Friday, July 16, 2021

Are conservatorships really that Toxic? Britney Spears is using her voice to show what a Circus it has been for her.

The news about Britney Spears in court trying to take back control of her life and money has raised questions about guardianship, conservatorship, legal rights to make your own choices, and how you can take back control.

Q: What is #FreeBritney?

A: #FreeBritney is a hashtag that has been used to garner attention regarding Britney Spears and the conservatorship she is under. This movement has been going on for quite some time, but has gained much more popularity in recent months as Spears has expressed to the court that she wants to regain control of her own life.

Q: What is a conservatorship?

A: Guardianships and conservatorships are governed by state law, so the definitions can vary by state. In West Virginia, a guardian is a person appointed by the Circuit Court who is responsible for the personal and medical decisions of a “protected person” (someone who doesn’t have the capacity to take care of themselves). A conservator is a person appointed by the court who is responsible for managing the financial affairs of a protected person. The same person can fill both roles or the court can assign the roles to two different individuals. Sometimes only one or the other is necessary to be appointed. Read the entire state statute here.

Q: Why is Spears under a conservatorship?

A: Beginning in 2007, Britney experienced erratic behavior in public that resulted in her mental stability to be questioned, not only by those close to her, but by her fans and the general public. In 2008, Britney’s father, James Spears, successfully petitioned a California court to appoint him as her conservator, which under California law meant Britney no longer had the legal right to make her own personal, medical, and financial decisions. Because the court granted his petition, James Spears controlled Britney’s personal and medical decisions (who she had contact with, where she lived, when she visited her children, and, most infamously, decisions about her birth control) while he shared control of her finances with a court appointed co-conservator, attorney Andrew Wallet. In 2018 the conservatorship was modified, and from that time until the present, James Spears shares control of Britney’s finances with Bessemer Trust, an estate management firm, while a court appointed professional, Jodi Montgomery, controls her personal and medical decisions.

Q: Will the conservatorship last forever?

A: Conservatorships in most states are usually ordered to be permanent, though the protected person or another individual can later petition for termination or change if the circumstances that led to the conservatorship have changed. Only a court can determine the answer to this. In April, Spears Beginning in 2007, Britney experienced erratic behavior in public that resulted in her mental stability to be questioned, not only by those close to her, but by her fans and the general public. In 2008, Britney’s father, James Spears, successfully petitioned a California court to appoint him as her conservator, which under California law meant Britney no longer had the legal right to make her own personal, medical, and financial decisions. Because the court granted his petition, James Spears controlled Britney’s personal and medical decisions (who she had contact with, where she lived, when she visited her children, and, most infamously, decisions about her birth control) while he shared control of her finances with a court appointed co-conservator, attorney Andrew Wallet. In 2018 the conservatorship was modified, and from that time until the present, James Spears shares control of Britney’s finances with Bessemer Trust, an estate management firm, while a court appointed professional, Jodi Montgomery, controls her personal and medical decisions. uested a hearing regarding her conservatorship. During a California probate court hearing in June, Spears was able to directly address the judge via telephone. Spears told Los Angeles probate judge Brenda Penny she is “not happy” and “traumatized.” (Full transcript here). In July, the court ruled Spears has the right to hire her own attorney in the case. Depending on what the court decides, it could go on Until the World Ends. But it sounds like Spears will seek an attorney to help achieve her goal of ending the conservatorship.

Q: Are guardianships/conservatorships always a bad thing?

A: No. For an adult who is not capable of managing money, medical, or personal decisions well enough to maintain a safe life a good guardian or a conservator can provide that help. But a guardianship or conservatorship should be the last resort imposed by a court only if lesser restrictive options cannot adequately protect the person. Sometimes an informal team of friends, family, and others is all that is needed to help a person maintain independence safely. Supported decision making can avoid the need for guardianship and conservatorship for many people.

If you are at least 60 yrs old and a West Virginia resident and have questions, you can talk to an attorney for free at WV Senior Legal Aid, 1.800.229.5068.

contributed by Alexis Schneider, Public Interest Law Fellow at WVSLA

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