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.