Terminating Guardianships: Zheng v. Zheng, 2012 ONSC 3045

July 5, 2021 Doreen So General Interest, In the News, Litigation Tags: , , , , , 0 Comments

Britney Spears has been the subject of worldwide discussion for most of her life.  The attention on Spears is once again at its height after Spears gave evidence in Court to contest and lay bare the abuses that she has suffered in the course of her 13-year conservatorship. You can read a slightly edited transcript of Spears’ 24-minute statement here.

Spears has been under a conservatorship ordered by the Los Angeles Superior Court since 2008.  The order was made following a number of publicly scandalous events such as the time when Spears was photographed driving with her baby on her lap, and the time when she was photographed shaving her own head.  Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, and a lawyer were named as her conservators which gave them the authority to make decisions about Spears’ property and health.  Spears’ conservatorship was routinely back before the Court and extensions of the arrangement were granted throughout its 13-year history.  A full timeline can be found here.

Recently, in 2019, Jamie Spears sought to extend the conservatorship across multiple states so that he would be similarly authorized to deal with Spears and her property in Louisiana, Hawaii, and Florida.  That same year, Jamie Spears stepped down as the primary conservator after criticisms from Spears’ 14-year old son.  In 2020, Spears sought to remove Jamie Spears as one of her conservators all together.  Fast forward to now, Spears tells Los Angeles probate Judge Brenda Penny that she didn’t know she could petition to end the conservatorship, and that she wanted it to end without being evaluatedDays later, on June 30th, an old application to remove Jamie Spears was dismissed and a wealth management company, Bessemer Trust, was appointed to act as a co-conservator with Jamie Spears, although Spears is not precluded from bringing new applications in the future.

Here in Ontario, our version of a conservatorship is known as a guardianship under the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992.  A petition to terminate a guardianship can be brought by motion under section 28 of the Act.  This was done in one instance by Y. Zheng in Zheng v. ZhengZheng v. Zheng, 2012 ONSC 3045, is a Division Court decision by Justice Wilton-Siegel which granted Zheng leave to appeal an order that she be assessed as a part of her motion to terminate her guardianship.

In Zheng, Zheng was found to be incapable of managing property and personal care in 2007 and Zheng’s brother became appointed as her guardian.  When Zheng applied to terminate the guardianship in 2012, Zheng submitted four current assessments, all of which found Zheng to be capable.  The assessments were done by a qualified assessor under the Act, a staff psychiatrist at CAMH, and an in-home occupational therapist.  The psychiatrist, in particular, had found that Zheng is currently capable with respect to treatment of her psychiatric condition, which was diagnosed as a psychotic disorder due to a head injury.

Zheng’s brother opposed the termination.  Zheng’s brother had the assessments reviewed by the same neuro-psychologist who assessed Zheng in his 2007 guardianship application and concerns were raised about the sufficiency of these new assessments.  Thereafter, Zheng retained her own neuro-psychologist to do conduct the same review, and Zheng’s neuro-psychologist came to the opposite conclusion in Zheng’s support.  Given the conflicting review, Zheng’s brother brought a motion for Zheng to undergo a further assessment by an assessor of his choice. This was ordered by Justice B. O’Marra, and leave to appeal this order was granted by Justice Wilton-Siegel.  Unfortunately for us, there does not appear to be any further reported decisions in this matter and I do not know if the assessment appeal or the broader motion to terminate was pursued further.

At the end of the day, I hope Spears’ conservatorship will be resolved to Spears’ satisfaction.  It may very well be that an evaluation of some sort will be required on Spears’ part but, like Zheng, perhaps Spears’ evaluations can be done on her own terms.

Thanks for reading!

Doreen So

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