After thirteen long years, pop star Britney Spears has finally regained the freedom she once enjoyed. In 2008, Spears entered what became an abusive conservatorship at the hands of her father, Jamie Spears. A conservatorship is a legal mechanism that is established for individuals who are unable to manage their personal and financial affairs. A conservator is “a person or entity appointed by the court to manage the property, daily affairs, and financial affairs of another person,” which is often someone who is deemed incompetent due to a physical or mental infirmity or age.
While Britney Spears’ situation exemplifies what an abusive conservatorship looks like, a conservatorship is intended to benefit the conservatee. The law is supposed to favor conservatorships only when less restrictive options are deemed insufficient, but they are often granted as a “first resort” rather than as a “last resort.”
Since 2008, Spears’ conservators, primarily her father, have controlled virtually all aspects of her personal and professional life when the concerns about her mental health arose. The conservator is not supposed to use the conservatee’s resources for their personal gain and cannot use the conservatee’s money for their personal benefit. Under the arrangement, Jamie Spears received approximately $16,000 per month as a salary for his work as conservator. Among other egregious actions, Jamie Spears used money from his daughter’s estate to pay his attorneys to help him maintain control of her financial affairs—totaling more than two million dollars in legal fees. Meanwhile, Spears herself could not spend money on anything without her conservator’s permission. In addition to the financial abuse that Spears endured at the hands of her father, she suffered physical and emotional abuse, including being forced to take lithium and to have an intrauterine device to prevent her from getting pregnant.
Back in 2008, the California probate court instituted a temporary conservatorship over the person and the estate of Spears. For years, the conservatorship was continuously extended. In February 2021, Spears’ lawyers requested that the court end her conservatorship. Months of hearings ensued, and after immense public pressure, Jamie Spears filed to end the court conservatorship in September 2021.
While many conservatorships are established over elderly people—particularly those with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia—conservatorships can be used and abused against young people as well. Spears’ situation has highlighted how this legal mechanism can be misapplied against some of society’s most vulnerable people. The saga has caught the attention of some lawmakers, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bob Casey, who have called for federal officials to work collaboratively with state courts “to identify gaps in our understanding of problems with America’s guardianship system and develop solutions to address them.”
Under the California Probate Code, a conservator may be appointed for “a person who is unable to provide properly for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter.” Spears has pleaded for her freedom, proven that she can take care of herself and generate income, and demonstrated that her mental health is such that she no longer needs to be under a conservatorship.
Conservatorship laws were enacted to protect the vulnerable and those who need help the most. If the law is not best serving those whom it is intended to protect, and is rather enabling abuse against the vulnerable, it should become more flexible to better protect the vulnerable, whether those people are commonly considered vulnerable by society at large or not.
Britney Spears’ conservatorship battle casts much-needed light on how a system that is designed to protect some of society’s most vulnerable individuals—young people with mental health issues or with disabilities—can instead be wielded to take advantage of those populations. Her situation has demonstrated a need for updated legislation that respects the rights and the needs of young conservatees, particularly those under the control of manipulative and opportunistic conservators who seek to use the opportunity to control another person and to profit financially from doing so.
 Anastasia Tsioulcas, Jamie Spears Agrees To Step Down From Britney Spears Conservatorship, NPR (Aug. 12, 2021, 6:27 PM), https://www.npr.org/2021/08/12/1027223521/jamie-spears-steps-down-britney-spears-conservatorship.
 Laurel Wamsley, Britney Spears Is Under Conservatorship. Here’s How That’s Supposed To Work, NPR https://www.npr.org/2021/06/24/1009726455/britney-spears-conservatorship-how-thats-supposed-to-work (last updated June 24, 2021).
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 Kaitlin Reilly, Britney Spears’ Father Jamie Spears Spent $2 Million Of Her Funds To Remain Her Conservator, Yahoo (July 10, 2021), https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/britney-spears-jamie-conservator-millions-lawyer-fees-212446553.html.
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 Emma Nolan, Britney Spears and Lithium – What Are The Side Effects? Newsweek, (June 24, 2021, 9:56 AM), https://www.newsweek.com/britney-spears-lithium-side-effects-mood-stabilizer-explained-1603728.
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 See In re Conservatorship & Estate of Spears, No. B214749, 2011 WL 311102, at *1 (Cal. Ct. App. Feb. 2, 2011).
 Women’s Health Editors, The Full Timeline Of Britney Spears’ Conservatorship And The #FreeBritney Movement, Explained, Women’s Health Magazine (Sept. 30, 2021), https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/a33336398/britney-spears-conservatorship-timeline/.
 Associated Press, Britney Spears’ Father Has Filed A Petition To End Her Conservatorship, NPR (Sept. 7, 2021, 8:13 PM), https://www.npr.org/2021/09/07/1034996404/britney-spears-conservatorship-jamie-spears.
 Abigail Abrams, Exclusive: Elizabeth Warren, Bob Casey Ask For Data on Conservatorships After Britney Spears Testimony, TIME (July 1, 2021, 1:02 PM), https://time.com/6077374/elizabeth-warren-bob-casey-conservatorship-oversight-britney-spears/.
 Cal. Prob. Code § 1801(a).
 Lisa Zammiello, Don’t You Know That Your Law Is Toxic? Britney Spears And Abusive Guardianship: A Revisionary Approach To The Uniform Probate Code, California Probate Code, and Texas Estates Code To Ensure Equitable Outcomes, 13 Est. Plan. & Cmty. Prop. L.J. 587, 588-89 (2021).