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What is a Conservatorship and How Does it Relate to Michael Oher’s Case?

Ex-NFL player Michael Oher shocked “The Blind Side” fans this week after revealing in court papers that contrary to the 2009 film’s depiction of his life, the Tuohy family of Tennessee didn’t actually adopt him.

In a reversal of the film’s heartwarming ending, Oher alleges that Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy misled him nearly 20 years ago into signing documents which gave them a conservatorship over him. The legal documents, which Oher claims he was falsely told was “for all intents and purposes, an adoption,” provided the Tuohys with the ability to profit from his name and likeness. 

The conservatorship continues today but should be discontinued going forward, Oher claimed in his petition, arguing he’s old enough to handle his own business affairs. 

In response to the petition, Sean Tuohy said this week that if Oher wants to end the conservatorship now, the family would “of course” be willing to end it. 

Here are more specifics about what a conservatorship is and how the legal action became the center of Michael Oher’s case. 

Amanda Bynes’ nine-year conservatorship terminated


What is a conservatorship?

Under Tennessee law, a conservatorship is a legal proceeding where a court strips the decision-making abilities from someone who is a minor or has a disability or someone who cannot make decisions on their own. A conservatorship includes transferring that decision-making ability to someone else (a conservator) or a group of people (co-conservators). 

One of the most famous cases involving a conservatorship was that of singer Britney Spears, who lived under a court-appointed conservatorship from 2008 until 2021.

Because conservatorship laws vary between states, it’s difficult to determine how many people live in conservatorships across the country, ACLU attorney Zoe Brennan-Krohn told CBS News in 2021 when speaking about Spears’ case. She added that they are often granted when an individual encounters difficulties or age-related disabilities. 

Britney Spears allegedly shares new revelations about conservatorship in audio posted online


Conservatorship vs. adoption

In a conservatorship, the conservator is legally allowed to make decisions on another person’s behalf without technically making them a family member. The person with a disability or other challenge only needs to sign the proper legal documents to grant the conservatorship, as Oher did in August 2004. 

Under adoption laws, an adoptee legally becomes a permanent member of the applicant’s family. 

Adoption laws vary by state, with a few states placing age limits on adoption. Tennessee, the home state of Oher and the Tuohys, is among the states that allow adults to adopt someone who is over 18, according to law firm Anderson Hunter.

Conservatorship meaning

Having a conservatorship also plays a role in the person’s finances. A conservator or co-conservators typically have authority over the finances and personal affairs of the person they’re overseeing.

Oher claims in his petition that the Tuohy family generated millions of dollars off the book “The Blind Side” by best-selling author Michael Lewis and its film adaptation starring Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw, both of which carried Oher’s name and likeness. Oher claims that he himself has received nothing off of the book or Oscar-nominated movie. The Tuohys will continue to profit from his name if the conservatorship isn’t ended, he argues.

Aside from Britney Spears, actor Amanda Bynes also recently successfully fought to end her conservatorship, giving her full control of her medical, financial and personal decisions.

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