Britney Spears’ conservatorship was formed in 2007 after a year of increasingly erratic behavior. After two involuntary psychiatric hospitalizations, her father, James Spears, intervened and petitioned the court for temporary conservatorship over the troubled star.
What Is a Conservatorship?
Conservatorship is the process by which the courts grant an individual, called a conservator, the ability to oversee the care of a person whom the court has deemed unable to care for him or herself. This gives the conservator the responsibility for meeting the individual’s medical, personal and psychological needs. Often, conservatorships are used to protect the elderly who may no longer be able to manage their affairs due to dementia or other medical conditions. This legal arrangement is also widely used for individuals with developmental disabilities who would otherwise be unable to make responsible decisions regarding their health care, living arrangements and basic day-to-day necessities.
The Start of the Conservatorship
On Feb. 1, 2008, a day after Spears was shackled to a gurney and transported to the hospital, a judge granted her father temporary conservatorship over her personal and financial affairs. Conservatorship can be granted over a person, over a person’s estate or both. In the case of Spears, the judge granted conservatorship over both. In a personal conservatorship, the conservator is responsible for ensuring the individual’s well-being by managing her health care and basic necessities. In a conservatorship of an estate, the conservator has the responsibility of protecting the individual’s finances and assets, including paying bills, collecting income, investing and budgeting.
In the year leading up to her conservatorship, tabloids featured stories about her divorce, losing her children, stints in rehab and a famous head-shaving incident. What most didn't report on was the financial turmoil brewing behind the scenes. The conservatorship's lawyer reported the singer's assets at $41 million when they were taken over in 2008. The year before, Forbes listed the singer's net worth at $100 million.
Today, there is little argument that the singer has seen a massive turnaround, both personally and financially. In 2012, it was reported that her conservatorship was worth $14 million. According to recent court documents, the singer's estate reported assets of $45.9 million at the end of calendar year 2014. The singer only reported expenditures of $1.7 million in the same year. Forbes has already ranked Spears on its list of the world's highest-earning celebrities for 2015, with earnings for the year at $31 million. This includes her lucrative Las Vegas residency deal, a two-year contract with Planet Hollywood for $66.5 million.
The Conservatorship and Lawsuits
The conservatorship has been a success in helping to broker new business deals with large payoffs. Any business deals must pass through the conservatorship for approval.
While the conservatorship has helped the singer rake in a lot of money, it has also aided her in several lawsuits. The largest of these, a $10 million lawsuit brought by Brand Sense Partners, alleged that Spears stopped paying commissions to the company, which had brokered her fragrance deal with Elizabeth Arden. Because Spears had negotiated and signed the contracts with Brand Sense Partners, the company was seeking to dispose the singer to obtain facts material to the lawsuit. Spears' conservatorship successfully argued that she was incapable of participating in a disposition. Without testimony from Spears, the case was settled out of court for a confidential sum.
The conservatorship prevented the singer's testimony in two other cases, one from a former bodyguard who alleged sexual harassment and the other from Spears' former manager, Sam Lutfi, who alleged he was entitled to 15% of the singer's profits from her 2007 album. In the former case, the conservatorship settled out of court, protecting the singer from testifying. In the latter case, attorneys for the Spears family argued that even if Lutfi had a contractual agreement with Spears, it would have been invalid as it would have been obtained through undue influence. Attorneys for Lutfi were blocked from obtaining Spears' medical records and other sealed court documents pertaining to the conservatorship. The judge ultimately threw out the case.
How to End a Conservatorship
According to the California judicial system, conservatorships are typically life-long. However, a conservatorship can be ended if a previously incapacitated individual regains the ability to manage personal affairs and finances. Spears has not given any indications that she will try to end the conservatorship, and the singer continues to flourish financially under its guidance.