As the Britney Spears case rages on.
By now, you’ll have seen the news of Britney Spears’ court battle to end the thirteen year conservatorship held by her father, Jamie Spears. But, question: what is a conservatorship, in it’s simplest form?
And how can the singer, at the age of 38, possibly still be legally controlled by her father and other guardians?
We’ve asked Hatti Suvari, consumer advocate and host of podcast Get Legally Speaking, and lead attorney Sandra L. Slaton for their take.
What is a conservatorship?
According to Suvari, a conservatorship is a law granted by a court for individuals who are ‘unable to make their own decisions, for example for those people suffering with dementia or other mental illnesses,’ she shares.
Slaton agrees, adding that in California, where Britney’s cases are taking place, a conservatorship is defined as a court case where a judge appoints a responsible person or organisation (called the ‘conservator;) to care for another adult (called the ‘conservatee’) who allegedly cannot care for himself or herself or manage his or her own finances.
“Many times the person is competent, as in Britney’s case. Their rights are violated and they are unable to choose their own counsel. This must change,” she stresses.
Where is conservatorship legal?
According to Slaton, conservatorships and guardianships are legal across the United States, but each state has its own guidelines for the appointment of conservatorships or guardianships.
“Plus, the term ‘conservatorship’ versus ‘guardianship’ varies from state to state,” she shares.
Why were they introduced and when?
Conservatorships and guardianships are typically used in cases where elder adults with Alzheimer’s or other handicaps lose the ability, or lack such ability, to independently manage themselves or their finances. “A conservator or guardian can be appointed by the court to manage that person’s estate, make decisions about their health care, living situation, and personal matters,” the lawyer shares.
But this is where the problems arise. “There is almost no oversight on the court making these incredibly impactful judgements. Conservatorships and guardianships are relatively easy to get in the first place, but very hard to end once it’s in place,” she continues.
Further, she adds that in some instances, like incestuous courts where the same lawyers and advisors are placed on the court’s roster over and over again, they stand to gain financially from appointment, making it extremely difficult to fight even the initial appointment of a guardianship or conservatorship.
How do you get out of a conservatorship?
Good question – as, bottom line and as the Britney case has proven, it’s tough to end a conservatorship, and in Slaton’s opinion, purposefully tough.
“The court makes you jump through multiple hoops to prove that you’re ‘competent’,” she explains. “In most cases, this involves a formal evaluation by a psychologist, interviews by court appointed investigators, witness statements, etc, but ultimately the decision is made by a judge.”
“In most cases, even competent people can’t get rid of the conservator, which is a violation of the person’s right to freedom.”
What’s happening with Britney’s conservatorship?
As Suvari explains, since 2008, Britney and all of her financial affairs have been controlled by her father, Jamie. This happened at a time when she faced a public mental health crisis which resulted in hospitalisation and rehab.
“The conservatorship restricted large aspects of Britney’s life, ranging from who she dated, whether she could have children, even to the colour of her kitchen cabinets in her own home,” she explains.
Britney herself is clearly desperate to be free from the legally binding arrangement, as are her fans and other celebrities – just check out the #FreeBritney hashtag if you need more convincing.
“Whilst there may have been a reason for the initial conservatorship to be initiated, it is difficult to see why this should still be in place, whilst Britney has made compelling arguments for it now to be lifted,” shares Suvari.
“I’m heartbroken for Britney, but I’m thankful that she’s using her platform to shine the light on the critical need for probate reform,” shares Slaton. “I pray that she gets relief – gets her freedom, gets to choose her own lawyer, and obtains the justice she deserves.”
“Walt Disney’s grandson, Bradford Lund, like Britney Spears, is being held hostage by trustees, law firms and the probate court system”
Sadly, Britney isn’t the only one currently stuck in a seemingly never-ending court battle. Take Bradford Lund, Walt Disney’s grandson, who his stepmother, Sherry Lund, says is in a similar legal battle which he’s been fighting for over a decade.
“It’s a broken, corrupt probate court system that allows bad actors in the court system to exploit victims like Britney Spears, Bradford and many others for profit,” shares Sherry.
“Probate court is notoriously corrupt and under regulated,” she explains to Marie Claire UK. There are thousands of cases like Britney’s and Brad’s where trustees, conservators, guardians, and court appointed attorneys are given unlimited power and control over fully competent people.”
“Individuals who are under a guardianship or conservatorship lose their right to hire their own attorneys, control their money, decide where they live, who they see and even their health.”
“Bradford went to trial in Arizona in a guardianship/conservator action that tried to declare that he was in need of a guardian and a conservator. For over seven years Bradford fought, and finally after a ten-day trial before an Arizona judge, he was victorious and found to be competent and have capacity, which he always was.”
“The case was appealed by Bradford’s estranged relatives but Bradford prevailed all the way up to the Arizona Supreme Court. Bradford was one of the lucky ones.”
“Because of the way the law is written, Bradford’s trustees are able to use money from his estate to pay their legal fees, but he is unable to access the funds to pay his own lawyers. Bradford’s hostile trustees have taken approximately $10 million in legal fees from Bradford’s own trust to defend themselves against Bradford in the probate. This is wrong.”
“This all started when Bradford’s trustees denied him his distributions from his trust at age 35, 40, and 45 – ‘birthday distributions’ that his mother intended for him to have per the Trust. Trustees of the estate have withheld these distributions by alleging that he did not have the financial maturity to manage the funds.”
“They have had no problem distributing ‘birthday distributions’ to his twin sister, Michelle Lund, and his now deceased other sister both of whom have had mental health, severe medical, and addiction problems.”
“In the California probate court, Bradford’s constitutional rights have been, and continue to be, severely violated, just as Britney’s and countless others have been.”