In entertainment news recently, the name Britney Spears has made a resurgence. There is a large following of fans calling to #FreeBritney. Spears, a 38-year-old Louisiana native, is under a conservatorship issued by a California court and has been for the last 12 years. But what exactly is a conservatorship and why do some people think she needs to be “freed”? Let’s start with some definitions.
A conservatorship (known as a guardianship in many states, and curatorship or interdiction in Louisiana) is a lawsuit where someone with an interest in the affairs of a person who has lost capacity (usually a spouse or family member) hires an attorney to file a lawsuit against the person who has lost capacity. This lawsuit asks the judge to appoint someone (called a curator in Louisiana) to manage the health care, financial decisions or both the health care and financial decisions of that person. Once a curator is appointed, the person who lacks capacity loses almost all of their civil rights. Because of this, an interdiction is sometimes called the “civil death penalty.” As reported by Newsweek, Britney has to ask her guardian “to sign off on every major decision she makes, from business to health to voting and marriage.”
An interdiction is designed to protect individuals who do not have capacity to take care of themselves or to manage their finances properly. The incapacity may be caused by a life-long disability, an accident, or the result of age-related dementia (as we often see in our practice). In Spears’s case, after a string of highly publicized incidents (including her infamous head-shaving and a paparazzi umbrella attack), her father, Jamie Spears, had her involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital and was granted temporary conservatorship in 2008.
Many wonder how Spears, a seemingly healthy woman, who, since the conservatorship began, has released multiple albums, completed a highly successful Vegas residency, and been a judge on the reality competition show “X-Factor” can continue to be subject to a conservatorship? Proponents of the #FreeBritney movement believe her conservatorship is essentially a hostage situation, citing the fact that her father and others monetarily benefit from her conservatorship as a reason to allow it to continue.
The year her conservatorship began, Rolling Stone Magazine captured audio in which Britney is heard saying, “I basically just want my life back … I want to be able to drive my car. I want to be able to live in my house by myself. I want to be able to say who’s going to be my security guard.” Now, her father says, the conservatorship is a way of life that acts as a protective bubble, and not the “cage” some fans think it is and that Britney is involved in every aspect of her business.
“All these conspiracy theorists don’t know anything. The world don’t have a clue,” Jamie Spears told Page Six on August 1. “It’s up to the court of California to decide what’s best for my daughter. It’s no one else’s business.” He added that since every expenditure is accounted for – a requirement for the conservatorship – there’s no way for him to steal money like some claim.
While ultimately, the courts will decide what is best for Britney, her situation shows both the importance of early estate planning to avoid an interdiction in cases of loss of capacity and the discord of an interdiction lawsuit. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, this action is usually reserved for elderly or those otherwise unable to take care of themselves, but could happen at any age as a result of accident or illness. For more in-depth information on interdiction, you should contact a knowledgeable estate planning and elder law attorney.
The information provided is not intended to be legal advice and does not constitute any attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation.
Ms. Melancon is an attorney with Legacy Estate & Elder Law of Louisiana, LLC with offices in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, LA. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning, and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at (225) 744-0027.