Parties to Bear Their Own Costs of a Contested Guardianship

August 20, 2019 Doreen So Capacity, Continuing Legal Education, Elder Law, General Interest, Guardianship, In the News Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

There was a recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on the issue of costs in a contested guardianship proceeding.  Rather unusually, the endorsement in Howard Johnson v. Howard, 2019 ONSC 4643, dealt with the issue of costs after the parties have resolved the main dispute on consent.

In this case, there were two competing guardianship applications over Elizabeth.  The applicants on the one hand were Elizabeth’s daughter and son, Marjorie and Griffin, and on the other hand, Elizabeth’s other son, Jon.  All three of Elizabeth’s children were of the view that their mother was in need of a substitute decision maker for both the management of her property and for personal care.

While the endorsement does not specify who the competing applicants were seeking to appoint as Elizabeth’s guardian, the parties eventually settled on the appointment of CIBC Trust Corporation as Elizabeth’s guardian of property and all three children as Elizabeth’s guardians of personal care.  On the issue of costs, Marjorie and Griffin sought full indemnity costs from Jon while Jon sought substantial indemnity costs from Majorie and Griffin or, in any event, that he be indemnified by Elizabeth for any amounts not recovered from his siblings.

Pursuant to section 3 of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, Elizabeth was represented by counsel throughout the proceeding and on the issue of costs.  Submissions were made on Elizabeth’s behalf that she should not have to pay costs of the other parties or the outstanding balance of an invoice that was purportedly incurred by Elizabeth in a joint retainer with Jon.

The Court in this instance considered the modern approach to costs in estate litigation as set out in McDougald Estate v. Gooderham,  2005 CanLII 21091 (ON CA), with respect to Jon’s claim that Elizabeth ought to be responsible, at least in part, for his costs.  The court relied on D.M. Brown J.’s (as he was then) comments that the discipline imposed by the “loser-pays” approach to estate litigation applies with equal force to matters involving incapable persons citing Fiacco v. Lombardi, 2009 CanLII 46170 (ON SC).  Only costs incurred for the best interests of the incapable person could be justified as costs payable from the incapable’s assets.

In this case, the competing applications of the siblings were found to contain a number of ancillary issues beyond that of the appointment of a substitute decision maker for Elizabeth.  The Court was ultimately unable to see how Elizabeth would have derived any benefit from her children’s disputes.  Therefore, the children were all ordered to bear their own costs.  There was also no clear benefit to Elizabeth from the invoice that was issued to her prior to the appointment of section 3 counsel and Jon was ultimately left to pay that balance.

At the end of the day, the only costs borne by Elizabeth, as the incapable person subject to two competing guardianship applications, were the costs of section 3 counsel pursuant to the section 3(2) of the SDA.

Here is a Bon Appetit recipe for a frozen margarita pie that we could all benefit from.

Doreen So

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