When Britney Spears entered into a conservatorship in 2008, it was her father, Jamie Spears, who architected the arrangement, and it was Jamie who took the helm. As the conservator of her estate, he has controlled how every cent of her roughly $60 million fortune is spent; as the conservator of her person—a role he held until 2019—he controlled every detail of her day-to-day life, including where she lived, who she interacted with, and the medical treatment she received.
Britney has been fighting behind the scenes to remove Jamie from her conservatorship for years, and in June, that battle broke into public view: The pop star spoke out about suffering under her father’s reign for the first time, telling a California court that Jamie “should be in jail” for how he’s treated her. She’s spent the intervening months pushing to oust her dad from her conservatorship for good—and on Wednesday, shockingly, he finally agreed to step down.
It was a major victory for Britney, and the pop star’s supporters have celebrated it accordingly. Some have gone so far as to say Britney is now finally “free,” although that isn’t exactly the case. The announcement of her dad’s resignation could represent a big step toward the end of Britney’s conservatorship. But she would still have a complicated legal fight ahead of her if she wants to terminate it.
Though Jamie promised to leave his role in the conservatorship in a Wednesday court filing, that won’t happen overnight. There are a number of “pending matters” in the conservatorship he wants to work through, as his attorneys wrote in the filing, and he won’t step down until they’re resolved. It could be months before he officially resigns—and even that would only be the first of many steps it will take for Britney to end her conservatorship once and for all.
In an effort to map out what might come next, VICE spoke with attorney Scott Rahn, a founding and managing partner of the California law firm RMO, and an expert on conservatorships who has kept close tabs on Britney’s case over the past year. He walked us through what Britney’s path to ending her conservatorship would look like step by step.
Now that Britney’s dad has announced he’s resigning, what will it take for him to actually do it?
In Wednesday’s filing, Jamie’s attorneys wrote that he won’t step down until he’s tied up a few loose ends related to his role as the conservator of Britney’s estate. The first order of business, they wrote, is finalizing the record of how he’s managed Britney’s finances over the past year.
As the conservator of Britney’s estate, Jamie is required to submit an “account” to the court roughly once a year detailing exactly how he’s spent her money over that time period, Rahn told VICE. Each time Jamie submits an account, Britney and her attorneys review it. They can ask questions about any expenses it contains, and contest those expenses if they wish—but whether they take issue with the account or not, ultimately, they sign off on it. From there, it goes to the judge for official approval.
So far, Jamie has had 11 of these accounts approved, representing about 11 years of the conservatorship—but the twelfth account, submitted to the court in August of 2020, has yet to be approved, court records show. Jamie, Britney, and their attorneys are still negotiating over that account, and Jamie won’t be ready to step down until it’s approved, his attorneys wrote in Wednesday’s filing. After that, he’ll have to submit a “final account,” which fills in the gap between the twelfth account and the end of his term as the conservator of Britney’s estate. Once the twelfth and final accounts are approved, “Mr. Spears will be in a position to step aside,” his attorneys wrote in Wednesday’s filing.
There’s a good reason Jamie would want to have those accounts approved before he resigns, Rahn said: He wants to make sure the court blesses how he’s handled Britney’s finances before he steps down, and avoid opening himself up to the risk of being sued for mismanaging Britney’s estate.
“Essentially, he's saying, ‘Look, I don't want to leave the conservatorship and then have an issue where you come back and you're saying I did something wrong,’” Rahn said.
Once the accounts are approved, will Jamie step down?
Not immediately. Jamie’s attorneys wrote in Wednesday’s filing that before he resigns, he wants to put a successor in place to take over as the conservator of Britney’s estate.
Rahn said that over the next few months—as Jamie, Britney, and their attorneys negotiate over the final accounts—they’ll likely also negotiate over who Jamie’s successor should be. One potential candidate is Jodi Montgomery, the conservator of Britney’s person, Rahn said.
“She has institutional knowledge,” Rahn explained. “She's been blessed by Jamie already. She's been serving in this role. And if Britney doesn't have an issue with her, it's an easy transition.”
Another possible option is Jason Rubin, an independent, professional fiduciary whose name has come up in Britney’s case before. When Britney’s attorney filed a petition to forcibly remove Jamie as the conservator of Britney’s estate in July, he nominated Rubin to take Jamie’s place.
“Jason's a very well known entity in this space,” Rahn said. “I can see it being either one of them. They're both qualified, and they're both good at what they do.”
Once Jamie, Britney, and their attorneys agree on who should replace Jamie—as well the terms of the twelfth and final accounts—Jamie will, presumably, be ready to step down.
How would Jamie’s resignation actually work?
It may take a few months to finalize the negotiations over Jamie’s accounts and who will replace him, Rahn said. But once everything’s settled, Jamie, Britney, and their attorneys will show up in court having agreed on how to move forward. On that day, Rahn said, three things will likely happen simultaneously:
- The court will approve Jamie’s twelfth and final accounts.
- Jamie will formally resign as the conservator of Britney’s estate.
- The court will appoint a new conservator of Britney’s estate.
It’s impossible to say exactly when that day will come. At the earliest, it could take place in November, Rahn said; at the latest, it might be early 2022.
“It would take a lot of effort on everyone's part to get all of those pieces in place,” Rahn said. “But if everybody sat down next week and cranked it out, it's possible that it could happen by the end of the year.”
With Jamie gone, will Britney be able to end her conservatorship?
Britney has indicated—through her own testimony, and through her attorney—that she wants out of her conservatorship entirely. In order to end it, she would have to file a petition to terminate it.
Britney’s head attorney, Mathew Rosengart, whom she hired in July, could file that petition on the same day Jamie resigns, Rahn said. Alternatively, Rosengart may wait a few months, which would give Britney time to incrementally reclaim more control over her life and finances with the help of her conservators.
If Britney does file to terminate her conservatorship, one of two things could happen, Rahn explained. In the first scenario, the petition to terminate would go unopposed—and if no one objected to ending Britney’s conservatorship, her judge would be expected to dissolve it, Rahn said.
In the second scenario, someone would oppose Britney’s petition to terminate her conservatorship. More than likely, Rahn said, that person would be Jamie—who would still be able to object to ending the conservatorship even after he’s stepped down as Britney’s conservator.
“[If Britney files to terminate], Britney's parents and family are going to have an opportunity to voice their opinion as to what they think is necessary,” Rahn said. “And it seems that Jamie is going to countenance the need for a conservator going forward.”
If Jamie opposed ending Britney’s conservatorship, it would likely kick off a trial, Rahn explained. Attorneys for Jamie and Britney would begin discovery, a legal process through which they could obtain relevant documents and medical records, subpoena witnesses for testimony, and generally gather as much information about the conservatorship—and Britney’s mental and physical capacity—as they wanted. That process would take about six months, Rahn said. Once it ended, both sides would present their case for why Britney’s conservatorship should or shouldn’t end at a trial—decided either by a jury, if Britney requested one, or by a judge, if she didn't.
Either way, getting from the point of filing the petition to final verdict would be a time-consuming process. According to Rahn, it would take at least a year, and potentially up to two.
That said, while it’s certainly possible that Jamie could oppose a potential petition to terminate Britney’s conservatorship and force a trial, no one involved in her conservatorship—Jamie included—would likely want that to happen.
“Over the next several months, I would assume a significant amount of time, energy, and resources are going to go to trying to work out a lot of these issues—to see if they can be resolved without having to go to trial, which would be a very public matter,” Rahn said. “I think everybody would probably like to avoid that. Not only for the cost, but because of the emotional cost.”
If Britney keeps pushing to end her conservatorship, when would she be completely free?
Even if Britney ends her conservatorship, that might not bring an end to her court battles. She’s vowed to pursue legal action against her father: In court testimony she gave on July 14, she said she wanted Jamie investigated for conservatorship abuse, and that she wanted to press charges against him. Her attorney has echoed that threat.
“Serious questions abound concerning Mr. Spears’s potential misconduct, including conflicts of interest, conservatorship abuse, and the evident dissipation of Ms. Spears’s fortune, which Mr. Spears has effectively controlled since 2008,” Rosengart wrote in a July 26 court filing. “There might well come a time when the Court will be called upon to consider… whether—in addition to stripping his daughter of her dignity, autonomy, and certain fundamental liberties—Mr. Spears is also guilty of misfeasance or malfeasance warranting the imposition of surcharges, damages, or other legal action against him.”
Jamie denied those allegations in Wednesday’s court filing. His attorneys called them “unsubstantiated” and “false,” and insisted that Jamie “has always done what he believes was in his daughter’s best interests.”
In the wake of Jamie’s decision to willingly step down as the conservator of Britney’s estate, Rosengart hasn’t let up on his threat to pursue legal action against Jamie. In fact, he’s doubled down on it.
“We are pleased that Mr. Spears and his lawyer have today conceded in a filing that he must be removed,” Rosengart told VICE via email on Friday. “We look forward to continuing our vigorous investigation into the conduct of Mr. Spears, and others, over the past 13 years, while he reaped millions of dollars from his daughter’s estate, and I look forward to taking Mr. Spears’s sworn deposition in that regard in the near future.”
Assuming that Britney’s conservatorship does, ultimately, come to an end, she’ll have a choice to make: Either go after her father in court for conservatorship abuse, or simply walk away.
“Does she really want to end it, and then spend the next several years pursuing him?” Rahn said. “She's indicated, seemingly repeatedly, that she just wants this to be over—she wants the nightmare to be over. And pursuing litigation is not the way to end a nightmare. You're just buying a different one.”
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