May 7, 2021

The Battle for Britney: framed but not yet freed


Why all the attention?

American Conservatorships are not dissimilar to English Deputyships, but why has Britney's garnered quite so much attention?

Well, this fairly uncommon scenario has two key ingredients that scream 'hot content' - youth and fame. Britney is only 39 years old; she's been famous for decades; she has had famous boyfriends and famous friends;  her estate is valued at circa $60million; and she had a very public mental health crisis in 2007/8. She also has a legion of devoted fans who say they only want the best for her. Whilst they are - probably - genuinely well meaning, they also seem hungry for every detail of Britney's life.

Whilst Britney is no doubt thankful for her fans, she might not want to share every detail of herself with them. And here's the rub that serves a somewhat killer blow to the #FreeBritney movement: while fans want her released from having a Conservator, Britney herself has seemingly never disputed the need for a Conservator. Her complaint has been that the Conservator has been her father.

Might it therefore be the case that Britney continues to need a Conservator and that she knows something about herself and her mental capacity that others don't? Britney's father remains a co-Conservator alongside a financial management company. There is a hearing scheduled for June where Britney is meant to be addressing the Californian Court as to her ongoing concerns/frustrations about her father's involvement.

If Britney were a resident in the UK

If Britney were resident in the UK and the Court of Protection had jurisdiction over her case, would she still need a finance Deputy and to what extent would she be able to have her father removed as her finance Deputy?

If we assume that Britney has been recently assessed as lacking the necessary mental capacity to manage her property and affairs, then it would seem appropriate that she continues to need a finance Deputy. As you will be aware, you do not have to be an elderly dementia sufferer to lack the capacity to manage your financial affairs. However, English capacity law is clear that capacity is time and decision specific. Therefore, here, Britney may well have been assessed as unable to manage her property and financial affairs, yet, it is equally possible that on an assessment to see whether she could decide who would be an appropriate candidate to act as her finance Deputy, she had capacity.

The Court of Protection will always try and ensure, to the extent it is possible, the vulnerable individual, here Britney's, own views are heard and given as much weight as possible. However, that is not to say that it follows to the extent Britney could communicate her views and had the capacity to make them, the Court would be bound to follow them. The Court would need to act in Britney's best interests which may ultimately be found to be different from what she wanted.

The information shared in the various documentaries implies Britney's relationship with her father is at best strained if not estranged. Where relationships have broken down in this way, then the Court would certainly be right to query whether this meant it was no longer in Britney's best interests to have her father formally involved in her affairs. However, much will based on the evidence the parties provide the Court to enable the Court to make a best interests decision.

So, if this battle for Britney was being played out on this side of the pond, is it possible that although she is just 39 years old, Britney could have both a financial Deputy and that that Deputy could be her father? The answer is yes to both. Is it also correct that the Court may deem it in Britney's best interests to remove her father as her Deputy? Again, the answer is yes. If an appointment is no longer found to be in the best interests of the vulnerable person then the Court has the jurisdiction to agree to a change.

Applications to the Court of Protection

You may have clients who have similar concerns to Britney. Chances are they haven't won any MTV awards, but perhaps their relationships with lay Deputies (often parents) has irretrievably broken down. Perhaps, their financial circumstances have changed such that a professional Deputy would be a preferable option to a family lay Deputy, or perhaps an existing joint deputyship arrangement is no longer serving the best interests of the vulnerable individual. Applications to the Court of Protection to address these issues are entirely possible to ensure that the best interests of the vulnerable individual are always prioritised.

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