From the time she became a teenage pop icon in the early 2000s, Britney Spears has been no stranger to controversy and magazine headlines. After a very public breakdown in 2007, complete with head shaving and attacking the paparazzi, Britney began a series of stints in rehab facilities. While Britney was focusing on her mental health, her father, Jamie Spears, was appointed by a court to look over Britney and her finances, also known as a conservatorship. Since then Britney has maintained a fairly low profile. However, recent social media posts and a series of court petitions have put Britney back in the headlines. Specifically, Britney has petitioned the court to remove her conservatorship and fans are calling to “#freebritney” from the control of her father.
So how exactly does a conservatorship give Jamie Spears so much control? A conservatorship is when a judge appoints a guardian (the “conservator”) to care for and manage the financial affairs and daily decision-making abilities of another adult (the “conservatee”). In Britney’s case, Jamie Spears filed for an emergency temporary conservatorship during Britney’s public breakdown in 2007. However, the conservatorship has been continuously extended and to date Jamie Spears controls all decisions related to Britney’s $59 million estate, healthcare, business, parenting and even situations as extreme as who she socializes with. This month Britney filed to oppose her father appointing a co-conservator to manage her estate with him. Instead Britney has asked the court to pick someone new and independent to evaluate the need for the conservatorship.
While Britney’s situation is unique and high profile, conservatorships/guardianships are not as uncommon as you may think. Each state categorizes the type of control Jamie Spears has over Britney differently. In California, conservatorships refer broadly to financial and personal control over the conservatee. In Florida, conservatorships apply to family members who have gone missing and grants a conservator the ability to solely look after the financial estate during the absence. Britney’s situation would be more closely akin to a guardianship in Florida.
A guardianship is utilized when an individual has become incapacitated due to mental illness, disability, or injury. The court will appoint a guardian to manage the financial and personal affairs of the incapacitated individual. Given the serious nature of a guardianship the court will often appoint an expert committee to ensure the individual is in fact incapacitated and a guardianship is appropriate. Even if the committee determines a guardianship is appropriate, the guardianship can be revoked if the person becomes competent again.
Guardianships can be an important and useful legal process to protect a loved one who has been deemed mentally unfit to manage their estate and personal decisions. However, there is also a risk of the guardian abusing the process. Specifically, guardianships can leave the incapacitated person susceptible to being taken advantage of by the guardian. In Britney’s case, her fans are worried that her conservatorship is acting more like captivity. In support of this argument her fans point to Jamie Spears’ $130,000 annual salary that he earns simply for being Britney’s conservator.
Although you may not be a world-famous pop star, it is important to talk to your estate planning attorney about guardianships. While drafting your estate plan, your attorney can explain the events that would trigger guardianships and can provide for guardianship guidelines in your will such as who would be appointed guardian in the event of your incapacity.