Older woman signing Medicaid documents

Estate Planning World Blind-Sided By Oher Conservatorship

When the news broke that former NFL offensive lineman Michael Oher, whose relationship with Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy was the subject of the hit movie The Blind Side, was under a conservatorship, the Palmer & Slay team was shocked. 

The film, the book, Ole Miss, local news, and the Tuohy family — everyone — had implied that Oher was adopted by the Tuohys. But now we learn he was actually under a conservatorship, and never became a legal member of the Tuohy family. Furthermore, it appears that the Tuohys still have the ability to control Oher’s finances, medical care, and ability to enter contracts!

What is a conservatorship? 

The legal power the Tuohys have over Oher is staggering. Under Mississippi (and Tennessee) law, conservators or guardians have the ability to take action and make virtually every decision on behalf of the person in their care. It is a relationship typically reserved for situations where the person being looked after has diminished mental or physical capabilities. 

At Palmer & Slay, we have helped Rankin County families put elderly loved ones who need help managing their day-to-day lives under a conservatorship. They are a useful tool for families who need the legal power to step in and care for their loved ones. But there are less restrictive ways of doing many of the same things a conservatorship lets you do. Palmer & Slay’s estate planning team is often able to draft power of attorney documents that meet the needs of a family considering a conservatorship or guardianship. 

How did Michael Oher end up in a conservatorship?

Oher does not have any physical or mental limitations, and he was already 18 years old when he moved in with the Tuohys, so how did he end up under a conservatorship? 

“Oher said he believed up until February 2023 that the papers he signed were the equivalent of adoption papers. When he entered the Tuohy family household, Oher said he was told that they intended to legally adopt him and instructed him to call them ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad.’”

The Tuohys say that they set up the conservatorship shortly after Oher moved in with them in order to help him with health insurance, a driver’s license and being admitted to college. They maintain that they did this after consulting with an attorney.

We have some questions about this conservatorship. 

This story has been making a lot of headlines in Mississippi, and rightly so. It is extremely unusual. There are a number of things about this whole situation that jumped out to us:

  • There are ways to do what the Tuohys claim they were doing without getting a conservatorship. Mississippi (and Tennessee) allow anyone to be adopted, no matter their age. It is also possible to give someone power of attorney if you need assistance making decisions or caring for yourself. 
  • Conservatorships and guardianships are typically limited to situations where the person being taken care of has physical or mental limitations. In this case, the application for the conservatorship specifically said that was not an issue. 
  • It is strange the conservatorship was still in place given Oher’s age and estrangement from the Tuohys. 
  • People who act as a conservator or guardian must provide periodic updates to the court. It seems that was not happening, and it is not clear why. This is something the Palmer & Slay team assists our clients with, so it is particularly jarring to see it overlooked for so many years. 

In our years working as estate planning and elder care attorneys we have truly never seen anything like this. 

Preserving Your Wealth. Protecting Your Loved Ones. 

Conservatorships and guardianships are important tools that families can use to make sure their loved ones are well cared for. But as this case, and the Britney Spears case show, they should be examined from time to time to ensure they are still in everyone’s best interest. 

If you are under guardianship or conservatorship, or you act as a guardian or conservator, and you want to speak with an attorney about your case Palmer & Slay may be able to help. Please contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation.