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  • David Ball

What Does Britney Spears Teach Us About Conservatorships in Colorado?



News headlines abound regarding Britney Spears’ Conservatorship. Now 39 years old, Spears has been under a California Court ordered Conservatorship for 13 years – 65% of her adult life. In California, conservatorships are designed to protect incapacitated adults in matters involving both the individual’s business and financial affairs and the individual’s medical care, health, food, shelter, clothing, etc..[1] But in the Spears’ case, Ms. Spears seeks protection from her conservatorship, not protection by the conservatorship.


Britney Spears Remarks Regarding an Abusive Conservatorship

For more than a decade, Spears has not been outspoken about her Conservatorship. On June 23rd, that changed. Spears spoke directly to the California Probate Court Judge (and indirectly to the public at large) for approximately 20 minutes. Spears explained that she feels the Conservatorship has been an oppressive and controlling tool used against her, and not for her own protection. Spears said that the Conservatorship has stripped nearly all autonomy from her life. At the direction of the conservators, a small army of people, being paid from her earnings, control significant components of her life, including her financial, medical and personal affairs, down to the visitation arrangement with her two teenage boys.

In particular, Spears contends that the Conservator controls her dating life, friendships and spending habits. Spears argues that she desperately wants to have another baby, but the Conservatorship has not allowed her to discontinue her birth control. She claims that the Conservatorship has forced her unnecessarily to stay in a mental health facility and forced her to perform against her will. According to Spears, even her psychiatrist has recommended changes to her medication regime because she has pushed back on the control exerted over her personal and professional life. In sum, The New Yorker explains that Spears has been “isolated, medicated, financially exploited and emotionally abused.”


“Since the establishment of Spears’s conservatorship, she has released four albums, headlined a global tour that grossed a hundred and thirty-one million dollars, and performed for four years in a hit Las Vegas residency. Yet her conservators, who include her father, Jamie Spears, have controlled her spending, communications, and personal decisions.”[2]


At the conclusion of her statement, the Judge told Spears that her remarks were courageous, but Spears would need to file a formal petition with the Court requesting that the Court end the Conservatorship.


How Does Spears’ Situation Play Out in Colorado?

It is important to remember that every legal situation unfolds differently according to the facts and the law as applied to those facts. In addition, at this point, we only know a 20-minute snippet of Spears’ side of the story based upon her public remarks made in California Probate Court. We certainly should not discredit Spears’ statement, but that statement is only the tip of the iceberg of information the Court will consider when reevaluating the Conservatorship. Although the facts today sound egregious, it is possible that Spears needed the help of a California Conservator when first appointed but has grown out of that need over the past year, or two, or even ten. As the Judge insinuated in her statement, Spears, or someone close to Spears, must formally advocate for the Court to end the Conservatorship. We do not know what caused Spears’ delay in petitioning the Court to end the Conservatorship, but we do know that she began taking those steps last month.


Unlike California, the Colorado Probate Code draws a clear distinction between the role of a Guardian and the role of a Conservator for an adult. An individual, or a person interested in the individual’s welfare, may petition the Colorado Probate Court for a determination of the individual’s incapacity, in whole or in part, and appointment of a limited or unlimited Guardian for the individual. This is true regardless of the individual’s age. The Guardian is then responsible for the incapacitated person’s physical, emotional, and mental needs, including employment, safety, medical, living arrangements, and related needs. According to the Colorado Probate Code, Colorado Guardians assist an incapacitated person in making decisions regarding support, care, education, health, and welfare. The Code requires a Guardian to exercise authority only as required by the incapacitated person’s limitations and, to the extent possible, shall encourage the incapacitated person to participate in decisions, act on his or her own behalf, and develop or regain the capacity to manage the incapacitated individual’s personal affairs. The Code provides that a Guardian always must act in the incapacitated person’s best interest. A Colorado Guardian is not charged with making financial decisions regarding large amounts of money. In contrast, a California Guardian is only appointed to protect the interests of a minor child. Because Spears was an adult at the time of appointment, she was not eligible for a California Guardianship.


A Colorado Conservator is only appointed by the Court to help a person who is unable to manage money, property, business interests and the like. Depending on the individual’s needs, a Colorado Conservator may have full power to manage the person’s entire financial affairs or may only manage specific assets or financial obligations (like paying bills or managing a business interest on behalf of the individual). According to the Colorado Probate Code, a petitioner must show that an individual for whom conservatorship protection is sought is “unable to manage property and business affairs because the individual is unable to effectively receive or evaluate information or both or to make or communicate decisions.” Notably missing from the Colorado Conservatorship requirements is a showing of the individual’s incapacity. Like a Colorado Guardianship, the Code requires a Colorado Conservator to “take into account the limitations of the protected person, and to the extent possible, encourage the individual to participate in decisions, act in the person’s own behalf, and develop or regain the ability to manage the person’s estate and business affairs.”


A Conservator in California on the other hand provides both for the incapacitated adult individual’s medical care, health, food, shelter, clothing, etc., AND the individual’s financial and business affairs. The California Court website suggests that a California Conservatorship is usually a permanent arrangement.[3] Spears has Conservators who manage both her personal and financial affairs.


Because Colorado law distinguishes between Guardians and Conservators, and the specific role each plays, Colorado Probate Courts can more readily identify the specific needs of an individual subject to a Colorado Guardianship or Conservatorship. Courts also understand the distinct thresholds of appointing a Conservator versus a Guardian and understand, through investigation and hearing whether an individual meets the specific and distinct requirements of a Guardian, a Conservator or both.


Conclusion

To be sure, the Colorado Probate Code is not perfect. Unfortunately, misguided and sometimes unrepresented petitioners can make consequential mistakes in securing a Colorado Conservator or Guardian. That said, the Colorado Probate Code makes clear the level of care and attention an individual needs to qualify for a Guardian who watches after the personal needs of an individual or a Conservator who watches after the individual’s financial needs. If at all possible, the Colorado Probate Code contemplates working toward a protected individual’s independence. That is a noble and desirable outcome in nearly all cases.


We cannot predict the outcome of Spear’s California Conservatorship matter, but we do know the framework for a Guardianship or Conservatorship in Colorado. If you or your loved ones are facing difficult decisions about Colorado Guardianships or Conservatorships, feel free to contact the experienced probate attorneys at Ball & Barry Law. We are here to help.

[1] https://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-conservatorship.htm?rdeLocaleAttr=en No attorneys at Ball & Barry Law are licensed to practice law in California. [2] https://www.newyorker.com/news/american-chronicles/britney-spears-conservatorship-nightmare [3] https://www.courts.ca.gov/selfhelp-conservatorship.htm?rdeLocaleAttr=en