Hulu and FX’s new documentary, “Framing Britney,” dives into the rise and fall of Britney Spears as she continues to battle her father over a highly controversial legal arrangement that granted him power over her personal and financial affairs.
The singer’s highly public 2007 breakdown led to her father becoming co-conservator of her estate in 2008, along with attorney Andrew Wallet. But Wallet resigned from his role in 2019, leaving Jamie Spears in full control of the arrangement.
In California, a conservatorship (also known as a guardianship in some states) is described as a legal relationship between a “responsible adult or organization” and a person who’s ability to make decisions has been “impaired” for some reason.
The show has gone viral, and prompted a renewed public outcry from fans and supporters of the viral “Free Britney” movement. The social media campaign has gained steam over claims the conservatorship is an attempt to control the singer’s life, allowing Jamie Spears to unfairly profit from his daughter’s vast fortune.
Yet the documentary — which relies on testimonies from people close to the singer and lawyers tied to her conservatorship — paints a bleak picture when it comes to avenues available for the 39-year-old pop icon to liberate herself.
“The conservatee can't wake up one morning and say, ‘I don’t need this, I don’t want it. Make it go away,’” Vivian Thoreen, an attorney on Jamie Spears’s legal team for the conservatorship, said in the documentary.
“A petition to terminate the conservatorship [would have to be filed.] And then there’s got to be evidence or some demonstration that a conservatorship is not necessary at that point in time,” she explained.
“It’s the conservatee who has the burden of saying, ‘I don't need a conservatorship anymore, and here's why,’” she continued — adding that she’s “not seen a conservatee successfully terminate a conservatorship.”
‘The standard is high’
To that point, on November 10, an LA judge denied Spears’ application to remove her father from the conservatorship of her estate. However, one lawyer told Yahoo Finance at the time that the ruling didn’t mean all was lost for the singer.
At the November ruling, the judge did appoint financial company Bessemer Trust as co-conservator — a major “victory” for the pop star, according to Chris Dangaran, an estates and trusts attorney at Michael Sullivan & Associates, a California-based law firm.
“The implementation of a corporate trustee to sit alongside her father, to give a more objective perspective...in a way it’s almost another set of eyes,” Dangaran said at the time. “I saw that as a total win.”
A conservator can control the financial and/or personal well-being of the individual in question, who typically demonstrates diminished mental capacity, or questionable behavior over a consistent period of time.
“The standard is high [but] if the court feels that [a conservatorship] is necessary they will move forward with it,” according to Dangaran. He added that it is very normal to have a family member serve as conservator due to the “vested interest in the party.”
For 12 years, the pop diva quietly abided by the conservatorship, which controlled her finances, along with certain aspects of her everyday life, such as mental health care and travel. In September 2019, Jamie Spears temporarily stepped down as conservator of his daughter’s person over health reasons, but still kept his role as conservator of her finances.
Yet in August 2020, Britney began to make moves to seek greater transparency in the courts, and publicly objected her father’s return as conservator of her person. In September, she took it one step further — requesting that he step down as conservator of her finances as well.
A vast fortune at stake
Despite the fact that Britney Spears has not released a new album since 2016 and has not performed live since 2018, the singer still maintains a sizable fortune.
Forbes estimates that her net worth is approximately $60 million, with $56.5 million of that sum resting in business accounts and investment properties. According to the publication, the pop star’s gross income is divided among a mix of agents, managers, lawyers, state and local taxes, and then her personal expenses.
Each year, Spears pays about $500,000 in child support each year to ex-husband Kevin Federline, plus millions in legal support and fees related to her conservatorship, Forbes said.
Other public financial records revealed that Spears loves to shop on household supplies — regularly visiting Target, Home Depot, Walmart, Bed Bath & Beyond and more — and travels frequently. The singer was recently spotted in exotic locations like Hawaii, Miami, and Turks and Caicos.
Still, Spears’ financial assets are ultimately under her father’s and now Bessemer Trust’s control. 2019 documents revealed that Spears spent $1.1 million on legal and conservator fees in 2018. Of that amount, her father pocketed $128,000.
‘This is going to be a process’
Fans argue that Britney has not regressed since her 2007 breakdown. In fact, many claim she’s flourished.
The “Toxic” singer dropped her comeback album “Circus” in 2008, followed by several other records, multiple tours, a four-year Las Vegas residency, a successful perfume line, lingerie business and more.
Yet, that wasn’t enough to drop the conservatorship altogether. Danagaran said the legal process is not as simple as it seems, with “some sort of gross negligence” needed to end the arrangement.
“It would have to be demonstrated to a point where [her father] was definitely someone who was causing harm to not only her estate but also her person,” the lawyer explained
That last point is something the elder Spears’ legal team has been quick to negate — arguing that the pop star climbed out of debt under her father’s guidance. The singer’s legal team has insisted she is “afraid” of her father and “will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career.”
However, that demand mayhelp Britney’s case moving forward, according to Dangaran, who said the singer now has “leverage on the situation” to revisit the case in the future.
“It seems like the biggest issue is not whether the conservatorship is needed, but whether her father should be the conservator. The judge has opened a way for her attorney to file petitions in the future to either suspend him or outright remove him,” Dangaran said.
That, coupled with the addition of the third-party conservator, could bring Britney one step closer to financial control.
“In football, you don’t have to get all ten yards in one play. You run five yards, you run three yards and you get that first down — same thing here,” Dangaran explained. “This is going to be a process.”
Editor’s note: This article, which originally published in November, has been updated to reflect developments since the “Framing Britney” documentary release.
Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193