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Helping Lives in Conservatorship/Guardianship


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Helping Lives in Conservatorship/Guardianship

In 2008, pop singer Britney Spears’ life, health, and career were seriously at risk. The dramatic court intervention that followed her very public nervous meltdowns (which included shaving her head, locking herself in a bathroom with one of her sons, and battling substance abuse) appointed her a “conservator” in this case her father Jamie Spears who assumed legal responsibility for making all of Spears' decisions by essentiallycontrolling her assets. But 11 years later, does the popstar still need conservatorship?   

It appears that her fans and Spears’ might not think so. Fans and supporters have started a social media movement to #FreeBritney. On May 10, Spears appeared in court to a closed hearing regarding her conservatorship. According to TMZ, the singer reportedly begged a judge to free her from her conservatorship, based on claims that her father had allegedly committed her to a mental health treatment facility against her will and forced her to take drugs. TMZ also had previously reported that Spears’ conservatorship allegedly does not give her father power to commit her to a facility or force her to take any drugs against her will. Her boyfriend Sam Asghari took to Twitter recently to dedicate Mother’s Day to her after her hearing. 

There are other things happening as well. Attorney Andrew Wallet recently stepped down as one of her conservators, leaving Spears’ father as the only decisionmaker. And Jamie, age 66, has serious health issues right now. 

Balancing the preservation of an individual’s autonomy while ensuring the protection from harm and exploitation is tricky. While it can be life-saving, it can be isolating too. When is it time to let go? 

Conservatorship called guardianship in many U.S. states is a solution for adults in need and typically used for seniors with Alzheimer's or other types of dementia, or adults with long-term problems like traumatic brain injuries. It has recently gained media attention like in the case of the adult children of incapacitated celebrities such as Casey Kasem and Peter Falk.  There are potential risks of guardianship, including isolation from friends, family, and community. “The factors that led to the appointment of a guardian – mental illness, dementia, poverty, abuse, and exploitation – may have also led to unwanted isolation. Family, friends, and professionals should be aware of the potentially devastating effects of isolation on the person; loss of ties to friends, family, and social networks can have a negative effect on anyone’s physical and mental health. Isolation leads to an increased risk for depression, cognitive decline and dementia, and even premature death,” according to an article on the website of the American Bar Association (ABA). 

According to a recent article in Forbes, Spears’ father and attorney have to report to the court each year how Spears’ money is managed and spent. “Because conservator court proceedings are a matter of public record, anyone can go to the courthouse and look up how much Spears spends on manicures, Starbucks, child support, and more each year. And she cannot spend money on anything without her conservators' permission.”

Spears has credited her father in the past for saving her life, which included her health and legal trouble. From the outside at least, it appears Spears has turned her life around. Conservatorship was created as a solution for adults who lack the ability to make appropriate decisions for themselves. But if Spears claims she has a better grip on her life now, does he still need to determine where she lives, how she spends her money, what career moves she should make, and who and if she should get married? 

According to the Forbes article, “on one hand, the conservatorship has worked, so it makes sense to leave it in place, even if Jamie is no longer able to handle the role. But on the other hand, many celebrities have multi-million dollar deals, difficult family dynamics, and other complications to manage and do so without someone else possessing the authority to make their decisions. Even celebrities with troubled pasts still have the right to decide when and whom to marry. Shouldn't Britney's growth and success over more than ten years have earned her that right too?”

More reading:

Two lawyers will explore the topic in an upcoming episode of their television series, Fortune Fights, on the REELZ cable network.


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