Explainer: Britney Spears case throws spotlight on complex conservatorships

Singer Britney Spears poses backstage with her Choice Style Icon award at the 2015 Teen Choice Awards in Los Angeles
FILE PHOTO: Singer Britney Spears poses backstage with her Choice Style Icon award at the 2015 Teen Choice Awards in Los Angeles, California, United States August 16, 2015. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

June 23, 2021

(Reuters) – Pop star Britney Spears has been under a court-appointed conservatorship, or guardianship, since 2008. On Wednesday, she is due to make a personal address to the Los Angeles judge who is handling the conservatorship.

Here is how conservatorships work in California:

WHAT IS A CONSERVATORSHIP?

A court-approved arrangement in which a person or organization is chosen to protect and manage the personal care and/or finances of a person whom a judge has found to be unable to manage his or her own affairs.

IN WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES IS A CONSERVATORSHIP APPROVED BY THE COURTS?

When someone needs help taking care of his or her daily needs, managing their finances, or gives away large sums of money to strangers. Many are elderly people, or developmentally disabled, or people with temporary or permanent mental or physical disabilities. Details about the personal health of the conservatee is not made public. A court-appointed investigator is required to make a personal visit and submit a status report about the conservatorship every two years.

WHAT ARE THE DUTIES OF A CONSERVATOR?

A conservator can be a relative, friend or professional entity. Duties include deciding where the conservatee will live, making arrangements for their health care, housekeeping, transportation, managing finances, paying taxes and bills, making investments, protecting assets, accounting to the court for management of finances and reporting to the court on the status of the conservatee. Any changes require court approval.

WHO ARE THE CONSERVATORS IN THE BRITNEY SPEARS CASE?

The singer’s father Jamie is a joint conservator of her personal affairs with care manager Jodi Montgomery. Jamie Spears is also a joint conservator of her financial affairs with financial firm Bessemer Trust. Spears has an attorney to represent her. In 2020, Spears began her attempts to remove Jamie Spears as her personal conservator.

HOW MUCH FREEDOM DOES A PERSON UNDER A CONSERVATORSHP HAVE?

Restrictions are determined by the court depending on individual circumstances. Since 2008, Spears has performed multiple concerts, been on several tours, recorded several albums, goes shopping, posts frequently to her Instagram account, has a boyfriend, gets an allowance and has gone on vacation.

HOW CAN A CONSERVATORSHIP BE BROUGHT TO AN END?

The conservatee, or a relative or friend, can ask the judge at any time to end the conservatorship. A court appointed investigator would evaluate the case and hear from all sides. The conservatee must prove they can handle their own personal and financial affairs. The judge would make a decision. Spears has not made such a request. The court can remove a conservator who is failing to perform their duties and appoint a new one.

WHY HAS THE BRITNEY SPEARS CASE ATTRACTED SO MUCH ATTENTION?

It is unusual for someone of Spears’ age and high profile to have been under such an arrangement for 13 years. Details of her mental health issues have never been revealed. The fan-based #FreeBritney movement, started in 2019, believes Spears is being held against her will and that she is sending cryptic messages through her Instagram postings. The 2021 TV documentary “Framing Britney Spears” brought wider attention to the case.

WHAT IS BRITNEY SPEARS EXPECTED TO SAY ON WEDNESDAY?

Neither Spears nor any of the attorneys in the case have said what the singer plans to speak about. She is not expected to attend the Los Angeles court in person but to speak via audio and/or video link. The last time she spoke to the judge, in May 2019, the hearing was closed to the public and her testimony was sealed.

(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Grant McCool)