Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Why conservatorships like the one controlling Britney Spears can lead to abuse

Estate planningBritney Spears testified in a California court that her dad was "ruining her life" and also stated, "I'm here to get rid of my dad and charge him with conservatorship abuse." 

Britney Spears claimed that "a team led by her father controlled her schedule, prevented her from having another baby and bullied her." 

A judge in the case recently made a ruling that will allow Spears to hire her own lawyer. Spears has decided to hire former prosecutor Mathew Rosengart. 

Typically, conservatorships are not imposed on those who do not have severe cognitive impairments, which makes Britney Spears' situation highly unusual. Spears has embarked on a world tour and earned $131 million "all while deemed legally unfit to manage her finances or her own body." 

Conservatorships are legal arrangements that give a third party control over someone else. The Court has the sole powers to enforce and terminate them. Generally, conservators/guardians hold broad powers. 

In Britney Spears' case, her dad Jamie Spears is her the conservator. As Britney Spears' conservator, Jamie has received at least $5 million in fees. 

The board powers and "anemic oversight make conservatorships subject to multiple forms of abuse, ranging from the imposition of unnecessary restrictions on the individual to financial mismanagement." 

Since nothing can be done if no one finds out about the abuse or reports it, the magnitude of the problem goes largely unnoticed. 

The National Center for State Courts estimated in 2016 that 1.3 million adults in the U.S. are subject to some kind of conservatorship – representing about $50 billion in assets – but a previous report suggested the number of cases could be more than double that.

There’s virtually no data on how often conservators misuse their power or when a conservatorship has been improperly imposed.

The "Free Britney" movement has brought a lot of attention and publicity to the issue of conservatorship abuse, and will hopefully lead to reforms. 

See Naomi Cahn, Why conservatorships like the one controlling Britney Spears can lead to abuse, The Conversation, July 19, 2021. 

Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

July 25, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Britney Spears’ Sad Song … Warning: This Could Happen to You

SpearsUnfortunately, being forced into a conservatorship is not something that just happens to people in movies and stars like Britney Spears. 

As the world is becoming more and more aware of Britney Spears' "terrible, heartbreaking conservatorship," many are starting to wonder how that could happen to a successful and wealthy person like Britney Spears. These same people are also beginning to wonder if that same thing could happen to them. 

Sadly, the answer is yes, normal people like you and me could find ourselves in the same situation. The conversation around this topic continues to grow due to Britney's recent court battle and with the Netflix movie I Care a Lot. "As in Britney's case, a judge can literally take charge of all your personal and financial decisions and appoint a third party to make these many decisions on an unlimited basis." 

One of the worst aspects of court proceedings involving conservatorships, is that the proceedings are public information, which can add to the emotional toll. 

It is important to be aware that conservatorship can happen to anyone, "if and when you're too disabled (due to an accident or illness) or too incompetent (due to infirmity of mind, old age or dementia, or a similar condition) to handle your own affairs." 

See John M. Goralka, Britney Spears’ Sad Song … Warning: This Could Happen to You, Kiplinger, July 14, 2021. 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

July 17, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 16, 2021

Lawyer: 'Writing is on the wall' that Britney Spears' conservatorship will end

SpearsAfter a heartbreaking loss last week, Britney Spears finally got a big win in her conservatorship battle after Judge Brenda Penny ruled that Spears can now hire the attorney of her choosing. 

On Wednesday, the singer appeared over the phone for the second time in two years following last month's headline-making hearing in which the 39-year-old pop icon claimed she's been 'traumatized' by an 'abusive' legal arrangement that grants her father, Jamie Spears, broad authority over her personal and financial affairs, including her estate that's estimated to be worth $60 million. 

A prominent Hollywood lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, was formally approved to represent Britney Spears. Rosengart client list includes "A-listers from Ben Affleck to Steven Spielberg." Rosengart is expected to take an aggressive approach, in which he plans on filing paperwork to formally end the conservatorship. 

According to Benny Roshan, an L.A. based attorney, 

Britney basically illustrated through her own testimony to the court that she had the capacity to hire a lawyer...and when you're under a conservatorship, typically that means that a court has found you not capable to enter into a contract — but hiring a lawyer is just that.

The next major moment in Spears' case come when she and her legal team file the formal petition to end the conservatorship. 

See Alexandra Canal, Lawyer: 'Writing is on the wall' that Britney Spears' conservatorship will end, Yahoo July 16, 2021. 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

July 16, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

ACLU Files Amicus Brief to Support Britney Spears

SpearsOn Tuesday, the ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of Britney Spears. Spears continues to fight for her freedom from the conservatorship that has gone on for 13 years. 

"The ACLU filed the brief, along with 25 civil disability organizations, in support of Spears' wish to choose her own attorney, which is prohibited by the conservatorship." Spears has been looking to replace her court-appointed attorney, Sam Ingham III, who resigned from the case last week. 

The brief also callas for her to be given access to assistance and tools to make her selection for the replacement. 

According to Yahoo: 

“Britney Spears has said that she wants to pick her own lawyer and the court should respect that wish,” Zoë Brennan-Krohn, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Project, said in a Tuesday statement. “The court should ensure Spears has access to the tools she needs to make that choice meaningfully and to hire someone she trusts to advocate for her stated goal: to get out of her conservatorship. Spears’s right to select an attorney is not only a basic tenet of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, but also consistent with principles of personal autonomy and agency. The California Superior Court must recognize Spears’s autonomy and the rights of people with disabilities to live independent, self-directed lives as active members of their communities.”

According to Amanda Goad, the Audrey Irmas director of LGBTQ & Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU SoCal, "Britney's superstardom and wealth make this an atypical case, but she has described serious infringements on her civil liberties and dignity that are all too typical for people living under conservatorships and guardianships." 

See Lindsey Ellefson, ACLU Files Amicus Brief to Support Britney Spears, Yahoo Entertainment, July 13, 2021. 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

July 13, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 12, 2021

Britney Spears' father Jamie Spears spent $2 million of her funds to remain her conservator, new court docs allege

SpearsAccording to new documents, Britney Spears' father, Jamie Spears, spent more than $2 million of her money on legal fees to remain her conservator. 

Jamie became Britney's conservator in 2008 and briefly stepped down in 2019 while he dealt with health issues. During that time, Jodi Montgomery stepped in on a temporary basis. 

According to documents filed in a Los Angeles court on July 9, Montgomery claimed that Britney "has wished her father out of her life for years" and that he had spent "more than $2 million of his daughter's money" to remain the conservator of her estate.

On June 23, Britney Spears expressed through testimony that she wanted to end the conservatorship overall. However, according to texts presented in the court documents, Britney asked "Montgomery to remain the conservator of her person so she could help Britney obtain a new lawyer." Britney Spears' court-appointed attorney, Sam Ingham III, resigned earlier this month along with Bessemer Trust. 

The new documents also allege that Montgomery was the subject of threatening messages over her role as Britney's conservator and that "she would need security in place as a safety precaution." 

See Kaitlin Reilly, Britney Spears' father Jamie Spears spent $2 million of her funds to remain her conservator, new court docs allege, Yahoo Entertainment, July 10, 2021. 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

July 12, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Britney Spears’ lawyer Sam Ingham asks to resign from conservatorship case

SpearsBritney Spears' court appointed attorney, Samual D. Ingham III, asked to resign from her conservatorship case. Ingham's decision to resign came less than 24 hours after Britney Spears' manager quit and less than a week after Bessemer Trust, the co-conservator of Spears' estate, left its position. 

In court documents, Ingham stated that he wanted to step down "upon the appointment of new court-appointed counsel." The law firm Loeb & Loeb LLP, who was assisting Ingham in the case also plans to resign. 

Ingham claimed that he made the decision to resign after Britney Spears made claims about him in her "bombshell court hearing on June 23." 

Britney Spears told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny that she was not aware that she could petition the conservatorship to end. Other sources claimed that Ingham "regularly gave Britney options, including requesting that the conservatorship should end." 

Sources also alleged that Britney Spears had been feeling frustrated over Ingham's failure to move to dissolve her conservatorship, claiming "Britney doesn't understand what the holdup is. . .[s]he feels she made it crystal clear in court that she wants the conservatorship terminated, but nearly two weeks later, she's still waiting for the petition to be filed." 

It will be interesting to see how things shape up leading to the next hearing in Britney Spears' conservatorship case, which is set for July 14th. 

See Eileen Reslen & Nicholas Hautman, Britney Spears’ lawyer Sam Ingham asks to resign from conservatorship case, Page Six, July 6, 2021. 

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

 

July 10, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Britney Spears’ co-conservator of estate Bessemer exits over Jamie issues

SpearsBessemer Trust, the firm hired to oversee Britney Spears' financial affairs, has decided to step away from her conservatorship and will no longer serve alongside her father, Jamie Spears. 

The private company filed a court document on Thursday, just a day after a Judge's ruling denying Britney Spears' petition to remove her father as a conservator. The document states that it wanted to resign as a "result of the information its team learned from Britney's 24-minute testimony on June 23. 

The firm also stated that it was under the impression that the conservatorship was voluntary. However, Britney Spears "made it clear in court that she wanted it terminated following serious allegations of 'abuse' by her conservators." 

In court documents Bessemer Trust further stated, “As a result of the conservatee’s testimony at the June 23 hearing, however, Petitioner has become aware that the Conservatee objects to the continuance of her Conservatorship and desires to terminate the conservatorship. . .Petitioner has heard the Conservatee and respects her wishes.”

Sources have also alleged that the firm has had issue with Jamie Spears and Britney's court appointed attorney, Samuel D. Ingham III. 

See Eileen Reslen, Britney Spears’ co-conservator of estate Bessemer exits over Jamie issues, Page Six, July 1, 2021. 

Special thanks to Joel C. Dobris (Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.

July 6, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 5, 2021

Britney Spears' petition to remove father from conservatorship denied by judge

SpearsA Judge signed a formal order denying Britney Spears' petition to remove her father from her conservatorship. 

The request was filed in November 2020 when Britney Spears' lawyer, Samuel D. Ingham III, "said that the pop star was afraid of her father and she would not perform again if he was involved in the conservatorship."

In the ruling last week, the Judge approved Bessemer Trust as co-conservator but rejected the request to remove her father, Jamie Spears, from involvement. 

According to the papers signed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Penney, "The conservatee’s request to suspend JAMES P. SPEARS immediately upon the appointment of BESSEMER TRUST COMPANY OF CALIFORNIA, N.A. as sole conservator of estate is denied without prejudice."

The ruling was signed a week after Britney Spears' shocking and compelling testimony about the trauma she has experienced over the years, allegedly at the hands of her father. 

See Andrea Dresdale & Lesley Messer, Britney Spears' petition to remove father from conservatorship denied by judge, Good Morning America: Culture, June 30, 2021. 

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.  

July 5, 2021 in Current Events, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

“I Care A Lot” – Could It Happen to Me?

Pike"If you're a probate attorney (or someone with a Netflix account), you've seen or heard about the somewhat disturbing film 'I Care a Lot.'" The film was released on Netflix in early 2021. 

The film illustrates "a legal guardian's ability to target and drain the assets of susceptible elderly individuals." The movie follows a "crooked guardian" named Maria, played by Rosamund Pike. In the movie, Maria obtains guardianship over Jennifer, played by Dianne Wiest. 

What starts as a seemingly predictable plot turns into a thrilling piece of art with "twists of violence, crime, and laughable moments." Unfortunately, the legal procedures depicted in the film are inaccurate at best. 

It is important to discuss these inaccuracies. First, when Maria meets with Dr. Amos to discuss Jennifer's "need" for a guardian. The encounter is filled with HIPAA violations, ethical concerns, and Dr. Amos fails to provide a medical certificate to the court, which is required with a petition for guardianship. 

In a startling scene, Maria shows up to Jennifer's front door and takes her to an assisted living home, while Jennifer has no idea what is going on and is completely unaware that there was a hearing to begin with. 

Also, Maria seemingly has a lot of powers that guardians in most states would not have. For instance, Maria began painting the walls in Jennifer's home and attempted to sale the home. In the real world, these powers must be provided by the court and are not automatic when someone becomes a guardian. 

If you watched or plan on watching "I Care A Lot" keep in mind that the movie is not completely accurate and portrays an exaggerated picture of the potential abuse of a guardianship and the authority that comes with it. 

See Noelle Lussier, “I Care A Lot” – Could It Happen to Me?, Burns & Levinson, June 24, 2021. 

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 29, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, Humor, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 28, 2021

Britney Spears Conservatorship Testimony Inspires Californians in Same Boat

SpearsLast week Britney Spears decided to speak out against her conservatorship. That decision has inspired others in California that feel trapped in similar situations to take action. 

Britney Spears' "impassioned court testimony" produced an influx of action. According to a California lawmaker "spearheading legislation to change the way conservatorships operate" told TMZ that his office was flooded with calls from people that have been and continue to be burdened by their own conservatorship issues. 

These people were energized by Spears' powerful testimony. Many people have relayed the message that they were afraid to speak out about their conservatorship issues until Britney Spears made the courageous decision to do so. They feel that Spears' testimony helps "legitimize their claims and concerns." 

One of these people includes a 60-year-old woman and her husband that want to end the woman's mother's conservatorship. The couple has spent about $3 million fighting in court with no result. 

One woman committed suicide after her conservatorship "allegedly put her in isolation and started draining her finances." 

Apparently, conservatorships affect a lot of people, and thanks to Britney Spears, those people are becoming more comfortable speaking out on their own conservatorship issues.

See Britney Spears Conservatorship Testimony Inspires Californians in Same Boat, TMZ, June 25, 2021. 

Special thanks to David S. Luber (Florida Probate Attorney) for bringing this article to my attention.

June 28, 2021 in Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Guardianship, New Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)