Lessons Learned From Britney Spears’ Financial Conservatorship

The pop star’s recent memoir reveals the toll her involuntary conservatorship took on her and spotlights the drawbacks of these legal arrangements.

Britney Spears dancing onstage in a dense fog.
Britney Spears performs in National Harbor, Md., on July 12, 2018, during her Piece of Me tour.
(Image credit: Kevin Mazur/BCU18/Getty Images for BCU)

The ongoing saga of Britney Spears and her conservatorship has shone a spotlight on the challenges associated with financial conservatorships, exposing both their potential benefits and serious pitfalls.

This legal arrangement, meant to protect those unable to handle their affairs due to mental or physical challenges, can transform into a precarious situation when misused. Spears' story, as told in her recent memoir, The Woman in Me, serves as a stark example of how a well-intentioned legal tool can turn into a distressing ordeal, sparking a call for reforms to uphold the autonomy and rights of individuals under conservatorships. Here are several possible reasons a conservatorship might go awry.

Loss of autonomy

New York attorney Jill H. Teitel reports, “Despite the legal protections put into place by the majority of states in the United States via the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship and Other Protective Arrangements Act, guardianship judges still remain protective and inflexible to the wards’ particular strengths and areas of independence out of fear that these persons will be taken advantage of by those who do not petition the court. By encouraging courts to issue orders reflecting the ability of wards to act independently, we have seen a shift in how the courts should view a person’s ability to make certain decisions for him/herself. However, for some persons, ironically, the effect of financial conservatorship is the unfortunate erosion of personal autonomy.”

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Individuals under conservatorship surrender control over their financial decisions and personal lives to a court-appointed conservator. While this may be justified in cases of genuine incapacity, it often results in a loss of personal freedom. Spears' decade-long struggle highlights the emotional distress accompanying this loss of autonomy.

As attorney Laura Fischer says, “There is no greater loss than that of your own free will. It is imperative to manage your own planning and have the proper ancillary documents in place to specify under exactly what conditions your affairs should be managed and by which trusted individuals.”

Potential for abuse

Financial conservatorships create an environment prone to abuse, as conservators wield substantial power over the individual's assets. Financial abuse is a controlling tactic used by abusers over their victims in ways such as sabotaging income and access to money, restricting how the victim is allowed to use money and the things they can own and financially exploiting the victim’s financial situation by stealing or misuse of funds.

Fischer reminds us, “Abuse comes in all shapes and sizes, from physical to financial to mental. Establishing a care plan, in advance, with a team of knowledgeable professionals ensures that your carefully considered wishes can be fulfilled.”

Victims are often prevented from leaving their abusers because they lack the financial knowledge to be successfully independent. Teitel sees in her practice that “the cycle of dependence perpetuates, disempowering some wards to be in control of their financial situation.”

In the Spears case, concerns arose about financial mismanagement and excessive fees, raising questions about the exploitation of the conservatorship for financial gain. Abuse can manifest through misappropriation of funds or decisions prioritizing the conservator's interests over the individual's, jeopardizing financial stability.

Fischer points out, “Legal documents, themselves, can specify not only the persons in charge, but also the appropriate fees that are to be paid to them.”

Lack of accountability

While subject to court oversight, the scrutiny of financial conservatorships varies, allowing potential abuses to go unchecked. Spears’ situation underscores the need for robust oversight, emphasizing transparency and accountability in the conservatorship process.

“Even though the courts must adjudicate their cases pursuant to the law, if the attorneys and their clients are not motivated to use these alternatives to conservatorship and guardianship, wards will continue to suffer,” Teitel says.

It is a real definitive possibility that ending a conservatorship will be a prolonged and expensive legal process, placing additional burdens on the individual. Legal battles to regain financial control can deplete both financial and emotional resources. Spears’ enduring struggle exemplifies the challenges individuals face in reclaiming their autonomy. But “it is generally lack of clarity that creates opportunities for people to exploit individuals and their assets,” Fischer says. “Through deliberate and informed planning, one can lay out a clear plan that leaves no room for such exploitation.”

Stigma and mental health implications

Being under a conservatorship carries a significant stigma, potentially portraying the individual as incapable of making sound decisions. This can have detrimental effects on mental health and self-esteem, as demonstrated by Spears' revelations about the impact of the conservatorship on her well-being.


The Spears case highlights the hazards of financial conservatorships and the urgent need for legal reforms. Spears is not the only celebrity who has dealt publicly with these abuses. In September 2023, NFL player Michael Oher — who inspired the 2009 film The Blind Side — had his conservatorship terminated by Shelby County Probate Court Judge Kathleen Gomes. Oher signed the conservatorship under the misconception it was adoption papers when, in fact, it allowed Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy to have all powers of attorney to act on Oher’s behalf, and he was not allowed to enter any contracts or bind himself without the direct approval of his conservators.

While conservatorships can be necessary, careful monitoring is crucial to prevent abuse and preserve individual rights. Proposed reforms include enhanced transparency, regular capacity evaluations and mechanisms for individuals to petition for conservatorship termination. Addressing these issues is vital to strike a balance between protecting vulnerable individuals and safeguarding their fundamental rights and autonomy.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA®, CES™
President & CEO, Francis Financial Inc.

Stacy is a nationally recognized financial expert and the President and CEO of Francis Financial Inc., which she founded 15 years ago. She is a Certified Financial Planner® (CFP®) and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®) who provides advice to women going through transitions, such as divorce, widowhood and sudden wealth. She is also the founder of Savvy Ladies™, a nonprofit that has provided free personal finance education and resources to over 15,000 women.