New York Times: A Show Business Fortune At Risk

February 25, 2008 By Jordan Miller




Britney Spears’s klieg-lighted meltdown sent her to the psychiatric ward twice, and left her long-divorced parents, her brother, and a SWAT team of lawyers and accountants grappling with how to protect her from predatory hangers-on, from the paparazzi who dog her every move and from her own erratic behavior.

Britney Spears, performing in 2000 on Long Island, has been a breadwinner for her mother, Lynne, and sister, Jamie Lynn, as well as for her father, Jamie.

Beyond the psychodrama being played out on tabloid covers, celebrity-news shows and gossip Web sites is another serious subject for the Spears family: how to protect the millions of dollars that Ms. Spears, 26, has amassed over a decade as one of America’s biggest pop music, merchandise and endorsement engines.

It’s impossible to say how much money she has. Published estimates of her net worth have varied wildly, up to $125 million. But one of her former financial advisers, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of his relationship with his client, estimated her current fortune at around $50 million.

That’s an enormous amount, but, as Michael Jackson proved, being a wealthy cultural phenomenon doesn’t make one impervious to financial disaster. Celebrities, like athletes, often have a small window to make their money, typically at a young age when they are probably not thinking about the future.

As a result, many child stars like Macaulay Culkin are dragged into family squabbles over money while others — too numerous to mention — end up looking to revive their careers long after the money has run out.

Ms. Spears will not run out of money anytime soon, but her longer-term prospects have taken a hit in the last year because of bizarre behavior — her public scenes, questionable parenting skills and a shaky comeback performance at the MTV Awards — and her tortured personal life after her divorce from Kevin Federline, formerly one of her backup dancers.

According to court documents, her everyday finances seem to have fallen into disrepair as well. A Feb. 14 court filing put it starkly: “Members of Britney’s household,” it said, “have been paying for her basic necessities, including medicine, food, and other day-to-day needs.”

On Feb. 1, the day after Ms. Spears was involuntarily admitted for treatment at the U.C.L.A. Medical Center, her estranged father, Jamie Spears, was named her co-conservator, giving him control over her treatment, security, visitors and daily life.

Mr. Spears is sharing oversight of her estate with an independent lawyer, Andrew M. Wallet, to dispel the notion that Ms. Spears’s parents were making a grab for their daughter’s fortune. With the court’s permission, they immediately fired her business manager.

Another team of lawyers was hired for the conservators and quickly set out to assess the financial damage. Yet another lawyer was appointed by the probate court, as is routine, to look out solely for Ms. Spears’s interests. Ms. Spears’s brother Bryan, along with a lawyer, were given control of her revocable trust, which contains all her liquid assets, so they could begin paying her bills. And Ms. Spears’s criminal lawyer, Blair Berk, was said to be overseeing the whole Humpty Dumpty-like effort.

All the independent lawyers aside, one cannot ignore money as a motivating factor as the estranged Spears parents joined forces. Since she first became a pop star in 1999 on the strength of her hit “Baby One More Time,” she has been the primary breadwinner for the entire Spears clan.

The earning power of her 16-year-old sister, Jamie Lynn, the star of “Zooey 101” on Nickelodeon, probably suffered in December when she announced her pregnancy, which also helped sink her mother’s deal to write a book on parenting.

What little light has been shed on Ms. Spears’s finances came last May, when part of an income statement surfaced in her divorce case. It put her average monthly earnings at more than $730,000, mainly from royalties, but said she earned only $13,000 a month from investments. (Her spending, including $102,000 a month for entertainment, gifts and vacation and $16,000 for clothes, was more eye-catching.)

The nature of her investments might be unclear as well. Accountants are trying to learn whether her money was moved into overly risky investment vehicles, whether any business deals need to be undone and whether her assets were outright looted. (Her father filed a report of grand theft, according to The Los Angeles Times, asserting that paintings, jewelry and other valuables had been stripped from her Beverly Hills home).

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Source: nytimes.com