The push to free Britney Spears from her father's financial, professional, and emotional control has taken on a life of its own. Celebrities from Christina Aguilera to Missy Elliott to Halsey have spoken in support of Spears' case, and #FreeBritney rallies have proliferated around the world. American politicians on both sides of the aisle are advocating for an end to abusive conservatorships: Sens. Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren have spoken out, and on Tuesday July 20, Reps. Charlie Crist and Nancy Mace introduced a bipartisan "Free Britney" bill. But amid the increasingly loud public outcry and Spears (hopefully) moving closer and closer to freedom from her 13-year conservatorship, the question of whether she will ever regain the millions lost to her conservators remains unanswered.
Since 2008, Spears' father, Jamie Spears, has controlled nearly every aspect of her life, from the colour of her kitchen cabinets to the people she dates and befriends. After a bombshell hearing on June 23, in which Spears testified that she'd been forced to take lithium and keep in an IUD, her case gained traction — and on July 19, she was finally allowed to hire her own lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, who says he is "aggressively" pushing to remove Jamie from her conservatorship. She was also recently given permission to drive.
"She is ecstatic and beyond grateful for all the help she is receiving right now," a source told People on Wednesday. But even with all these strides, Jamie has taken a large portion of money from Spears' $60 million ($AU 81.5 million) estate to act as her conservator.
According to documents obtained by Forbes, Jamie has collected at least $5 million ($AU 6.8 million) from his daughter. Around half of this comes from the $16,000 ($AU 21,724) monthly fee Spears has had to pay her father since February 2009, but she's also had to pay for his office, legal fees, and security. As Forbes reports, he also took a 1.5% cut of the gross ticket sales from her four-year Las Vegas residency. What makes this detail all the more disturbing is Spears' allegation that she was forced to perform in Las Vegas while sick, or against her wishes; in other words, while she was purportedly put under a conservatorship to protect her own well-being, she was actually forced to work tirelessly to earn money she would never see.
Whether she can remove her father from the conservatorship is one question, but will she ever be able to get back the money he's pocketed? It's not completely out of the question, but experts say it's unlikely.
Spears has expressed an interest in charging Jamie with conservatorship abuse, but in order to bring about a criminal charge — or reclaim her $5 million ($AU 6.8 million) — she would have to provide clear evidence of financial wrongdoing. "For any of that money to be recouped, there would have to be a showing of some sort of bad faith or some sort of nefarious motive or significant breach of fiduciary duty, which would be unlikely," trust and estates attorney Andy Mayoras told Insider.
Tamar Arminak, a conservatorship attorney who worked on Amanda Bynes' guardianship case, told Vulture that there's a record of Jamie's income and spending. This could make it particularly hard to prove he’s misspent Spears’ money. "As a conservator for his daughter, all of Jamie Spears's income and expenses had to be approved by the court — the $16,000 ($AU 21,724) a month income and the $2,000 ($AU 2,716) for office space, all of that has been court-approved and signed off on," Arminak said.
On the same note, Spears' medical team has to submit repeated "declarations on her mental capacity," Arminak added. All of this paints a picture of just how sinister and stringent conservatorships can be — and why it's been such a battle for Spears to break free.
With Rosengart's expertise, access to conservatorship documents, and ability to issue a subpoena, Spears might have a better shot at proving her father abused her finances. Sabino Biondi, an estates and trusts attorney at Wilk Auslander LLP, told Insider that Rosengart could then ask a judge to surcharge Jamie for "misspent funds," but beyond that, he wouldn't be able to "reverse" the many payments Jamie's collected.
It's unlikely Spears will ever get her $5 million ($AU 6.8 million) back, but with her new, high-powered legal representation and public attention, it is possible that she can regain control of her estate. And right now, that's a priority.
"It makes no sense whatsoever for the state of California to sit back and literally watch me, with their own two eyes, make a living for so many people and pay so many people, trucks and buses on tour, on the road with me, and be told I'm not good enough,” Spears said on June 23. “It's been a long time since I've owned my money, and it's my wish and my dream for all of this to end."