Can you pursue damages against an Attorney for Property in an Application to Pass Accounts?

June 4, 2018 Stuart Clark Passing of Accounts Tags: , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

When concerns are raised about the conduct of an Attorney for Property, those raising the concerns often seek an Order compelling the Attorney for Property to commence an Application to Pass Accounts pursuant to section 42 of the Substitute Decisions Act. Should such an Application to Pass Accounts be commenced, the objecting party will often make allegations against the Attorney for Property that the incapable person and/or estate has suffered damages as a result of the Attorney for Property’s conduct, often seeking monetary damages against the Attorney for Property in relation to such objections.

An interesting question was recently posed to me in the context of such an Application to Pass Accounts for an Attorney for Property. Can the objecting party pursue damages against the Attorney for Property within the actual Application to Pass Accounts itself, or do they need to commence a separate claim against the Attorney for Property for the recovery of such damages?

The ability to pursue damages against an Estate Trustee within the Application to Pass Accounts process is well established by statute, with section 49(3) of the Estates Act providing:

The judge, on passing any accounts under this section, has power to inquire into any complaint or claim by any person interested in the taking of the accounts of misconduct, neglect, or default on the part of the executor, administrator or trustee occasioning financial loss to the estate or trust fund, and the judge, on proof of such claim, may order the executor, administrator or trustee, to pay such sum by way of damages or otherwise as the judge considers proper and just to the estate or trust fund, but any order made under this subsection is subject to appeal.” [emphasis added]

Section 49(3) of the Estates Act makes it clear that a separate claim against an Estate Trustee is not necessary to pursue damages for breach of trust when an Application to Pass Accounts has been commenced, and that the Judge may order damages against the Estate Trustee within the actual Application to Pass Accounts itself. Perhaps importantly however, the Estates Act appears to suggest that section 49 only applies to a passing of accounts for an “executor, administrator or trustee under a will“, making no reference to an Attorney for Property. Sections 42(7) and 42(8) of the Substitute Decisions Act also set out the “powers of the court” in an Application to Pass Accounts for an Attorney for Property, with such provisions notably containing no reference to the ability to order damages against the Attorney for Property for any wrongdoing.

As there appears to be no statutory equivalent to section 49(3) of the Estates Act which specifically contemplates that it applies to Attorneys for Property, and the ability to pursue damages within the Application to Pass Accounts itself in other circumstances appears to be derived from statute, the question of whether there is a “legislative gap” as it relates to the ability to pursue damages against an Attorney for Property within an Application to Pass Accounts can at least appear to be raised. If such a “legislative gap” does exist, would this mean that a separate claim would have to be commenced by the objector to pursue such damages even when an Application to Pass Accounts was currently before the court?

When I have raised the question to other estate practitioners, some have suggested that while there may be no statutory authority to order such damages against the Attorney for Property within the Application to Pass Accounts, the court may have inherent jurisdiction to order such damages by way of a “surcharge order” in the Application to Pass Accounts. Some have also suggested that as section 42(6) of the Substitute Decisions Act contemplates that the procedure to be utilized on passing an Attorney’s accounts is to be the same as that as an executor’s accounts, that this should be read as evidence to show that section 49(3) of the Estates Act would apply to the passing of an Attorney for Property’s accounts. In response to this, I would suggest that it is at least questionable if section 49(3) of the Estates Act is “procedural” in nature, and, even if it is found to be procedural, whether the “powers of the court” provisions of sections 42(7) and 42(8) of the Substitute Decisions Act, which notably does not include the power to award damages against the Attorney for Property for wrongdoing, would trump section 49(3) of the Estates Act in any event.

I am aware of no decision which specifically addresses the issue of whether there is a “legislative gap” when it comes to whether damages can be sought against an Attorney for Property within the Application to Pass Accounts itself. While the issue may simply be academic at this time, it is not unforeseeable that someone could attempt to argue that an objector cannot seek damages against the Attorney for Property within the Application to Pass Accounts itself, and that a separate claim is required. If such an argument is successfully raised, and the length of time between the alleged wrong and the separate claim being commenced was such that the limitation period may have expired, it is not unforeseeable that the Attorney for Property may attempt to argue that the separate claim must now be dismissed as a result of the expiry of the limitation period.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

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