Britney Spears’ Nightmare Conservatorship Underscores The Vital Importance Of Incapacity Planning—Part 1
Since the age of 16, when she burst onto the charts with her debut single, “…Hit Me Baby One More Time,” Britney Spears has been one of the world’s most famous and pop stars. However, despite her massive fame and fortune, Britney, has never truly had full control over her own life.
As most familiar with pop culture know, Britney has been living under a conservatorship for the past 13 years. Known as “adult guardianship,” a conservatorship is a legal structure in which the court granted Britney’s father, Jaime Spears, and other individuals nearly complete control over her legal, financial, and personal decisions. The conservatorship was initially established in February 2008 after Britney suffered a mental breakdown that resulted in her being briefly hospitalized.
A Total Loss of Control
Back in 2008, the court appointed Britney’s father and attorney Andrew Wallet as her co-conservators. This occurred because Britney was deemed mentally unfit to care for herself. The arrangement was only meant to be temporary. However, in October of that year, the conservatorship was made long-term. Her father has remained in nearly complete control of Britney’s life ever since.
Under the conservatorship, Britney’s father has the power to restrict her visitors (even those with her own children); he has the authority to make her medical decisions; and he has the final say in all of her business deals, including when she works, and the authority over all of her financial matters.
As it stands now, Britney’s current mental-health status remains unclear. Therefore, we can’t be sure whether or not she still requires someone to help her manage her financial and business affairs. But what is abundantly clear is that given the chance, Britney would have undoubtedly preferred to have some say in who should be in charge of making decisions on her behalf during her incapacity and how those decisions should be made.
Yet because Britney did not create legal documents indicating who should make decisions for her if she could not make decisions for herself, a judge decided for her. This has resulted in immense trauma for Britney and destroyed her relationship with her father. With this in mind, in this series of articles, we will first discuss the latest details on Britney’s conservatorship and the impact the arrangement has had on the pop star’s life and career. From there, we’ll discuss how you can prevent something similar from happening to you and your loved ones using proactive Wills and Trusts planning and our Family Wealth Planning process.
Years Of Abuse And Conflict
Although there has been widespread speculation that Britney’s conservatorship was abusive, the details of her conservatorship have been kept private. Moreover, until very recently, Britney had never spoken publicly about her life under the conservatorship.
Britney’s father and others involved with the conservatorship have consistently maintained the arrangement saved Britney from herself and others looking to exploit her. They described how the conservatorship helped pull Britney out of debt and allowed her to earn a fortune worth nearly $60 million. Plus, representatives for the conservatorship have noted that Britney could move to end the conservatorship at any time.
However, two shocking developments within the past few weeks finally revealed just how much Britney has suffered under the conservatorship and how she has fought unsuccessfully for years to regain control of her life. The first was a report published by the New York Times on June 22.
According to confidential court records, Britney had expressed serious opposition to her conservatorship as early as 2014, and on multiple occasions, the pop icon pushed for her father to be removed as her conservator. The very next day in a public court hearing on June 23, Britney finally broke her silence. What she described was stunning.
During an emotional 24-minute speech delivered via Zoom, Britney pleaded with Judge Brenda Penny to end the conservatorship. She went on to state that she has endured years of abuse and exploitation. This abuse included having to take a powerful mood stabilizer that makes her feel drunk, being compelled to work while seriously ill, and being forced to remain on birth control, so she can’t have more children. (Read a full transcript of Britney’s testimony here.)
In response, Britney’s father denies any wrongdoing and insists he’s acting in his daughter’s best interests. In fact, a few days later, his lawyers filed a petition requesting the court investigate Britney’s allegations. According to Mr. Spear’s petition, if Britney’s claims prove true, then “corrective action must be taken,” and if not, then the conservatorship “can continue its course.”
A week after her testimony, Judge Penny denied Britney’s request to remove her father as conservator. However, the judge’s ruling was only in response to a filing by Britney’s lawyer made in November 2020 to have a wealth management company, Bessemer Trust, take over as sole conservator. It was not in response to Britney’s impassioned testimony. As it turns out, Britney’s court-appointed lawyer has yet to file a formal petition to terminate the conservatorship. However, the judge said she would be open to such a filing.
According to CNN, Britney has since instructed Ingraham to immediately file the necessary paperwork to formally terminate the conservatorship. If filed, the judge could rule on Britney’s petition and her father’s request for an investigation at the next court hearing which is scheduled for next week on July 14.
A Broken System
Britney’s story highlights the real potential for abuse that exists within the conservatorship system. In fact, there have been dozens of highly publicized reports in recent years involving corrupt professional guardians, who exploit those under their care for their own financial gain. In those cases, the victims have nearly all been elderly, and their abusers were strangers. But Britney’s situation makes it clear that people of any age can fall prey to these restrictive legal arrangements. Further, it shows that the abusers can even be your own family members.
The most puzzling part of the whole situation is why someone as young and active as Britney is still living under a conservatorship. Conservatorships and guardianships are typically used to protect the elderly and mentally disabled who are incapable of making their own decisions. Due to this, they often remain in effect until the person dies.
Although Britney may have initially needed the conservatorship to protect her from her own poor decisions and others looking to take advantage of her in the aftermath of her breakdown in 2008, since then, the Grammy winner has worked almost nonstop. In fact, over the past decade during which she was deemed “incapable of making her own decisions,” Britney has released four albums, headlined multiple world tours, performed nearly 250 shows in a Las Vegas residency, and served as a judge on the “The X Factor.”
However, due to the private nature of her conservatorship and the fact that Britney has never fully disclosed the specifics of her diagnosis, we don’t know the full circumstances of her mental health. Although there have been rumors and speculation that Britney is suffering from bipolar disorder, this has never been substantiated.
What’s more, although it was reported in 2019 that Britney checked herself into a mental health facility and was prescribed lithium, according to court records obtained by the New York Times, this wasn’t entirely true. In 2019, Britney testified that she was forced into the facility against her will. She further told the judge that she was forced to take the lithium against her wishes as well.
In the end, if Britney petitions the court to terminate her conservatorship, she will need to prove to the court that she currently possesses the capacity to handle her own life, health, and financial choices. In order to do this, Britney will almost certainly have to undergo another mental health evaluation. I will also likely involve a court hearing with testimony from mental health professionals.
In an interview with the culture and music website Vulture, Tamar Arminak, a conservatorship attorney who worked on a similar conservatorship, said that the process to prove Britney’s capacity would likely involve a “mini-trial” to determine whether the conservatorship continues to be in the singer’s best interest.
“You have to present evidence and show a changed circumstance,” said Arminak. “You will have to have testimony from doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, and witnesses who will testify for you that you shouldn’t be under this conservatorship.”
Undergoing another mental health evaluation is something Britney is hesitant to do. Indeed, in her recent testimony, she made this point clear by stating: “I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive… I want to end the conservatorship without being evaluated”.
According to Vanity Fair, a source close to Britney said the reason for Britney’s reluctance to undergo another mental health examination is due to the fact that she has had such poor experiences with the doctors hired by her father.
“She doesn’t have much trust for the doctors that she has worked with so far,” the source said. “She feels like they have failed her.”
The source went on to say that Britney’s reluctance is also one of the reasons her lawyer has yet to formally file the petition to end the conservatorship. After her past experiences with mental health professionals, it’s understandable that Britney would be hesitant to trust another doctor.
However, if Britney wants to finally be free, that might be the only choice she has.
Avoid Britney’s Fate With Incapacity Planning
Whether it’s mental illness, dementia, or a serious accident, we are all powerless to prevent the potential for incapacity. However, with the proper Wills and Trusts planning, you can at least have control over how your life, healthcare, and assets will be managed if something does happen to you. Moreover, such planning can also prevent your family from enduring the bitter conflict and the expense that can result when you leave control over your life in the hands of the court.
Working with us, your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can put an array of Wills and Trusts planning vehicles in place that would make it practically impossible for a conservator or legal guardian to ever be appointed against your wishes. In part two, we’ll outline those options in more detail. To learn more, contact us today.
We’ll continue next week with part two in this series on Britney Spears’ conservatorship and how you can avoid the potential for abuse, conflict, and expense of court-ordered conservatorship using Wills and Trusts planning.
This article is a service of Levi L. Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents. We help to ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. This is why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During this session, you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session for free.