By: Robert B. George, Esquire
The notoriety of Britney Spears, and the accompanying coverage throughout the United States via various news and social media outlets, has brought the issue of conservatorship, more commonly known as guardianship in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to the forefront in the minds of many individuals who may not have previously heard of this term.
The pop icon known as Britney Spears has actually been under a legal conservatorship for about 13 years. She is reported to have lost all control over her personal finances, career, and estate in 2008, when a California state court appointed her father, Jamie Spears, as her conservator. The underlying conservatorship is reported to have been the result of and stemming from a mental health crisis that Brittany Spears was having at the time. Although Britney’s conservatorship stemmed from mental health struggles, it was established in 2008 as what is known as a general probate conservatorship covering both her person and her estate. Her father, Jamie Spears, petitioned the court to implement the conservatorship and to make him and an attorney by the name of Andrew Wallet co-conservators over her person and her estate.
The public’s attention, however, has only recently been drawn to the rather unique circumstances of her conservatorship as she has become much more outspoken against it in recent years. She has also managed to garner increasing support in her fight to end the conservatorship, including the FreeBritney movement on social media, recent court rulings in her case, and the New York Times documentary “Framing Britney Spears.” As a result, many individuals, who may not have previously even heard about a conservatorship or guardianship, are likely curious to know what exactly it is and how it is that an individual such as Brittany Spears could become subject to such an arrangement.
A conservatorship, also and probably more commonly known as a guardianship, is basically a legal mechanism established thru and by a Court of competent jurisdiction for people who are determined, or adjudicated, to be unable to manage their own affairs. Such arrangements may be utilized in regards to what is referred to as the “person”, the “estate”, or as to both, depending on the nature and severity of the individual’s underlying deficiencies and incapacity.
In California, where Brittan Spears’ case derives, conservatorship is basically a court case wherein a judge appoints a responsible person or organization to care for another adult who cannot care for him/her-self or properly manage his/her own finances. When a judge grants the conservatorship, the conservator can assume the powers authorized under the order for the duration and scope that it is established. It is akin to the court essentially taking away the civil liberties from one person and giving them to another, presumably capable and competent adult or professional entity. Given the seriousness of such a determination, a conservatorship or guardianship is supposed to be of last resort and only used when there are no less restrictive alternatives by which to address the individual’s incapacities and corresponding needs.
Conservatorships are often only utilized in situations where an individual has a severe cognitive impairment, which most frequently presents in situations involving the elderly whom may, for example, be suffering with severe dementia or other debilitating ailments associated with old age. Accordingly, Brittany Spears situation, at a mere 40 years of age, is certainly not the typical conservatorship. One can only assume that not all of the facts about her underlying situation are known.
There have been some significant changes in the laws applicable to conservatorships and/or guardianships in recent decades, importantly of which includes the principle that guardianship should only extend to those areas of the person’s functioning that they cannot manage on their own. In other words, it is supposed to be narrowly tailored so as to only address the areas in which the individual has been established, by clear and convincing evidence, to be unable to make appropriate decisions on their own.
In the particular case of Britney Spears’ conservatorship, the situation is only further complicated by her wealth as it creates an incentive on the part of the individuals that currently have control over her assets to maintain the arrangement even if she no longer requires assistance with such matters or meets the underlying legal thresholds to be considered an incapacitated person. In that regard, her conservator(s) may be concerned about losing income that they receive for serving on her behalf if the underlying conservatorship were terminated. Consequently, it is not surprising to see individuals, such as her father in the instant case, opposing efforts on her part to regain control over her financial affairs.
Whether the conservatorship will continue, however, remains to be seen as Britney Spears recently appeared before the Court seeking to have it terminated. At the said hearing, and after years of relative silence, Britney Spears expressed to the judge that she felt that the conservatorship was “abusive” and that she wanted her life back. According to the underlying transcripts of the court proceeding, Britney Spears stated that she wanted the ability to make her own personal decisions including the decision to get married and have children. She also wanted control over her financial affairs.
Britney Spears last appeared before the Court in furtherance of her attempts to terminate the conservatorship on Wednesday, July 14, 2021, at which time, inter alia, the presiding Judge granted her the right to choose her own lawyer for the first time since her conservatorship commenced in 2008. She selected Mathew Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor, to represent her in the matter. During this same hearing, Britney Spears also announced her intent to file charges against her father for conservatorship abuse.
Both surprisingly and unexpectedly, Jamie Spears filed a petition with the Court on September 7, 2021 to terminate his conservatorship of Britney Spears’ estate. The court documents referred to his daughter’s requests to terminate the 13-year conservatorship, reading: “As Mr. Spears has said again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter. If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.”
Britney Spears’ lawyer, Mathew S. Rosengart, called the filing “a massive legal victory for Britney Spears, as well as vindication.” He continued: “Having exposed his misconduct and improper plan to hold his daughter hostage by trying to extract a multi-million-dollar settlement, Mr. Spears has now effectively surrendered”
The next court date, regarding whether to remove Jamie Spears from the conservatorship, was scheduled for September 29th, 2021. It remains to be seen what will be addressed on that day now that her father is out.
If nothing else, the situation with Britney Spears definitely highlights some of the difficulties one may encounter when dealing with a conservatorship and/or guardianship matter. Fortunately, the Attorneys at the Offices of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP have over 25 years of combined experience with such matters should you find yourself in need of such assistance.
The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP is a full-service law firm in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We strive to help people, businesses and institutions throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania solve legal problems – and even prevent legal problems before they occur. To learn more about the full range of our specific practice areas, please visit www.dioriosereni.com or contact Robert B. George, Esquire at 610-565-5700 or at [email protected].
The information that our blogs provide does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information is for general informational purposes only. Information in our blogs may not constitute the most up-to-date information. Readers of our blogs should contact a qualified attorney to obtain legal advice with respect to any particular legal matter. No reader should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information in our blogs without first seeking legal advice from a qualified attorney. Only the reader’s own attorney can provide assurances that the information contained in our blogs – and any interpretation of it – is applicable or appropriate to the reader’s particular legal issue. Use of, and access to, the information in our blogs does not create, and is not intended to create, an attorney-client relationship between the reader and our law firm or our blog authors.
Like what you see? Join our mailing list