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A documentary recently aired which focused on the ‘Free Britney’ movement. Britney Spears is subject to a Conservatorship in the US which is the UK equivalent of a Deputyship. Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, applied to the court to become the Conservator for his daughter in 2008 following a decline in her mental health leading to ‘psychiatric hold’ in hospital.
Britney lacked capacity to manage her own financial affairs and it was found that there was a risk that she could be easily subjected to undue influence or fraud. Additionally, Jamie Spears was authorised to take control of Britney’s health and welfare and part of this role allowed him to manage her career and dictate her daily contact with family, friends and the public.
Jamie Spears was not the sole Conservator and it was decided that attorney Andrew Wallet would be appointed alongside him. Jamie Spears has been receiving an income of $130,000 per annum for running of the Conservatorship. During this time, he has also been entitled to 1.5% of the revenues of performances and merchandise linked to Britney’s residency in Las Vegas. In recent years, Mr Wallet made an application to the court as he believed that his salary should be raised to reflect the increase in work and that the estate should be viewed as a ‘hybrid business model’.
Britney Spears has recently made her wishes and feelings clear as she has instructed her legal representative that she wants her father to be removed from the Conservatorship entirely. Andrew Wallet resigned from his role and the court have now appointed Bessemer Trust to act as Co-Conservator alongside Jamie Spears. Despite the objections of Jamie Spears, the judge found it to be in Britney’s best interests for Bessemer Trust to hold equal power over the estate and to work together on an investment plan and budget proposal for the future. The next hearing date is due to take place in March 2021.
It is clear to see that the US take a similar approach to the UK in that decisions made by a Conservator must always be in the best interests of the person subject to Conservatorship/Deputyship and that their wishes and feelings should taken into account where possible (in this case, leading to joint conservatorship with Bessemer).
However, the vital difference between a US Conservatorship and a UK Deputyship is that a lay Deputy, such as a family member, is not entitled to be paid for the role. They may only be reimbursed for reasonable expenses. Where a professional Deputy is appointed and their costs exceed fixed costs (as set out in Practice Direction 19b) on an annual basis, they must submit a bill of costs to the Senior Courts Costs Office which will account for all work completed. This system ensures that professional Deputyship fees are not excessive and arguably, this type of accountability should be implemented in the US to avoid uncontrolled Conservatorship fees as in the matter of Britney Spears.