Britney Spears’ conservatorship from an English law perspective
14 July 2021
As a typical girl growing up in the 1990s, obsessed with all things pop culture, I was (and unashamedly still am) a huge Britney Spears fan.
My older sister and I were lucky enough to see the Spice Girls in concert in 1998, but we never managed to get round to seeing Britney perform live. When my sister and I went to see the Spice Girls at their reunion tour over 20 years later in 2019, I promised that we’d go and see Britney if she ever toured again.
Unfortunately, the chance of that happening is looking less likely than ever.
Britney Spears’ career has been in the hands of legal guardians in a conservatorship arrangement since 2008.
A conservatorship is granted in the USA by a court to appoint individuals to act for those who are deemed unable to make their own decisions. A conservatorship is usually put in place to assist those with dementia or other severe mental illnesses.
Since 2008, Britney's father, Jamie Spears, has been appointed by the court as her conservator. Subject to the court's stipulations (such as attending educational programmes to learn about their duties, putting up a security bond as assurance that assets will be properly managed or filing regular reports) conservators have control over a conservatee's life, decisions and finances.
Last year Britney argued that her father's role as sole conservator should be limited and as a result, the Bessemer Trust was added as co-conservator.
Britney recently spoke to the court asking for her father to be removed and for the Bessemer Trust to become the sole conservator. She said that the conservatorship hasn’t allowed her to make very personal health decisions for herself, get married or see her friends, without her father's approval.
Britney alleges that the arrangement is "abusive" and she has asked for the conservatorship to end, stating that she wasn't even aware that she could ask for it to end.
The UK equivalent of conservatorships: Deputyships Orders
We do not have conservatorship orders in England & Wales. The most similar legal framework we have is called a Deputyship.
A deputy is a person appointed by the Court of Protection to be legally responsibly for someone deemed to lack capacity to make decisions themselves. Deputies are closely monitored by the court.
When a deputyship application is approved, the court sets out the deputy's powers in a court order. This may relate to the person's finances, property, medical treatment and personal welfare. A deputy can be a family member or friend or a professional adviser. Professional advisers are limited on how much they can charge when acting on someone's behalf in this capacity.
The deputy must comply with the Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice and submit an annual report to the Court, which outlines any financial transactions that have been made (for example, sale of any property) and any other decisions that have been made. The reasoning for these decisions must also be included in the report. If a deputy does not carry out their responsibilities properly or goes beyond their powers, the courts may enforce legal action against them.
A deputy is only put in place when someone does not have the mental capacity to make their decisions themselves (even if they are possibly unwise decisions). In England, Britney would not be prevented from making personal health decisions or getting married, as she has not lost her mental capacity.
For someone in Britney's position, where she is still able to make decisions for herself but may (for whatever reason) occasionally require assistance, the alternative in England and Wales is to make a Lasting Power of Attorney.
Make your own choice: Lasting Powers of Attorney
When someone has the mental capacity to do so, they are able to make Lasting Powers of Attorney ("LPAs") to appoint an attorney to act on their behalf when making financial decisions and also for health and care decisions.
These documents allow an individual to choose who they would like to have managing their affairs for them if they are unable to do so themselves. A financial LPA could be used straight away once it has registered with the Office of the Public Guardian. A health LPA can only be used if someone has lost their mental capacity as these decisions are deemed far more personal and it is far better for the individual to decide for themselves, if at all possible.
Deputies will only be appointed by the Court if the person does not have mental capacity and has not made and registered an LPA.
Despite the strict rules and the fact that deputies have to answer to the Court, it is preferable for individuals to make LPAs, as this gives the maker of the LPA the power to decide who acts on their behalf. If Britney lived in England and had made LPAs, she could have chosen attorneys that she trusts to act for her and in her best interests.
Unfortunately, Britney's request for her father to be removed as her conservator has been denied by the court. Hopefully this isn't the end for Britney as there is a further hearing scheduled for 14 July. It cannot be known what other facts have not been released about Britney's personal circumstances which may mean the conservatorship is still deemed appropriate. However, the emphasis in England & Wales is on trying to have an individual make their own decisions as much as possible, unless it is deemed that they can no longer do so.
We can assist you in providing personalised advice about making Lasting Powers of Attorney, so please do get in touch for more information.