Locked in: is Britney Spears' legal pickle possible here too?

05 July 2021,  Ilze Strydom 1026
With the #FreeBritney movement gaining widespread attention on social media over the last few months, we've been getting  a lot of questions about what exactly “conservatorship” is - and whether a situation similar to that of Britney Spears' can happen in our country as well.

“Conservatorship” or Curatorship as it is known in South Africa, stems from the Latin term: cura – meaning “to take care”. In short, it entails that a Court may appoint a curator bonis and/or curator ad personam to guard and administer the financial affairs of the patient and administer the patient’s day to day affairs. 

A person could be deemed to be incapable of taking care of his affairs, as a result of one of the following reasons:  

  • the person must be mentally ill or deficient,
  • the person must be declared a prodigal (meaning a person who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way),
  • or the person is unable to manage their affairs because of some physical disability or old age.
What is important to note here is that the term “patient” does not refer only to a mental and/or physical condition and hence, a person who suffers from substance abuse or a gambling addiction may also be placed under curatorship.

Britney Spears has since 2008 been placed under curatorship due to numerous public mental breakdowns and subsequently, the popstar’s father and lawyer wer authorised to take control of her estate and finances.Interestingly, Spears’ curatorship has been extended four times and she has for more than 13 years not been in control of her own affairs and management of her estate. She has several times applied to the Court to end her curatorship, the most recent being 23 June 2021. The judge, howver, once again denied her request.

How does curatorship terminate?

Once a curator has been appointed by the court, the patient is deemed unable to undertake any legal transactions and can only create legally binding transactions or take decisions through the court appointed curator. The patient may apply for release from curatorship and will have to prove that there has been great improvement and positive change in the circumstances which were present when he/she was placed under curatorship, to the extent that such person is now capable of handling their own affairs. This is however, as is evident from the “Spears” matter, not that easily achieved. 

In conclusion, it is evident that the needs and best interest of a patient should always remain the highest priority and therefore the curator who has been appointed by the Court should always care for the needs of the patient with the utmost diligence.  Any patient who has been placed under curatorship and truly believes that itshould be uplifted, will be well advised to contact an attorney to assist him/her in the application so as to ensure that his/her rights are protected. 

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