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22nd Feb 2021

Celebrity conservatorships: What they mean, and who else has had one

Britney Spears’s high profile conservatorship case is ongoing.

As the star continues to try and reduce the authority her father has over her life, so we continue to learn more and more about conservatorships.

A legal agreement which allows a person, known as the conservator, to take control of another person’s finances, a conservatorship is a US legal concept in which a guardian is appointed by a judge to manage aspects of a person’s life when they are deemed incapable of doing so.

The ruling introduces a manager to an individual’s assets, who will remain an authoritative figure over some or all of their financial decisions until they are mentally or physically able to do so on their own.

Although there has been much criticism around Britney’s conservatorship due to the nature of control her father has over her life, legal guardianships do not exclusively exist to simply reduce autonomy – sometimes they are there to give a person much needed support and guidance during a difficult time in their lives, old age, or a bout of mental or physical illness.

Britney’s is by far the most high profile conservatorship case due to the media attention it has garnered over the past few years – and more significantly the past few weeks following the release of the Framing Britney Spears documentary. 

While Jamie Spears recently failed to retain some control over his daughter’s property, Britney’s life is still very much under her father’s control – and has been so since 2008. The #FreeBritney movement is largely in favour of the singer’s autonomy, and although Britney is currently supportive of somebody else taking over the role, she has also expressed an interest in eventually having full control over her life at some point in the future.

While some conservatorship cases are deemed necessary, others have been criticised for giving the conservator too much power, being extended for too long, or having the “wrong” person appointed to the role.

It’s worth noting that with celebrity conservatorship cases of recent years, criticism is bound to occur. The prevalence of social media and the information that fans are privy to means that it can be sometimes difficult to objectively consider a conservatorship situation from the outside.

Regardless, it’s still worth considering other high profile conservatorship cases from the States over the years, and the affect they had on the person’s life.

Amanda Bynes 

Similar to Britney, Amanda Bynes was placed under a conservatorship following news of her deteriorating mental heath some years ago.

The actor and comedian announced that she had been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder in 2014 and that she had been struggling with drug addiction. Bynes’ mother, Lynn Organ, was appointed conservator at the time and has been in control of her daughter’s finances since.

Last year, Bynes shared that she was hoping to end her conservatorship contract, seemingly due to the expenses she was incurring under her mother’s care. She had also expressed a desire to marry her boyfriend, which she could not do without her mother’s approval.

“I have been going to a treatment centre that charges $5,200 a month,” she said. “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t go to a therapist who takes my insurance for $5,000 less a month. This is why I’ve asked to see the judge next week regarding this conservatorship issue.”

Joni Mitchell 

Following a sudden brain aneurysm in 2015, singer songwriter Joni Mitchell was left unable to speak and remained unresponsive for quite some time.

Her friend Leslie Morris was appointed her conservator to “provide for temporary care, maintenance and support,” and remained so until at least 2015. At the time, her lawyer said: “While (Mitchell) has made great progress toward recovery, she lacks [the] capacity to make informed medical decisions.”

Mitchell herself said that she was in favour of the ruling remaining, and in fact, would have liked Morris’s authority to be extended.

“She also told me that she receives excellent care from caregivers around the clock. It was clear that she was happy to be home and that she has made remarkable progress. She has physical therapy each day and is expected to make a full recovery.”

Last year, Mitchell told the Guardian she was “concentrating on getting [her] health back.”

Brian Wilson 

Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame was appointed a new conservator in the ’90s following a troubling relationship with his doctor, Eugene Landy.

After being misdiagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, “every move” Wilson made was allegedly controlled by Landy, who had been originally hired to manage the star’s drug use and “strange behaviour.” In 1990, his family appointed a conservator and banned Landy, who had become Wilson’s legal guardian, for ever making contact with him again.

″Brian Wilson has entered into a settlement agreement which will allow Brian to receive guidance and assistance while at the same time allowing him the freedom to lead his own life as he chooses,″ a statement read at the time.

Mickey Rooney

A conservator was given full control of actor Mickey Rooney’s estate in 2011 after $400,000 was allegedly missing from the star’s accounts.

The conservatorship was technically supposed to be temporary but remained in place until Rooney’s death in 2014. The actor’s family were also seemingly involved in a bizarre” feud which left his legal affairs a complete mess after his death, despite the conservator’s role to manage them.