Britney and the bank; Why banks should be involved in regulatory reform


The world has watched as details of Britney Spears’ guardianship situation have been released publicly. Many of those who read or watch her case have probably never heard of guardianship or guardianship or are unfamiliar with the intricacies of the inheritance court system that handles decision-making for people who struggle to make decisions. alone.

Most people only encounter these types of decision-making situations when their parents, and later themselves, get older. Although these circumstances can be extremely painful and complicated to deal with, they are, by their nature, generally linear and self-limiting; more often, an older person’s ability to make decisions will decline over time until they die.

But, as Spear’s case revealed, when young people are involved in guardianship or other third party decision-making systems, the situation is even more complex. People with mental disorders that can affect decision making often have to navigate these systems throughout their adult lives and, as we have seen with Spears, the systems are not fully beneficial and can lead to exploitation. , harm and abuse – the very things these systems are meant to prevent.

As a qualitative researcher on the financial issues faced by people with mental health disorders (Annie) and a disabled lawyer who represents people with or perceived to have psychiatric disorders (Kathy), we have worked with many people who have experienced guardianship or, more frequently among people whose only income is from social security disability benefits, who have been assigned a representative beneficiary.

Guardianship includes mechanisms for both assigning decision-making regarding medical and personal matters (custodian of the person) and / or finances (custodian of the estate) to another person. Representative beneficiaries only manage a person’s finances – in particular their disability benefits (Social Security Disability Income – SSDI or Supplemental Security Income – SSI). We will focus here only on financial decision making. We recognize that substitute decision-making about medical treatment can result in care in the form of coercion and control; our systems require additional examination beyond the scope of this article.

Just as much of the narrative around Spears’ situation is deeply polarized, with some arguing that guardianship blatantly disregards the rights of individuals and should be abolished, and others arguing that guardianship is essential to prevent people making disastrous decisions or being exploited, so the options for people who need help making financial decisions are polarized.

Most people with mental health problems are left to make financial decisions entirely on their own. If they need help, their only option is usually to have financial decision-making power taken away entirely. They are assigned a custodian or representative beneficiary, and from that point on, that other person has full control over their finances. There really is no in-between.

Although it is common for family members to step in and try to help, such informal arrangements can cause relationship tensions and can leave people vulnerable to exploitation. In Connecticut, we currently do not have effective systems to accommodate and support what is known as “assisted decision making” in finance. While there is nothing in Connecticut law that would prohibit someone from executing an assisted decision-making agreement, there is also no law that specifically authorizes it, and there is no law that specifically authorizes it. There is no requirement that this be one of the alternatives considered before a probate court authorizes a guardianship.

While huge strides have been made in several states to expand supported decision-making options in general, there is still a long way to go to make it a viable option when it comes to financial decisions.

There is no doubt that some people with mental health problems need help managing their money; indeed, some may encounter such difficulties that it makes sense for another person to take charge of their finances for a while. However, many people who have difficulty managing their money could, with the right support, take responsibility for some aspect of their finances.

Some people have health issues that cause their ability to manage their finances to fluctuate – so they need support which may vary accordingly. Many people on SSDI and SSI who have financial problems face difficulties not primarily because they have a mental illness, but because they are poor. It’s hard for anyone to be financially stable when they just don’t have enough money to get by. Problems such as late payment of rent and bills, or being exploited by predatory lenders, may be more closely linked to poverty than to any diagnosed mental illness.

We need a support system that meets a wide range of needs, including complete removal of control, periodic removal of control, help with some aspects of finance but not others, and support and advice. advice that does not involve or require removal of control.

We must also appeal to the banks. Even though most of us manage our money using an account at a financial institution, banks and credit unions have been strangely absent from conversations about assisted financial decision making. Right now, the banking system makes it very difficult to do anything other than 100% control your own money or let someone else control it completely.

To address this issue, our report, Banking for All, recommends that banks develop tools to provide a framework for supported decision making. These could include a read-only option, to allow a person to allow a third party to view their transactions or receive alerts in the event of certain spending behavior, but not to actually control funds. This option could also be used to allow a person who has ceded financial control to someone else to keep an eye on their funds. Banks and credit unions should also offer tools that make it easier for people to manage their own spending behavior, such as the ability to set themselves limits on the amount of money that can be spent per day. or where the money can be spent. Personalized alerts can also help people keep track of their finances. Banks should also offer accounts that don’t charge overdraft fees, such as those promoted by the BankOn movement. All of these recommendations could be implemented immediately, given existing technology and regulations. Our report also describes possible future innovations that would be useful, such as cooling off periods, double confirmation of transactions, and algorithms to predict and anticipate certain behaviors.

These financial products and tools could have specific benefits for people with mental disorders (and, in our opinion, may also be a requirement for financial institutions to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act). However, these are not niche products. They could also improve banking services for everyone, especially for low-income people. Much like the sectional sidewalk, which was designed for wheelchair users, but is now an essential part of the pedestrian infrastructure that protects us all, banking services designed to meet the needs of people with mental disorders will be better banking services for all of us.

Annie Harper, PhD is an instructor at the Yale Program for Community Health and Recovery. Kathleen M. Flaherty is Executive Director of Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc.

This coin is dedicated to Paul Hammer, a friend and colleague who recently committed suicide, after an extraordinary life of action and activism, especially in the area of ​​financial justice for people with disabilities. He contributed to the Banking for All report and participated with us in a panel discussion on its findings, during which he shared his own personal experiences of having a restaurateur.

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