Over the past few weeks, the internet has rediscovered that Brittney Spears has not had legal control over her extensive assets for 12 years. Given Brittney Spears’ celebrity status, this news made considerable waves throughout popular culture, and the hashtag #FreeBritney started to trend. People began investigating social media posts from Ms. Spears where she allegedly has hidden cryptic messages about her desire to get out of this arrangement. So, how did it get to this point, and what legal mechanism locks Britney Spears out of controlling her own assets?
First, Ms. Spears has had an extremely public battle with mental health. In 2007, Ms. Spears suffered a breakdown in which she shaved her head and attacked a photographer’s car with an umbrella. She had several stays in rehab and was committed to a psychiatric hospital twice. After her stays at psychiatric hospitals, her father, Jamie Spears, petitioned the court for an emergency “temporary conservatorship,” which granted him and an attorney control over Spears’ financial and personal decisions. The temporary agreement was later made permanent.
What is a conservatorship or guardianship?
A conservatorship or guardianship is a legal arrangement in which a court-appointed person (conservator or guardian) exercises the legal rights of an incapacitated person. Some states, like California, refer to this arrangement as a conservatorship, while other states refer to it as a guardianship. Usually, these arrangements are made for people with mental disabilities, minors, or people that suffer from dementia. It is relatively unusual for someone Spears’ age and stature in society.
Who controls Brittney’s estate?
Jamie Spears has been the conservator who controls decisions over Britney’s health and estate. These decisions range from negotiating business deals to restricting visitors. Most of the decisions and activities Britney partakes in are monitored by the conservator. In 2019 Jamie Spears was allowed to temporarily step down from his role as conservator of Britney’s personal life (while retaining control of her financial affairs) to focus on his health. A temporary conservator for Britney’s personal life was appointed.
Fans of Ms. Spears argue that if Britney was truly in need of such an arrangement, she would not have been capable of earning $138 million since its inception. Hundreds of thousands of fans have signed online petitions to get Brittney out of this arrangement, which they claim is in place to exploit Britney and her massive estate. Unfortunately for the parties involved, this is an extremely public ordeal. The goal of this arrangement, which has been approved by the court, has been to prevent Ms. Spears from making ill-advised business decisions and to protect her from malevolent people. This arrangement helped Britney Spears navigate through a tumultuous time in her life, but, 12 years later, there are questions about its necessity to subsist.
Recently, Britney and her attorneys have taken affirmative actions to restructure the conservatorship and restore some measure of personal autonomy for her. In August, Ms. Spears petitioned the court to permanently remove her father as the sole conservator of her estate and to replace him with a “qualified corporate fiduciary.” Instead, the court ruled the current version of the conservatorship should continue through February 1, 2021, without removing her father as conservator. In September, Britney’s attorney filed documents with the court to open court hearings regarding her conservatorship to the public and calling the #FreeBritney movement “far from being a conspiracy theory.” Britney’s attorney has requested the court to restructure the conservatorship to reflect her current lifestyle, not dissolve it entirely.Ultimately, the future of the conservatorship is probably best left up to those with intimate knowledge of the situation rather than fans of the beloved artist. Still, Ms. Spears’ situation helps shed light on a relatively unknown section of the law.
Bart Chepenik, 305-613-3548 – cell and Brad Trushin, 305-981-8889 are always accessible to help you and your family members to better understand guardianship and Florida law.