What is a conservatorship? The legal arrangement at the center of Michael Oher’s case.

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

Oher alleged Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy convinced him to sign documents nearly 20 years ago that gave them a conservatorship over him, providing them with the ability to profit from his name and likeness. The conservatorship continues today but should be discontinued going forward, Oher claimed in legal documents. 

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 it became the center of Michael Oher’s case. 

What is a conservatorship?

Under Tennessee law, a conservatorship is a legal proceeding where a court strips the decision-making abilities from someone with 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. 

Conservatorship vs. adoption

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

Adoption laws vary by state, with many states allowing an adult to adopt another adult, while a few restrict adoption based on age. Among the states that allow adults to adopt someone over 18 is Oher’s and the Tuohys’ home state of Tennessee, according to law firm Anderson Hunter.

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. 

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 argued in his petition that the Tuohy family generated millions of dollars from a book deal and from the movie “The Blind Side,” which starred Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw, because both projects were based on his name and likeness. The Tuohys will continue to profit from his name if the conservatorship isn’t ended, he argued in the legal document.

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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