It’s the end of the month, which is when we normally survey the landscape and share interesting developments in elder law. But Britney spoke in court, and we can’t resist.
You may have heard that, for more than a decade, pop star Britney Spears has been under conservatorship in California. Conservatorships are typically needed for incapacitated adults, often ill, elderly people. Many have wondered how an entertainer capable of earning millions could possibly need a conservator.
This week, Britney appeared in court by telephone and asked that her conservatorship be terminated. However, her attorney said she has not asked him to take formal action. Supporters and observers quickly concluded that the conservatorship should end, and we were ready to join the chorus. Then we read the transcript. Unfortunately, it’s not that clear.
Incapacity Standard in California
In California, there’s “conservator of the person” and “conservator of the estate.” A judge appoints a “conservator of the person” when a person ”is unable to provide properly for his or her personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter.”
A judge appoints a conservator of the estate when person “is substantially unable to manage his or her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence. “
Although Britney’s testimony revealed understandable anger and frustration, it also revealed a complicated medical situation and questionable mental functioning. In the 23-minute speech, which Britney said she wrote down, details suggest she might still need help.
Evidence Britney Needs Help?
The biggest issue is her insistence that she not undergo an evaluation. She told the judge about a four-hour psychiatric evaluation that she “failed.” But she feels she should not have to undergo any more testing. She mentioned eight times that she should not need an evaluation. At one point, she said: “I don’t feel like I should even be in room with anyone to offend me by trying to question my capacity of intelligence.”
Although she didn’t talk about her medical condition in specifics, it’s clear that her medications are closely managed. “The same lady” comes to her house every morning to administer her meds. And, she said, at one point, her doctors prescribed lithium, a mood stabilizer. During one medication adjustment, six different nurses monitored her, and they wouldn’t let her go anywhere for a month.
After an episode preparing for her Las Vegas show, which she described as an argument over one dance move, she underwent intensive psychotherapy. She refered to it as “rehab,” but she also said she never drinks.
It is during this period that she “worked” seven days a week with no days off and noted that “in California, the only similar thing to this is called sex trafficking.” Only she was not working on her career; she was working on her mental health in the therapy program. After two months of intensive therapy, she spent two more months in a Bridges program. Britney complained that her team “made” her attend therapy sessions, and she felt enslaved and that she would be punished if she didn’t attend.
Intensive Treatment Continues
Now, Britney sees a therapist three times a week, which she believes is too much. She would rather meet only twice a week, or once a week. (She was not consistent.) But, she then said, “I don’t even believe in therapy. I always think you take it to God.” Then later, “I actually know I do need a little therapy.”
She said she is in shock, traumatized, depressed, cries every day, has “trapped phobias being in small rooms,” and is “scared of people.” She regularly feels bullied, ganged up on, and feels alone and suggests having a baby would help make her feel less alone.
She mentions that her conservator will not let her remove her IUD because they don’t want her to have children. (Consider: It might be more complicated; drugs including lithium have been linked with birth defects and taking a medication vacation might not be good for Britney’s own health, which is the Conservator’s primary concern.)
Earnings Equal Competence?
Britney reasons that because she is able to earn money, work for herself and pay other people, she should not have a conservator. But she blames her team for telling her she should get an attorney if she wants to quit the Vegas show. (Good advice if you’re going to breach a big contract.) And she views basic legal advice as threatening; her attorney told her going to court and making her situation public could be embarrassing.
The Associated Press quoted one observer: “The words came out like bullets. She shifted rapidly between thoughts and ideas. She also admitted to being depressed and crying all the time. I’m not her psychologist, but these are things that potentially point to being in the middle of mental illness.”
Britney has received support from fans, celebrities, and disability advocates. But, under California law, the she has the burden of proving she is capable of managing her affairs. But nothing she said demonstrated that she can manage her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence. Or that she can provide for her own physical health.
Britney spoke out. But if she really wants out, she’ll likely need to demonstrate with more certainty that she can manage on her own.