Fact check: Britney Spears' 12-year-long conservatorship is not taking advantage of her
Editor's note: On Nov. 12, 2021, after this fact check was published, a California judge granted Britney Spears' request to end her conservatorship.
"The court finds and determines that the conservatorship of the person and estate of Britney Jean Spears is no longer required,” Judge Brenda Penny ruled. "The conservatorship of the person and estate of Britney Jean Spears is hereby terminated.”
During court proceedings, Spears alleged that the 13-year conservatorship was "abusive" and that she should freed from it.
The claim: Britney Spears is trapped in an abusive conservatorship
TikTok’s days in the U.S. might be numbered, but that's not due to its shrinking influence. Recently fans have been using the video-sharing app and Britney Spears' own posts to spread the #FreeBritney conspiracy theory.
Advocates claim Spears is using social media to send coded cries for help. They argue her father is using the law to trap and manipulate the pop star. #FreeBritney has spread across Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram and YouTube.
“A conservatorship is meant for people with mental health issues or decaying health,” Brandon Hase posted on Facebook July 8. “If she is so unwell that she isn’t mentally capable of doing anything for herself, why is she still working?”
The lengthy post, which has been copied and shared by many other users, describes how Spears’ father, James "Jamie" Spears, allegedly has profited from the conservatorship and “held (her) against her will” in a mental hospital for “refusing to take the sedating medications her father has doctors prescribing her to keep her under control.”
“Every year she pays $1.1 million dollars in fees for the conservatorship to continue, including paying her father a solid $100k+ salary and paying a lawyer she isn’t allowed to choose,” the post claims. “She is allowed an allowance of around $1,500 a week for bills, shopping and essentials. Her net worth is $250 million.”
Many Facebook users have commented how the actions alleged violated Britney Spears’ rights and allowed her father to financially manipulate her.
As of July 22, more than 226,000 fans had signed a petition arguing against the conservatorship.
"I found the information by following the conservatorship closely for 12 years because I don’t believe she needs it. I posted it because I wanted the rest of the world to wake up and pay attention," Hase told USA TODAY. "She’s crying out for help if you read into what she posts."
What is a conservatorship?
In a conservatorship, also called a guardianship, a judge appoints a responsible person or organization to look after another adult. Courts typically grant conservatorships for disabled adults and elderly people vulnerable to financial manipulation.
There are two types of conservator: conservator of person and conservator of estate.
Conservator of person cares for the conservatee’s physical and mental well-being, while conservator of estate protects the conservatee’s finances. Both roles require that the conservators keep the court informed on the conservatee’s status and require court approval for major decisions.
Court orders conservatorship after 2007 breakdown
A year after Spears suffered a widely publicized mental breakdown, a judge tasked her father with looking after her finances and life decisions.
Jamie Spears served as her co-conservator alongside lawyer Andrew Wallet, until Wallet resigned. Her father continued as her sole conservator of her person and estate until he stepped down as conservator of person in September 2019. He was replaced by professional conservator Jodi Montgomery, who was appointed by a judge to care for Britney Spears’ security, visitors, medical treatment and other things. It's assumed Jamie Spears stepped down due to health issues, USA TODAY reported.
In October, Los Angeles lawyer Troy Martin examined Spears’ probate court file with USA TODAY to better understand why her conservatorship has lasted more than a decade. According to the file, Spears’ lawyer Samuel Ingham said she was not present at a September hearing because she “does not object.”
Still, fans with “#FreeBritney” signs protested outside the court chanting “end the conservatorship now.”
TikTok about a leaked letter fans the flames of #FreeBritney
On July 11, the #FreeBritney conspiracy theory was revitalized when Spears’ former photographer Andrew Gallery posted a series of TikToks leaking a 2008 letter about the conservatorship he claims Spears wrote.
“As long as the people are getting paid she has no rights. It could go on for a while, but it doesn’t make it right at all. Everyone is very quick to put a gloomy eye on Britney,” he read.
The letter, which Gallery claims the conservatorship destroyed, describes the star's fears, lack of rights and the events surrounding her 2007 mental health break. The letter describes Spears in the third person and used confusing language.
“She gave this letter to me back in 2008 or so,” Gallery said. “I was under a contract back then, I couldn’t really talk about anything. And now, seeing everything that’s going, frankly I’m a little worried about her so I wanted to get this out there.”
From these TikToks, Gallery received thousands of likes, comments and followers.
Britney Spears can request to end it
Under California law, conservatees retain the right to seek legal representation, a change of conservators and an end to the conservatorship.
“Even if the conservatee does not take direct action, the court will periodically send a person, called a court investigator, to see the conservatee, to inquire about his or her circumstances and desires, and to advise the conservatee of his or her rights,” states California’s Handbook for Conservators.
No official motion to terminate filed
On May 10, 2019, Judge Brenda Penny ordered that an expert evaluate Britney Spear’s competence.
Martin noted this competence examination could have occurred in response to a verbal request to terminate the conservatorship, although it could have been motivated by other factors. He said that if Spears had verbally requested to end the conservatorship, there was no official motion to terminate it. Several documents in her file were sealed or redacted.
The medical expert presented findings surrounding Spears' “ability to make intelligent decisions” and “manage her own affairs” on Sept. 18, 2019. The expert's findings were not public, and the star has remained in a conservatorship since.
Spears' court appearances have largely been closed to the public and media because they concern her medical records and details about her children. This secrecy has left a door open for speculation and more conspiracy theories.
Britney Spears is still profiting financially
As part of the conservatorship, the court must see all Spears’ finances and approve any conservator fees. Under California law, conservators of the estate are entitled to “reasonable” compensation from the conservatee’s estate with court approval.
Spears’ financial 2018 documents revealed that her living expenses cost over $400,000 and travel expenses, $70,000.
Those expenses total far more than the $1,500 weekly allowance — roughly $78,000 a year allowance — that viral Facebook posts suggest she's given.
Her assets at the end of 2018 totaled over $59 million, $2.5 million more than April 2018.
Britney Spears’ legal and conservator fees totaled $1.1 million. Of that, Jamie Spears collected a court-approved $128,000 conservator fee, the same amount he earned in 2017.
"He has to file every year an accounting of all of her finances, and though some documents are redacted, they show that under his control her estate has gone up between $28 million and $47 million, which is substantial," Martin said after reviewing her file. "It doesn't sound like a situation in which she is being taken advantage of."
Britney Spears hasn’t spoken out about ending conservatorship
Britney Spears has made few comments about the conservatorship. In her 2008 MTV documentary “Britney: For the Record” she said the arrangement had its downfalls.
"Even when you go to jail, you know, there’s the time when you’re going to get out. But in this situation, it’s never-ending. It’s just like (the movie) 'Groundhog Day,' ” she said.
In April 2019, Spears checked into a wellness facility for some “me time.” Fans speculated she was being held against her will, prompting her to respond.
“There’s rumors, death threats to my family and my team, and just so many things crazy things being said," she captioned an Instagram video. "I am trying to take a moment for myself, but everything that’s happening is just making it harder for me. Don’t believe everything you read and hear."
On July 10 ,Spears responded to concerns about her recent posts on Instagram.
“I get how some people might not like my posts or even understand them, but this is Me being happy,” she wrote.
Judge says #FreeBritney claim is defamatory
In December 2019, Spears’ conservatorship won a defamation lawsuit against blogger Anthony Elia, whose website "Absolute Britney" was a predominant voice in the #FreeBritney movement. The case surrounded a post that accused the conservatorship of manipulating Spears’ social media.
"Britney's team is deleting positive comments on her Instagram post and leaving negative ones to keep up the illusion that she needs help!" Elia wrote on his blog. "This has to be a human rights violation!!!!"
Martin: Conservatorship is helpful
"Everybody looks at conservatorship as a terrible thing foisted on her. I look at it as a success story," Martin said. "Britney was in a downward spiral, there were 5150s (involuntary temporary psychiatric holds) filed on her as a possible danger to herself or others. Her life was a wreck. ... By all appearances, things are a heck of lot better now than they were in 2008."
“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,” her longtime manager Larry Rudolph said in May 2019.
Martin told USA TODAY Spears’ recent success isn’t a sign the conservatorship should end, but that it is properly working.
"It looks like she’s thriving under this conservatorship — it impacts her, she can’t make all the decisions she wants, but it looks good from this court file,” he said, adding the documents within her file suggest the mental health concerns that motivated the conservatorship in 2008 may not be behind her.
Judge extends conservatorship through August
In May, ET reported Judge Penny ruled the conservatorship extend until at least Aug. 22. The decision came after Spears made headlines for accidentally burning down her home gym. Family and friends expressed concern about her safety. She described the incident in a viral Instagram post that inspired a wave of suspicions about her well-being.
Rogers & Cowan, the agency which represents Spears, has yet to respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
Our rating: False
Editor's note: This rating was published before the Spears conservatorship was terminated.
Our fact check sources:
- TikTok, #FreeBritney
- Brandon Hase, July 8, 2020, Facebook Post
- Twitter, #FreeBritney
- Reddit, #FreeBritney
- Instagram, #FreeBritney
- YouTube, "Britney Spears has NEEDED Our Help for YEARS #FreeBritney"
- Kayla Farmer, July 10 Facebook Post
- Change.org, "Britney Spears: right to her own lawyer"
- California Courts, "Conservatorship"
- USA TODAY, "Why does Britney Spears still have a conservator? Legal expert says her case file suggests answers"
- USA TODAY, "Britney Spears has a new conservator after father Jamie Spears steps down: Reports"
- YouTube, CBS Los Angeles "#FreeBritney Trends As Britney Spears Fans Protest To End Her Conservatorship"
- US Weekly, "Britney Spears’ Former Photographer Unearths Letter She Wrote About Conservatorship, Kevin Federline"
- California Courts, "Handbook for Conservators"
- Associated Press, "Britney Spears appears in court over conservatorship, judge orders evaluation"
- TMZ, "Britney Spears Now Part of 'Free Britney' Movement"
- ET, "Britney Spears' Finances Revealed During Conservatorship Case, Shows She Went to Target 80 Times"
- People.com, "Britney Spears Calls Her Life Worse Than a Jail Sentence"
- USA TODAY,"Britney Spears checks out of mental health facility, reports say"
- Britney Spears, April 23, 2019, Instagram Post
- Britney Spears, July 10, 2020, Instagram Post
- TMZ, "Britney Spears Conservatorships Wins Court Battle ... In Free Britney Movement"
- Associated Press, "Britney Spears' conservatorship sues blogger for defamation over #FreeBritney"
- The Washington Post, "The battle of Britney Spears"
- ET, "Britney Spears' Conservatorship Is Extended Until August"
- USA TODAY, "Britney Spears reveals she burned down her personal gym: 'It was an accident...'"
- Britney Spears, April 29, 2020, Instagram Post
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