Only the involvement of a major celebrity can turn a “dry” legal issue such as conservatorship into a major news story. Britney Spears’ conservatorship case managed to do the trick, however. Spear’s case drew further interest because her father was her conservator. This position gave him considerable control over both her lifestyle and her fortune. A court terminated the conservatorship in 2021, after nearly 14 years.
If you need to create or terminate a conservatorship, remember that our attorney Graham D. Douds focuses on conservatorships and closely related matters.
What Is a Conservatorship?
A conservatorship is a grant of power over an incapacitated individual (the “conservatee”) in favor of someone who the court entrusts to make decisions for the incapacitated person (the “conservator”). Depending on the type of conservatorship granted, it can be temporary or permanent. It can include authority over the conservatee’s financial decisions, personal decisions, or both.
Originally, conservatorships were designed with the elderly in mind. This is because elderly people often suffer cognitive decline and dementia, or medical conditions that render them unable to communicate their decisions.
Nevertheless, courts also grant conservatorships over younger people, such as Britney Spears, if they exhibit similar disabilities. Theoretically, it is relatively easy to obtain a temporary emergency conservatorship, but it is difficult and time-consuming to obtain a permanent conservatorship.
Britney Spears’s Conservatorship Case
Britney Spears’ conservatorship would have continued indefinitely if she had not successfully petitioned the court to terminate it. During this time, she earned millions of dollars as a world-class entertainer — but she enjoyed unfettered access to none of it. She also lacked the legal autonomy to make her own decisions. During most of the period of the conservatorship, her father served as her conservator.
Why Was Britney Spears Put Under Conservatorship?
A California court originally placed Britney Spears under conservatorship in 2008 after a series of bizarre incidents, including:
- Shaving her head;
- Attacking the paparazzi with an umbrella;
- Locking herself in a room with one of her children to avoid handing them over to the child’s father.
Britney’s behavior resulted in her being placed under 72-hour observation in a psychiatric hospital. After this event, her father petitioned for a conservatorship. The original conservatorship was temporary, but the court later made it permanent.
What Type of Conservatorship Was Britney Under?
The court placed Britney Spears under both financial and personal conservatorships. The conservatorship was initially temporary, but the court made it permanent later. She was not entitled to make the final decision in any area of her life. Any decision she made was subject to a veto by her conservator. Nevertheless, her conservator was legally bound to act in Britney’s best interests.
Her father resigned as her personal conservator in 2019, and the court replaced him with a court-appointed professional. Nevertheless, her father remained in charge of her finances until 2021.
Why Did Britney’s Conservatorship Last So Long?
No consensus has emerged about why Britney Spears’ conservatorship lasted nearly 14 years. It is true that her conservatorship, being permanent, was of indefinite duration. Nevertheless, she could have ended it at any time by taking the initiative to petition the court to formally terminate the conservatorship and convince the court that she didn’t need it anymore.
Graham Douds, conservatorship attorney at Barr & Young Attorneys, speculates that Britney simply didn’t understand her rights under California conservatorship law. He believes the case could reveal flaws in the California conservatorship system that must be addressed.
Why Did Britney Want Her Father Out as a Conservator?
As late as August 2020, Britney’s attorney stated that Britney had not spoken to her father in “a long time” and that she feared him. Britney strongly opposed her father’s position as either a personal or financial conservator. Some of the claims made by Britney or her attorney include:
- She was unaware of the actions that her father was taking concerning her finances, and she did not believe her father was acting in her best interests;
- Her father forced her to take Lithium against her wishes; resulting in negative side effects;
- The conservatorship team refused to allow her to remove her IUD because they did not want her to get pregnant;
- The conservatorship team forced her to attend therapy sessions at a facility where they knew the paparazzi were present;
- Her father’s conduct was “abusive”;
- Her overall experience was a “nightmare”.
The foregoing list is not a complete record of all of the allegations that Britney has made against her father and the conservatorship team. Remember, however, that these are allegations, not necessarily established facts.
Should the Idea of Conservatorship Be Improved?
The Britney Spears conservatorship case has triggered second thoughts in legal circles concerning the concept and execution of the conservatorship system. There are no calls to end the system completely. Society still needs the conservatorship system. Indeed, some people probably could not live without it. Many legal professionals, however, have been mulling over ideas on how to reform the system.
Considering Britney Spears’ lack of understanding of her rights, it seems reasonable to add additional safeguards to the system to ensure that conservatees will know their rights, including their right to seek termination of the conservatorship arrangement.
Of course, ensuring that conservatees know their rights will not always be possible since some conservatees (those with severe dementia, for example) are incapable of understanding these rights or exercising them. Further safeguards might allow high-functioning conservatees more autonomy over their affairs even while under conservatorship.
What Does Being Free of Conservatorship Mean for Britney?
What does the termination of her conservatorship mean for Britney? She said it herself. “I deserve to have a life.” It means she is now in control of her life again. Whether this development turns out well or badly remains to be seen.
For more information from one of our most prominent attorneys, see Graham Douds’ interview on YouTube, where he discusses the Spears case in some detail. If you are facing a conservatorship issue and you need a free initial consultation, contact Barr & Young, either online or by telephone at (925) 660-7544.