On this episode of ‘An Estate of Mind’, Zakiya Norton and Somita Basu discuss the pros and cons of a conservatorship and how this applies to the unusual case of Britney Spears.
The On-Going Saga of the Conservatorship of Brittany Spears
00:02 Somita Basu: Welcome to the Estate of Mind Podcast. I’m Somita Basu.
00:06 Zakiya Norton: And I’m Zakiya Norton and today we’re gonna be talking about Miss Hit Me Baby One More Time, Britney Spears herself and her on-going conservatorship.
00:16 SB: Yeah, this whole story started back in 2008 when Britney had a total melt down, I don’t know that there’s a better way to describe it, and she just kind of… I mean to those of us in the outside world, she just seemed like she lost it.
00:32 ZN: Yeah, it’s forever known as the ‘umbrella, ella, ella, ella’ story for me in my mind. I don’t think any of us have forgotten just that kind of manic behavior of the head shaved and the umbrella and going at the paparazzi, it was quite a sight.
00:50 SB: Yeah, I remember tracking it very carefully online through the Perez Hilton site, and I was at a friend of mine’s 40th birthday in a tropical location and a few of us were actually monitoring this, probably more than the election at that time. [laughter]
01:10 SB: Because it was fascinating and she had such a squeaky-clean image and…
01:14 ZN: That’s true.
01:14 SB: So, yeah, that’s basically how all of this started.
01:19 ZN: Yeah, and so let’s talk a little bit about what a conservatorship actually is. And so in California, and in many states, this is true as well, there’s two different things that are being managed or being controlled by somebody else because you’ve lost the ability to do so. One is the person, so that just means being to able to make medical decisions on your behalf for those kinds of things because you lack the capacity to do so. And the other thing would be what’s known as the estate, and that’s just your finances. And so, especially in this instance where somebody like Britney Spears who’s touring and making lots of money there was a lot financial components at play that needed to be managed and she no longer had the capacity to do that.
02:04 SB: Right. And usually conservatorships what’s most common, at least in California, is that for the elderly and the people who are ill and just unable to take care of themselves, as Britney Spears is definitely not the typical conservatorship case. So that is definitely very unusual and the fact that it’s been eight years and the conservatorship is still going and she seems to be pretty stable and doing quite well for herself, but it seems like there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight as of right now.
02:39 ZN: Right, and she said as much I think in a couple of interviews, that she feels like this is more restrictive than jail because in jail at least you get out. So that kinda gives you an idea of just how restrictive we’re talking for conservatorships. So when you have a conservatorship of the person and the estate, so both over your medical decisions and your financial decisions, you literally have no say over your life, about what decisions are being made on your behalf. And in this case, because there is so much money at stake, these people, the person who gets appointed for her is the lawyer on her behalf to look out for her best interests, her father, who I think is the person managing her medical decisions, they all get paid, they all get fees by the court. So there’s not really much incentive for them to make this go away anytime soon, right?
03:26 SB: Exactly, exactly. And you have to think about what is it like for her, assuming she’s back in a good place and she’s raising her kids and she’s doing well professionally and she’s got the Vegas gig, but at the end of the day, every other year they’re filing something that details every single penny that she’s spent.
03:46 ZN: Right.
03:46 SB: So if she went to Starbucks, you know because it’ll be filed with the court.
03:50 ZN: Right. Will it tell us if they spelled her name wrong on her cup, because I’m sure they did. [laughter]
03:58 SB: And actually it’s very intrusive, a conservatorship, and one thing that we always like to tell our clients, I think, is you don’t want this.
04:07 ZN: No.
04:08 SB: It’s very, very restrictive, it requires a lot of work, it’s highly supervised by the court, the court is all up in everything in your life.
04:17 ZN: Yes, they’re in your business.
04:19 SB: They are in your business.
04:20 ZN: That’s correct.
04:20 SB: And all the way up in your business.
04:21 ZN: Yes, yes. [chuckle]
04:23 ZN: And not in a good way. And I think that’s just another example which highlights that you’re really never too young to start thinking about some of these issues. And I know we all think, “Yeah, I’ll get around to it before I die and hopefully that’s not tomorrow.” But this would be something that could have been taken care of with a power of attorney and an advanced healthcare directive. People could have stepped in and said, “You know what? We think that she’s lost capacity.” They could’ve had the doctors give their recommendations and say, “Yes, we agree with you”, and they could have just managed it that way and that is not a forever thing. She can come back and say, “I feel like I’ve gained capacity,” go to the doctors and they can agree with her and we’re done.
05:05 SB: Right.
05:06 ZN: Versus this now is, I mean as you’ve said, just so much more intrusive and harder to end.
05:10 SB: It’s harder to end. She would have to actually go to court and say, “I wanna end the conservatorship”. At this point the conservators are so bound up in her professional and personal life, I don’t know that that’s an easy bond to break at this point.
05:26 ZN: Right.
05:26 SB: She might just used to having these people making decisions for her and helping her and taking it all on herself might be hard for her to imagine at this point. Also, there is a vested interest because they are getting fees, she has a court-appointed attorney that is representing her and he’s making a decent amount of fees off of this, as is her dad, as as the other conservator who is an attorney.
05:49 ZN: Right.
05:49 SB: So there are vested interests in here and obviously it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what her actual worth is and how much she’s actually making.
05:57 ZN: Of course.
05:58 SB: But for them it’s not a bad deal.
06:01 ZN: No. Yeah, I agree with you. I think there would be some pushback on their end if she decided to really try to retake control of her life.
06:09 SB: Right.
06:10 ZN: She has an uphill battle to get back to that position.
06:15 SB: Right. So I think the… If she had just had some basic things in place, a basic estate plan, even though she was young, the younger and more famous you are, the more you need it. And so we’ve seen those multiple times now, like Britney Spears and her conservatorship. Bobbi Kristina, if she had had a advanced healthcare directive, things would have been much more clear. So you’re never really too young and I think the more talented you are or the more you have one of these artistic abilities, the more you need one. And she could have easily avoided a conservatorship.
06:47 ZN: Yeah. Agreed. So I think the message is clear. You’re never too young to start thinking about these things. We hope all of you start thinking about what you need to get done and start doing it now rather than later.
07:02 SB: Yeah. The sooner, the better.
07:03 ZN: The sooner, the better. That’s right. Get that estate plan in order.
07:07 SB: Yeah. It’s better to be too early than to be even one day too late.
07:10 ZN: That’s correct.
07:11 SB: So that’s our take on Britney Spears and her conservatorship, which is still ongoing, which we hope doesn’t happen to any of you ever. And if you have any questions, you can always contact us on our website at nortonbasu.com and we hope to hear from you soon.
07:26 ZN: Thank you for listening to An Estate of Mind.