THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF INCAPACITY PLANNING-A LESSON FROM BRITNEY SPEARS' CONSERVATORSHIP
BRITNEY SPEARS’ NIGHTMARE CONSERVATORSHIP UNDERSCORES THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF INCAPACITY PLANNING
Since the age of 16, when she burst onto the charts with her debut single, “...Hit Me Baby One More Time,” Britney Spears has been one of the world’s most famous and beloved pop stars. Yet despite her massive fame and fortune, Britney, who is now 40, has never truly had full control over her own life.
As most familiar with pop culture know by now, Britney lived under a conservatorship for the past 13+ years. Also known as “adult guardianship,” a conservatorship is a legal structure in which the court granted Britney’s father, Jaime Spears, and other individuals nearly complete control over her legal, financial, and personal decisions. The conservatorship was initially established in February 2008 after Britney suffered a mental breakdown, which resulted in her being briefly hospitalized.
A TOTAL LOSS OF CONTROL
Back in 2008, the court appointed Britney’s father and attorney Andrew Wallet as her co-conservators, as Britney was deemed mentally unfit to care for herself. The arrangement was only meant to be temporary, but in October of that year, the conservatorship was made long-term, and her father remained in nearly complete control of Britney’s life ever since.
Under the conservatorship, Britney’s father has the power to restrict her visitors; he was in charge of arranging and approving her visits with her own children; he had the authority to make her medical decisions; and he had the final say in all of her business deals, including when she works, and the complete authority over all of her financial matters.
It is clear that Britney would have undoubtedly preferred to have some say in not only who should be in charge of making decisions on her behalf during her incapacity, but also how those decisions should be made.
Yet because Britney did not create legal documents indicating who should make decisions for her if she could not make decisions for herself, a judge decided for her—and as you are most likely aware, it had resulted in immense trauma for Britney and destroyed her relationship with her father. With this in mind, we will first discuss details from the Britney’s conservatorship and the impact the arrangement has had on the pop star's life and career. From there, we’ll discuss how you can prevent something similar from happening to you and your loved ones using proactive estate planning with our Life & Legacy Planning process.
YEARS OF ABUSE AND CONFLICT
Although there has been widespread speculation that Britney’s conservatorship was abusive, the exact details of her conservatorship have been kept private. Moreover, until recently, Britney had never spoken publicly about her life under the arrangement.
Britney’s father and others involved with the conservatorship have consistently maintained the arrangement saved Britney from herself and others looking to exploit her when she was at her lowest point. They described how the conservatorship helped pull Britney out of debt and allowed her to earn a fortune estimated to be worth nearly $60 million. Plus, representatives for the conservatorship have noted that Britney could have moved to end the conservatorship whenever she wanted.
However, in 2019, two shocking developments revealed just how much Britney has suffered under the conservatorship and how she has fought unsuccessfully for years to regain control of her life from her father. The first was a report published by the New York Times on June 22.
According to confidential court records obtained by the newspaper, Britney had expressed serious opposition to her conservatorship as early as 2014, and on multiple occasions, the pop icon pushed for her father to be removed from his position. The very next day in a public court hearing on June 23, 2019, Britney finally broke her silence, and what she described was stunning.
During an emotional 24-minute speech delivered via Zoom, Britney pleaded with Judge Brenda Penny to end the conservatorship under which she claimed she has endured years of abuse and exploitation, including having to take a powerful mood stabilizer that makes her feel drunk, being compelled to work while seriously ill, and being forced to remain on birth control, so she can’t have more children. (Read a full transcript of Britney’s testimony)
In response, Britney’s father vehemently denies any wrongdoing and insisted he was acting in his daughter’s best interest. In fact, his lawyers filed a petition requesting the court investigate Britney’s allegations of abuse. Fortunately, after 14 long years, her conservatorship was finally terminated. See https://www.cnn.com/entertainment/live-news/britney-spears-conservatorship-hearing-11-12-21/index.html
A BROKEN SYSTEM
Britney’s story highlights the real potential for abuse that exists within the conservatorship and guardianship system. In fact, there have been dozens of highly publicized reports in recent years involving corrupt professional guardians, who exploit those under their care for their own financial gain. Yet, in those cases, the victims have nearly all been elderly, and their abusers were strangers. But Britney’s situation makes it clear that people of any age can fall prey to these restrictive legal arrangements, and the abusers can even be your own family members.
Conservatorships and guardianships are typically used to protect the elderly and mentally disabled who are incapable of making their own decisions and caring for themselves, and they often remain in effect until the person dies. They are not usually used for younger individuals like Britney.
Although Britney may have initially needed the conservatorship to protect her from her own poor decisions and others looking to take advantage of her in the aftermath of her breakdown in 2008, since then, the Grammy winner has worked almost nonstop and earned millions of dollars. In fact, over the past decade during which she was deemed “incapable of making her own decisions,” Britney has released four albums, headlined multiple world tours, performed nearly 250 shows in a Las Vegas residency, and served as a judge on the TV show “The X Factor.”
So what lessons can be learned from the Britney conservatorship case?
AVOID BRITNEY’S FATE WITH INCAPACITY PLANNING
Whether it’s mental illness, age-related dementia, or a serious accident, we are all powerless to prevent the potential for incapacity. However, with the proper estate planning, you can at least have control over how your life, healthcare, and assets will be managed if something does happen. Moreover, such planning can also prevent your family from enduring the bitter conflict and expense that can result when you leave control over your life in the hands of the court like Britney did.
By working with us, your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can put an array of estate planning vehicles in place that would make it practically impossible for a conservator or legal guardian to ever be appointed—or even need to be appointed—against your wishes.
This article is a service of Meredith Weil, Esq., Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.