It started with this thought. I’d texted some friends a link for the new Netflix movie “I Care A Lot”, a dark comedy about a court appointed guardian who turns an elderly woman’s life upside down. When a friend responded about the #FreeBritney movement, I was lost.
As I inquired further, I came to find out that, not only was Britney Spears once the subject of court intervention due to her past ‘mental breakdowns’ way back in 2007/2008, but she is STILL a Ward of the State of California, under a Conservatorship held by her father. For clarity, in California, the general terms “Conservatorship” and “Conservators” are used in cases involving the “person” or the “finances,” or both. Britney’s father is no longer the Conservator of her “person”, though there is still one in place, and he is now the Co-Conservator of her “Estate.”
Granted, I don’t know the day-to-day activities of Ms. Spears nor do I have even the slightest idea of what her private life is like; nonetheless, I was immediately taken aback by the fact that this seemingly competent individual (a singer, songwriter, performer, TV host, entrepreneur and mother of 2 whose generated hundreds of millions of dollars in income since the Conservatorship appointment) is subject to a Conservator. My immediate thought being something I heard during a contested hearing on a Petition for Guardian/Conservator of an alleged Legally Incapacitated Individual a few years back: the law does not require ANY of us to make smart or responsible decisions with our money, does it? I’d take that a step further and say that, in America, we aren’t just allowed to make irresponsible financial decisions, its encouraged. (See, the credit card, gambling and adult beverage industries, to name a few) So, needless to say, my interest was piqued.
As I dove in further, I learned that the #FreeBritney movement inspired The New York Times to feature Britney’s story on an episode of “The New York Times Presents,” a TV series on FX. Once the show aired on February 5, 2021, the story took off and has since garnered a LOT of attention. The Hollywood Reporter wrote an article with a different, more legal approach to Britney’s situation, posing the question on a lot of legal minds, not addressed in The New York Times story: Why hasn’t Britney Spears ever sought to formally end this Conservatorship? Among other puzzling evidence presented, the author, an attorney himself, points out that in a 2020 court filing Spears’s court-appointed attorney describes the Conservatorship as “voluntary.” An excerpt from the article, summarizing this quandary, is below. This story isn’t over. Stay tuned…
“Thirteen years and hundreds of millions of dollars in income later, Spears continues to live in what is called a legal conservatorship and a legion of fans hoping to inspire a judge to #FreeBritney from what they believe to be an involuntary arrangement. With Spears, Framing finds a sympathetic, seemingly healthy, and incredibly productive figure to highlight how odd it is that a young adult with a vast fortune and even vaster talent is deemed “incapable” of caring for her own well-being while publicly continuing to dazzle on stage and in the studio. But while Framing explains how Spears came to be in the conservatorship, it does not answer the question of why she has never formally sought to end it.”
- Allen Secretov. “What ‘Framing Britney Spears’ Doesn’t Really Answer (Guest Column)” The Hollywood Reporter, published February 17, 2021.
The exploitation of the elderly and vulnerable by ill-meaning Guardians or Conservators has been garnering a lot more national attention over the past few years. Back in 2018, HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” did an in-depth report on the financial abuse, and often physical neglect, of the elderly by predatory court-appointed administrators. “I Care A Lot” was released for streaming on Netflix on Friday, February 19, 2021. One can only hope that national attention to these types of cases will help to weed out any bad actors in the Guardianship/Conservatorship world.
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