by Nancy Williamson, Staff Attorney
Most people have never heard of a conservatorship proceeding before the Britney Spears case. This case has quite a stir and a lot of support from Hollywood and her fans. A documentary was released in February 2021 about the conservatorship entitled “Framing Britney Spears.”
Conservatorships play an important role in the Probate Court. Conservatorships are used to help protect vulnerable adults by utilizing a court appointed conservator to manage the conservatee’s personal affairs (conservatorship of the person) and the conservatee’s assets (conservatorship of the estate). Oftentimes, the conservator of the person and the estate are the same individual. The role of the conservator of the person is to ensure that the conservatee’s physical, health, and psychosocial needs are met. The conservator of the estate must properly manage the conservatee’s assets. The goal of the conservatorship is to protect the conservatee while allowing the conservatee to remain as independent as possible.
In the Britney Spears case, the conservatorship was granted thirteen years ago after a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold. The rationale for the conservatorship was that Britney Spears was unable to handle the management of her personal or financial affairs. Since then, Britney has had a successful professional life, but every aspect of her personal and professional life has been controlled by the conservator of the person, Jodi Montgomery, and the conservator of the estate, Jamie Spears.
Like many others, I have been following this case and the allegations of the #FreeBritney movement. I was shocked as I listened to Britney’s statement at the last court hearing where she argued for the removal of her father, Jamie Spears, as the conservator of the estate. You would expect someone who is subject to a conservatorship to be incoherent and unable to express clear reasons for the termination of the conservatorship. However, Britney was articulate and able to provide clear examples of the problems with the conservatorship, the need for the termination of the conservatorship, and the reasoning in support of her position. Britney had prepared a written statement and stated that “she wants her life back” and “to own her own money.” Britney explained that she recently found out that she could request the court to terminate the conservatorship.
While it seems clear that Britney has capacity, oftentimes it can be difficult to make that determination. One tool that I like to use is the ABA Assessment of Older Adults with Diminished Capacities. This book provides practical information on determining capacity, and a worksheet that can be used to help analyze a client’s capacity. In this worksheet, there are sub-sections related to cognitive functioning, financial management abilities, emotional functioning, and behavioral functioning. You can easily work through the steps and document the behaviors and statements of your client. If it is still unclear, other professionals, such as memory care doctors, geriatricians, and neuropsychologists can be used to provide an opinion regarding capacity. It is often a fine line, especially when an individual has a form of dementia. In the Britney Spears case, the most shocking part of her case is her own testimony. While listening to her testimony, it seems apparent that she has capacity. For the public, it is upsetting because she is still under the conservatorship. Unlike a springing power of attorney that will not be in force once the person regains capacity, conservatorships continue until the court has formally terminated it. This process does not happen overnight and a court hearing is required.
On September 8, 2021, Jamie Spears asked to terminate the conservatorship in its entirety. This hearing will be heard in September, presumably on the same date as Britney Spears’ motion to remove her father is heard. It will be interesting to see whether the conservatorship is ended or if Mr. Spears is simply removed.
Prior to the announcement by Jamie Spears, Britney’s attorney, Mathew Rosengart, had suggested the appointment of Jason Rubin, CPA as the conservator of the estate. It makes sense that a replacement should be a neutral individual who has special skills and ability to administer her estate which is estimated to be valued at over 60 million dollars. It is reported that Jamie Spears receives $16,000 a month as the conservator of the estate, is provided an office space, and receives fees from Britney’s performance contracts. Some have argued that these fees are inappropriate because he does not have the specialized knowledge of a professional manager or agent. Britney’s attorney has hinted that they may file a malfeasance case against her father for the mismanagement of her assets. Some also believe that Mr. Spears’ request to terminate the conservatorship reflects his goal of simply closing the case, which could then strip the probate court of its jurisdiction and ability to evaluate whether or not wrongdoing occurred. If this happens, Britney’s team would have to start over with a new civil lawsuit if she choses to pursue any claims against her father.
The conservatorship of Britney Spears is not your typical situation. Britney is articulate and able to communicate her wishes. While it is appropriate for her to have assistance with the details of her life, it appears that it is in her best interest to regain autonomy. Now, it is in the court’s discretion to determine the appropriate course of action, and it will be interesting to watch this case unfold.
 Since the writing of this article, Jason Rubin has withdrawn his candidacy as a replacement conservator of the estate.