- Britney Spears‘ conservatorship, implemented in 2008, left her with no legal control over her estate or assets.
- Supporters of the #FreeBritney movement say Spears is being manipulated.
- The “Framing Britney Spears” documentary highlights the conservatorship and court battles over it.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Britney Spears hasn’t legally controlled her life and fortune for 13 years.
The conservatorship â€” a legal guardianship typically enacted for those incapable of making their own decisions â€” was approved in Los Angeles Superior Court in 2008 after Spears had several public mental breakdowns. The arrangement put her estate, financial assets, and some personal assets under the control of her father and a lawyer.
In 2020, Spears’ conservatorship was extended four times. Currently, Spears is fighting to have her father removed from the conservatorship.
Since its implementation, the conservatorship has generated a lot of controversy among Spears’ fans. Some think she’s being controlled and manipulated, which has fuelled the #FreeBritney movement. In a 2020 court filing, Spears lawyer wrote that the #FreeBritney movement is “far from being a conspiracy theory.”
But those close to Spears have told several media outlets over the years that the conservatorship is meant to help the pop icon and that she is very involved in business decisions.
The New York Times released a Hulu documentary last Friday, titled “Framing Britney Spears,” highlighting Spears’ conservatorship and court battles with her father. The documentary reignited the #FreeBritney movement, as fans, celebrities, and Spears’ loved ones have since spoken out in support of her, criticising the scrutiny and treatment the pop star has faced.
A representative for Spears didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment on this story.
Here’s a look inside the complex arrangement that is Spears’ conservatorship.
In the late 2000s, Britney Spears had several highly publicized mental breakdowns.
During this time, Spears was spotted driving her SUV with her son Sean on her lap and not strapped in a car seat. She also famously shaved her head and was seen hitting a photographer’s car with an umbrella.
In 2008, Spears made several trips to rehab and was committed twice to a psychiatric hospital – also known as a 5150 hold in California, where Spears lives, Laura Newberry reported for the Los Angeles Times. Newberry spent three months examining Spears’ conservatorship.
This tumultuous period led to Spears’ court-approved conservatorship, which was implemented at the end of 2008.
Her father, Jamie Spears, petitioned for an emergency “temporary conservatorship” after Britney’s second psychiatric hold, Newberry reported.
A conservatorship is also known as a legal guardianship. It’s granted to those who are incapable of making decisions, such as people with mental disabilities and those with dementia. Law experts told Newberry a conservatorship was “unusual for someone as young and productive as Spears.”
Under the conservatorship, Spears has no control over financial or personal decisions. That power was granted to her father, Jamie Spears, and her attorney, Andrew Wallet.
Jamie Spears was granted oversight of her estate and health, which involves everything from negotiating business opportunities to restricting visitors, while attorney Wallet was assigned to help manage her financial assets.
Wallet once called the arrangement a “hybrid business model.”Newberry said this could mean that the conservatorship has helped Britney Spears seal business deals she wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
In 2019, Jamie Spears requested to extend his daughter’s conservatorship to more than 10 states, including Hawaii, Florida, and Louisiana, Newberry reported.
The exact details of the arrangement aren’t known, but all of Spears’ financial decisions must be documented in court reports.
Britney Spears’ most recent financial documents showed that as of 2018, she had a net worth of $US59 million. That year, she spent $US400,000 on living expenses and $US66,000 on household supplies.
She also spent $US1.1 million on her legal and conservator fees that year. Her father took home $US128,000 of that, according to the documents cited by ET.
The conservatorship is intended not only to prevent Spears from making poor financial and business decisions but also to protect her from potentially toxic people.
Spears was granted a restraining order against Sam Lutfi in 2009 and 2019. He was accused of saying he was her former manager and being a bad influence during her mental breakdowns, CNN reported, citing a court filing.
The pop star’s lawyers accused Lutfi of attempting to “insinuate himself into Ms. Spears’ life with disastrous results for her,”Lisa Respers France reported for CNN, citing court filings. He was also accused of sending her mum disparaging texts to disrupt the conservatorship.
The most recent restraining order says Lutfi must stay at least 200 yards away from Spears and can’t make “disparaging public statements” about her, her family, her conservator, or her current manager, according to CNN.
But not everyone feels the conservatorship is a good thing. Some fans think Spears is being controlled and have pushed the conservatorship in and out of the spotlight with the #FreeBritney movement.
A fan site began the #FreeBritney campaign in 2009 as a response to the conservatorship, Julia Jacobs reported for The New York Times. Even celebrities like Taryn Manning and Miley Cyrus have publicly expressed concern for Spears.
Sources close to Spears have insisted she hasn’t been manipulated, saying fans don’t grasp the mental-health and legal specifics behind the conservatorship.
Newberry said she found no “independent evidence” that the conservatorship was harming Spears. The singer’s attorney Stanton Stein told Newberry that Spears was involved in all career and business decisions. Two anonymous sources also told Chloe Melas of CNN that Spears had more control over her life than it appears.
“The conservatorship is not a jail,” Larry Rudolph, Spears’ manager, told Emily Yahr of The Washington Post. “It helps Britney make business decisions and manage her life in ways she can’t do on her own right now.”
And Spears has remained incredibly active in her career since her conservatorship was implemented.
Until 2019, Spears dropped an album every two to three years. She also had a four-year Las Vegas residency; her final performance grossed $US1.1 million, the highest ever reported for a single theatre Las Vegas residency show, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. That’s not to mention her “Piece of Me Tour” in 2018 grossed an estimated $US54.6 million, according to Touring Data.
During this time, Spears also launched clothing and perfume lines, landed a luxury fashion campaign, and served as a judge on “The X Factor.”
But in the beginning of 2019, Spears took a step back from her career to check into a mental-health facility, which prompted the #FreeBritney supporters to express concern yet again.
Spears had put her new Las Vegas residency, “Domination,” on hold to focus on her mental health.
In April, a fan podcast called “Britney’s Gram” released a voicemail from an anonymous source who said he was a former paralegal involved with the conservatorship. He said Spears was forced to go to the mental-health facility. The podcast hosts told Yahr they verified the source’s employment but didn’t give specifics.
But a source close to Spears told Melas that she checked in to the mental-health facility voluntarily to deal with the serious health issues her father was facing and because her medication stopped working. And Newberry reported that three weeks after she checked in, Spears wrote on Instagram, “Don’t believe everything you read and hear.”
Around this time, Spears’ lawyer, Wallet, resigned as co-conservator but didn’t give a reason for his resignation. This left her father, Jamie, as the sole conservator.
Wallet wrote in court filings the “conservatorship is engaged in numerous ongoing business activities requiring immediate attention” and that it was best he resign immediately, Newberry reported. Otherwise, Britney Spears would suffer “substantial detriment, irreparable harm, and immediate danger,” he wrote.
Wallet has said he has prevented “the many hundreds” of people working with Spears from giving her drugs, saving her from a financial crisis. The resignation might be a sign that he disagreed with Spears’ father on the conservatorship terms, a lawyer whom Spears once spoke with about contesting the conservatorship told Newberry.
During a status hearing in May 2019, Spears reportedly asked the judge to consider ending the conservatorship.
A source close to Spears told Melas this was nothing new: “Of course she wants it to end, because she’s not of the right mental state to understand her issues.”
A lawyer who said he represented Spears tried to end her conservatorship in 2009 but was denied by the judge, Yahr reported, adding that Spears’ conservatorship terms wouldn’t have allowed her to hire him.
After the May hearing, Rudolph, Spears’ manager, said he wasn’t “sure if or when she will ever want to work again.”
In a second hearing in September 2019, Jamie asked to be temporarily removed as a conservator. The role was temporarily appointed to Britney Spears’ care manager.
TMZ reported that Jamie Spears filed paperwork to temporarily step down as conservator so he could focus on his health.
However, the move came after Jamie Spears was accused of having an altercation with Spears’ son Sean, Kat Tenbarge reported for Insider. The singer’s ex-husband and the father of her two children, Kevin Federline, filed a police report that led to a child-abuse investigation. Charges weren’t filed, but the children were granted a restraining order against Jamie Spears, according to People.
The judge allowed Jamie Spears to step down from his conservator role over his daughter’s personal life but not her financial life. Jodi Montgomery, Britney Spears’ “care manager,” was appointed as temporary conservator of Britney’s personal life at Jamie’s request, according to People.
Jamie received another court win that year after suing the Absolute Britney blogger Anthony Elia, a source of the #FreeBritney movement, accusing him of spreading false and defamatory information.
Jamie Spears alleged that Elia falsely suggested that Jamie and his team were using social media to hurt his daughter’s image and making it seem that Britney was unstable and needed a conservatorship, Cori Robinson reported for Above The Law. Jamie Spears said the suggestions sparked several death threats against those involved in the conservatorship, Above The Law reported.
In December, the court ordered Elia to stop the allegations against the conservatorship, particularly those suggesting the conservatorship is harming Britney Spears.
Spears’ mother, Lynne Spears, made attempts in 2019 to get involved in the conservatorship. She’s also reportedly engaged with the #FreeBritney movement.
Lynne Spears, who is divorced from Jamie, filed a legal motion in 2019 to be involved in the conservatorship process – she wanted to stay informed and have a say in her daughter’s medical issues,Melas reported, citing court filings. She was present at Britney’s court hearings that year, TMZ reported.
Lynne Spears was also spotted “liking” comments on Instagram about the #FreeBritney movement, Yahr wrote. And when fans noticed that positive comments were being deleted from Britney Spears’ social-media accounts, Lynne responded to an Instagram post and said she also noticed the comments had disappeared, Guy reported.
Spears’ conservatorship was extended twice in early 2020.
In February, an LA county judge extended Spears’ conservatorship until April 30. Montgomery will also remain temporary conservator until that date, the International Business Times’ Sarah Guy reported.
According to The Blast, which obtained new legal documents, the judge extended the conservatorship while those involved “figure out what is best” for Spears.
They decided to extend the conservatorship again until at least August 22, Entertainment Tonight’s Liz Calvario reported. According to court documents obtained by ET, a hearing on the matter never took place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The news comes around the same time Spears posted a video to her Instagram revealing that she accidentally burned down her home gym after leaving candles lit.
And the #FreeBritney movement was in the limelight yet again in July. It prompted Spears’ former photographer Andrew Gallery to read a letter on TikTok that he says Spears wrote about her conservatorship.
Gallery said Spears wrote the letter at the beginning of her conservatorship, according to US Weekly. Gallery claims Spears gave him the letter at the time, which was “destroyed” by her conservators, but that he made a copy of it.
Spears wrote the letter from a third-person point of view.
“As for Kevin saying Britney divorced him, she was forced to by her lawyers because she went to visit him in NY and he wouldn’t see her and the children and her lawyers said if she doesn’t divorce him he’s going to do it himself,” reads the singer’s alleged letter, in part.
Referring to the 2008 incident that resulted in her hospitalisation, she allegedly wrote, “No one knows the truth. Her behaviour when her children got taken away b/c of her locking herself in the bathroom is understandable considering her friend at the door kept telling her the cops are leaving don’t worry stay in the bathroom.”
“She was lied to and set up,” the letter reads. “Her children were taken away and she did spin out of control which any mother would in those circumstances.”
The Daily Mail published images of the handwritten letter in 2019.
In August, Spears asked the courts for the removal of her father as sole conservator of her estate. Instead, the judge extended the conservatorship through February 1, 2021.
Spears wants Montgomery, the temporary conservator who took over in September 2019, to take over as conservator permanently,TMZ reported, citing court documents filed by Spears’ attorney.
Her current attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, stated in the court filings that Spears wants a “qualified corporate fiduciary” managing the business affairs of her estate.
According to US Weekly, which reviewed the court filings, the pop star “is strongly opposed to having [Jamie] return as the conservator of her person” and “strongly prefers” that Montgomery “continue in that role as [she] has done for nearly a year.”
But after a hearing on August 19, Judge Brenda Penny of the Los Angeles County Superior Court in California said she would extend the current version of the conservatorship, not granting any of the changes Spears’ lawyer requested in the filings, through February 1, 2021.
The same month, court documents revealed that Spears’ sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, was secretly named a trustee. She recently filed for more control over Spears’ financial affairs.
Jamie Lynn was named a trustee on Spears’ SJB Revocable Trust in 2018, court documents obtained by The Blast revealed. The trust was made for Spears’ children. Jamie Lynn is also in charge of distributing these assets to Spears’ children in the event of her death, the Los Angeles Times reported.
According to the LA Times, Jamie Lynn is requesting that the court move the assets into Fidelity Brokerage Services accounts with her as the custodian. A judge would need to approve moving them back out.
In September, Spears’ attorney filed a request to open her future court hearings to the public, suggesting that Spears supports the #FreeBritney movement.
Spears’ attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III, filed court documents on September 2, stating that she wants her future court hearings about conservatorship open to the public, reported Natalie Morin for Refinery29.
“Britney herself is vehemently opposed to this effort by her father to keep her legal struggle hidden away in the closet as a family secret,” Ingham wrote.
Ingham also said that the #FreeBritney movement is “far from being a conspiracy theory” and that the social media scrutiny over Jamie’s attempts to keep court hearings private is “reasonable.”
“Whatever merits his strategy might have had years ago when Britney was trying to restart her career, at this point in her life when she is trying to regain some measure of personal autonomy, Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans,” he wrote.
Spears had also argued against her father’s petition to reinstate Wallet, her former lawyer, as co-conservator. Jamie Spears withdrew this petition in October.
Jamie Spears had asked the court to reappoint Wallet back in August, according to Hayley Phelan for Vanity Fair. Ingham alleged that the petition was in retaliation to Spears’ refusal to perform, which “will require [Jamie Spears] to undertake drastic changes to her budget.”
He argued that Wallet was “uniquely unsuitable” for the role, reported New Musical Express.
Wallet then told The Daily Mail that “people lurking in the shadows” are behind the #FreeBritney movement. “I can’t say who but it is hurting Britney, she’s the only one who gets hurt by all this,” he said.
He also told the publication that “Britney is in a conservatorship for good reason but a lot of the Free Britney people have no experience with the law,” adding that it’s possible she might be under the conservatorship for the rest of her life.
In November, Spears’ attorney again asked the court to immediately remove her father as co-conservator after Spears learned her business manager had resigned. The court declined.
Ingham wrote in the court filing that “Britney and her estate will suffer loss and injury if James is not suspended immediately,” asking that he be removed as soon as third-party financial company Bessemer Trust was appointed as co-conservator.
Spears learned through a letter from her father’s lawyer that her longtime business manager, Lou Taylor, had resigned, reported Billboard. Her father had allegedly hired a new business manager, Michael Kane, without Spears’ knowing. Ingham said Spears wasn’t informed about Kane’s salary or employment terms, per Billboard.
He described the letter as a “blatant attempt by James to try to retain full functional control of her assets, books and records in the face of Britney’s objections …”
Jamie Spears’ lawyer argued that, under the conservatorship, Spears has climbed out of debt to reach a net worth of $US60 million, according to NBC News.
While Judge Penny appointed Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator after Spears was granted rights to expand her legal team the previous month, she didn’t grant the request removal of Jamie Spears. However, Spears can still petition in the future for her father’s removal or suspension.
“My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father,” Ingham later told Penny. “She will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career.”
At the end of 2020, Spears’ conservatorship was extended for the fourth time that year.
The conservatorship was extended until September 3, 2021, according to ET. The court was supposed to review how Jamie handled his Spears’ assets, but decided to continue the discussion next year.
He told CNN that same week that he hadn’t spoken to Spears since August.
“I love my daughter and I miss her very much. When a family member needs special care and protection, families need to step up, as I have done for the last 12-plus years, to safeguard, protect and continue to love Britney unconditionally,” he said. “I have and will continue to provide unwavering love and fierce protection against those with self-serving interests and those who seek to harm her or my family.”
On February 5, The New York Times released a Hulu documentary titled ‘Framing Britney Spears,’ highlighting the star’s conservatorship and court battle with her father. It received widespread attention, reigniting the #FreeBritney movement.
The documentary featured interviews with one of Spears’ lifelong family friends, the marketing executive “who originally created Spears’ image,” and two lawyers who have worked with Spears,according to The New York Times.
Spears’ heavily scrutinised career and personal life sparked a #FreeBritney frenzy among celebrities, fans, and Spears’ loved ones alike. Miley Cyrus, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Andy Cohen have vocalized their support for Spears since the documentary was released.
Fans lashed out at both Spears’ ex, Justin Timberlake, for his past treatment of Spears and Diane Sawyer, for displaying “casual misogyny” in a previous interview with Spears, both of whom were highlighted in the documentary.
As fans rallied around the pop star, Spears’ current boyfriend, Sam Ashgari, said he “will continue to support her.” He also spoke out against her father.
“Now it’s important for people to understand that I have zero respect for someone trying to control our relationship and constantly throwing obstacles our way,” he wrote in an Instagram story. “In my opinion Jamie is a total d—.”
Timberlake issued an apology to Spears via Instagram on Friday. “I am deeply sorry for the times in my life where my actions contributed to the problem, where I spoke out of turn, and or did not speak up for what was right.”
Spears herself seemed to indirectly acknowledge the episode’s premiere and fans’ response to it.
“I love simply enjoying the basics of every day life,” she wrote in an Instagram post a few days after the premiere. “Each person has their story and their take on other people’s stories !!!! We all have so many different bright beautiful lives ????????????????!!! Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s life it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens.”
Less than a week after the documentary’s premiere, Spears had her first conservatorship hearing of 2021. The court rejected her father’s objection to sharing control of her estate and investments.
Jamie had objected to the proposed co-conservatorship with Bessemer Trust, “saying it improperly reduced his powers over his daughter’s estate.” But Judge Penny overruled these objections,Variety reported.
That means both Jamie and Bessemer Trust will be co-conservators moving forward.
But Ingham said Spears still wants her father removed from the conservatorship entirely, Insider’s Kim Renfro reported.
Following Judge Penny’s denial of Jamie’s objections, Ingham told the courtroom, “it’s no secret that my client does not want her father as coconservator.”
“But we recognise that removal is a separate issue,” he added.
Spears’ case is being handled in a probate court, where conservatorships can go on indefinitely.
Probate courts typically oversee conservatorships of elderly people with cognitive disorders, Phelan wrote. Mental health courts typically oversee cases of mental illness. In these courts, the conservator has to petition every year to renew the conservatorship.
To end the conservatorship, Spears needs to prove she doesn’t need it to get through life.
In the court documents filed in August 2020, Ingham broke down Spears’ conservatorship into three phases, according to People:
- Stage 1: A “triage” when “conservators rescued her from collapse, exploitation by predatory individuals and financial ruin”
- Stage 2: Spears’ “performing years” as a “world class entertainer”
- Stage 3: Spears has no desire to currently perform. “We are now at a point where the conservatorship must be changed substantially in order to reflect the major changes in her current lifestyle and her stated wishes,” the documents read.
While Spears is seeking changes to the structure of her conservatorship and who is overseeing her life and finances – not asking to dissolve it entirely – some aren’t so sure she still needs it at all.
Rudolph, Spears’ talent manager, previously said that Spears’ father wanted her to be free of the conservatorship. “He doesn’t want this to continue forever,” he said. “It’s his daughter. He wants to see her happy. A functional life without any intervention like this.”