Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Highlights Flaws in the Legal System
Britney Spears was once one of the most famous pop stars on the planet. Her rise to fame made her a household name and led her to financial success, but by many accounts, her personal life suffered significantly under the strain of her notoriety.
In 2008, Britney Spears was a part of several highly publicized incidents. She drove her car with her young son on her lap, she shaved her head, she hit a photographer’s car with an umbrella, and she made several trips to rehab. Ultimately, after an incident in which Britney Spears refused to relinquish custody of her two young children to her ex-husband, Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, petitioned for an emergency “temporary conservatorship,” which was granted. Britney Spears has not had control over her finances or her personal life ever since. Instead, those decisions have been in the hands of a revolving door of family members, attorneys, and trust companies.
Although the terms vary from state to state, in California, the term “conservatorship” is used to indicate legal control of both financial as well as personal decisions. In order for a conservatorship to be implemented, a doctor has to certify that the incapacitated person is both unable to make their own decisions and unable to execute a power of attorney or other document granting decision-making authority to someone else. Conservatorship is viewed as a last resort when all other less restrictive legal avenues have been exhausted.
Typically, people under a conservatorship suffer from severe mental disabilities or dementia. The average person under a conservatorship is not able to work or function as a normal member of society. For someone like Britney Spears, who is able to perform on stage, create her own choreography for a complex Las Vegas production, and generate millions of dollars of income for herself and her employees, a conservatorship, especially one of this length and scope, is considered highly unusual.
Recently, Britney Spears spoke at a hearing regarding her conservatorship in which she expressed anger and dismay at how the conservatorship is being handled. She claimed that she is forced to work long hours, that she is forced to be on birth control, and that she feels that her life has been ruined by the ongoing conservatorship. Spears has recently hired an attorney of her own choosing and is seeking to terminate the conservatorship altogether. She has also announced that she will no longer be working until her father, who currently serves as her co-conservator, is completely removed from any decision-making role in her life.
While much of the public is sympathetic to Britney Spears’ situation, even sparking the #FreeBritney movement from concerned fans, some legal experts assert that the conservatorship is necessary to protect Spears from making poor financial or personal decisions. In 2009 and 2019, Spears was granted a restraining order against her former manager, Sam Lutfi. Spears’ conservators argued that he was attempting to exploit her both personally and financially. Some legal experts say that they do not see any evidence that Spears has been mistreated, and that in fact she is involved in all of her career and business decisions.
While the public may never know the truth of whether the Britney Spears conservatorship is appropriate or not, the situation has brought the issue of conservatorships to the forefront of public discourse. Not all conservatorships are bad or ill-conceived – in fact, they can be valuable tools to protect individuals who are genuinely unable to manage their own assets and personal decisions. Not all conservators are attempting to exploit or abuse the person under their care. However, conservatorships should be used only as a last resort when no other legal avenues are available to someone in need of assistance. Because conservatorships involve someone’s rights being taken away – the right to vote, marry, own a firearm, sign contracts, and many other rights are often routinely revoked as a result of a conservatorship – the court, the individual’s family, and all attorneys and caseworkers involved in the case must do everything they can to ensure that the conservatorship is necessary and that the appropriate conservator is appointed. Additionally, courts need to implement strict oversight over conservators to ensure that the conservatorship is being handled property and in the best interests of the incapacitated person.
Ask the Attorney
Client: How is a guardianship or conservatorship established?
Attorney: The individual seeking to be guardian or conservator must acquire certification from a physician which states that the individual who is proposed to be incapacitated is unfit and unable to govern him or herself and manage personal, medical and financial affairs.
A Petition is filed with the court which lists all related parties and describes the income and assets of the proposed incapacitated. Prior to the court hearing, the proposed incapacitated and immediate family must be served notice, and an attorney will be appointed to represent the proposed incapacitated’s interests.
A hearing is then held to determine if a guardianship or conservatorship are necessary. If there is no contest, a guardianship and conservatorship will be established on the hearing date.
Hook Law Center: Jolene, what can you tell us about the tropical fish that washed up on an Oregon shore recently?
Jolene: This is an interesting story. Recently, an Opah, a tropical fish more than three feet long and weighing 100 pounds, washed ashore on Sunset Beach, along Oregon’s northwest coast. Although this is not unheard of, the fish generally lingers in tropical and temperate waters. Although the fish was deceased, it will stay frozen at the Seaside Aquarium until the start of the new school year, when a group of local students will be chosen to dissect it.