Britney Spears’ conservatorship is now over. The pop star pushed for years to end the conservatorship – an arrangement that began in 2008 and controlled most aspects of her life. Spears’ life decisions regarding her personal relationships, work, finances, and medical decisions were all controlled by the California court-ordered conservatorship for over 13 years.
Spears’ conservatorship was split into two parts – one part for her estate and financial affairs, the other part for her as a person. Her father, Jamie Spears, oversaw both parts of the conservatorship initially but stepped down as her personal conservator in 2019, when Jodi Montgomery was appointed by the court to take over that role. In June 2021, Spears expressed serious opposition to all aspects of the conservatorship, stating it restricted basic life choices and removed basic freedoms. She testified in a Los Angeles court that she was “traumatized” and held against her will, with all of her rights stripped away by her conservators, pleading “I just want my life back.”[i]
Fans around the world became concerned for Spears and began questioning whether the conservatorship was in her best interest. They took to the streets to protest on her behalf and launched the #FreeBritney movement to bring awareness to the circumstances surrounding the conservatorship. With the backing of her fans demanding justice, the world heard Spears’ testimony and the court finally granted her the ability to hire her own lawyer. She hired former federal prosecutor Mathew Rosengart, and soon after, things started to change. In September 2021, Jamie Spears was suspended as conservator of Spears’ financial estate and replaced by an accountant Spears and her lawyer chose.[ii] Ultimately, the conservatorship was terminated in November 2021.[iii]
A long legal battle still lies ahead for Spears, who is putting up a fight against her father and her former management company to retain her hard-earned money, seek justice for the abuse she alleges she endured, and resolve outstanding disputes related to the conservators’ accounting practices and legal fees. New lawsuits could also be filed. Spears has mentioned she wants to bring charges against her father and may explore the possibility of suing him in a civil action. She may file a lawsuit for breach of fiduciary duty, as well as for other claims that have yet to be substantiated. If funds were misappropriated, a criminal investigation may take place and Jamie Spears could also be exposed to criminal liability if wiretapping/recording allegations are found to be valid.[iv]
The #FreeBritney Movement Prompted California Lawmakers to Consider Changes to Conservatorship Laws
A conservatorship is granted by a court for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions. The court places a conservator in charge of handling the affairs of the legally protected individual to ensure the individual’s basic needs are met. Unfortunately, probate courts throughout California are overloaded. Some believe conservatorship petitions are often moved through the system without pause, resulting in rights being taken away unjustifiably at times.
The conservatorship process, however, should change on January 2, 2022. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 1194, which deals with conservatorship reform, into law.[v] Part of AB 1194 addresses attorney reform, requiring judges to allow the person who may be placed under a conservatorship to have the attorney of their choice. Some individuals who may be placed under a conservatorship lack the money or mental capacity to hire their own attorney. AB 1194 addresses this also. Other changes include creating communication between courts and the Professional Fiduciary Bureau, the only state agency in California entrusted with overseeing fiduciaries including conservators; requiring more transparency, such as specific reporting on the number of conservatorships statewide; and implementing additional requirements from court investigators, including talking to first-degree family members prior to the appointment of a conservatorship.[vi]
It is important to note, not only can individuals be placed in conservatorships, but a court can also place corporations and other businesses in financial trouble in conservation until the health of the company improves enough to eliminate the risk of insolvency. The purpose of appointing a conservator is to preserve the businesses’ assets and property, put the business back into a sound and solvent condition, help restore confidence in the business, and enhance its capacity to fulfill its mission. Business in conservation may continue operations without interruption.
The Importance of an Attorney and Client Aligning on Strategy
Under Spears’ conservatorship, she was unable to enter into legal contracts, which prevented her from hiring a new attorney. In a July 7, 2021, filing, personal conservator Montgomery suggested the court appoint guardian ad litem to help Spears hire the lawyer of her choosing. This option avoided the need for Spears to undergo an evaluation to determine whether she had the capacity to retain an attorney. The court granted the request, which was a significant development for her.[vii] Spears was then able to hire attorney Rosengart, a former federal prosecutor who agreed with her cause, understood what she wanted, and whom she trusted to carry out her instructions.
The selection of counsel and the importance of being aligned in strategy cannot be emphasized enough. As was true for Spears – an individual and a business — when selecting defense counsel, claims professionals should ensure they share common goals and agree on legal strategy with their selected attorneys. When insurers and defense counsel view each other as teammates, it allows for the efficient resolution of claims. In Spears’ case, hiring an attorney with aligned goals and strategy helped secure her freedom from the conservatorship.
The Power of Structured Settlements to Care for Those Who Need It
Spears’ conservatorship was ostensibly put into place for her personal and financial protection. Similarly, structured settlements are an excellent option for insurance companies and other businesses to resolve cases for the benefit of plaintiffs who need financial protection. Structured settlements provide distinct advantages over an immediate lump sum payment: a defendant corporation can benefit through an efficient and fast resolution, reducing the costs associated with a long-drawn-out litigation process. Also, the defense can be confident future payments will be made as required under a structured settlement.
The following are a few important considerations when looking at structured settlements:
- What will the tax implications be? When a plaintiff chooses a structured settlement, the total settlement amount is invested in an annuity where it accrues non-taxable interest. Untaxed payments are then made to the plaintiff pursuant to a distribution plan agreed to by the plaintiff.
- Will the structured settlement offer better flexibility? Structured settlements can allow for individually tailored payment plans which specify how settlement funds will be distributed over time.
- Will the structured settlement allow for better financial security? Structured settlements can provide financial security given future payments are locked in on a specified schedule. The recipient of the funds will receive consistent, timed payments which will encourage fiscal responsibility and discipline.
Assess the viability of a structured settlement on your next case involving minor plaintiffs to ensure an efficient resolution for your client and the financial protection of those in need.
The end of Spears’ conservatorship brings takeaways for many in the legal field, including the insurance defense industry. #FreeBritney brought about change to California’s conservatorship laws, emphasizes the importance of selecting the right counsel with whom one aligns, and provides a reminder on the viability of structured settlements when resolving claims.
[i] Elizabeth Wagmeister, Britney Spears Is Finally Free, but Her Battle for Justice Is Far From Over, Variety, (Nov. 17, 2021 11:21 AM), https://variety.com/2021/music/news/britney-spears-conservatorship-end-whats-next-jamie-spears-tri-star-1235114208/.
[ii] Britney Spears: Singer’s conservatorship case explained, BBC, (Nov. 12, 2021), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-53494405.
[iii] Elizabeth Wagmeister, Britney Spears Is Finally Free, but Her Battle for Justice Is Far From Over, Variety, (Nov. 17, 2021 11:21 AM), https://variety.com/2021/music/news/britney-spears-conservatorship-end-whats-next-jamie-spears-tri-star-1235114208/.
[iv] What’s Next For The Britney Spears Case?: Viral Lawyer Michael Mandell Explains, HauteLiving (Nov. 27, 2021), https://hauteliving.com/2021/11/whats-next-britney-spears-case-viral-lawyer-michael-mandell-explains/705302/.
[v] AB 1194 Conservatorship, California Legislative Information, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220AB1194.
[vi] Andie Judson, Being able to choose your own attorney is a constitutional right. But it’s not happening in California’s probate courts., (Nov. 10, 2021, 7:32 PM), https://www.abc10.com/article/news/local/abc10-originals/probate-courts-choosing-attorney/103-a0bb271c-347d-49e2-b2a8-d18788ad2335.
[vii] Extra Security Expenses – Spears Conservatorship, Scribd, (Jul. 7, 2021), https://www.scribd.com/document/514881499/Extra-Security-Expenses-Spears-Conservatorship.