Category: Elder Law
A recent CBC article demonstrates the importance of having a testator regularly review, or at least consider, their current estate plan to ensure that it conforms to their testamentary intentions, and the potential pitfalls of failing to do so or of failing to seek legal advice.
Eleena Murray, of Vancouver, British Columbia, died leaving a Last Will and Testament dated sometime in 2003. The Will provided cash legacies to various relatives, totaling approximately $440,000, and left the residue of Eleena’s estate to a charitable organization, the SPCA.
Although it is not clear, at the time the Will was drawn, it appears as if the residue of the Estate would have largely consisted of her interest in her house, situated in the Point Grey neighbourhood of Vancouver. Presumably, although it is unclear, the total value of all of the cash legacies was likely close to the fair market value of the house, such that Eleena intended to divide her estate roughly equally between the legatees and the charity.
However, in the years since the Will was drawn, the real estate market in Vancouver saw massive growth, with property values rising significantly, and the value of the residue of Eleena’s estate along with them. In 2017, perhaps recognizing what had become a considerable discrepancy between the values of the cash legacies and the value of the house, Eleena apparently drafted a handwritten note containing, among other instructions, an intention to limit the SPCA’s interest in her estate to a flat bequest of $100,000.
It is unclear whether the note was signed by Eleena or subscribed to by attesting witnesses (although two witnesses swore affidavits attesting to the fact that the note was prepared by Eleena). Eleena died only months later, without having amended her Will to reflect her purported intentions by way of the note. Although the value of the house, and therefore the residue of the Estate, increased significantly, Eleena never formally amended her estate plan.
Litigation has since ensued, with Eleena’s family members asserting that the handwritten note is a testamentary document that accurately represents her intentions.
Were this litigation taking place in Ontario, a court might find that the handwritten note would constitute a holograph will, assuming it was signed by Eleena. A holograph will is a will that is made entirely in the handwriting of the testator and signed by them, without the need for attesting witnesses.
In British Columbia, the analysis is slightly more nuanced. There is no equivalent provision under BC legislation that specifically recognizes the validity of holograph wills, as the Succession Law Reform Act does in Ontario. That said, British Columbia’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act empowers a court to make an order that a record purporting to be a will if the court is satisfied that the document represents,
- The testamentary intentions of a deceased person;
- The intention of a deceased person to revoke, alter, or revive a will; or
- The intention of a deceased person to revoke, alter, or revive a testamentary disposition in a document other than a will.
The court is equally empowered to make an order that a will that is not made in conformity with the applicable legislation is equally as effective as if it had been.
In the case at hand, the prevailing question will likely be whether the court is satisfied that the handwritten note accurately represents Eleena’s testamentary intentions. If so, the subsequent issue to be considered is whether the balance of the Estate that is not dealt with pursuant to the note passes by way of an intestacy, but that is a topic for another day.
Thanks for reading.
Prudent estate planning techniques frequently lead a testator or settlor to contemplate gifts or distributions to alternative beneficiaries to whom they do not necessarily intend to convey an express interest.
Often, these gifts-over are made in contemplation of a particular condition coming to pass – for example, where the intended beneficiary predeceases the testator. Failing to account for such instances could result in a lapsed gift (subject to the applicability of the anti-lapse provisions at section 31 of the Succession Law Reform Act), a partial intestacy, or, more generally, the conveyance of an interest to a person that the testator did not intend to benefit.
Although gifts-over are generally granted in favour of individuals of the testator’s choice, to maximize their control over their estate, that need not be the case. Gifts-over may be made in favour of individuals who may not yet have been born, such as the issue or lineal descendants of a testator’s young grandchildren. When litigation that impacts the interests of these unborn or unascertained beneficiaries arises, the first questions that ought to come to a litigator’s mind are who should be appointed to act on their behalf, and how should that appointment be achieved?
One’s mind might immediately jump to the appointment of a litigation guardian. In the case of a beneficiary who is a minor, that would be correct. Pursuant to Rule 7 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, a party under disability (which would include a minor) must be represented by a litigation guardian. Furthermore, the Children’s Lawyer is the presumptive litigation guardian for all minors unless and until another individual files an affidavit following specific criteria set out at Rule 7.02.
However, where the interests of an unborn or unascertained person or class of persons is concerned, recent direction from the Children’s Lawyer suggests it is Rule 10, not Rule 7, that guides us. Rule 10.01 empowers a judge to appoint a person to represent “any person or class of persons who are unborn or unascertained” who have a present, future, contingent, or unascertained interest in the subject matter. Strictly speaking, an unborn or unascertained individual is not a person under disability or a minor as defined under the Rules, and so a litigation guardian, although filling a similar role as a representative, should not be appointed.
As a point of practice, a party seeking a representation order would be well advised to serve the Children’s Lawyer whether or not the applicant is seeking to have the Children’s Lawyer act as representative, or whether another individual is seeking that appointment. Although Rule 10 differs from Rule 7 in that the latter requires the Children’s Lawyer to have notice of any motion to appoint a litigation guardian while the former does not in the context of a representation order, it is nonetheless recommended that the Children’s Lawyer be given notice to ensure the interests of the unborn beneficiaries are appropriately represented.
Thanks for reading.
In Ontario, a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property or a Power of Attorney for Personal Care must be signed by two witnesses. As our readers also know, as a result of COVID-19, witnessing and execution requirements for Powers of Attorney in Ontario have been relaxed to facilitate access to incapacity planning during the pandemic. These provisions have recently been extended to November 21, 2020. Provided that one witness to a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property or Power of Attorney for Personal Care is a licensee under Ontario’s Law Society Act, the document may be witnessed using audiovisual communication technology and signed in counterpart. The document does not otherwise need to be witnessed by a lawyer (although, where a lawyer has assisted in the preparation of Powers of Attorney, it will often be most practical for the lawyer and one of his or her staff to witness the client’s execution of the document).
Especially in light of social distancing measures, it is important to keep in mind the restrictions on who can witness incapacity planning documents. In Ontario, neither a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property nor a Power of Attorney for Personal Care can be witnessed by:
- the attorney or the attorney’s spouse;
- the grantor’s spouse;
- a child of the grantor;
- a person whose property/personal care is under guardianship; or
- an individual of less than eighteen years old.
If the lawyer him or herself is being appointed under the document, which is not an uncommon practice, the involvement of a second lawyer or a paralegal in the virtual execution and witnessing of the document(s) may be necessary.
In the Yukon, the witnessing requirements for Powers of Attorney are somewhat different. As it currently stands, in order for a Continuing Power of Attorney for Property (there referred to as an Enduring Power of Attorney) to be effective, a Certificate of Legal Advice must be provided by a lawyer. As a result, the lawyer typically witnesses the Power of Attorney, which is not otherwise valid. While only one witness is required, the lawyer providing the Certificate cannot be the attorney or the attorney’s spouse.
A recent article from Canadian Lawyer reviews proposed changes to Yukon’s Enduring Power of Attorney Act. One of the key amendments is the replacement of the requirement that a lawyer be involved in witnessing the execution of Continuing Powers of Attorney for Property with the option of the witnessing of such documents by two other individuals. Similar to the requirements in Ontario, a witness must be an adult and cannot be the spouse of the donor, the attorney, or the spouse of the attorney.
If approved, the recent Yukon Bill will eliminate the necessity that a lawyer be involved in the witnessing of Powers of Attorney to increase access to incapacity planning throughout the territory.
Thank you for reading.
As we age, many of us begin to experience the normal consequences of aging, including some memory loss. Unfortunately, many of us may end up suffering from Alzheimer’s and related dementias. As a result, capacity has become a bigger problem among seniors.
There are ways to manage decision-making for a senior who has lost capacity to make his or her own decisions about care or property. If the person executed a power of attorney, their attorney can step in. If there is no power of attorney, a guardian can be appointed by the court. However, the imposition of a substitute decision maker can be a significant restriction on an older adult’s liberty, and some seniors may resist that imposition.
An article in The Walrus earlier this year considered this issue, and the impact a finding of incapacity can have on a senior’s autonomy in Canada.
One of the concerns discussed in the article is that “some seniors find that, once declared incapable, they are unable to challenge the decision.” In Ontario, we have the Consent and Capacity Board, which is an independent tribunal that, among other things, reviews various determinations regarding an individual’s capacity. However, this is apparently a rarity in Canada. The only other similar body is located in the Yukon.
Another issue raised by the Walrus article is with the lack of a standardized system for assessing capacity. The person doing the assessment can vary (doctor, nurse, social worker, etc.), as well as the tests conducted. This is made even more complicated by the fact that there are differing levels of capacity for different tasks (e.g. making a Will, managing property, getting married, granting a power of attorney for personal care).
Unfortunately, the lack of attention paid to the issue of aging and capacity appears to be systemic. As cynically, but perhaps also realistically stated in the Walrus article: “It can seem like a great deal of attention is paid to other institutions that house vulnerable segments of the population, such as children in daycares. But there’s no future in aging; there is next to no potential that a senior might one day cure cancer or be the next prime minister. Reform in elder care may be desperately needed, but it hasn’t been forthcoming.”
There is a fine balance to be struck between restricting seniors’ autonomy, and protecting vulnerable people. A collaborative “supported decision-making model”, as discussed in the article may be one way of doing this. I hope that as more attention is drawn to these issues, there will be greater awareness, and increased progress and reform for our seniors.
Thanks for reading,
You may also enjoy these other blog posts:
Previously, I blogged on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) and the changes to the Criminal Code proposed by Bill C-7, which sought to provide for assisted deaths where a natural death is not “reasonably foreseeable”. The changes would have included the potential to waive the requirement that late-stage consent be obtained immediately prior to MAID.
The proposed amendments contained in Bill C-7 sought to address the concern that people who qualified for MAID were faced with a difficult decision – ending their life earlier than they wanted so as to ensure they possessed the requisite capacity to consent to MAID, or, risking that should they wait to access MAID, they could lose capacity and therefore eligibility for MAID. This scenario was the reality of Nova Scotian, Audrey Parker, who campaigned heavily to change the late-stage consent requirement, however, ultimately accessed MAID earlier than she wanted so as to ensure that she would not lose eligibility as a result of declining capacity. Bill C-7 is now known as “Audrey’s Amendment”.
Parliamentary review of the Bill was scheduled to occur in June, 2020. However, with the global impact of COVID-19 and the current proroguing of Parliament, the Bill has yet to become law.
While we wait for Parliamentary review of the Bill, a new and novel question has been raised once again out of Nova Scotia – can you prevent someone else from accessing MAID, even when they have been found eligible under the law? This question has been raised in the context of an elderly couple – called X and Y — grappling with these issues – X wants to die, and his wife of 48 years, Y, does not want to let him. Y attempted to seek an injunction, preventing X from accessing MAID, though he had already qualified for MAID. X is concerned that the delay caused by Y’s filings could risk him losing capacity and therefore eligibility to access MAID – a concern that could be addressed if late stage consent could be waived. However, as Bill C-7 has yet to become law, the proposed amended provisions cannot assist X.
As reported by The Star, in seeking the injunction, Y must make a case for “irreparable harm.” From Y’s perspective, should the injunction fail, her irreparable harm is the death of her husband. From X’s perspective, going on living would be worse. A hearing in X and Y’s case was scheduled for August 26, 2020.
Jocelyn Downie, professor and the James Palmer Chair in Public Policy and Law at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University has offered her opinion: “…it’s straightforward in law and what the answer should be, which is: No, a third party doesn’t get to go to court and prevent somebody from having access to something that the Supreme Court of Canada said we have a Charter right to access.”
We will continue to watch and keep our readers updated as this case develops.
Thanks for reading!
Many parts of the world remain under some degree of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For older adults who may have limited access to assistance or company outside of immediate family during the pandemic, and/or whose transition to long-term care may have been delayed as a result, temporary relocation to live with supportive family members may be a suitable option.
As our readers know, inheritance tax is payable in respect of the assets of estates located in a number of jurisdictions, which do not include Canada. In the United Kingdom, for example, an inheritance tax of 40% is charged on the portion of an estate exceeding a tax-free threshold of 325 thousand pounds (subject to certain exceptions).
One way that some families choose to limit inheritance tax is to gift certain assets, in some cases a family house, prior to death, such that its value will not trigger the payment of inheritance tax. In the UK, if an asset is validly gifted at least seven years before death, inheritance tax will not be payable on the asset. However, where the donor of the gift reserves the benefit of the property – for example, if he or she continues to live at real property gifted to another family member – the gift will not be valid for the purposes of inheritance tax calculations.
A recent news article highlights the risk that older individuals in the UK who move back into previously gifted property during the pandemic may lose the benefit of potential inheritance tax exclusions by falling under the “gift with reservation of benefit” exception as a result of benefitting from continued occupation of the gifted property. While this risk may not outweigh the benefits of obtaining family support, it is a factor that a family may wish to consider as part of a decision to alter living arrangements.
Approximately 600 gifts have failed in the past several years, triggering up to 300 million pounds in inheritance tax in the UK. It is certainly possible that these figures will continue to increase as a result of shared family accommodations during the pandemic.
Thank you for reading and stay safe,
Other blog posts that you may enjoy reading:
Last week, we blogged on serious deficiencies recently observed in long-term care facilities in Ontario and elsewhere in the country as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Improvement of conditions in long-term care homes has long been on the radar for many Canadian provinces even prior to Covid-19. The recent pandemic has highlighted many of the shortcomings of long-term care and provided the much-needed impetus for all levels of government to rethink ways to improve living conditions for residents.
One of the key issues highlighted by the pandemic is the reliance many residents have on family and friends to supply necessities such as food, clothing, and personal care items. Thinking about this led me to consider another important supply chain that may be suspended for residents of long-term care facilities; the supply of medical and recreational marijuana.
Prior to the Cannabis Act, S.C. 2018, c. 16, which came into effect on October 17, 2018, it was illegal to possess, obtain, produce, traffic, and import or export cannabis, except for cannabis for medical consumption. The new regime decriminalized the recreational use of cannabis, while regulations dealing with medical cannabis remained in place. The Cannabis Act was introduced for a number of reasons, one of which was to protect public health and safety to allow adults legal access to marijuana.
With the decriminalization of recreational marijuana came the loosening of stigmas surrounding marijuana consumption. A growing body of scientific studies suggest that marijuana presents a number of health benefits when used appropriately, such as relief of chronic pain, improved lung capacity, and the alleviation of feelings of anxiety and/or depression. The number of seniors using cannabis since 2012 has increased tenfold, with 52% of seniors reporting using cannabis exclusively for medical reasons, 24% for non-medical reasons, and 24% for both medical and non-medical. Unfortunately, accessing and storing marijuana is not as easy for seniors in long-term care as it is for most adults.
Notwithstanding the new regime, medical cannabis is still required to be purchased from a federally licensed producer by doctor’s order. For many residents, their primary care physician is the resident physician in their long-term care home. Naturally, not all practitioners are comfortable prescribing medical marijuana, meaning residents who prefer to consume marijuana must travel offsite to obtain such prescriptions. Even if a resident is able to obtain medical marijuana, individual long-term care facilities may have different policies in place regarding the delivery and storage of marijuana.
For some, the introduction of the Cannabis Act alleviated some of the above-noted issues by making it easier for family members and friends to purchase and deliver cannabis to residents. Given that OHIP does not cover medical marijuana, there is no financial downside to purchasing recreational cannabis (that is supplied by the Ontario Cannabis Store) rather than medical marijuana. Irrespective of their intention for use, residents in long-term care facilities should enjoy the same accessibility to marijuana as others.
Perhaps this is yet another issue that the government will consider when revitalizing and improving living standards for residents in long-term care facilities.
Thank you for reading!
A special thanks to Jane Meadus and Professor Lorian Hardcastle for their presentation on Marijuana Use in Assisted Living and Long-Term Care Facilities through the Canadian Bar Association on March 12, 2020.
A recent report of the Canadian Armed Forces into the state of five Ontario nursing homes has shed light on disturbing issues inside of the homes.
Early into the COVID state of emergency, the Canadian Armed Forces was asked to assist at 5 Ontario nursing homes, and 25 Quebec nursing homes. In the course of their duties, the Armed Forces noted serious shortcomings at the nursing homes. The report has led to calls for various action, including a coroner’s investigation, and possible police investigations.
It should be noted that there is a statutory duty on everyone to report any suspected impropriety occurring at a long-term care facility. Specifically, s. 24 of the Long Term Care Homes Act, 2007 requires that a person who has reasonable grounds to suspect any of the following has occurred or may occur to immediately report the suspicion and the reasons upon which it is based to the Director of Long Term Care:
- improper or incompetent treatment or care of a resident that resulted in harm or a risk of harm to the resident;
- abuse of a resident by anyone or neglect of a resident by the licensee or staff that resulted in harm or a risk of harm to the resident;
- unlawful conduct that resulted in harm or a risk of harm to a resident;
- misuse or misappropriation of a resident’s money; or
- misuse or misappropriation of funding provided to a licensee.
While there is an obligation on everyone to report the suspicion of such conduct, it is only an offence if certain described individuals fail to report. These individuals include the licensee, an officer or director of any corporate licensee, a staff member, or any person who provides professional health, social work or social services to a resident or licensee.
Long term care licensees also have a statutory obligation to ensure that any alleged, suspected or witnessed incident of abuse of a resident by anyone, neglect of a resident by the licensee or staff is investigated, and that “appropriate action” is taken in response to any incident. The results of the licensee’s investigation and the action taken in response are to be reported to the Director. Further, the Act requires that the licensee must establish a procedure for initiating complaints to the licensee and for how the licensee deals with the complaints.
The report of the Canadian Armed Forces will, hopefully, bring about positive change for a vulnerable, often voiceless segment of society. Others should (or in some cases, must) also come forward to report harmful conditions or conduct. If you see something, say something.
Thanks for reading.
Earlier this week, Ian Hull and I spoke at Osgoode Professional Development’s program on Powers of Attorney and Guardianship: Non-Contentious and Contentious Matters.
During the program, in addition to discussing new execution options for wills and powers of attorney, the panel shared its thoughts on a number of considerations relevant to the preparation of powers of attorney during the pandemic, including some of the following:
- It may now be impractical to permit for decisions regarding personal care or property to be made only jointly by two or more attorneys acting together where the attorneys selected are not members of the same household.
- In light of ongoing travel restrictions, it may be increasingly important that the selected attorney(s) for property and/or personal care are local.
- It may be more difficult to access multiple medical professionals (or a specified medical professional) to confirm incapacity during a healthcare crisis. The provision regarding the circumstances in which a power of attorney is to become effective should accommodate potentially limited access to a specified physician or more medical professionals than necessary.
- It may be more important than ever to ensure that the original power of attorney documents (and/or copies) are physically accessible to the named attorney(s).
- The current circumstances present a unique opportunity to assist clients in updating outdated plans and ensuring that powers of attorney are put into place for those who do not have them already.
Even outside of the context of a pandemic, considering practical issues like those set out above when creating or updating an incapacity plan is a worthwhile exercise and may expose potential problems with the plan before it is finalized.
Thank you for reading.
Other blog entries that may be of interest:
COVID-19 has prompted innovation and legislative updates in terms of the way that lawyers can assist our clients with estate and incapacity planning. A new tool created by a professor at my alma matter, Queen’s University, has recently emerged to supplement formal planning by making it easier for clients to create end-of-life treatment plans and to discuss their end-of-life wishes with their families and health care teams.
The Plan Well Guide is a free online tool that allows users to formulate a “Dear Doctor letter”, which can be provided to a physician for discussion and can be reviewed with family members (or otherwise an attorney or guardian of personal care) to ensure an understanding of the person’s wishes during a health crisis. The website also includes other information and resources relevant to end-of-life decision making.
I went through the process of creating an end-of-life plan using this resource and found it to be user-friendly and straightforward. Some highlights of the Plan Well Guide include the following:
- There are prompts that ask whether a user has a Power of Attorney for Personal Care and Will in place, which may act as a prompt to obtain a lawyer’s assistance if necessary.
- The website illustrates the user’s wishes, with examples to confirm the accuracy of the information that the user inputs. Where the illustration is not consistent with the user’s actual wishes, the user can go back to modify priorities to better reflect their wishes.
- Quizzes to ensure proper understanding of terms such as ICU treatment, comfort care, and the nature of resuscitation.
- There are prompts for both outstanding questions or issues for discussion with a healthcare provider and explanations of wishes to provide those reading the document with a better understanding of the user’s rationale behind their wishes.
Especially in the midst of the current pandemic, tools like this that make end-of-life planning more accessible, while having the potential to expose deficiencies in incapacity or estate planning and encouraging an open discussion of wishes in terms of medical treatment, can be helpful resources.
Thank you for reading.
Other blog posts that may be of interest: