Pop singer Britney Spears' bid to free herself from a 13-year conservatorship, under which others controlled her personal and financial decisions, put this legal process in the national spotlight. But untold numbers of uncelebrated people — primarily senior citizens or people with disabilities — are living under what are termed conservatorships in California and called guardianships in many other states. Allegations of abuse are not uncommon, with guardians accused of stealing money or even improperly taking out do-not-resuscitate orders on those they are charged to protect. Guardianships fall under state law, and statutes can vary greatly, with standards of practice often lacking. While many people familiar with the system say guardianships are necessary in some cases to protect vulnerable people, some experts say guardianships take ...

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