Remember Brittney Spears?
The youth icon of the decades gone by?
She started her career to stardom by becoming a singing icon. Thus began her meteoric rise to the top, growing by leaps and bounds. Tours and albums fell on her wayside and she developed legions of fans around the world. These same fans are now worried about her well-being.
Because of her famous conservatorship case which has been going on for 13 years now. This case has drawn world-wide attention.
Before we get to the meat of the matter, here is what happened.
The pop icon and millionaire went through a rough patch, during which her father managed a legal arrangement called a conservatorship, giving him a say in how she handled her fortune, almost $60 million. Even after it became clear Britney had completely recovered, her assets were under the control of her father, paying the lawyers out of her own pocket to maintain this conservatorship!
Around the world, there has been wide support for her. You may have heard of the #FreeBrittney Movement.
Now, there are some personal finance lessons one can take from this case.
Conflict of interest
There certainly is a conflict of interest between Britney Spears and her father. Their relationship is strained, to say the least. Jaime Spears, her father, has gained millions from his control of his daughter’s estate. She has a net worth of many millions. The argument against him is that he has ulterior motives to ensure her assets remain big while she keeps working hard to earn big money.
It has also produced the argument that this industry, and conservatorship rules are broken. For instance, independent or third-party financial advisors should be able to gain the conservatorship role instead of parents, if one wishes.
Lesson in personal finance: There are many parts of our portfolio we don’t actively control, perhaps we have investments in mutual funds that have fund managers. Perhaps we have financial consultants or wealth managers. It’s vital to understand any conflicts of interest that might impact the fiduciary duty of these stakeholders.
The main issue here is that a legal case has been made regarding an individual’s ability to make sound financial decisions, and exercise judgement that is in her own best interest. One aspect of this, of course, is Britney’s health and personal difficulties. The other aspect is the case that she wasn’t qualified to be making financial decisions. In the eyes of the court, massive spending sprees especially by celebrities can be seen as irresponsible and showing poor judgment.
Lesson in personal finance: Financial literacy is one of the most underrated, underutilized and underrepresented aspects of our education system. We simply do not learn how to handle money, how to understand savings, budgeting, investments, and insurance. Less than 1% of survey respondents correctly estimate the effects of compound interest, something fundamental to our personal finance. If this case teaches you anything, it is that control over finances isn’t the biggest problem, it’s awareness and informed decision making.
Britney has been stuck in a legal battle for more than 13 years. Normally, business owners having property and investments can have them placed in a revocable trust. When one is no longer able to manage one’s affairs, the successor trustee takes over. The court never enters in this.
Lesson in personal finance: All financial undertakings are a big responsibility, and one important and understated part of this responsibility is to explore, understand and activate all the legalities involved in making a rock-solid contract, a clean and protected investment, and thereby an effortless management of personal finance.