There has been considerable media scrutiny of late regarding Britney Spears’ 13 year conservatorship, in which her father manages her financial affairs as well as her personal health and welfare decisions. The conservatorship began in 2008 following concerns over Britney’s mental health. Britney has claimed, under oath, that her father’s wielding of the conservatorship has been tantamount to abuse. She alleges being drugged, made to perform against her will and even refused the removal of her IUD, thereby preventing her from having any more children. Obviously, these claims are alarming as they appear prima facie abusive as well as amounting to significant breaches of the singer’s human rights.
Britney has spoken publically about rejecting the enforcement of the conservatorship (and has been fighting for the removal of her father as sole conservator since November of last year). In June 2021, the US Judge deciding the case denied the removal of James Spears as sole conservator but did approve an Order for the private wealth management firm, Bessemer Trust, to be appointed as co-conservator of the Singer’s financial estate. Most recently, Bessemer Trust has asked to be removed as co-conservator of the estate reasoning that, as “[Britney] opposes the continuation of her guardianship and wishes to terminate the guardianship’ they respect her wishes to end the arrangement.
The equivalent of a conservatorship in the UK is called a deputyship. This is applied for at the Court of Protection on behalf of somebody who the Court is satisfied lacks mental capacity to manage their finances. The test for capacity is decision specific and will take into account vulnerability to financial exploitation and fluctuating mental health. Common examples of where a deputyship can be ordered include children or adults with severe disabilities as well as people suffering from brain injury or dementia.
The Court of Protection alleviates concerns over abuse of power under these arrangements by requiring the Deputy to always act within the best interests of the protected person and evidencing as much through stringent annual reporting. The Court also requires separate applications to be made to approve certain decisions around a person’s medical care or the sale of property; this further safeguards the protected person. In most cases, a deputyship will not be a voluntary arrangement as the concerned person lacks the capacity to enter into the arrangement voluntarily.
One of the elements that makes Britney’s situation so unusual is that her lawyers are professing that the conservatorship is a voluntary arrangement, stating that the “Conservatee wishes to exercise her right to nominate a conservator of the estate.” Obviously there is an element of the unknown here, as the public is not privy to all the information which led the conservatorship commencing in the first place.
So what’s next for Britney? In the UK if you want to end a deputyship you need to show that the protected person has regained capacity and make an application to the Court of Protection. In the US, Britney will be required to file a petition to terminate the order and then the court will list a hearing. At the hearing, they will review her medical evidence and assess whether the conservatorship is still required. Britney will also be required to undergo a court evaluation of her capacity. So far, Britney has publically stated that she was opposed to this assessment being made, which may be grounds for the court denying her petition to terminate the conservatorship.