Inside Britney Spears' Conservatorship

In the late '90s and early '00s, Britney Spears was an undisputed queen of pop music who achieved icon status thanks to infectious, sweet teen beats, as well as unforgettable live performances. About a decade after her debut single, "...Baby One More Time," dropped, a new and complicated chapter of her legacy unfolded. In 2007 and 2008, Spears had several public mental breakdowns that led those around her to decide that she needed to be placed under a legal conservatorship for her own protection. According to the California court's Handbook for Conservators, the definition of a conservator is "an individual or organization chosen to protect and manage the personal care or finances—or both—of a person who has been found by a judge or a jury to be unable to manage his or her own affairs." The person receiving this protection is known as the conservatee.

Spears' case is a complex one. For one thing, the singer's net worth is $115 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Furthermore, she happens to be one of the most famous people on the planet. Fortune combined with celebrity can be a tricky thing to navigate as is (just ask anyone who has been profiled by Behind the Music), but throw a conservatorship in the mix? That's an entirely different beast.

Without further ado, let's unpack all of the details of Britney Spears' conservatorship that we can find.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).

How Britney Spears' conservatorship began

Britney Spears' divorce from her ex-husband, dancer Kevin Federline, with whom she shares two children, was finalized in July 2007. But the pressure she felt as a celebrity mom in a stressful relationship was showing itself as early as February 2006, when she was caught driving with infant son Sean Preston Federline in her lap. The following February, TMZ reported that Spears checked out of rehab after less than 24 hours. After she returned to California, she shaved her head. The frequent paparazzi target also attacked a photographer's vehicle with an umbrella. That same week, People reported Spears had checked into another rehab facility. 

Spears lost full custody of sons Sean Preston and Jayden Federline in October 2007. The following January, she reportedly locked herself in her bathroom with Jayden during a visitation and refused to turn him over to the child monitor, who called police. LAPD told People at the time that Spears was allegedly "under the influence of an unknown substance." She was rushed to the hospital and placed under a 72-hour 5150 Hold, allowing "a person with a mental illness to be involuntarily detained for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization," per the Family Education Resource Center. The conservatorship officially began Feb. 1, 2008, immediately following a second hospitalization for Spears

Speaking of this time in a 2017 Yediot Ahronot interview (via Cosmopolitan), Spears said, "I think I had to give myself more breaks through my career and take responsibility for my mental health."

Britney Spears' conservatorship was temporary at first

Britney Spears' father, Jamie Spears, was ostensibly acting in her best interest when he sought and was granted a temporary conservatorship back in 2008. As the Los Angeles Times noted, this gave him control of his daughter's business, financial, and personal life. At the time, The Guardian offered up more details about what this entailed. According to the outlet, Jamie "has the power to bar people from visiting her in hospital, will have sole control over her medical records, and can cancel any contracts she may have signed."

There were concerns regarding who Britney brought into her inner circle then, such as her friend, Sam Lutfi, who claimed to be her manager at the time. (In 2019, Britney's reps told CNN that Lutfi was never her manager.) Britney and Lutfi reportedly first connected in 2007, and in the years that followed, there were a number of allegations and legal battles between him and her parents. In her book, Through the Storm, Lynne Spears called him Britney's "figurative gatekeeper," who "wanted to keep the gate closed to" her kin. Lutfi sued Britney's family for defamation, and according to TMZ, they settled in 2016. 

In 2019, CNN reported that Britney and her entire family were granted a five-year restraining order against Lutfi. 

Oops...Jamie Spears did it again and again

Los Angeles courts made Britney Spears' conservatorship permanent by the end of 2008, with Jamie Spears serving as the conservator of her estate and well-being. Attorney Andrew Wallet was hired as a co-conservator to manage the pop star's financial assets, but he stepped down in March 2019. In documents obtained by The Blast, Wallet stated, "Substantial detriment, irreparable harm and immediate danger will result to the conservatee and her estate if the relief requested herein in not granted on an ex parte basis." 

In May 2019, Britney's conservatorship had been going strong for a whopping 11 years, when Jamie filed to extend the legal agreement to three states beyond California. Per TMZ, he petitioned to have control of decisions his daughter makes in her home state of Louisiana, as well as in Florida and Hawaii, where Britney reportedly likes to vacation. According to the outlet, Jamie feared that people on the internet were "pulling the strings in the 'Free Britney' movement who might attempt to wrestle her away if she leaves California." 

Just a few days prior to Jamie filing his request, Britney appeared in court alongside her mother, Lynne Spears, to request that a judge extend her more freedoms under her conservatorship, per ET. The site referenced court documents stating that the judge had an "expert" review the documents because they were "unbiased" and "independent." ET learned that the judge denied Britney's requests.

The business of Britney Spears

It's important to remember that Britney Spears was working throughout much of this now-12-year conservatorship. It's also crucial to note that this legal arrangement costs Spears a lot of money. In 2019, ET obtained documents detailing the singer's 2018 expenses. Her biggest? Legal conservator fees, which totaled over $1.1 million, the site reported. Jamie Spears pocketed $128,000 of the fees, the same amount he received in 2017.

Britney's assets totaled over $59 million at the end of 2018, so it's not like her legal fees leave her destitute. However, this arrangement doesn't only impact her bank account. As she said in the 2008 MTV documentary, Britney: For The Record"If I wasn't under the restraints that I'm under right now, you know, with all the lawyers and doctors and people analyzing me every day and all that kind of stuff ... if that wasn't there, I'd feel so liberated and feel like myself."

There are questions regarding how the conservatorship has impacted Britney's output, as well as what its termination would mean for her career. Under the conservatorship, the pop star has recorded four albums, starting with 2008's Circus. She's completed four live tours. And, of course, there was her Las Vegas residency, Britney: Piece Of Me. Sources from Caesars reportedly told journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner for Matter "that the company had insisted on the conservatorship just in case, and that it must remain throughout her contract."

Fans launched the Free Britney movement

According to The Washington Post, the phrase "Free Britney" first appeared online in 2009. A decade later, #FreeBritney hit fever pitch. In April 2019, Britney Spears' conservatorship received a great deal of media attention after the Britney's Gram podcast released an episode that presented some startling allegations. The podcast, which typically unpacks Spears' Instagram posts, shared an anonymous voicemail from a former paralegal who claimed he worked for an attorney connected to the conservatorship.

He claimed to podcast hosts Tess Barker and Barbara Gray that Jamie Spears allegedly made Britney cancel her second Las Vegas residency when she allegedly stopped taking medication. The tipster also alleged that Jamie forced Britney into a mental health facility in January 2019. The Britney's Gram hosts claimed to The Washington Post that they verified his identity; Britney's team couldn't identify him and told The Post they believed it was an impostor.

Britney's manager Larry Rudolph told The Washington Post, "The conservatorship is not a jail. It helps Britney make business decisions and manage her life in ways she can't do on her own right now." On the flip side, when her brother, Bryan Spears, was on the As NOT Seen On TV Podcast in July 2020, he said, "She's always wanted to get out of it ...  Whether someone's coming in peace to help or they're coming in with an attitude, having someone constantly tell you to do something has got to be frustrating." Basically, it's complicated.

Jamie Spears steps down

In September 2019, Jamie Spears temporarily stepped down as Britney Spears' conservator. He asked to "relinquish the powers of conservatorship ... due to personal health reasons," per documents obtained by TMZ. Jamie had emergency surgery in November 2018 when his colon "spontaneously ruptured," per People. In January 2019, Britney announced on Instagram that the Britney: Domination residency was canceled, citing Jamie's health as the reason for the decision. 

Regarding her father's hospitalization, Britney wrote that she and her family are "all so grateful that he came out of it alive, but he still has a long road ahead of him." She added that she "had to make the difficult decision to put my full focus and energy on my family at this time." After Britney checked into a wellness center in April 2019, a source claimed to People that "her dad being sick has taken a toll on her."

Days before Jamie asked to temporarily relinquish his conservatorship role that September, there was a troubling report regarding Jamie and Britney's son, Sean Preston Federline. According to The Blast, Jamie and Sean allegedly got into an argument that escalated to a point where Jamie "broke down a door" and "violently shook" his grandson. As multiple outlets reported, criminal charges were dropped because, as the District Attorney's office said in a statement, "there is insufficient proof that a criminal offense was committed."

TMZ reported Jodi Montgomery, Britney's "personal care manager," took over as Britney's temporary conservator.

Celebrities support #FreeBritney

Celebrities: They're rooting for Britney Spears just like us. Consider Jersey Shore star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, who simply posted a picture of herself on Instagram wearing a Britney Spears tour shirt with the caption, "#freebritney Love you Queen." Or Miley Cyrus, a Spears fan and collaborator who has shouted "Free Britney" at her concerts. Cyrus discussed the issue with iHeartRadio in August 2020, admitting she doesn't know the singer well. "I scream a lot of things at my show," Cyrus said. "I also think Britney, like anyone else, should have the freedom to live the life that's most authentic to her."

Modern Family actress Ariel Winter, who also has a unique legal situation with family, in that she was granted emancipation from her parents in 2015, supports #FreeBritney. About Spears' conservatorship, Winter said on her Instagram Story (via ET Canada), "What her 'father' and team is doing to her is absolutely disgusting and devastating."

Pop icon Cher is another one of Spears' more outspoken supporters. "Does anyone Who's Making $ Off Her Being Sick,Want Her Well?" the singer tweeted in August 2020, along with an article about Spears' sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, seeking some control of her assets. "Someone Who Doesn't Want Anything From Her Should Look Into Her Dr.& Her Meds," Cher concluded.

Britney Spears' mom and sister to the rescue....maybe

In July 2020, The Blast reported Lynne Spears filed a request with Los Angeles County Courts to "be included in all decisions made" about her daughter's SJB Revocable Trust. According to documents obtained by the site, Britney Spears filed the trust in 2004 to protect most of her fortune. It was also established to "hold and manage her material financial assets during her lifetime, and provide distribution of those assets upon her death," The Blast reported. The trust protects most everything Britney owns including "cash and cash equivalents," as well as "clothing, jewelry, vehicles, and accessories to vehicles, books, paintings" and other items.

Britney lost control of this trust when the conservatorship began in 2008, and her father, Jamie Spears, had control of it until he stepped down as Britney's conservator temporarily. Lynne had not previously played any part in the conservatorship.

Britney's sister, Jamie Lynn Spears, became a trustee of the SJB Revocable Trust in 2018, per the Los Angeles Times. A month after Lynne filed for input in decisions about the trust, Jamie Lynn filed paperwork and "asked that all the assets" of the aforementioned trust "be moved into one or more accounts with Fidelity Brokerage Services with her as the custodian," the Los Angeles Times reported. As the outlet pointed out, it's unclear as to how this fits into the conservatorship battle. At any rate, Spears family lawyers sure stayed busy in the summer of 2020.

Does Britney Spears actually need saving?

Since the conservatorship was enacted in 2008, #FreeBritney supporters have believed Britney Spears is being forced to go along with the arrangement. So, how does Spears feel about all of it? 

One of the earliest examples of Spears referencing the conservatorship happened in MTV's 2008 documentary, Britney: For The Record. The pop star opened up about feeling like she was "under restraints" and noted that "lawyers and doctors and people" regularly checked in on her. She continued, "I'm kind of stuck in this place, and it's like, how do you deal, you know? And you just cope. And that's what I do, I just cope with it every day."

In April 2019, around the time of her father's health scare, she posted to Instagram asking fans to stop worrying about her so much. "I am trying to take a moment for myself, but everything that's happening is just making it harder for me," she said. "My situation is unique, but I promise I'm doing what's best at this moment. You may not know this about me, but I am strong, and stand up for what I want!" Spears also asked for "a little bit of privacy." 

In court documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times in September 2020, her attorney called it a "voluntary conservatorship," adding that Spears "wishes to exercise her right to nominate a conservator of the estate."

Where Britney Spears' conservatorship stands now

Britney Spears won't be free of legal constraints until at least February 2021. In August 2020, her conservatorship was extended to that date in a closed hearing, Variety reported per court documents. Britney isn't happy with her father, Jamie Spears, as conservator, and she filed to have him removed from the position and be permanently replaced by the temporary conservator who was hired after Jamie fell ill in late 2018. A judge denied that request in November 2020, despite Britney's lawyer stating (via AP News) that "she is afraid of her father," and alleging mismanagement of her business affairs.  

Judge Brenda Penny did approve adding a corporate fiduciary, the Bessemer Trust, to act as co-conservator where issues of Britney's estate are considered, AP News reported. Court documents state that Britney is worried that her father won't work with Bessemer Trust and wants "to retain full functional control of her assets, books and records in the face of Britney's objections." Britney has also made legal moves to keep her conservatorship hearings unsealed.

"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," said a statement from Britney's attorney, per Variety. "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." 

Will Britney Spears ever reign over pop music again?

Britney Spears hasn't performed live since 2018 and only she knows if she ever wants to grace a concert stage again. That said, someone in her inner circle has a strong opinion on the matter. Her longtime manager, Larry Rudolph, told TMZ in May 2019 that if she is done working, then he has "no desire or ability to make her work again." He continued, "I am only here for her when she wants to work. And, if she ever does want to work again, I'm here to tell her if it's a good idea or a bad idea."

In another statement to Billboard, Rudolph clarified that he did not actually say Spears would never work again. Rather, he was just pointing out that the Las Vegas residency was not happening and that he hadn't heard from her. "She hasn't called me in months to talk about doing anything so I'm not sure if or when she will ever want to work again," he explained. "It's that simple." According to court documents obtained by TMZ in September 2020, Spears says she is "done performing, at least for now."

In August 2020, ET reported Spears' lawyers filed documents that referred to "major changes in her current lifestyle and her stated wishes." Could those "major changes" include hanging up her pop star hat for good? That remains yet to be seen. But hey, if Spears is happy, we're happy.