Many people are asking why Britney Spears’ father has conservatorship over her finances. Conservatorship is the American equivalent of our system of deputyship. This is the process whereby the court appoints a conservator to manage the finances of a mentally incapacitated person. It is most commonly used for elderly people with dementia.
In the UK, the Court of Protection appoints deputies for clients who are deemed to lack sufficient mental capacity to manage their own finances. The first step is for the court to decide if the person lacks capacity. Then the court must decide who should be appointed to manage their finances for them.
Britney Spears was a very successful pop star when she suffered a mental breakdown in 2008. While she was in hospital for a short period, the court appointed her father and a lawyer to manage her finances under a conservatorship. This arrangement still remains in place.
Many people are puzzled as to why Britney can still be deemed to lack mental capacity to manage her finances while pursuing a very successful music career involving touring, releasing singles, recording new albums, acting as a judge on X Factor in the US and making numerous public appearances.
Under the UK system, the value of the funds involved is a significant factor. A person may manage their own day to day budgets and spending themselves, but may still need a deputy to manage much larger sums. In Britney’s case, the conservatorship obviously involves very large sums of money.
The issue that is puzzling the public in this case is how Britney can be deemed to lack capacity while still able to work so hard at her career. The court proceedings in these case are kept confidential so the expert’s reports dealing with the issue of capacity are not in the public domain. All we know is that Britney has recently applied to terminate the arrangement but the court decided that the conservatorship should remain in place.
As professional deputy, I act for many mentally incapacitated clients. Some have a severe brain injury and their disability is immediately apparent. For others, the fact that they lack capacity will not be obvious when meeting them. This may be because the client is vulnerable to financial exploitation and will easily be manipulated into giving away or lending large sums to predatory people who are seeking to benefit from them financially. There are other invisible disabilities such as problems with some form of addiction such as gambling, drugs or drink.
We do not know what evidence on capacity has been given to the court in Britney’s case. I assume that Britney submitted a report arguing that she does have sufficient capacity to manage her own finances, and that her conservators submitted reports disputing this. There is now a movement, #FreeBritney, supported by various public figures who are seeking to terminate the conservatorship. However, it is difficult to judge whether the conservatorship is required or not without seeing the expert evidence.
A documentary about the conservatorship, Framing Britney Spears, is due to be released in the UK soon. This is an interesting area of the law, both here and in the US, and one that most people know little about. These decisions involve a difficult balancing act between ensuring that vulnerable people have as much freedom and autonomy as possible while also making sure that sufficient safeguards are in place.
Philippa Barton, Head of Mental Capacity & Deputyship department, specialises in acting as a professional deputy and trustee for clients with substantial damages awards. Her expertise lies in all aspects of financial management and best interests’ decisions. Her clients are either mentally incapacitated or vulnerable.
Our experienced Mental Capacity & Deputyship solicitors specialise in this area of law and offer a personal and supportive service. We take the time to get to know you and your individual circumstances and understand the extra sensitivity and communication skills required. To talk through your needs with one of our specialist team today, call us on 0808 252 5231 or request a call back online.