Britney Spears failed to remove her father, James Spears, from the conservatorship of her estate — but that doesn’t mean that all is lost for the 38-year-old pop icon.
On Tuesday, an LA judge denied Spears’ application — prompting a public outcry from fans and supporters of the viral #FreeBritney movement. The social media campaign has swiftly gained steam over claims the financial arrangement is an attempt to control the singer’s life, and allows Spears’ father to unfairly profit from her fortune.
But the judge did appoint financial company Bessemer Trust as co-conservator — which represents 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,” he told Yahoo Finance this week. “I saw that as a total win.”
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 an ‘impaired person.’ The conservator can control the financial and/or personal wellbeing of the individual in question — who typically shows 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,” Dangaran stated. He added that it is very normal to have a family member serve as conservator due to the “vested interest in the party.”
The singer’s 2007 breakdown led to her father becoming co-conservator of her estate in 2008, along with attorney Andrew Wallet. Wallet resigned from his role in 2019, leaving James Spears in full control of the controversial arrangement.
For 12 years, the pop star 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, James 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, 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 pop star still maintains a sizable fortune.
Forbes estimates the singer’s 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 singer’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 — frequently 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. Last year, documents revealed Spears spent $1.1 million on legal and conservator fees in 2018. Her father took home $128,000 of that.
‘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 — but Danagaran said the legal process is not as simple as it seems.
“There would have to be some sort of gross negligence,” the lawyer explained to Yahoo Finance.
He added that “it would have to be demonstrated to a point where [James Spears] was definitely someone who was causing harm to not only her estate but also her person.”
That last point is something the elder Spears’ legal team has been quick to negate. He has argued that the pop star climbed out of debt under his guidance.
On Tuesday, Britney’s lawyer Samuel D. Ingham III fired back — telling the judge that the pop star is “afraid” of her father and “will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career.”
This could help 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.”
Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193