Assessments can extend over several days. They range widely in depth and duration.
Eric Freitag, who conducts neuropsychological assessments in the Bay Area, said he prefers interviewing people at home where they are often more at ease, and where he can evaluate the environment. He asks about financial literacy: bill-paying, health insurance, even counting out change.
Assessing safety is key. Dr. Freitag will ask what the person would do if a fire broke out. “I’d call my daughter,” one of his subjects replied.
Who chooses the evaluator?
Ms. Spears has not been able to choose her evaluators in the past because the conservator has the power to make those decisions. However, if she moves to dissolve the conservatorship, she can select the evaluator, to help build her case. If the conservator, her father, opposes her petition and objects to her selection, he could nominate a candidate to perform an additional assessment. Ms. Spears would likely pick up both tabs as costs of the conservatorship.
To avoid a bitter battle of experts and the appearance that an assessor hired by either camp would be inherently biased — plus the strain of two evaluations on Ms. Spears — the judge could try to get both sides to agree to an independent, court-appointed doctor.
What impact does a mental health diagnosis have on an evaluation?
Many states explicitly say that a diagnosis of a severe mental health disorder is not, on its own, evidence that a person should remain in conservatorship.
Stuart Zimring, an attorney in Los Angeles County who specializes in elderlaw and special needs trusts, noted that he once represented a physician with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who was under a conservatorship. The doctor’s rights were eventually restored after he proved he was attending counseling sessions and taking medication.
“It was a joyous day when the conservatorship was terminated,” said Mr. Zimring. “He got to practice medicine again, under supervision.”