Britney Spears’ Testimony Spurs Lawmakers to Question Federal Guardianship Data

Britney Spears supporter Dustin Strand of Phoenix holds a hand fan outside a court hearing concerning the pop singer's conservatorship at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Los Angeles.

Britney Spears supporter Dustin Strand of Phoenix holds a hand fan outside a court hearing concerning the pop singer's conservatorship at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, in Los Angeles. Chris Pizzello/AP

They asked the Justice and Health and Human Services departments to provide more information about the legal arrangements.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., pushed for deeper data and more federal oversight into America’s state-operated guardianship system, citing a pop icon’s stirring account of her experience under the legal mechanism. 

“Last week, Britney Spears testified in superior court, asking to end her 13-years-long conservatorship and revealing disturbing details about the exploitative legal arrangement through which her father has been able to control her finances and her entire life,” the lawmakers wrote to two federal agencies Thursday. “Ms. Spears’ case has shined a light on longstanding concerns from advocates who have underscored the potential for financial and civil rights abuses of individuals placed under guardianship or conservatorship, typically older Americans and Americans with intellectual, developmental, and mental health disabilities.” 

In the five-page letter addressed to the Health and Human Services and Justice departments, Warren and Casey said comprehensive data around guardianships in the U.S. is “substantially lacking”—and called for the two to help address the challenge. 

Deemed “conservatorships” in some places, guardianships are mechanisms through which states grant an individual or entity authority over another “incapacitated” individual and their assets, the senators said. A judge in 2008 gave Spears’ father complete oversight of her life and money. For years she’s reportedly fought to end it, though little was confirmed publicly about the circumstances. But last week, the 39-year-old made an emotional request to a Los Angeles judge in a move to terminate the arrangement. Among other claims, Spears spoke of being forced to take medication, perform shows and remain on birth control against her will. 

“I deserve to have a life. I’ve worked my whole life. I deserve to have a two- to three-year break and just, you know, do what I want to do,” she said.

In their correspondence, the senators point to National Center for State Courts estimates that 1.3 million adults currently live under this legal mechanism—and their guardians control around $50 billion in assets. But those estimates don’t paint the whole picture, they said, as many states don’t have centralized systems to gather this data. The senators provided examples of challenges that accompany this information collection. 

They asked the departments to weigh in on their information-capturing systems, data they collect pertaining to guardianships in the U.S., how Congress could help improve the use of data in this capacity, and for other particulars.

“While guardians and conservators often serve selflessly and in the best interest of the person under guardianship, a lack of resources for court oversight and insufficient due process in guardianship proceedings can create significant opportunities for neglect, exploitation, and abuse,” Warren and Casey wrote. 

The two requested the departments respond by July 14.

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