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Planning for Success: “Overprotected” - Britney Spears
When Britney Spears burst onto the Billboard Charts at the age of sixteen, she instantly became one the world’s most beloved pop stars. Despite Britney’s massive fame and fortune, she has never had full control over her own life. Imagine becoming a worldwide sensation, amassing riches and fortune, but with the caveat of having to ask for permission on how and when it can be used.
As most of us remember, Britney suffered a mental breakdown in 2008, which led to the formation of a conservatorship. Essentially, a conservatorship is an adult guardianship in which the court appoints representatives to control the individuals legal, financial, and personal decisions. Initially when established, the conservatorship was meant to be only temporary; yet, in October 2008, it was changed to remain in effect for the foreseeable future. For the past thirteen years, Britney’s father, Jamie, has had complete control of her finances and furthermore, has prevented her from getting married, having additional children, and living a normal adult life.
In September 2021, the Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny was given the option of terminating the conservatorship, keeping it in place and simply replacing Jamie Spears or maintaining status quo. For the time being, the judge approved accountant John Zabel to replace Britney’s father as successor conservator. The next hearing is scheduled for November 12th, which will review the petition to end the conservatorship. We remain cautiously optimistic that Judge Brenda Penny will grant Britney her freedom by ceasing the conservatorship.
Britney could have easily avoided the years of being controlled by her father had she created a proper estate plan. Using a variety of different estate planning vehicles, Britney could have selected an individual or individuals to oversee decisions on her behalf during incapacity; as well as, developed a legally binding set of instructions stipulating how her assets and personal care should be managed during her inability. With proper planning, Spears could have established specific conditions outlining what behavior and actions would need to be met prior to her being deemed incapacitated.
When planning for your potential incapacity, the first thing to ask yourself is, “if I am ever incapacitated and unable to care for myself, who would I want to make decisions on my behalf?” Since you are selecting the individual or individuals that you would like to make financial, legal, and healthcare decisions for you until you either recover or pass away; we need to not only be careful on who we appoint, but also make sure to keep the documents current. For instance, if your ex-spouse or partner is still appointed in your documents, this could be a recipe for disaster since during incapacity, they have full control over your financial, legal, and medical decisions. As we have witnessed with Britney, it is best to list a trusted individual because if you do not legally name someone to make these decisions before incapacity, the court will choose someone on your behalf. If you do not like who the court selects, this can become extremely difficult for you and your loved ones. Not to mention, the courts lengthy process of naming a guardian can be quite costly and emotionally draining for your family.
Britney’s tragedy should inspire us to make sure we have the proper estate planning strategies in place. By the same token, it is imperative estate planning documents are properly executed because if they are not then they were simply expensive ink on paper. We need to ensure our loved ones stay informed and the proper team is in place to navigate the legal system. This is the best way to guarantee that your standard of care will be maintained.
To think if this can happen to someone famous like Britney Spears, imagine what is happening to average Americans. If you already have an incapacity plan in place, we can review it to make sure it is current and will achieve the intended goal. If you do not have an incapacity plan in place, we would be happy to refer you to one of our trusted attorneys to draft the documents. As always, we welcome the opportunity to review your documents to make sure the appropriate plan is in place to achieve your desires.