Comparing with Britney Spears’ conservatorship
In the Spring 2021 edition of Trust eSpeaking, we looked at whether someone in New Zealand could end up in a similar situation to American entertainer Britney Spears. Britney was under a conservatorship (or guardianship) arrangement that was established against her wishes.
Britney Spears’ conservatorship has now been formally ended. Since then, she has made a number of specific allegations against her conservators including these four points:
She was paid $2,000 per week, despite earning millions per year; this was less than her conservators were paid
Her conservators were unwilling to allow her to marry
Her conservators required her to use contraception so she could not become pregnant, despite her wanting to start a family, and
Britney was forced to work long hours, against her wishes, and despite her sometimes being very unwell.
Could any of these things have happened in New Zealand under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988 (PPPRA)? This legislation allows for the appointment of property managers and welfare guardians to make decisions for people who are unable to make decisions for themselves.
The PPPRA also contains what is known as the ‘minimum intervention principle’. When making orders, the court must make the least restrictive intervention possible in a person’s life. Any orders which are made must enable that person to exercise and develop any capacity they may have, to the greatest extent possible.
Let’s look at the four major issues brought up by Britney to illustrate how they would be dealt with in New Zealand. We will call the property manager, Aroha; the welfare guardian, Sam; and Jane is the person whose affairs they manage.
In New Zealand, Aroha could provide an allowance for Jane. An allowance will help ensure Jane does not spend all of her money and jeopardise her future wellbeing; this allowance will usually be proportionate to Jane’s assets and income. If Jane asks for an increased allowance, the funding for which is available and can be responsibly released, Aroha may well release that money in accordance with the minimum intervention principle.1
Aroha can be reimbursed for her out–of-pocket costs, but will not usually be paid for her time administering Jane’s affairs unless the Family Court directs this2. Usually only lawyers or other professionals would be paid to act as property manager — not family members.
In New Zealand, marriage is not just a social issue; it is a decision that has significant consequences for property under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976. Sam, as Jane’s welfare guardian, may not sign marriage documents on Jane’s behalf nor apply for a divorce for Jane. Marriages have been declared void on the basis that a person did not have sufficient capacity to understand the implications of their decision, particularly the property consequences.3
If Jane wants to marry, and given Sam cannot sign marriage documents on her behalf, Jane could approach the Family Court for a capacity assessment and a determination as to whether or not she had capacity to understand the consequences of her decision.
It is possible that Jane may still be able to enter into a de facto relationship; as with a marriage this may also have consequences relating to any property Jane holds.4
Sam can make medical decisions for Jane. It is possible for Sam to decide that Jane should use contraception. If there are concerns about Jane becoming pregnant, the court will usually order long-term reversible contraception rather than sterilisation, in accordance with the minimum intervention principle.5
If Sam thought it was important for Jane to use contraceptives, Sam should consult Jane to discuss her wishes. The court might hear from all parties if Jane did not use contraception.
If there was no risk of sexual activity then contraception might not be necessary. If Jane was in a relationship and wanted to have children, the court would consider her capacity to make that decision and direct accordingly.
Jane’s property manager (Aroha) and welfare guardian (Sam) are required to have her best interests at heart. If Jane does not want to work, and is financially secure, it is unlikely that either Aroha or Sam could force Jane to work against her will – even if Jane could generate a substantial income for herself.
Could Britney’s situation arise in New Zealand?
It seems much less likely that someone in New Zealand such as Jane would end up in Britney’s position.
The safeguards discussed in the Spring 2021 edition of Trust eSpeaking would go a long way towards protecting Jane from suffering at the hands of Aroha or Sam. Many of Britney’s specific complaints simply are not permitted under New Zealand law, and others would depend on her capacity.If Britney had capacity to make any specific decision, she would be able to make it herself.
1 Section 28, Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988.
2 Ibid, Section 50.
3 X v X  NZFLR 1125; see also Re W  3 NZLR 600.
4 See the discussion in E v E (High Court Wellington, CIV-2009-485-2335, 20/11/2009, Simon France J) at - and -.
5 See the discussion in Darzi v Darzi  NZFC 359 at -, although sterilisation was ultimately ordered in that case.