Britney Spears Conservatorship Explained by a Probate Lawyer
“I’ve been in denial. I’ve been in shock. I am traumatized,” the 39-year-old says in an emotional 23-minute statement she provided to a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge over the phone. “I just want my life back.”
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Britney’s case is one of the most famous conservatorship cases in the world. Her plight — caused by what many believe to be an unwarranted conservatorship — has garnered the support of fellow celebrities and inspired the #FreeBritney movement. Why does Britney have a conservatorship and how much control does it have over her? What would it take to terminate the conservatorship?
Keystone Law Group, a leading conservatorship law firm in California, takes a deep dive into conservatorships to help you better understand why Britney’s father established a conservatorship and the legal mechanism that binds Britney.
Child advocates are outraged when photographs surface of Britney driving with her infant son Sean on her lap instead of buckled into a car seat. Spears says she pulled Sean onto her lap after a frightening encounter with the paparazzi.
Two years and one month after tying the knot with backup dancer Kevin Federline, Britney files for divorce. The couple shares joint custody.
Britney checks into a drug treatment facility in Antigua but leaves after less than a day.
The next night, she infamously shaves her head with electric clippers at a Los Angeles hair salon. In the following weeks, she admits herself into other drug treatment facilities.
Britney and Kevin’s divorce is finalized.
Britney performs her lead single “Gimme More” from her fifth album “Blackout” at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards. Critics blast her performance saying she looks dazed and out of sync with the music.
Britney loses physical custody of her sons to her ex-husband, the reasons for which were never publicized.
January 8, 2008
Britney locks herself in a bathroom with her two sons and refuses to relinquish custody of them to her ex-husband’s representatives. When police arrive, they notice her acting as if she is under the influence. She is placed on a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold under California law at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. TMZ reports that she was put on medication to treat bipolar disorder.
The next day during an emergency court hearing, Britney’s visitation rights are suspended. Kevin is given sole physical and legal custody of their children.
January 30, 2008
Britney is committed to the psychiatric ward of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center after concerns were raised about her acting erratically and posing harm to herself. Her mother, Lynne Spears, accuses Britney’s friend Sam Lutfi of engineering the impending commitment.
Meanwhile, Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, petitions for an emergency temporary conservatorship. Jamie’s petition is granted, which allows him oversight of Britney’s estate and person. Attorney Andrew Wallet is appointed as a co-conservator to help Jamie manage Britney’s assets.
Britney is released from the psychiatric ward at UCLA Medical Center after five days.
Britney regains some visitation rights with her sons.
Britney wins Best Female Video, Best Pop Video, and Video of the Year for “Piece of Me,” signaling a comeback.
Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Reva Goetz, now retired, appoints Jamie as Britney’s permanent conservator, saying at the time, “The conservatorship is necessary and appropriate for the complexity of financial and business entities and [Britney’s] being susceptible to undue influence.
Britney and her father obtain a restraining order against Sam Lutfi, ex-boyfriend Adnan Ghalib and attorney Jon Eardley over claims the trio were trying to control Britney and take over her financial affairs.
Britney releases a new album every two to three years. She also secures a four-year Las Vegas residency, launches clothing and perfume lines, scores a luxury fashion campaign, and serves as a judge on “The X Factor.”
Britney’s most recent financial documents show that she has a net worth of $59 million; this is an increase of anywhere from $28 million to $47 million since her father took over control of her estate, raising doubt about the #FreeBritney movement’s claim that her father is financially exploiting her.
January 4, 2019
Britney announces she is putting her planned Las Vegas residency on hold after her father suffers a near-fatal colon rupture.
Andrew Wallet abruptly resigns as co-conservator of Britney’s estate after 11 years, citing in court filings that the “conservatorship is engaged in numerous ongoing business activities requiring immediate attention.” To stay on, he adds, Britney would suffer “substantial detriment, irreparable harm and immediate danger.”
Britney enters a psychiatric facility, citing stress over her father’s illness and the need for self-care.
Fan podcast “Britney’s Gram” releases a voicemail message from a source claiming to be a former member of Britney’s legal team. The caller alleges that Britney didn’t resign from the Las Vegas residency out of concern for her father’s health. He instead alleges that Jamie canceled the planned Las Vegas residency because Britney refused to take her medication, and that he had been holding her in the facility against her will since January after she violated the no-driving rule of her conservatorship. The caller also claims that the conservatorship Britney is under should have ended in 2009. (This last claim may be false because in October 2008, a judge had appointed Jamie to be his daughter’s permanent conservator.)
The accusations give rise to the #FreeBritney movement. Celebrities — including Cher, Paris Hilton, Taryn Manning and Miley Cyrus — voice their support of ending the pop star’s conservatorship, as does the American Civil Liberties Union.
April 22, 2019
Fans protest outside the West Hollywood City Hall demanding Britney be released from the mental health facility she entered in January. She goes home later that month.
Following a closed-door hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny orders a professional evaluation of Britney’s conservatorship. Britney later tells The New York Times, “I don’t think I was heard on any level.” She claims that she had been forced to tour, undergo psychiatric evaluations and take medication.
Britney is granted another restraining order against Lutfi based on claims he is a bad influence on the singer during her mental breakdowns.
Kevin, Britney’s ex-husband, obtains a restraining order against Jamie after an alleged physical altercation between Jamie and one of Kevin and Britney’s sons. A child abuse investigation follows, but charges are never filed.
A judge removes Jamie as conservator of his daughter’s person, and, at Britney’s request, grants a temporary conservatorship of her person to Jodi Montgomery, Britney’s longtime “care manager.”
Britney’s court-appointed attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, submits a court filing that documents Britney’s desire to have her conservatorship altered to reflect her wishes and her lifestyle. This includes requests to appoint her temporary conservator Jodi as her permanent conservator of the person and to replace Britney’s father as conservator of her estate with a private professional fiduciary.
Britney’s father asks the court to reappoint attorney Andrew Wallet to work alongside him as co-conservator of Britney’s estate. Britney’s court-appointed attorney alleges that Jamie’s petition is in retaliation for Britney’s refusal to perform.
September 2, 2020
Court-appointed attorney Samuel Ingham files court documents stating that Britney wants her future court hearings related to the conservatorship to be open to the public.
Judge Brenda Penny extends Britney’s conservatorship, keeping Jodi in place as temporary conservator over Britney’s person, and names wealth management firm Bessemer Trust to serve alongside Jamie as co-conservators of Britney’s estate until February 2021.
The conservatorship is again extended, this time until September 3, 2021.
February 5, 2021
“Framing Britney Spears,” an eye-opening documentary about Britney’s career and conservatorship, premieres on FX and reinvigorates the #FreeBritney movement. She later says the film humiliated her.
Samuel Ingham files a petition to permanently replace Jamie as the conservator of Britney’s person with Jodi, Britney’s temporary conservator.
Samuel Ingham, upon Britney’s request, asks that Britney be allowed on an expedited basis to address the judge directly about her desires regarding the conservatorship.
June 22, 2021
The day before Britney is scheduled to speak to the court, The New York Times reports that it has obtained confidential court documents that show Britney has tried for years to end her conservatorship.
June 23, 2021
Britney testifies to a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge, “I just want my life back. And it’s been 13 years. And it’s enough. It’s been a long time since I’ve owned my money. And it’s my wish and it’s my dream for all this to end.”
She also reveals that she has been forced to wear an IUD — a long-term birth control device that is inserted directly into the uterus by a physician — and claims her conservators won’t allow her to remove it. “I want to be able to get married and have a baby,” she tells the court.
June 30, 2021
The judge denies the motion to suspend Jamie as a co-conservator of Britney’s estate but makes official Bessemer Trust’s role as co-conservator.
July 1, 2021
Co-conservator Bessemer Trust files a motion to resign from its role as co-conservator of Britney’s estate out of respect for Britney’s desire to end her conservatorship.
July 6, 2021
Ingram submits his resignation as Britney’s attorney after the singer criticizes his representation.
July 14, 2021
Britney tells the court by phone that she wants her father to be charged with abuse for his role as her conservator. She retains former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart to be her new counsel. Jodi remains as temporary conservator of her person until September 3, while Jamie serves as conservator of her estate.
September 29, 2021
Judge Brenda Penny will decide on Britney’s request to have her current temporary conservator of the person, Jodi, appointed as her permanent conservator.
What Type of Conservatorship Does Britney Spears Have?
Currently, Britney is under a permanent conservatorship of the estate, or financial conservatorship, with her father Jamie Spears and financial institution Bessemer Trust acting as co-conservators. This arrangement, however, could change, as Bessemer Trust filed a motion on July 1 to resign from its role as conservator of Britney’s estate out of consideration for Britney’s desire to no longer be under a conservatorship.
Britney is also under a temporary conservatorship, with her care manager Jodi Montgomery acting as the conservator of her person. This, however, could change come July 14 when Judge Brenda Penny will decide whether or not to grant Britney’s request to make Jodi’s role as conservator permanent.
Why Does Britney Spears Have a Conservatorship?
In 2008, Britney was placed on a 5150 hold — which allows an adult who is experiencing a mental health crisis and is determined to be a danger to themselves or to others, or is gravely disabled, to be involuntarily detained for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization — following a series of events during which she demonstrated erratic behavior. The extreme nature of the situation showed Britney faced imminent threat and provided grounds for her father to petition the court for an emergency temporary conservatorship.
Conservatorships are typically granted to protect persons with severe cognitive impairment, such as elders with dementia and persons with developmental disabilities or serious mental illness. At 39, with a track record of regularly releasing albums and performing, Britney claims she hardly fits the bill.
“I shouldn’t be in a conservatorship if I can work and provide money and work for myself and pay other people,” she told the court on June 23, 2021. “It makes no sense. The laws need to change.”
Britney claimed during her courtroom testimony that her conservatorship prevents her from getting married or having another baby. “I have an IUD inside of myself right now, so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the IUD out so I could start trying to have another baby. But this so-called team doesn’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they … don’t want me to have children, any more children,” she said. “I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things.”
Britney also claimed she was put on lithium against her will. Lithium is a prescription mood stabilizer that is commonly used to treat bipolar disorder, which can cause episodes of mania and depression. It is sometimes used to treat depression as well. Britney didn’t mention any mental condition when she last spoke to the court; however, some media outlets reported at the time of her 5150 psychiatric hold in 2008 that she was being treated for bipolar disorder.
According to Keystone conservatorship attorney Roee Kaufman, much consideration goes into a judge’s decision about whether to place an individual in a conservatorship. In Britney’s case, “At some point along the way there must have been an expert medical opinion introduced into evidence, into court, that was of the opinion that Britney was for some reason unable to handle these things on her own,” he says during a recent NewsNation Now interview.
What Happens Next in Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Case?
The next court hearing in Britney’s conservatorship case is scheduled for July 14, 2021. Britney is asking the court to approve her request to have her longtime care manager, Jodi, who currently acts as temporary conservator of Britney’s person, appointed as her permanent conservator. The judge’s ultimate decision will be based on more than just Britney’s wishes, Kaufman explains.
“The court is obviously concerned with her personal thoughts and opinions on her condition with the conservatorship going forward,” he says. “But, that’s just one factor the courts are going to consider here. So much of this is going to be driven by expert medical opinion of her doctors, her care team and whether they really believe that her mental competency issues, to the extent she’s suffering from any kind of mental illness, is not impacting her ability to manage her person or her finances moving forward.
“If they still believe that her mental condition renders her unable to make those decisions, there’s a strong possibility that a conservatorship could stay in place.”
As for whether Britney’s father will remain in his role as co-conservator, that will depend on whether there is any evidence of impropriety on his part regarding his management of her assets. It could be an uphill battle for Britney’s legal team to prove such misconduct considering that the value of her estate substantially increased once her father took control of it.
What Can Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Case Teach Us?
The legal battle over who should control Britney’s finances and personal life is playing out on the world stage and putting conservatorships in the spotlight. While Britney’s plight has garnered tremendous media attention, support from other celebrities, and its own movement, it is important to keep in mind that there are two sides to this case.
The court does not take conservatorship matters lightly, because conservatorships severely restrict an adult’s freedom and rights. In Britney’s case, the court will not base its decision on Britney’s or her father’s testimony alone; evidence and the opinions of everyone, from medical experts to persons close to Britney, will likely be considered.
An important question to ask here is: What don’t we know? What do the sealed court documents reveal about Britney’s mental state? How susceptible is Britney to undue influence? At the end of the day, the court has more knowledge about the facts of the case than the general public. That is not to say that Britney’s conservatorship is warranted, just that there is more to this case than meets the eye. And while there is potential for conservatorships to be used as a vehicle for financial abuse, they can also potentially save a life and protect vulnerable persons against harm.
“Conservatorships are the most effective solution for promptly removing individuals with physical or cognitive limitations from situations that are perilous to their health and lives,” Kaufman says. “Taking the simple step of securing an emergency conservatorship could quite literally save a loved one’s life.”