Is the Britney Spears Conservatorship “Toxic”?

by Danielle F. Diebert
The Trusts & Estates Law Blog

Britney Spears says so.  After thirteen years of conservatorship, on June 23, 2021, Britney appeared remotely at her conservatorship hearing and relayed her emotional plea to the judge to terminate her conservatorship without the need for any further evaluation.

The June 23, 2021, Hearing: ”I’m [Not] A Slave 4 U”

At the hearing on June 23, 2021, and after years of relative silence, Britney expressed to the judge that she felt that the conservatorship was “abusive” and that she wanted her life back.  According to partial transcripts of the court proceeding, Britney 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.  At present, her father James Spears serves as co-conservator of the estate with Bessemer Trust, a financial institution.  According to the New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears documentary, Britney has always been opposed to the appointment of her father James Spears as conservator, but he has remained as conservator of her estate nonetheless.  According to Variety, even after Britney’s testimony on June 23, 2021, the court declined Britney’s renewed request to remove James Spears as her conservator of the estate.

Why is Britney Spears Under Conservatorship When it is not her “Prerogative”?

Fans and loyal supporters have long questioned why Britney is under conservatorship.  The #FreeBritney movement has been vocal about the restrictions that the conservatorship places on Britney’s civil liberties and has questioned whether this conservatorship is really in Britney’s best interests.  Conservatorships are designed to protect the most vulnerable members of our population from harm.  When thinking of persons who may require a conservatorship, most people probably envision older persons who may be struggling with memory issues or may be unable to adequately take care of themselves.  At forty years old, accomplished and talented pop superstar Britney Spears is not a typical conservatee.  After the initiation of the conservatorship, Britney released her album “Circus” which performed very well with multiple hit songs and had two residencies in Las Vegas.  Her conservatorship estate has been performing so well financially that in court filings discussed in the New York Times documentary, Britney’s prior co-conservator Andrew Wallet contended that the fees for his services as co-conservator should be increased as the conservatorship should be viewed as a “hybrid business model.”

The Probate Code has stringent requirements for the imposition of a conservatorship, including consideration of whether there are less restrictive alternatives available.   While it is unclear why the court determined that Britney initially needed a conservatorship, the court ultimately determined that Britney was unable to manage her own affairs and/or was susceptible to undue influence, and that a conservatorship of both her estate and person was the least restrictive option in order to protect her interests.

Next Steps – “Stronger Than Yesterday…”?

While Britney has clearly expressed her desire to terminate the conservatorship, termination of a conservatorship is a process.  Britney’s court-appointed counsel will first need to file a petition.  Under Probate Code section 1861(b), a petition to terminate a conservatorship “shall state facts showing that the conservatorship is no longer required.”  The petition to terminate the conservatorship could be opposed if others believe that the conservatorship remains necessary to protect Britney’s interests.  If anyone objects to the petition to terminate the conservatorship, then the court will have to set the matter for trial.  While Britney requested that the conservatorship be terminated without any further evaluation performed, it is unlikely that this will actually occur.  The court will likely require an evaluation to ensure that any issues which initially warranted the establishment of the conservatorship no longer exist.  What position will her conservators, family, friends, and doctors take? Will they too join the #FreeBritney movement?