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Blind Side NFL Veteran Seeks to Terminate his Conservatorship

Clarkston Legal Aug. 15, 2023

Michael Oher in football uniformRetired Superbowl-winning right tackle Michael Oher, the subject of the 2009 hit movie Blind Side, is now suing the family he believed adopted him when he was 16 years old. Oher’s paperwork, filed in a Tennessee probate court, asserts that a conservatorship that he did not know existed should now be terminated.

Apparently, Oher thought Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy adopted him when he was a youth growing up in poverty, but with great athletic potential. He asserts that he was tricked into signing over his decision-making authority in a probate court device known as a conservatorship.

 Here in Michigan, a conservatorship occurs when a petitioner successfully demonstrates to a probate court that the subject of a petition, due to a mental or physical deficiency, cannot manage their own financial affairs. Conservatorships are considered to be more invasive and drastic techniques to protect a compromised individual’s finances; less invasive measures such as powers of attorney are often preferred. A conservatorship is distinct from a guardianship to the extent that a conservator manages the assets of the protected individual whereas a guardian manages the housing, medical and other necessities of daily living for the protected individual.

In addition to terminating his conservatorship, Oher also seeks recovery of money he claims is owed from the movie about his early career. The retired NFL star also seeks to enjoin the Tuohys from using his image and likeness.

Over the years, we have seen conservatorships used to manage the funds of celebrities that have demonstrated they are unable to properly manage their fortunes due to mental illness, substance abuse, or a combination of both. Here is a link to our post that details the issues of the Britany Spears conservatorship.

In Oher’s case, he claims that he signed the conservatorship paperwork thinking it was a required component of the adoption process. He further claims that he understood that the Tuohys adopted him but found out later that did not happen; and that the Tuohys allegedly divided proceeds they received from the move among their family members, but not Oher.

If this were the case, there are some red flags that we see over here at Clarkston Legal. First, a conservatorship requires the conservator to file annual accounts and serve those accounts [usually utilizing personal service] upon the protected individual. Second, all conservatorships have the goal of reinstating the protected individual’s independence, as soon as possible [i.e. the Britany Spears case]. Sometimes regaining independence never happens, however, due to the progressive nature of the protected individual’s mental illness.

The other aspect of this case that gives us pause is that, in a conservatorship, the conservator marshals and conserves the protected individual’s income and assets. In Oher’s case, this would mean that the Tuohys would have direct access to his entire salary from the NFL.

Although Oher spent most of his 8 seasons with Baltimore Ravens, he also played for the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers; he was the starting right tackle for the Ravens when they won the Super Bowl in 2012 and was the starting right tackle for the Panthers when they played in the Super Bowl three years later. Many of us, of course, have seen the movie and watched the games.

For their part, as this story has gained traction in the national media, the Tuohys have countered Oher's allegations with some assertions of their own. They claim that all money received from the Blind Side movie was equally split with Oher and the members of the Tuohy family.

The Tuohys also claim that while the conservatorship was used as a device to get Oher enrolled into college at the University of Mississippi, they never "qualified" as his conservator by executing and filing an "acceptance of appointment". Hmmm, that would certainly explain the lack of annual accounts. They also claim that Oher and his biological mother attended the hearing at which the Tuohys were appointed to serve as Oher's conservator when he was 18-years old so there is no way he can now claim, at age 37, that he was unaware of the conservatorship.

So we have many questions here at Clarkston Legal about this conservatorship relative to Oher's income. Perhaps Oher’s lawsuit will provide some of the answers.

If you have concerns about a family member that may not be able to handle their own financial affairs due to mental illness or substance abuse, contact us to discuss the options under Michigan’s probate code. We offer a free initial consultation.