Britney Spears: Inside her conservatorship
Britney Spears has been a global superstar since she was a teenager, dazzling fans with catchy tunes and dance moves for more than 20 years. Her spectacular career has encompassed everything from chart-topping mega hits to very public breakdowns.
But in recent years, the former teen idol has hit the headlines for the controversial court-appointed conservatorship that seemingly now controls her every move.
The Spears conservatorship has become a groundbreaking case, sparking fan outrage and intense media and public scrutiny, with new developments breaking all the time as the saga rumbles on.
In this article, we take a deep dive into this controversial legal constraint. We cover what a conservatorship is, how it works, how a conservatorship can be abused, and all other legal issues surrounding this system, with a focus on Britney’s struggles.
Britney Spears Under Conservatorship
We should start by taking a quick overview of the situation surrounding Britney Spears right now. She was placed under a conservatorship, managed by her father and a third-party attorney, more than 10 years ago. We run through what a conservatorship is and how it works in the next sections.
In recent years, Britney’s fans have become increasingly concerned for their hero, launching the #FreeBritney movement in a bid to save her from the constraints of conservatorship.
Britney herself recently appeared in court and spoke out about her traumatic experiences under the conservatorship in what has become a dramatic public battle for her freedom.
Did You Know?
Britney Spears has sold more than 100 million records, putting her in the top-50 best-selling music artists ever.
What is a Conservatorship?
A conservatorship is a form of legal control under U.S. law that can be applied to a single person or an organization. It essentially allows someone to become the legal guardian of an adult via a court order.
When it placing an individual under a conservatorship, the system works by giving a guardian control over the finances and/or daily functions of that person. It is a mechanic designed to protect people who are not able to make all of their own decisions.
The guardian who is put in control is usually called the CONSERVATOR, while the subject of the order is the CONSERVATEE.
There are several main forms of conservatorship:
- Estate: The conservator is given control over the conservatee’s financial decisions.
- Physical person: The conservator is given control over physical aspects of the person’s life, such as their healthcare decisions and living situation.
- General: The conservator is granted full control over all aspects, from financial to physical and beyond.
- Limited: The conservator is given control over very specific aspects of a person’s life, dependent on their needs.
A conservatorship might be ordered by a court when a person is incapacitated and unable to make sound or reasoned decisions. The reasons for this might include mental health issues, a psychotic break, a medical condition such as dementia, old age, and more.
Did You Know?
In 2003, Britney Spears became the youngest singer ever to have a star added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame at just 21 years old.
Why is Britney Spears Under Conservatorship?
To understand Britney’s current situation, we need to rewind back through the years.
Originally a child star on The Mickey Mouse Club, Britney became a pop sensation with the release of Baby One More Time in 1999. Over the next few years, she released several albums and became a global phenomenon. In 2002, she was named the most powerful celebrity in the world by Forbes.
But Britney was not always a carefree pop superstar. The level of mega-stardom that she reached invariably comes with intense media scrutiny. While her music was still extremely successful, Spears started to make some controversial decisions that became heavily publicized.
Here is a brief Britney Spears controversy timeline:
- 2004: Britney married a childhood friend, but it was annulled after 55 hours.
- 2004: She married dancer Kevin Federline just a few months after meeting him.
- 2004: Career break to start a family.
- 2006: Widely criticized after pictures emerged of Spears driving with her infant son on her lap. Britney called it a mistake, saying she was trying to escape the paparazzi at the time.
- 2006: Filed for divorce from Federline, joint custody of two children agreed.
- 2007: Checked into a drug rehab facility, but fled after less than a day. The following night she shaved her head, and days later attacked a paparazzo’s car with an umbrella while surrounded by photographers.
- 2007: Visited several other rehab facilities over the weeks following the umbrella attack.
- 2007: Lost custody of her sons to Federline.
- 2008: Refused to let Federline’s people pick her sons up after a visit. When police arrived, they found Spears to be under the influence of an unknown substance. Her custody rights were suspended, and she was committed to a mental health hospital on an involuntary psychiatric hold.
- 2008: Spears was released from the hospital and was placed under a conservatorship.
This intense period of her life saw Britney’s mental health deteriorate to the point that the court decided it was necessary to place her under conservatorship, with her father put in control of her finances and career.
Throughout these turbulent years, Britney Spears continued to release new albums, selling millions of copies and receiving awards and accolades, while also appearing in documentaries and tv show cameos (How I Met Your Mother, Glee, Will and Grace).
She never left the public eye, appearing as an X Factor judge and performing in a high-profile Las Vegas residency, as well as touring and releasing new music over the last decade.
However, while Britney Spears has maintained her public image and superstar status over the years, she has remained under conservatorship since 2008, with others controlling her finances and actions.
Did You Know?
Britney performed in nearly 250 shows in her record-breaking Las Vegas residency, which ran for four years from 2013-2017 and sold 900,000 tickets.
How Does a Conservatorship Work? Legal Ins and Outs
Now that we know what a conservatorship is, we need to know how it works.
As discussed above, a conservatorship can be applied to either an individual or an organization:
- An individual can be placed under conservatorship through a court order when they are unable to make their own decisions.
- A company, organization, or corporation can be placed under conservatorship by an authority (statutory or regulatory) when it is in financial trouble or has been mismanaged.
To become the guardian of a person, you start by submitting a petition to the courts. Most people will need the help of a conservatorship attorney to do so.
This petition will be reviewed and accepted, and a hearing will be set. At the hearing, a presentation of facts will be made to the judge. The judge will then decide whether a conservatorship is needed.
The subject of the petition has the right to present a case against the submission if they do not want it or think it is necessary. Other related parties are also within their rights to object to a guardianship being installed, or to a specific person being appointed as conservator.
If it is deemed necessary, the judge can appoint a conservator and set the limits of their authority. The conservator may be the filer of the petition, or an independent party, such as an attorney.
The conservator will then be charged with making any and all decisions under the scope of the conservatorship while keeping detailed records of all decisions made.
Appointed conservators will be paid a salary for their role, dependent on the specifics of the case.
The terms of a conservatorship, such as how long they last and what restrictions they provide, are governed by the applicable state laws.
For example, there are two types in California: LPS and Probate Conservatorships.
- LPS: Begins as a temporary arrangement. Starts on a 30-day basis and can be extended to one year. Must be renewed annually, or terminated if it is no longer needed.
- Probate: Indefinite status with no required renewal unless otherwise arranged, but may be subject to periodic review to ensure that the duty is being carried out properly, dependent on the case.
This legal system is designed to protect people, both from themselves and others. But it can be abused, as we will explore in this article.
Did You Know?
Britney has won plenty of awards over the years, including one Grammy, six MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), and seven Billboard Music Awards.
How Does Britney’s Conservatorship Work?
Britney Spears was placed under conservatorship in 2008. As shown in our timeline above, she was suffering from serious mental health issues at the time.
She had a very public breakdown and was hospitalized twice at psychiatric facilities at the lowest point of her downward spiral, which played out in front of the eyes of the world thanks to the relentless paparazzi.
A petition was filed by her father, Jamie Spears, to the L.A. County Superior Court. That initial petition was for a temporary conservatorship on an emergency basis, allowing him to handle everything while Britney focused on getting better. At least, that is how the decision was originally framed.
The conservatorship was made permanent – an indefinite probate conservatorship – before the end of 2008, and Spears has been under the guardianship of her father ever since.
According to court documents, Jamie Spears was given authority over Britney’s estate and wellbeing. He was also given the power to negotiate and manage business opportunities, essentially running her schedule and deciding what she will and will not do. He is paid $130,000 per year from the Spears estate to carry out the role.
Jamie can also sell her property, restrict visitors, and file restraining orders on behalf of his daughter.
In 2008, a Los Angeles-based lawyer named Andrew Wallet was also named by the court as a co-conservator to help manage Britney’s vast financial assets.
The arrangement limits Britney’s control over her own life. She even has to document every purchase she makes into strict spending logs that are kept for court review.
Did You Know?
Spears has released several signature scent perfumes, selling more than one million bottles and grossing $1.5 billion. Of her other major endorsements, an $8 million deal with Pepsi was the company’s biggest at the time.
What is Conservatorship Abuse?
A conservatorship is set up to protect the conservatee from themselves and from others who might take advantage of them. In most cases, it is done with the best of intentions. But in other cases, there can be dangers associated with this legal system.
One such danger is conservatorship abuse. Many conservatorships are enacted to protect the elderly, but all such arrangements involve people with some level of vulnerability. In cases involving abuse, there is a danger that conservators could:
- Ignore the needs of the conservatee and leave them isolated.
- Run up their fees.
- Maintain conservatorship even when it is no longer required.
- Use their power to exert undue control over the conservatee.
- Misuse assets for personal gain.
Conservatorship abuse might involve a person seeking power over a person for selfish reasons, and mistreating them to make sure they retain that power.
Other cases involve mismanagement, rather than malicious abuse. For example, a conservator could make poor healthcare decisions that do not help their ward’s wellbeing. They could also mismanage their finances.
Did You Know?
Britney got her showbiz start by appearing on Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club variety show, alongside other budding stars like Justin Timberlake and Ryan Gosling.
The #FreeBritney Movement
For years now, there have been rumors that Britney Spears was not happy with her conservatorship arrangement. But it was never much more than that. She did not usually attend any conservatorship court hearings or speak out against the process.
Things changed in early 2019 when the #FreeBritney movement began. Follow the timeline of events below to see how the situation developed:
- November 2018: Father Jamie Spears suffered a life-threatening colon rupture.
- January 2019: Britney announced an indefinite performing hiatus, citing her father’s condition.
- March 2019: Attorney Andrew Wallet resigned as co-conservator after 11 years (a job that now paid him $430,000 per year).
- March 2019: Britney entered a psychiatric facility. It is unclear whether this was voluntary or forced.
- April 2019: A fan podcast received a tip saying that Britney is being abused.
It is important for us to take a deeper look at this claim before continuing with the timeline. The podcast “Britney’s Gram” is run by two comedians who dissect the star’s Instagram posts. But following the events of early 2019, they received a tip that all was not well.
They released a voicemail message left for them from a source who claimed to be a former member of Britney’s legal team (and said that the source had been verified and authenticated).
The message claimed that the hiatus was a decision made by Jamie Spears, who allegedly canceled a planned Vegas residency because Britney was refusing to take her meds. It also alleged that Jamie Spears was holding her against her will.
The timeline continues:
- April 2019: The voicemail sparked the #FreeBritney movement, which saw fan protests and celebrity support.
- April 2019: Britney left the psychiatric facility and posted on Instagram that the rumors were untrue, asking her fans not to believe everything they hear.
- May 2019: Britney Spears unusually appeared at her latest conservatorship status hearing in court. It was a closed court, but the judge ordered an independent evaluation of the arrangement.
With everyone removed from the courtroom, it was impossible to know what was said. But experts suggested that there would be no need for a review if all parties were still happy with the guardianship.
It was speculated that the review may have been the result of a verbal request from Britney Spears for the court to consider a change of status in the conservatorship.
The timeline continues:
- June 2019: Jamie Spears sued a blogger from “Absolute Britney” for defamation.
- August 2020: Jamie Spears labeled the #FreeBritney movement “a joke” organized by conspiracy theorists.
- August 2020: At another conservatorship status hearing, Britney’s attorney filed a motion for Jamie to be replaced as conservator, and for a fiduciary to be put in charge of her finances. But the judge ruled that the conservatorship arrangement would stay as it was until at least 2021.
- September 2020: A motion was filed on behalf of Britney to make all future conservatorship hearings open to the public, implying support for the #FreeBritney movement.
- November 2020: Britney’s lawyer says the star is afraid of her father and will not perform again until he is removed as conservator.
- November 2020: The Bessemer Trust is appointed as a co-conservator to help manage the estate, despite objections from Jamie Spears.
- February 2021: A Hulu documentary is released, shining a new spotlight on the #FreeBritney movement and legal battle.
- June 2021: The New York Times gains access to records that show Britney has opposed the “oppressive” conservatorship for several years.
- June 2021: At her latest court hearing, Britney finally speaks out.
Over the years, Britney Spears has rarely even appeared in court for her conservatorship hearings, let alone speak out and criticize them. For a long time, it was assumed by most that she had no objection to the arrangement.
But in June 2021, Britney appeared at her latest hearing and made a statement to the court against the conservatorship. She said the arrangement has had a serious impact on her life.
This latest statement finally justified the #FreeBritney movement and vindicated the concerns of her fans.
At the very least, a court would normally take into account the feelings and requests of the conservatee, and ensure that the conservator is someone that offers a level of comfort. It is unclear why the court is not doing so in this case.
In the aftermath of the court appearance, The Bessemer Trust asked to be removed as a co-conservator, with representatives saying they had been misled into believing the arrangement was voluntary.
The court proceedings in June 2021 finally showed the full scope of the bitter battle that has developed for control over Britney’s life.
Did You Know?
Britney was rejected at her first audition for Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club because she was deemed too young at the time (aged 8).
Is Britney a Victim of Conservatorship Abuse?
With the latest developments in mind, can we say that Britney Spears is a victim of conservatorship abuse?
From the statement that she made in court, it seems pretty clear.
Britney said: “I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m okay and I’m happy. I’m traumatized. I’m so angry it’s insane. I don’t trust people with what I’ve been through. It’s not okay to force me to do anything I don’t want to do. I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive. I don’t feel like a can live a full life.
“I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work and provide money and work for myself and pay other people. It makes no sense.”
Britney also told the court that the team of conservators had prevented her from getting married or having another baby by banning her from having her IUD removed.
From her point of view, her conservators have abused their power over her and put an undue level of restriction on her life. She is now fighting to have the conservatorship removed.
But there are also other viewpoints to consider in this case.
Jamie Spears’s legal team says that the long-time conservator has acted out of unconditional love for his daughter. They said his only motivation has been to protect Britney and ensure she is healthy and thriving.
As reported by CBS News, the team said: “He wants his daughter to be happy. His love for Britney is a material factor in how he has been able to turn her estate around from being in the red to what it is now.”
It is true that Britney Spears was in debt and struggling personally before being placed under conservatorship, while her estate is now estimated to be worth more than $60 million.
It is also true that the arrangement was very necessary when it was put in place. Some experts have said that the conservatorship has been successful for her estate, and was necessary due to Britney’s mental health issues.
Here’s the bottom line: it is impossible to say definitively from the outside whether abuse has occurred here. While Britney’s state and mindset appear to be much improved from her 2008 spiral, we simply do not know enough. We know little about her true state of mind or ability to handle her career without help.
In most cases, judges are anxious to use conservatorships as a last resort, and only when they are really needed. In Britney’s case, we know that independent reviews have been carried out to check on the ongoing validity of this arrangement. Independent assessments are vital, because this conservatorship is having a monumental impact on a person’s life, and it must only remain if it is truly necessary.
Above all, we need to trust that Britney is being given sound legal help and that the judge will make a reasoned decision based on the advice of medical experts in her case.
Did You Know?
Britney holds 11 Guinness World Records, including Best Selling Teenage Artist and Largest TV Audience for a Performance.
How Can a Conservatorship Be Removed?
It is fair to say that conservatorships walk a fine line between protecting a person and stripping them of their civil liberties. That is why it is so important that legal control is lifted when it is no longer needed.
The process of ending a conservatorship will depend on the type of case being discussed. The arrangement can end when:
- The conservatee dies. This applies mostly in handling the cases of elderly people.
- When the conservatee runs out of money/assets, in the case of estate conservatorships.
- The conservatee does not need the same level of help anymore.
The final bullet point is the one that would apply to the case of Britney Spears.
The star is contesting that she no longer needs that same level of control over her life in order to function. But the process of having the metaphorical shackles removed is not an easy one.
It requires a petition to be submitted to the court. This can be done by the conservatee herself, her legal team on her behalf, or a spouse, partner, relative, friend, or another related party.
A court hearing will be set, and evidence will be presented to the court to show that the conservatee is now capable of living an independent life. The petition may be opposed if relevant parties believe the conservatorship should continue.
The judge then has the power to end a conservatorship, replace a conservator, or request a review of the situation.
Some experts warn that conservatorships are increasingly being used as a first resort, rather than exhausting other options first. This sets a dangerous precedent and is a concern within the legal community.
Another significant concern is that it appears to be very easy to place a person under conservatorship, but can be extremely difficult to have it removed, with a greater burden of proof required, even as circumstances change.
Did You Know?
The hairdresser who owned the salon at which Britney shaved her hair off tried to auction off the chopped hair. It was put on eBay for $1 million, but the listing was removed.
The Role of a Conservatorship Attorney
Conservatorship attorneys have a key role to play in legal proceedings and could be involved in a case for a number of different reasons.
- A lawyer could be hired by a concerned relative to petition for conservatorship over another person.
- An attorney could be hired to help remove a bad conservator through legal proceedings.
- A lawyer could be appointed by the court to provide independent advice to a conservatee.
It will be the conservatorship lawyer’s job to provide legal advice, file petitions to the court, present evidence, and argue a case either for or against legal control.
The Latest with Britney Spears
At the time of writing (July 2021), Britney Spears is still fighting to end her 13-year conservatorship.
Following her shocking court testimony, Britney’s court-appointed attorney Samuel Ingham – who was appointed to provide guidance for her back in 2008 – resigned from the case. He had been criticized by his client, with the pop legend saying that Ingham had never told her a petition could be filed to remove the guardianship.
A new lawyer has been chosen by Britney to replace Ingham and take up the fight: former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart. An experienced attorney to the stars, the litigator has represented clients including Ben Affleck and Steven Spielberg.
However, a term of the conservatorship is that Britney is not allowed to sign contracts. On July 14, 2021, Rosengart appeared in court to request that Britney should be allowed to select her own legal representation, saying it was her constitutional right.
The request was approved, and Rosengart is now on the case. Britney spoke tearfully for about 20 minutes at the same hearing and said that she wants her dad removed and charged with conservatorship abuse.
She added: “I thought they were trying to kill me. If this isn’t abuse, I don’t know what is.”
Crowds of reporters and fans gathered outside the courthouse during the hearing. Outside the court, Mathew Rosengart addressed the press.
“We will be moving promptly and aggressively for his removal,” he said, referring to Jamie Spears. “The question remains: why is he involved? He should step down voluntarily, as that is in the best interest of Britney Spears.”
Meanwhile, Britney’s mother, Lynne Spears, backed her daughter’s bid for freedom and said she is in a much better place and is able to care for herself.
Britney’s battle continues. This is an ongoing story – check back for updates.
Did You Know?
While her first two albums were written for her, Britney started writing her own music for album three and would call her own home voicemail and sing to the machine to keep track of her ideas.
It is unknown how many people are under conservatorship across the United States, but the case of Britney Spears has put this system under the microscope.
The American Civil Liberties Union has taken an interest in proceedings following the latest developments, and fresh debates are underway over the pros and cons of conservatorships.
One new piece of legislation has been launched by congressman Jason Smith regarding IUD healthcare rights.
Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey Jr. have also called for an improvement in conservatorship oversight and have requested data on guardianship cases.
The lawmakers say Britney’s case has brought to light longstanding concerns over the potential for civil rights and financial abuse of people under conservatorship. They have started working toward introducing better federal regulations.
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