Originally published 12/21/20, updated 2/12/21
2020 was a difficult year for Britney Spears, and not because of the pandemic. If you haven’t seen the headlines yet – Britney’s Conservatorship was been in Court multiple times in 2020 and has undergone major changes. The most recent power struggle over Britney took place on February 11th of this year.
The #freebritney movement has been more vocal than ever – holding zoom rallies, court house protests, and even garnering 100,000 signatures on a Petition to end the Conservatorship altogether. Fans involved in the movement insist that Britney is being held hostage by her Conservatorship, and that she routinely sends cryptic messages through Social media indicating as much.
Now, in case you’re not up on your Britney news – the celeb singer has been in and out of Court for her Conservatorship since 2008. For most of the last 12 years, Britney’s father has been her Conservator on both the medical and financial sides. In 2020, big changes were made to Britney’s Conservators – with her father’s role being severely diminished. On the medical side, a professional fiduciary has taken on the role of Britney’s Conservator, and on the financial side, her father now shares the role with an institutional fiduciary – Bessemer Trust.
The New York Times, among other news outlets, report that a “battle” currently exists regarding Jamie Spears shared role as Co-Conservator with Bessemer Trust. A hearing was held on the matter on February 11th, in which the Judge maintained the status quo and set a follow up hearing to address the roles of the Co-Conservators going forward.
The fact that someone as young as Britney is conserved is incredibly rare. Britney Spears is among a small minority of young individuals without a severe developmental disability to be Conserved.
Before we get into the details about all the changes in Ms. Spear’s life this year, let’s address what does it mean to be conserved. In short, it means that another individual (or individuals) make decisions on your behalf – on the health side, the financial side, or both. Those two categories are meant to cover the full breadth of one’s affairs. Thus, Conservatorship is a serious matter and not taken lightly by the Courts.
Changes for Britney
Most recently, Britney’s Conservatorship matter was back in LA Probate Court primarily to change her Conservator on the financial side. Britney’s dad, Jamie Spears, who initiated the Conservatorship back in 2008, was previously the named Conservator of Spears’ finances. Britney reportedly asked the Court to remove Jamie and replace him with a professional – Bessemer Trust. Rumor has it that Britney has an intensely strained relationship with her father.
Because all documents relating to Spears’ Conservatorship are sealed by the Court, it’s unclear what actually went down at the most recent Court hearing in November. However, the end result was that Bessemer Trust was named a Co-Conservator over Britney’s finances, alongside her father Jamie.
On the healthcare, or medical side, Britney’s Conservator remains a professional fiduciary named Jody Montgomery. Prior to September 2019, Spear’s father Jamie had acted in this role as well. However, reportedly due to failing health, he asked the Court to appoint Ms. Montgomery in his stead.
So, at present, twelve years after the Conservatorship began, Britney Spears has 3 individuals (or organizations) who have power over the details of her day to day life. Her father Jamie, her care manager Jody Montgomery, and now, Bessemer Trust. And, of course, each of their respective attorneys.
The #freebritney movement insists that her Conservatorship is a conspiracy of sorts – designed as a pay day for her father and his attorneys, with the goal of controlling and manipulating the star.
News organizations have widely reported that those close to Britney insist Britney is very much on board with her Conservatorship. Most recently, Britney asked the Court to consider opening up future court hearings to the public, so her fans could see what was actually happening behind closed doors.
But is it true? Does Britney secretly want to be free, or does she believe her Conservators are necessary for her wellbeing?
Of course, I have no way of knowing. The Court documents are sealed, and as an attorney who works with Conservatorships in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have no experience with the LA County judges. And, of course, I have yet to get Britney’s phone number.
What I can say with confidence, however, is that the Probate Courts and Judges I do have extensive experience working with would never allow Britney’s Conservatorship to continue if she weren’t on board. This is, in fact, a devastating reality to many families around the Bay Area who are desperately trying to help another family member suffering from severe mental illness. Conservatorship is possible in these situations, but is an uphill battle when the proposed Conservatee objects. And when Conservatorships are granted over younger individuals, it’s very unusual for them to continue for as long as Britney’s has – unless the individual is in agreement, which is rare.
Conservatorship is only a (relatively) straightforward path in two scenarios – where the proposed Conservatee either consents to the Conservatorship, or the proposed Conservatee does not have the mental capacity to either object or consent. It goes without saying that even when these factors are present, Conservatorship can still be a laborious path.
One other point I’ll add is that when a Conservatorship case is filed with the Court, an attorney is appointed for the proposed Conservatee. And in many cases, the Court appointed attorney for the Conservatee will absolutely oppose the Conservatorship if his or her client wishes for them to do so.
So what’s the bottom line here?
At least in the counties of the San Francisco Bay area, Conservatorship is taken very very seriously. Conservatorships are only granted when the Court has the opinion that it is the only viable option and that it is indeed the least restrictive option.
In Britney’s case, her fans and attorneys alike hope that the Court will move to unseal future documents so that we may all get a glimpse into what’s really happening in her Conservatorship.