The 13-year saga of the Britney Spears conservatorship case has recently drawn increased news and social media scrutiny, due to Britney’s legal efforts to end the conservatorship. Coverage of the probate litigation focuses attention on conservatorship laws in general and raises questions about whether a person subject to conservatorship has adequate protection from potential abuse by a conservator.
Individual state legislatures establish conservatorship laws that apply to residents in the state. Since she resides in California, the Britney Spears conservatorship is governed by that state’s laws. Laws relating to conservatorship vary widely from state to state (and even the name for the process is sometimes different), but the proceedings are similar everywhere.
Minnesota has its own robust (and recently updated) conservatorship laws. In exploring the subject of potential conservatorship abuse, this article references the Minnesota statutes. A summary of the Spears case sets the stage for that discussion.
In 2008, when Britney Spears was 26 years old, a California court appointed her father, Jamie Spears, as conservator of her estate, giving him control over her finances and aspects of her personal life. The conservatorship proceeding resulted from Britney experiencing a mental health crisis. The court order and details of the proceedings are not publicly available. However, details of the case have emerged through news reports and social media postings.
Initially, the Britney Spears conservatorship order was temporary, but the court extended it over the years. It is still in effect currently. According to media information, the court order gives the conservator (her father) control over Britney’s finances and personal aspects of her life.
During the conservatorship, Britney continued to perform. She released three albums, had a Las Vegas residency, and made numerous television appearances. Britney is now 39 years old. Her net worth reportedly exceeds $60 million at the present time.
For many years, Britney herself did not comment on the conservatorship case. According to some news reports, Britney voiced objections to the extent of the conservator’s control over her finances and life as early as 2016. However, it was not until 2020 that the court addressed the status of the conservatorship appointment, after Britney petitioned the court through her court-appointed lawyer to remove her father as conservator. The judge declined the removal request but appointed the financial firm Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator of her trust.
In June and July of 2021, Britney addressed the court directly, claiming that the conservatorship had become abusive and was too restrictive, especially concerning aspects of her personal life. Her statements to the court may amount to allegations of conservatorship abuse, which involves financial exploitation or imposition of excessive personal restrictions on a person subject to a conservatorship.
In September 2021, Jamie Spears filed a petition asking the court to consider whether the conservatorship should even continue. According to news reports, the filing states that “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.”
In mid-September, Britney’s lawyer filed a request to end the conservatorship immediately without further medical evaluation and to appoint a different conservator temporarily until a plan is in place to end the conservatorship altogether. Media stories state that the request for a different conservator was based in part on facilitating conservator participation in the development of a prenuptial agreement between Britney and her fiancé, following their engagement announcement in early September.
On September 29, 2021, the California probate court judge suspended Britney’s father as conservator and appointed a temporary conservator. Proceedings in the case will continue. The judge will decide remaining issues based on the evidence introduced in court and the provisions of California conservatorship law.
State conservatorship laws authorize state court judges to appoint a conservator to manage a person’s financial affairs if the person becomes incapacitated and unable to make decisions and manage their own affairs. The laws include built-in safeguards to prevent abuse of conservatorship authority.
A conservator remains under ongoing supervision of the court making the appointment. If a conservator breaches the fiduciary responsibilities imposed by state law, the person subject to the conservatorship has litigation options to remedy the breach of duty.
State laws allow a person subject to conservatorship to petition the court through their attorney to change or terminate the conservatorship order, replace the conservator, or take other appropriate action. The proceedings in the Britney Spears case reflect this process.
By their very nature, conservatorship cases involve highly personal matters of the person who is the subject of the proceeding. As the situation with the Britney Spears case demonstrates, a conservatorship proceeding also can be extremely complex in both factual and legal terms. Representation by a probate litigation attorney familiar with the applicable laws is virtually essential for all parties participating in a conservatorship proceeding.
State laws give the person who is the subject of the proceeding the right to legal representation. Most often, the court appoints an attorney to represent the person. Britney Spears has been represented by court-appointed legal counsel throughout her conservatorship case.
In June 2021, the court granted Britney’s request to hire a lawyer of her own choosing. Her new attorney immediately began aggressively pressing the court for removal of her father as conservator. The current state of the proceedings reflects the efforts of her lawyer to address Britney’s concerns about the conservatorship and her allegations of conservatorship abuse.
While California combines management of finances and control over personal matters under conservatorship law, Minnesota has two types of proceedings for persons who are incapacitated. Conservatorship addresses control over finances. Guardianship pertains to control over general welfare and personal matters.
The Minnesota conservatorship and guardianship statutes, which were revised and updated in 2020, provide substantial protection for a person who is the subject of either type of proceeding. Section 524.5-120 of the 2020 Minnesota Statutes contains a Bill of Rights for Persons Subject to Guardianship or Conservatorship. The provisions include an extensive list of 17 different rights that must be enforced by the court during either type of case.
Section 524.5-417 of the Minnesota law, which includes a list of the powers and duties of a conservator, begins with two important statements:
(a) A conservator shall be subject to the control and direction of the court at all times and in all things.
(b) The court shall grant to a conservator only those powers necessary to provide for the demonstrated needs of the person subject to conservatorship.
These guiding legal principles and other provisions included in the Minnesota statutes provide protection from conservatorship abuse. If a violation of the law or of a specific duty in the court order occurs, the attorney for the person subject to conservatorship may petition the court for appropriate relief, as specified in the law.
At the Dave Burns Law Office, probate litigation is a central part of my practice. I have years of experience representing parties in conservatorship and guardianship matters, including contested and uncontested petitions and claims for breach of fiduciary duties. I am a member of the Minnesota Association for Guardianship and Conservatorship (MAGiC) and the Hennepin and Ramsey County Guardianship and Conservatorship Panel.
If you would like to discuss a situation involving a Minnesota conservatorship or guardianship, I invite you to contact me at (612) 677-8351 or by emailing email@example.com. I welcome inquiries from clients and referring attorneys throughout the State of Minnesota and am available to meet with clients in both Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Dave Burns Law Office hopes you find this article helpful. But please do not rely on it as legal advice. The law changes regularly and the outcome of any legal matter depends on its unique circumstances. View full disclaimer