Recent documentaries, court filings, and news reports have thrust Britney Spears’ long-term conservatorship into the national spotlight.
As rumors of Spears’ unhappiness in her conservatorship have gained momentum, both fiduciary professionals and those with personal connections to her have been asked to give context to her complex conservatorship—including the possible signs of abuse by her conservators.
Britney Spears’ conservatorship is the highest profile ongoing fiduciary relationship in the United States and is incredibly complex given the structure of the conservatorship, the limited instances in which Spears has spoken publicly about the arrangement, and the claims made against her father, Jamie Spears.
Much remains to be known about the details and allegations surrounding this conservatorship. Even so, Spears’ case is useful in illustrating the differences between conservatorships and guardianships and the three key conservatorship roles: the conservator of the person, the conservator of the estate, and the guardian ad litem.
Conservators of the Estate
Although media coverage has repeatedly used the term “conservator” as a blanket reference to the entities appointed to Britney Spears, it is crucial to understand that Spears is subject to two separate conservatorships.
The first of these conservatorships is the one covering the estate, including her finances. This conservator role is filled by her father, Jamie. Spears has taken issue with him in her recent court appearances. Recently, Mr. Spears submitted a filing notifying the court of his intention to step down after resolving outstanding matters.
Conservators of the estate are tasked with managing income, paying bills, investing assets, and providing other services to maintain and even grow the estate. This role comes with restrictions intended to protect conservatees and their estates. For example, conservators typically aren’t allowed to borrow money or gift assets, and major purchases or sales—such as real estate transactions—require court approval before they can be finalized.
Despite these controls, Britney Spears’ recent comments and filings with the court have alleged that her father is abusing this role. Spears told the court she feels intimidated and afraid of her father and has criticized the way her father uses her finances.
Conservators of the Person
The second conservatorship is the one covering Spears’ decision-making. It was implemented when the court deemed her mentally incompetent. In the Britney Spears conservatorship, this role is filled by Jodi Montgomery.
Conservators of the estate only handle finances, whereas conservators of the person are responsible for making personal and medical decisions on behalf of the conservatee. Spears claims her father has abused controls that only the conservator of the person would be granted by the court.
This suggests that Spears’ father—in her eyes, at least—has overstepped the bounds of his role and is executing or informing decisions that only a conservator of the person should make. It is interesting to note, in this case, that Spears is not calling for Montgomery’s removal. In court statements, she has expressed satisfaction with Montgomery, although she has also indicated that she believes her father influences Montgomery’s decision-making.
One key issue in Britney Spears’ conservatorship is the long-term plan that was established at the time of its creation. Because we don’t have all of the information as to why Spears was deemed incapable of making her own decisions, it is impossible to know whether or not the current conservatorship relationship is still required.
It is also important to note that Jodi Montgomery serves as Ms. Spears’ temporary conservator of the person. Jodi stepped in as a temporary conservator in 2019 after Jamie stepped down from the role. Unlike a general conservatorship—which continues until the conservatee passes away or a judge ends the conservatorship—temporary conservatorships are appointed for fixed periods until a general or limited conservator is appointed or the petition for an appointment is denied.
Given that the conservatorship is now 14 years old, it is possible that Spears’ decision making has improved and she is now capable of making personal decisions. If that were the case, the onus would be on the court to roll back the personal conservatorship overseen by Montgomery.
Guardians Ad Litem
In response to the claims made against Britney Spears’ father, the conservator of her person, Montgomery, requested the appointment of a guardian ad litem to the conservatorship while Spears’ claims and requests are investigated.
The appointment of a guardian ad litem provides another degree of checks and balances within the conservatorship and designates a leader of an investigation into the conservatee’s claims. Once appointed, guardians ad litem are responsible for reporting their findings and recommendations to the court, although they do not have the final decision on whether conservators should be removed or replaced.
Broader changes to the conservatorship could also be made. The court may replace the current arrangement with what is known as a “limited guardianship,” allowing for a conservatorship that is tailored to the individual’s specific needs. It may allow for autonomy in certain aspects of Spears’ life, including personal decision-making, but maintain a conservator to oversee aspects of her life in which another party’s decision-making is still required.
The court may also implement an alternative to guardianship, such as “supportive decision making.” This alternative supports individuals with trusted advisors but doesn’t legally hand over decision-making power to another party.
New details, including court filings and public statements, continue to hit the news coverage of this high-profile conservatorship, so we won’t have all the facts until the court completes its investigation and renders a decision. Until then, the best thing we can do is use this case to understand the opportunities and limitations of court-appointed conservatorships.
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