In 2008, Britney Spears, in the midst of a mental breakdown, was put under the conservatorship of her father, Jamie Spears, and a lawyer, Andrew M. Wallet, after a court ruled that she did not have the capability to manage her own life. Eight years later, Britney (who will soon release a new album) is thriving, but the conservatorship remains. Why?
In a riveting article in the New York Times, journalists Serge F. Kovaleski and Joe Coscarelli investigate the current state of Britney Spears’ conservatorship, as well as the ethical and legal ins-and-outs that surround it.
While Spears and her conservators declined to participate in the piece, Kovaleski and Coscarelli reveal that, to this day, “Ms. Spears cannot make key decisions, personal or financial, without the approval of her conservators...Her most mundane purchases, from a drink at Starbucks to a song on iTunes, are tracked in court documents as part of the plan to safeguard the great fortune she has earned but does not ultimately control.”
Typically, conservatorship is only applied to the elderly, the incapacitated, or the mentally ill. In 2008, few would argue that Spears, who had twice been hospitalized in psychiatric emergencies, did not fit the bill, though Spears herself initially found the rules of the conservatorship too strict. Since then, the New York Times reports, she has settled into the arrangement, viewing it as “a protective bubble that allows her to worry about her true passions: music and her children.”
Still, the extent to which she lacks control is remarkable:
Probate judges in California can appoint two kinds of conservators: ones responsible for a person’s physical and mental health, and others who are put in charge of the individual’s finances.
Ms. Spears has both.
Her father, 63, is responsible for her physical well-being — making sure she takes her medicine, for example — and manages her estate. He shares the financial oversight with Mr. Wallet, who specializes in conservatorships and probate law.
Mr. Spears takes in about $130,000 a year as a conservator and is also reimbursed for the rent on an office he uses. His bills are reviewed and approved by the judge. He has sought only modest increases over the years, though he also requested 1.5 percent of gross revenues from the performances and merchandising tied to Ms. Spears’s Las Vegas show. The court, Ms. Spears and her court-appointed lawyer signed off on it.
For a time, during 2012, Jason Trawick, then her boyfriend, also served as co-conservator for her personal well-being.
Let’s not soak too much in the irony of a lawyer who specializes in finances being named “Wallet” and instead shift our attention back to our girl Britney.
According to the Times, Spears’ conservators have recognized her progress over the past eight years—she raises her children, is recording music, and has successfully been performing at her residency at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. Most recently, she was even allowed to testify when being sued by acquaintance Sam Lufti, something she—in previous cases—was dubbed too fragile to do.
But still, Spears is treated with kid gloves.
“Britney plays off energy,” Felicia Culotta, V.I.P. coordinator for Britney Spears meet-and-greets, told an elite group of Britney fans at a concert last year. “If you go in scared of her, she is going to be scared of you. So don’t be scared of her. She’s very normal.”
Interviews with Spears, Kovaleski and Coscarelli note, are limited and rarely if ever is her conservatorship discussed.
Typically, a conservatorship will last indefinitely—or until it’s proven unnecessary in court. Currently, no one in Spears’ camp (herself included) is trying to fight it:
Since the conservatorship began, some restrictions have been eased. More far-reaching rollbacks were discussed several years ago but never occurred, according to a person who has been involved in Ms. Spears’s care who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Ultimately some of the people who would help to decide whether to end it are the conservators and doctors who now help oversee it, many of whom receive fees from Ms. Spears’s estate for their work on her behalf.
“As long as she is bringing in so much money and as long as the lawyers and conservators are getting paid, there is little incentive to end it,” said Elaine Renoire, advocate for the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse, tells the Times. “Usually, the conservatorship just keeps going unless the conservatee makes a fuss or the family does.”
As of now, no one is fussing.
Image via Getty.