Pop star Britney Spears’ father, James, filed a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday to end the singer’s 13-year conservatorship.
James previously indicated in a filing on Aug. 12 that he was planning to step down as the conservator of Britney's finances, but offered no timetable. He gave up his control over her nonfinancial life decisions in 2019.
Co-Conservator Bessemer Trust petitioned to be removed in early July.
"As Mr. Spears has said again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter," the document says. "If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance."
James Spears likely took this step in anticipation of a Sept. 29 hearing in which Britney Spears' attorney was expected to petition to remove him and to get ahead of some of the allegations his daughter has made about her treatment under the conservatorship.
The filing claims Britney's "impassioned plea" during a June 23 court session is what really jump-started the move.
"I just want my life back," Britney Spears said. "And it's been 13 years and it's enough. It's been a long time since I've owned my money. And it's my wish and my dream for all of this to end without being tested."
Judge Brenda Penny, who oversees the case, will need to approve any change. She hadn't appeared particularly likely to end the conservatorship previously, but this petition is a major shift in the narrative.
This move potentially signals the beginning of the end of one of the highest-profile elder law/estate planning legal debates in recent memory.
That the 39-year-old star is not elderly and is very much in the prime of her life deftly illustrates the main issue at the heart of this conflict—Is a case like Britney’s really what a conservatorship is for?
Though mechanisms exist for ending a conservatorship, in practice, they aren’t typically expected to end before the death of the conservatee (although, as with anything, examples to the contrary do exist). They’re largely used to safeguard people who can’t take care of themselves because of physical or mental limitations, often as a result of (but certainly not limited to) old age, hence the all-encompassing level of control given to the conservator.
When applied to (and this is a drastic oversimplification for brevity’s sake) someone in their mid-20s who’s struggling with potential substance abuse and mental health issues, but who is not necessarily permanently inhibited, it’s not terribly surprising that a conservatorship optically comes off like dropping an atom bomb on an anthill. But in my opinion, that image is less useful as an indictment of the decision-makers in Britney Spears' life (that’s way beyond the scope of this piece), and more so an indicator of just how unsatisfactory the options were, and still largely are, to help someone Britney’s age deal with a loss of capacity that may ultimately turn out to be temporary.
In trying to determine whether someone is fit enough to end their conservatorship, you run into the Catch-22 that sits at the center of most substantive discussions about this case—how much role is the conservatorship playing in their current success and mental state? Because that’s kind of the whole point. If they’ve improved so much under the stewardship that they no longer appear to need it, then maybe they should be allowed to go it on their own. But on the other hand, if the conservatorship is doing its job so well, what’s the impetus to mess with something that’s working? The answers here are murky (and that’s without getting into the specifics and family dynamics at play in this case).
Depending on who you speak to, Britney Spears’ conservatorship was either a gross overstep by an overcontrolling stage parent intent on draining his daughter dry or exactly what she needed to get her life back on track and keep it there. That both of these statements may ultimately be true (and nobody but the principles know what actually went on behind the scenes) is what makes this specific case so difficult.