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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The dark truth of Hollywood celebrity conservatorships
Peyton McKenzie
The Heart Truth/Flickr/Glenn Francis/

Early-2000s Hollywood stars were not complete without rhinestones, glamor and chunky blonde highlights glistening on stage. Behind the celebrities known for their performances of upbeat songs and comedy sketches, was a darker struggle with mental health.

Singer Britney Spears and actor Amanda Bynes were among the most popular celebrities put under court-ordered conservatorships in the last two decades. Their conservatorships left their family members in charge of their finances and personal affairs.

Conservatorships are legal arrangements that allow courts to appoint a person to control the financial, medical and personal affairs of an individual deemed incapacitated, whether because of mental illness or some other reason.

In Spears’ case, she was involuntarily placed under a conservatorship. Spears’ conservator from ages 26-39 was her father, James Spears. Until 2019, attorney Andrew Wallet was also co-conservator. Spears’ behavior was called into question after she shaved her head, attacked the paparazzi with an umbrella and locked herself in a room with her child, Jayden Federline, to avoid handing him over to her father.

Spears has since gone on to say that her father abused her, and did not allow her to see her friends or speak about what was going on. Spears also claims that her father tried to control her body image, forced her to take medication and go on tour. She was not in control of getting remarried or having children. In 2021, Spears pressed charges against her father for conservatorship abuse.

In California, where the conservatorship was placed, the court reviews cases one year from establishment then every two years after. To end a conservatorship, the court must receive a petition for termination and make an official court order to end the arrangement.

It should be easier for celebrities to end a conservatorship if they choose to do so, because it is their body and their money. There should also be more evaluations to decide whether the conservatee is capable of making decisions on their own rather than every two years.

Especially if the celebrity is getting treatment for their mental health, there should be some reconsideration. People deserve to be in charge of their own medical care.

It can be difficult for people to leave a conservatorship because the conservator is the one managing their money. Not only does the conservatee need money to file for the end of the conservatorship, but there is also the fear that the conservator will exploit their finances in retaliation.

A conservator is typically paid for their services and legal fees, so they are likely not going to want the arrangement to end. A conservator can also take advantage of the star to earn more money because they can control how much the performer works. The celebrity also has to go through the stress of multiple court appearances and defending their position in front of their conservator.

In Bynes’ case, there were several incidents that led up to the conservatorship, including Bynes being charged with driving under the influence, a hit-and-run incident and throwing a marijuana bong out of a high-rise building.

Her mother Lynn Bynes served as her conservator from ages 27-35. Her parents told the court they were concerned for the health of their daughter and wanted to control her medical care and finances. But Bynes has told the court she was not happy with the cost of her medical treatment because she was not seeing a therapist who took her insurance. 

In contrast to Spears, Bynes’ parents supported her ending the conservatorship and she did not allege abuse. Bynes was also temporarily engaged, but if she ended up wanting to be married, her mother would’ve needed to approve it during the conservatorship. Although this is a better outcome than Spears, Bynes has not spoken out much about what happened.

With both celebrities being placed under conservatorships for mental health reasons, it is clear that there needs to be more done to help child stars navigate the industry and get the help they need when they are struggling. If their families had tried to intervene before the celebrities made such public mistakes, there might have been steps that could’ve been taken before legal action.

Although it is not only celebrities who are placed under conservatorships, it is important to have more precautions because of the higher stakes involved. The celebrities’ money, fame and power is on the line when there’s another person in charge of what they can do. This is also not a long-term solution because it’s not directly fixing the root of why the conservatorship was created in the first place.

It should never be the case that people aren’t given the chance to choose what they are eating or who they are talking to on the phone. Those are basic civil rights everyone should be entitled to no matter the circumstance. Although both celebrities are free now, there still needs to be reform in the justice system to prevent situations like these happening in the future.

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About the Contributors
Krystal Miller, Associate Arts & Life Editor
Peyton McKenzie, Creative Director

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