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February 3, 2020

Why Does Britney Spears Still Need a Legal Guardian 12 Years Later? The Ins and Outs of Conservatorship

Estate Planning & Asset Protection

Here we are, a month into 2020, and 12 years after a California court granted a conservatorship (simply referred to in many states as a “legal guardianship”) giving Britney Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, control over her financial assets and many personal decisions. Her father can sell her property, limit who visits her and negotiate business contracts. Britney is forced to log every one of her purchases for the sake of yearly court reports.  The conservatorship is still in place, even though the court has considered ending it at various times over the years. 

A Bit of Background

Even those of us who don’t follow social media or Hollywood gossip should remember Britney’s very public meltdowns that led up to the conservatorship. The stories and images were all over the media of Britney shaving her head, Britney attacking a car with an umbrella, Britney driving with a baby on her lap, Britney flashing photographers as she emerged from a limousine and Britney being wheeled out of her mansion on a stretcher after barricading her baby and herself inside its walls. So, it’s not exactly shocking that following two commitments to a psychiatric ward, in 2008 her father petitioned the L.A. County Superior Court for an emergency temporary conservatorship that was granted and made permanent by the end of that year. Though he has since resigned, attorney Andrew Wallet was appointed as a co-conservator to help manage Britney’s financial assets.

But the court first ordered that conservatorship a good 12 years ago. In the meantime, Britney Spears has worked hard to produce four albums and go on four world tours. She has a net worth of $60 million and is ranked by Billboard as the eighth-biggest artist of the first decade of this century. She performed 248 sold-out shows at the Zappos Theater and Planet Hollywood in the five-year period from December 2013 through December 2017, and she’s sold 150 million records worldwide.  She’s ranked as the fifth-highest paid female performer in the music industry. 

If you think that it seems unusual for a hard-working, successful millionaire be subject to a conservatorship for so many years, you would be right. It’s very unusual. Courts create conservatorships to protect those who cannot care for themselves. They are usually reserved for the old, the infirm and the mentally handicapped. Normally, they are permanent.

Recent Signs of Continued Need of Britney Spears’ Conservatorship?

  • In January of last year, Britney canceled the extensive Las Vegas “Domination” shows that had been scheduled, claiming her father was seriously ill with a ruptured colon. She said she wanted to concentrate on her family. 
  • In March, Wallet resigned as co-conservator without giving a reason. There was speculation that this meant Wallet was at odds with how Jamie Spears was doing things.
  • On April 3, Britney Spears checked into a mental health facility for a month, leading many to speculate that her mental health was the real reason she canceled the Las Vegas shows. 
  • In May, Britney’s father and guardian filed a petition to extend the conservatorship to Hawaii, Florida and Louisiana.
  • In August, he added nine more states to the conservatorship.  

Many of Britney Spears’ millions of fans became alarmed. They suspected a conspiracy to exploit Britney, and the hash tag #freebritney sprung up all over social media. In May 2019, Miley Cyrus even screamed out “Free Britney!” while performing onstage. All this despite Britney’s social media assurances that she was fine.

Why Does Britney Spears’ Conservatorship Remain in Place?

We are not privy to Britney Spears medical records, so we cannot say for sure why the conservatorship remains in place. The court may be afraid that Britney could be subject to “undue influence” from people who would exploit her given her mental condition and the complexities of her large estate. For example, Britney’s former co-conservator Wallet says that he was able to keep many hundreds of people working with her from giving her drugs. 

Courts recognize that conservatorships curtail the rights of the ward, which is why courts are loathe to create or continue them unless really necessary. So, the fact she has been subject to a conservatorship for 12 years suggests a continuing fragile mental state. To grant a conservatorship, a court must be convinced that the ward cannot manage their own finances or life due to a cognitive impairment that requires protection. The court itself does not determine cognitive impairment; an impartial medical professional does.  

Despite a court-ordered expert evaluation of Spears’ conservatorship in May, it remains in place. Britney will need to demonstrate that she can function just fine without a conservatorship in order to convince a judge to terminate it.  This many not be easy to do, because it is hard for a judge to know if a person has really recovered enough to take care of themselves and their finances once the conservatorship is abolished.

There is also a very real advantage to keeping the conservatorship in place. People in the music and event business want to make money, and the conservatorship has reduced their risks. Many business opportunities she has enjoyed simply would not have been offered without the security of the conservatorship.

Conservatorships in Texas

In Texas, conservatorship may refer to child custody and who makes decisions for the child. But it may also refer to adult guardianship of financial and personal matters of someone who is incapacitated such as the case of Britney Spears. Often conservatorships are put into place for the aging who can no longer manage their affairs. Other people may have guardians due to long or short-term disabilities. Usually, wards are unable to provide for themselves.

If you believe that you should be appointed as a conservator for a relative who is incapacitated, you will need to file a petition with the probate court. Of course, the person in question or other interested parties may challenge that petition. You must provide evidence and testimony, but most importantly, the court must hear from an objective medical doctor about why the person is incapable of managing their own life or finances to the degree that they need a guardian.

If you are appointed conservator, a Texas court will strictly supervise your actions. In order to remain within the law, you will want to consult with a Texas probate attorney who is experienced in conservatorship and guardianship law. 

In Texas, four kinds of guardianships are possible: 

• Guardian of the person, full or limited

• Guardian of the estate, full or limited

• Guardian of the person and estate

• Temporary guardianship to address an imminent danger. In Texas, a temporary guardianship is in effect for 60 days from the date it is established.

Responsibilities of a Guardian in Texas

A guardian’s responsibilities depend on the type of guardianship and court order. However, they may include:

  • Paying the ward’s bills and living expenses
  • Opening and closing financial accounts
  • Making decisions about and maintaining assets 
  • Filing tax returns
  • Ensuring the ward’s medical and living needs are met 
  • Filing annual reports or accountings with the court 
  • Buying and selling property
  • Investing and managing investments
  • Managing retirement accounts

How to Avoid a Conservatorship in Texas

Guardianship is the most restrictive action that can be taken to protect a vulnerable ward, and the ward may lose many basic rights. Also, a court might appoint a guardian and an attorney that the ward did not choose – but must pay for. Therefore, conservatorships should not be created lightly but should rather be considered a last resort. Fortunately, there are some options available that enable you to avoid conservatorship. Durable general power of attorney and trust agreements are two of the most important.

  • Durable general power of attorney enables you to appoint a person of your choice to have control over your finances and property should you become incapacitated or to continue once you are incapacitated. This way, you are choosing the person who has control of your property rather than a court.
  • Trust agreements enable you to set the terms for how a trustee will manage your assets as well as the property distribution once you pass away.

Consult with an Experienced Texas Conservatorship Attorney

If you think it may be for the best for you to petition to be the guardian of another person, or if someone has filed a petition to make you their ward, call the San Antonio law offices of Shann M. Chaudhry Esq., attorney at law, for a free consultation. Our experienced Texas conservatorship attorneys can help you to choose the right course. Contact us at (210) 646-9400 to schedule an appointment. 

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