Britney Spears first stole the hearts of Americans way back when she started on the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse in the early 1990s. She went on to be known as the “Princess of Pop” of the early 2000s. Her rise and subsequent fall over 13 years ago were extremely public.
Britney Spears is now back in the public eye as her concerned fans are making national news surrounding her conservatorship. The high-profile court battle has heightened public attention onto conservatorships, with many calling for greater scrutiny on the system as a whole. If you are one of those people scratching your head and wondering what all the hoopla is about, read on.
What is a Conservatorship?
Anyone can require a conservator (also known as a guardian) to care for them if they become mentally or physically incapacitated. Although naming a guardian for a minor child involves a somewhat similar process, obtaining adult guardianship is a bit different, especially in terms of what the court requires as proof that guardianship is warranted. And of course, the law is different from state to state as to how they handle conservatorship proceedings.
According to California law, a conservatorship is justified for a “person who is unable to provide properly for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter,” or for someone who is “substantially unable to manage his or her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence.”
Depending on the extent of the person’s incapacity, a court-appointed guardian can be given near-complete control over a person’s life. Some of the most common duties of adult guardians include:
- Paying the ward’s bills
- Determining where they live
- Monitoring their residence and living conditions
- Providing consent for medical treatments
- Deciding how their finances are handled, including how their assets are invested and if any assets should be liquidated
- Managing real estate and other tangible property
- Keeping detailed records of all their expenditures and other financial transactions
- Making end-of-life and other palliative-care decisions
So What Happened to Britney?
In January of 2008, the court placed her under a conservatorship, led by her father, Jamie Spears, after she was hospitalized twice during her public mental struggles. From 2008 until 2019, Britney’s father had complete control over her life choices and money. Currently, he only controls her finances, a role he must share with an estate-management firm. Only since March of 2021 was a court-appointed professional, Jodi Montgomery, allowed to take over as Britney Spears’ personal matters.
While there has been secrecy surrounding Britney Spears’ conservatorship due to the privacy of her medical records and the large worth of her estate, recently details have come to light. Spears herself had previously remained quiet about her feelings on her conservatorship. However, a recent court statement of hers from June 23, 2021, was made public.
In her testimony, Spears called her conservatorship “abusive,” and expressed wanting her life back. Documents revealed the conservatorship restricts her visitors, including when she can see her two sons and has the power to make her medical decisions and business deals. In her statement, she expressed being compelled to take drugs and perform against her will. In addition, the conservatorship has denied her permission to get married and denied her the ability to remove her intrauterine device to have another child.
Her Legal Struggle
Britney Spears has made numerous attempts to remove her father from her conservatorship. In August 2020, court filings revealed she wanted Jodi Montgomery, the court-appointed professional, to take over as conservator permanently. However, the changes were not granted.
Jamie Spears argues the conservatorship is positive citing how Britney’s estate is no longer in debt and is now valued at more than $60 million. His legal team said, “he wants his daughter to be happy, healthy, protected, and thriving.” In early 2021 the court rejected his formal objection to sharing control of her estate with Bessemer Trust. Finally in March 2021, in the wake of Britney’s father having health issues, the Court approved Jodi Montgomery, the professional to have a temporary role as the conservator of Britney.
Although Britney is now 39 years old, the road to ending her conservatorship isn’t clear. Conservatorships are traditionally for elderly people, who can no longer care for themselves, or people with debilitating health or mental conditions; circumstances that people typically don’t bounce back from. The circumstances surrounding Britney Spears’ situation haven’t come up before.
Since 2008, Britney Spears performed for four years at her Las Vegas residency, recorded two albums, and was a judge during a season of the popular reality show “X-Factor.” Clinical professor of law at Cardozo School of Law, Leslie Salzman said, “I find it hard to understand how someone… capable of doing all those things, is totally incapable of making any decision for herself.”
A court can dissolve a conservatorship, but the burden is on the conservatee to prove they no longer need it. That means Britney has the burden of proving that she is not incapable of providing for her own care. The stigma of mental health puts the conservatee at a disadvantage. Everyone else in the courtroom: the judges, mental health evaluators, attorneys, and investigators, hold more credibility as a reliable source of what’s going on in that individual’s life. And remember, ALL these experts are being paid for their involvement, expertise, and time testifying in court. Zoe Brennan-Krohn, of the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program, told CBS News, “even when there is no abuse, conservatorships limit a person’s ability to advocate for themselves.”
Conservatorships have been referred to as “one of the most restrictive legal remedies that exist in the American judicial system.” They are all too often implemented as the first resort. We often see actions for conservatorships waged due to issues between siblings and long-standing family dysfunction (can you believe the mother liked you better syndrome still plays a part). The outcome of Britney’s case has the power to set a new precedent on the role a conservatorship has in a person’s life. What exactly that precedent will be is yet to be determined as the case unfolds. When it does, the whole world will be watching (just as many people watched the Netflix drama “I Care A Lot” where a court-appointed legal guardian defrauds her older clients and traps them under her care).
Recent Developments in Britney’s Case
Since her emotional testimony, there have been quite a few changes to her case.
On July 1, 2021, Bessemer Trust filed an emergency petition to resign from the arrangement as a result of her June 23 testimony. The wealth management firm said in their court filing they had been told Ms. Spears’ conservatorship was voluntary but now are aware of her desire to terminate it.
On July 6, 2021, Britney Spears’ attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, filed a motion to resign after her testimony, which she revealed she had been previously unaware of her right to pick her own attorney and to petition the court to end the conservatorship while under his guidance.
Hearings are scheduled for tomorrow, July 14, 2021, on whether to grant Bessemer’s request and on Britney Spears’ allegations of mistreatment.