  and all other significant life decisions. This is the type of conservatorship that is appropriate for most families. 
  • Traditional Conservatorship: Traditional  conservatorships are expected to last for the lifetime of the conservatee. Terminating a traditional conservatorship can occur if a conservatee can legally prove they no longer need assistance. In fact, the conservator has a duty to notify the Court if assistance is no longer needed under the requirement that a conservatorship should be the “least restrictive alternative” able to protect and provide for the conservatee. 
  • Emergency Conservatorship: An emergency  conservatorship is limited to a time period of 60 days for the purpose of addressing urgent or specific needs of the conservatee during a short period, for example if someone had immediate injuries from an accident but was expected to recover. It is not unusual for these types of conservatorships to be used while the urgent matter is resolved and then converted into a traditional conservatorship. 

Establishing a Conservatorship

The first step involves discussing your situation with an attorney who practices probate law in your area. Based on your understanding of your loved one’s condition, the attorney will be able to discuss your options. If they recommend that a conservatorship is appropriate, they will then walk you through which type of conservatorship would be best and next steps. 

 Once you hire an attorney, the next steps usually involve obtaining medical proof of the need for a conservatorship, known in Tennessee as a “Report of Physician.” The more medical and financial information you can provide about the intended conservatee, the easier this will make your case (and less expensive!). 

The process for petitioning the court for conservatorship can vary depending on the state. An experienced attorney will help you navigate through the complexities of this procedure, providing insight and clarity about legal proceedings.

The Role of the Conservator

Being a conservator requires responsibilities for the well-being of the person under conservatorship. Because most conservators manage both the person and property of the conservatee, this means handling bill payments, making investment decisions, applying for eligible benefits, making healthcare choices, and ensuring their welfare. The conservator’s duty is to act in the best interest of the individual under their care by considering the conservatee’s needs and as well as their preferences when making decisions.

Conservators are expected to adhere to specific guidelines and regulations set by local laws and courts. In Tennessee, conservators are required to file regular updates on the financial and medical status of the conservatee.  They also must seek court approval for certain matters, like selling valuables or making big ticket purchases (usually over $500.00).  It is essential to maintain records of all transactions concerning the assets and finances of the person under conservatorship.

These duties add a layer of transparency, protection, and accountability, and alert the court to set a conservatorship for review hearing when there are concerns or significant changes to the situation.

To effectively provide support and assistance, conservators must have an understanding of the physical well-being of the individual under conservatorship. Professional evaluations will be helpful in identifying any healthcare needs. When making decisions on behalf of the conservatee, conservators should consider the stated values, preferences, and wishes of the conservatee, but may ultimately have to make a decision that the conservatee is unhappy with. 

Understanding the Conservatee

A thorough understanding of the conservatee’s mental and physical health is vital to help determine the level of support and assistance needed. Maintaining an open line of communication with medical providers will help identify specific healthcare needs. If a conservatee has existing healthcare providers, such as a primary care physician, the conservator should begin working with those providers so long as they can work together in the best interest of the conservatee. 

Whenever possible, involving the conservatee in decision-making throughout the process can help ensure their dignity and autonomy are respected. In the same way that a ghostwriter is expected to write as the client wishes, a conservator is expected to make decisions that align most with what the conservatee wants and needs. It’s not about the conservator, after all – it’s about ensuring that the conservatee is well cared for. 

The Conservatorship Process

To become a conservator in Tennessee, you must first file a petition with the court that handles probate matters in the county where the proposed conservatee lives. This is done through the court clerk. In most Tennessee counties, conservatorships are heard in Chancery Court, although they may also be heard in Circuit Court or General Sessions Court. 

Most local rules will require you to work with an attorney to file a conservatorship.  Choose an attorney who has experience handling conservatorship matters, who understands your goals, and who is a good personality fit for you. Once the conservatorship is set up, you will continue working with your attorney until the conservatorship is terminated, so it’s good to find someone who you can work with for the long term. Your attorney will collect information about you, your family, and the proposed conservatee in order to prepare the petition. If you have knowledge about the conservatee’s medical and financial situation, you will want to provide that information to your attorney as soon as possible. The court reviews the petition and appoints a Guardian ad litem (or “guardian for the case”)  to investigate the facts laid out in the petition. At this point, they will usually set the hearing on the petition for about 45-60 days after the petition is filed. 

The Guardian ad litem acts as the “eyes and ears of the Court.” They will interview you, speak with the proposed conservatee, review medical and financial records, and talk to other people who may have information about the situation, such as relatives or neighbors.  Their job is to answer two questions. One, does the proposed conservatee need a conservatorship?  Two, if a conservatorship is needed, who should serve as the conservator?  The Guardian ad litem will make a written report to the Court on these two questions and may also make other recommendations, such as how much an insurance bond should be set for, whether property should be sold, or other matters relating to the appointment of a conservator. 

During court hearings, the judge considers all relevant evidence. Judges are only allowed to consider evidence that is considered “admissible,” so your attorney may ask you to help gather certain records depending on what challenges they expect.  Remember that the proposed conservatee has certain rights under due process, and may have an attorney appointed for them to challenge the conservatorship if they do not think it is needed.  Other family members may also get involved. This is why it is so important to work with your attorney to anticipate and prepare for the hearing. 

If the court determines a conservatorship is in the conservatee’s best interest, the judge will enter an Order appointing a conservator. At that point, the conservator assumes the responsibilities and duties outlined by the court and carries them out. Again, they do this keeping in mind the best interest and preferences of the conservatee – even if this means going against what they would personally choose to do in a similar situation. 

Managing Finances and Assets

Conservators are responsible for managing the conservatee’s finances and assets. Financial management includes:

  • Creating a budget that aligns with the conservatee’s needs and resources.
  • Ensuring all necessary expenses are covered.
  • Making financial decisions to preserve and grow the conservatee’s assets, including investment decisions.

Ensuring the Well-being of the Conservatee

Conservators play a role in ensuring that the conservatee has access to healthcare and they are empowered to make important medical decisions on behalf of the conservatee. They are responsible for selecting doctors, scheduling appointments, consulting with healthcare providers, advocating for the conservatee’s healthcare needs, and utilizing health insurance and other benefits appropriately. 

It is important for conservators to be familiar with the services and resources available to conservatees in their community. These resources may include government assistance programs, support groups, counseling services, and educational materials. By connecting the conservatee with these resources, conservators can promote their well-being. This ultimately improves their quality of life.

Termination of Conservatorship

There are situations in which a conservatorship can come to an end. For instance, if the person under conservatorship shows improvement in their condition and regains their ability to make decisions. The more common reason to terminate a conservatorship is when the conservatee dies

Terminating a conservatorship is a process that usually involves filing a motion  with the court and presenting evidence and documents to support the request. It typically requires a hearing. 

If the conservatee is asking for the conservatorship to be lifted because their situation has improved, the court will assess whether there is sufficient evidence for termination, considering what is in the best  interest and well-being of the person under conservatorship. Often times if a person is no longer in need of a conservatorship, their conservator will work with them and the court to terminate the conservator and allow them to sign a Power of Attorney instead. 

Graceful Aging Legal Services

Do you need help navigating the complexities of conservatorship? Graceful Aging Legal Services offers comprehensive legal assistance for adults. Contact us today if you need help with estate planning, wills, trusts, or understanding conservatorship. Our experienced team is ready to help your family.

What to Expect at a Conservatorship Hearing

What to Expect at a Conservatorship Hearing

We often help people file conservatorships for loved ones. Let’s address the next steps after filing the petition, which is working with the Guardian ad Litem and attending the hearing on your petition.

How long does it take to get a Conservatorship hearing after filing for the petition?

Hearings are usually held between 45 and 60 days after filing your petition.

What does the Guardian ad Litem do?

The Guardian ad Litem is a special attorney appointed by the Court to answer two main questions.

1. Does the person you are trying to establish a conservatorship for really need someone to help them make and carry out decisions?

2. If so, who is the best person to serve as a conservator?

The Guardian ad Litem will file a report with the Court Clerk letting the Judge know what they think at least three days before the hearing.

Make arrangements to attend the Conservatorship petition hearing

On the hearing date, you should plan to attend court. If there are disagreements over whether a conservator is needed or who should serve, make arrangements to take the entire day off work or other obligations. Otherwise, your attorney will help you determine how much time to allow for your court hearing.

If a Conservatorship is recommended, the court will decide who should be the Conservator

If the Guardian ad Litem has recommended a conservatorship for your loved one and that you should be appointed, the hearing will usually go quickly, with minimal testimony. Your attorney will make a statement about the case and the Guardian ad Litem will chime in with their opinion. You may be asked a few questions about your qualifications to serve, similar to the information that was in your petition.

The Judge will need to sign an Order for Conservatorship

The Judge will either sign an Order that your attorney has prepared before the hearing or agree that your attorney will submit one for signature. After the Judge signs the Order, your attorney will help you get Letters of Conservatorship, which we will address in a future blog post.

If you believe that someone you care about needs a conservatorship, please feel free to reach out to us by email or phone. If you believe a loved one is in need of a conservatorship, please reach out to our office by phone at (615) 846-6201, by email at or you can schedule a complimentary call with us here!

What is the Process of Filing a Conservatorship?

What is the Process of Filing a Conservatorship?

Today, we are breaking down the process of filing a conservatorship. A conservatorship is a legal procedure used to obtain authority to make decisions for someone else who is unable to make or carry out decisions for themselves.

Step One: Hire an Attorney

First, you will want to meet with and hire an attorney. Your attorney will collect lots of information about you and the person you are seeking a conservatorship for, such as addresses, family members, financial situations, etc.

Step Two: Prepare Evidence

Second, your attorney will help you prepare evidence for the eventual hearing. The most important piece of evidence in most conservatorship hearings is the Report of Physician. This is a notarized document signed by the person’s doctor that they are unable to make or carry out decisions on their own and a general overview of their medical condition. While you can file for conservatorship without the Report of Physician, it is not ideal.

Step Three: File a Petition

Third, your attorney will prepare a petition and have you sign it in front of a notary. They will then file it with the Court Clerk and the Report of Physician if you have completed one.

Step Four: Set a Hearing Date

Finally, once all your paperwork has been filed with the Clerk, your attorney will work with the Court to set a hearing date. You should be prepared to work with the Judge’s schedule in order to attend. Your attorney will let you know details about what you can expect at your hearing. We’ve also written an article about what to expect at the petition hearing.

If you believe a loved one is in need of a conservatorship, please reach out to our office at (615) 846-6201 or you can schedule a free 15-minute initial call with us here!