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Conservatorships and the #FreeBritney Movement

By: Ileen Younan

Britney Spears, a well-known pop star with an impressive list of accomplishments, cannot manage her own financial affairs.[1] Rather, she is not allowed to because of a legal instrument called a “conservatorship.”[2] In 2008, Spears was placed under a conservatorship in California.[3] Her father has maintained a role in controlling her estate as conservator since then, barring a brief hiatus he took in 2019.[4] Spears has expressed that she no longer wants her father to maintain control of her estate.[5] These events surrounding the music sensation have led to a #FreeBritney movement by her fans.[6] However, this still begs the question: What is a conservatorship?

In California, there are two types of conservatorships: Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) conservatorships and probate court conservatorships.[7] To be placed under an LPS conservatorship, a person must be gravely ill and have a mental condition listed under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).[8] LPS conservatorships can only be initiated when the county Public Guardian petitions the court.[9] An LPS conservatorship lasts for one year and must be renewed to continue.[10] Otherwise, an LPS conservatorship terminates automatically.[11] Probate conservatorships are different and divided into two categories.[12]

California has two types of conservatorships under the probate court.[13] One is a conservatorship of the person.[14] The other is a conservatorship of the estate.[15] A conservatorship of the person allows the conservator to make healthcare and personal care decisions for the conservatee.[16] A conservatorship of the estate allows the conservator to manage the conservatee’s financial matters.[17] The ground for a conservatorship of the person is that the person cannot provide for their physical needs, specifically, “physical health, food, clothing, or shelter.”[18] The ground for a conservatorship of the estate is that the person is “substantially unable” to manage their financial affairs or “resist fraud of undue influence.”[19] A court petition for a probate conservatorship may be submitted by the proposed conservatee, the spouse or domestic partner, relative, any interested state agency, or any other interested person of the proposed conservatee.[20] Unless otherwise stated, a conservatorship will last for the conservatee’s life or until the court enters an order for termination.[21] A petition for termination of the conservatorship may be submitted by the conservatee, the conservator, the spouse or domestic partner, or the conservatee’s friend or other interested person.[22] Spears’ is the conservatee of a probate conservatorship.[23]

In 2007, Britney Spears suffered a public breakdown caused by the unrelenting paparazzi.[24] In 2008, Spears’ father, James “Jamie” Spears, was appointed co-conservator along with attorney Andrew Wallet.[25] At this time, Spears’ assets were worth approximately $2.8 million.[26] In 2019, Spears canceled a major Las Vegas tour and stated she was putting her work on hiatus.[27] In the same year, Wallet resigned from his role as co-conservator.[28] In addition, James Spears temporarily relinquished his role as conservator of the person to a court-appointed private fiduciary, Jodi Montgomery, because of his physical health problems.[29] Spears’ father has not resumed his role as conservator of the person, but is still a conservator of her estate.[30] Bessemer Trust, a financial company, was appointed in November 2020 as a co-conservator of Spears’ estate.[31] In 2020, Spears’ estate was worth $60 million, according to her father’s attorney.[32] However, there is going to be an accounting hearing to review Spears’ finances on April 27, 2021.[33] In addition, Britney Spears’ attorney will file a petition to appoint Ms. Montgomery as the permanent conservator of Spears’ person.[34]

No one will know whether Spears’ father mismanaged her estate until the results of the accounting are made public after the upcoming hearing. Though, one has to wonder whether creating a conservatorship in the probate court was the best solution for Britney Spears. After her breakdown in 2007, an LPS conservatorship would have given her the rehabilitation she needed but also would have terminated automatically within a year unless it was renewed. Now, if Spears is to end the conservatorship, she must petition the court and state facts in the petition that show why the conservatorship is no longer required.[35] This inevitably leads to back and forth between the parties in court and all of these attorneys’ fees are to be paid out of her estate.[36] This problem could have been avoided at the start and judicial economy promoted via an LPS conservatorship. Hopefully, this works out well for Spears and she can go back to her normal life. #FreeBritney.


[1] Lawyer for Britney Spears’ Father Responds to Fans over Conservatorship, The Guardian (Feb. 25, 2021), https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/feb/25/britney-spears-jaime-spears-conservatorship-lawyer.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Doha Madani et al., Britney Spears Legal Team Wants Temporary Conservator to Serve with Father Jamie Spears, NBC News (Mar. 17, 2021), https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/pop-culture-news/britney-spears-legal-team-wants-former-conservator-serve-father-jamie-n1261323.

[5] Liz Calvario, Britney Spears Refuses to Perform as Dad Remains Co-Conservator of Her Estate, ET (Nov. 10, 2020), https://www.etonline.com/britney-spears-refuses-to-perform-as-dad-remains-co-conservator-of-her-estate-155872.

[6] Maria Puente, Why Does Britney Spears Still Have a Conservator? Legal Expert Says Her Case File Suggests Answers, USA Today (Oct. 24, 2019), https://www.usatoday.com/story/entertainment/celebrities/2019/10/24/britney-spears-why-does-she-still-need-conservator/2288009001/.

[7] LPS (Mental Health) Conservatorship, Superior Ct. of Cal., Cnty. of Santa Clara, https://www.scscourt.org/self_help/probate/conservatorship/conservatorship_lps.shtml (last visited Mar. 10, 2021).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] CAL. PROB. CODE § 1801 (West 2021).

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] CAL. PROB. CODE § 1820 (West 2021).

[21] CAL. PROB. CODE § 1860.5 (West 2021).

[22] Id.

[23] Puente, supra note 6.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Lawyer for Britney Spears’ Father Responds to Fans over Conservatorshipsupra note 1.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Madani et al., supra note 4; Emma Nolan, Who is Jodi Montgomery? Britney Spears Asks to Replace Her Father as Conservator, Newsweek(Mar. 25, 2021) https://www.newsweek.com/who-jodi-montgomery-britney-spears-replace-father-conservator-1578799.

[30] Id.

[31] Doha Madani, Britney Spears’ Father Loses Bid to Retain Control of Delegating Her Investments, NBC News (Feb. 11, 2021), https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/pop-culture-news/britney-spears-father-loses-bid-retain-control-delegating-her-investments-n1257502.

[32] Lawyer for Britney Spears’ Father Responds to Fans over Conservatorshipsupra note 1.

[33] Suzy Byrne, Britney Spears’s Latest Conservatorship Hearing Reviews Her Finances Now that Jamie Spears Shares Duties, YahooEntertainment (Mar. 18, 2021), https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/britney-spears-conservatorship-hearing-reviews-finances-jamie-spears-180638672.html.

[34] Id.

[35] CAL. PROB. CODE § 1861 (West 2021).

[36] CAL. PROB. CODE § 1963(a)(1) (West 2021).