Capacity is a fundamental consideration in many aspects of estate, trust, and attorneyship litigation. The capacity of an individual to take a particular legal step, for example, to effect a distribution of property or to make a valid testamentary document, will often form the basis of a claim or court application. However, as set out in today’s blog, capacity is specific as to task, time, and situation. Context is a key factor in assessing capacity or lack thereof.
Whether an individual will be found to be capable of taking a particular legal step depends on the nature of the step being taken and when this step was taken. By way of example, the threshold for the capacity required by a testator to execute a valid Last Will and Testament differs from, and is considerably higher than, the threshold of an individual seeking to grant a power of attorney for property or personal care.
The capacity to make a valid will requires an individual to have a clear understanding of the nature and extent of their assets, and to understand the effects of the dispositions being made including any claims that might arise as a result. The capacity to grant a power of attorney for property, while similar to testamentary capacity, is a lower threshold. An individual will be capable of granting a power of attorney for property provided that,
- they have a general understanding of the nature and value of their property;
- are aware of the obligations owed to any of their dependants; and
- understand the nature of the rights being given to the attorney as well as the rights that they retain as the grantor of the power of attorney, for example, the right to revoke the power of attorney if capable.
While the capacity to grant a power of attorney for property only requires the grantor to have a general understanding of their property or their obligations, testamentary capacity requires specific knowledge and appreciation of potential legal ramifications. Accordingly, an assessment of an individual’s capacity in each respect will impart different requirements.
Capacity is also specific as to time, particularly as an individual’s capacity may fluctuate depending on illness or circumstance. While somewhat uncommon in practice, an individual who was previously assessed as incapable may subsequently regain the capacity to take a particular legal step. Accordingly, when acting on behalf of an individual challenging the validity of a testamentary document or disposition of property, it is important to consider not only the grantor’s historical capacity or lack thereof, but also whether capacity may have been regained at some point prior to the disposition being challenged.
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Previously on our blog and podcast, we discussed Tarantino v. Galvano, 2017 ONSC 3535 (S.C.J.) in the context of the counterclaim for quantum meruit and the costs decision of the Hon. Justice Kristjanson.
Tarantino v. Galvano arose from a lawsuit that was commenced by two out of three Estate Trustees against the third Estate Trustee, Nellie, with respect to her actions as attorney for property for the Deceased, Rosa (i.e. Nellie’s actions while the Deceased was still alive but incapable of managing her own property).
Rosa had two daughters, Nellie and Giuseppina. Giuseppina died before Rosa. Guiseppina’s daughters were the other two Estate Trustees and they are beneficiaries of the Rosa’s Estate along with Nellie. For the better part of her life, Nellie lived with Rosa. She took care of her mother after her father’s death. Nellie and her son were also Rosa’s caregivers as Rosa’s health declined until Rosa’s death in 2012.
Rosa and Nellie owned the home that they lived in together. Rosa held an 80.3% interest and Nellie held an 19.62% interest. Pursuant to Rosa’s 2005 Will, Nellie had a right of first refusal to purchase the home from Rosa’s Estate. In 2008, on the advice of counsel while Rosa was incapable, Nellie entered into an agreement between herself and Rosa. The agreement provided for a transfer of Rosa’s interest in the home and 75% of Rosa’s pension income to Nellie in exchange for Nellie’s caregiving services. The agreement was in writing and it was signed by Nellie. Nellie signed for herself and for Rosa, in her capacity as Rosa’s attorney for property.
Even though the Court found that Nellie was a good daughter who held up her end of the bargain by caring for Rosa, the agreement was set aside because it was a self-dealing transaction that did not meet the requirements of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992:
“ Under the Substitute Decisions Act, Nellie could only enter into the agreement to transfer the house and pension income if it was “reasonably necessary” to provide for Rosa’s care, which I find it was not. As a fiduciary, an attorney for property is “obliged to act only for the benefit of [the donor], putting her own interests aside”: Richardson Estate v. Mew, 2009 ONCA 403 (CanLII), 96 O.R. (3d) 65, at para. 49. An attorney is prohibited from using the power for their own benefit unless “it is done with the full knowledge and consent of the donor”: Richardson Estate, at paras. 49-50. Rosa lacked capacity at the time of the Agreement, and the transfer of the house and pension income therefore were not done with Rosa’s full knowledge and consent.”
The “reasonably necessary” test was assessed, as of the time of the transfer, rather than from hindsight and it was determined that the decision to transfer 80.3% of a home and 80% of Rosa’s pension income at the outset of care was “an imprudent agreement which benefitted Nellie beyond that ‘reasonably necessary’ to provide adequately for Rosa’s care” (see paragraphs 34-49 for the Court’s analysis of this issue).
As a set off, Nellie’s quantum meruit claim was successful and you can click here for Ian Hull and Noah Weisberg’s podcast on this particular issue. While there was blended success to all parties involved, none of the three Estate Trustees were entitled to indemnification. Our discussion of the denial of costs can be found here and the Endorsement can be found here.
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The Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 30 (the “SDA”), governs, among other things, the appointment of guardians for incapable persons. There are two types of guardians: a guardian for property and a guardian for personal care.
Sections 22(1) and 55(1) of the SDA provide that the Court may, on any person’s application, appoint a guardian of property or of the person, for a person who is incapable of managing property or personal care if, as a result of the said incapacity, it is necessary for decisions to be made on his or her behalf.
In order to appoint a guardian for someone, the Court will need to make a finding of incapacity for that person. This is an important hurdle, and the Court will generally need to see evidence that the person in question has been assessed as incapable of managing property and/or personal care prior to making a finding that he or she is incapable.
Depending on the circumstances, a person may submit to a capacity assessment voluntarily. However, according to section 78(1) of the SDA, if a person refuses to be assessed, an assessor shall not perform the assessment. Section 79 of the SDA allows the Court to order that a person be assessed, provided that the Court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe the person is incapable. Additionally, to obtain a Court Order for an assessment, there must be a proceeding under the SDA, in which the person’s capacity is in issue. The Ontario Court of Appeal in Neill v Pellolio, 2001 ONCA 6452 held that there is no stand-alone relief available for an Order for a capacity assessment in the absence of an application brought under the SDA. Accordingly, obtaining a finding of incapacity from the Court may not be a simple endeavour.
The SDA also has in place measures to protect an individual’s decision-making rights from undue restriction. Sections 22(3) and 55(2) state that the Court shall not appoint a guardian if it is satisfied that the need for decisions to be made will be met by an alternative course of action that does not require the Court to find the person incapable, and is less restrictive of the person’s decision-making rights than the appointment of a guardian.
Accordingly, for example, if a person has already granted a power of attorney, allowing the named attorney to act would constitute a less restrictive course of action which also does not require the Court to make a finding of incapacity in order for decisions to be made for an incapable person. Furthermore, if a person is incapable of managing their property or personal care, but remains capable of granting a power of attorney, that would likely also constitute a less restrictive course of action, and would allow that person to exercise their decision-making rights.
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Other blog posts that may be of interest:
Receiving an unintentionally thought-provoking and somewhat oddly titled book recently led to some internet research on the topic of the book. The old book is entitled, ” The Law of Cadavers” second edition 1950 by Percival E. Jackson and published by Prentice Hall. The second edition was apparently required after the first edition of 1936 sold out. Over 700 pages on everything from the right to burial, disinterment, to actions and proceedings respecting dead bodies before and after burial.
It resulted in some thought on how the law evolves over time and how in our time most of the practice and procedures related to the various forms of ritualistic burial are now well established. These procedures are now governed by underlying laws that have evolved over time. But, a Global News internet article published last year drew attention to a new area of concern.
There is apparently a small but growing trend of bodies being unclaimed by anyone after death. The article suggests that 361 bodies went unclaimed in Ontario in one year (2015 statistics) and that this was more than double the number only eight years earlier. A similar number and trend was reported for Quebec.
The above-noted article focussed on a Mr. Michael Geyer who died on his own at 89 years of age with no family members to claim his body. Current procedures mandate the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee to step in, as they did in this case. However, it raises the question as to whether this is the best way to deal with this unfortunate growing trend and the role of individuals, society, or government, in providing better procedures to deal with this going forward.
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The Court of Appeal of British Columbia (the “BCCA”) recently dealt with an appeal from an Order of the British Columbia Supreme Court which declined to exercise jurisdiction by staying a petition for guardianship of an incapable person. This Order also included various terms relating to the person’s care and property.
This appeal dealt with the guardianship of Ms. Dingwall, the mother of both the Appellant and the Respondent.
At all material times, Ms. Dingwall and the Appellant lived in Alberta and the Respondent resided in British Columbia. Between 2010 and 2014, Ms. Dingwall resided for various periods in both Alberta and British Columbia. At the time of this appeal, Ms. Dingwall lived in a care home in British Columbia. She suffered from advanced dementia.
The Alberta Proceedings
On February 5, 2015, the Appellant sought an Order from the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench appointing him as Ms. Dingwall’s guardian and trustee. The Respondent opposed this Order and in September, 2015 filed an Application to move the proceedings to British Columbia. This Application was never heard and the matter continued to be heard in Alberta.
On July 7, 2016, the Court granted the Order sought by the Appellant which appointed him as Ms. Dingwall’s guardian and provided him with the authority to make decisions with respect to Ms. Dingwall’s health care, the carrying on of any legal proceeding not related primarily to Ms. Dingwall’s financial matters and Ms. Dingwall’s personal and real property in Alberta.
The British Columbia Proceedings
A few weeks prior to the Alberta hearing, the Respondent filed a petition with the Supreme Court of British Columbia seeking a declaration that Ms. Dingwall was incapable of managing herself or her affairs due to mental infirmity and an Order appointing her as committee of Ms. Dingwall’s person and Estate. The Appellant opposed the Respondent’s petition by arguing that the Supreme Court of British Columbia lacked jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia asserted jurisdiction because Ms. Dingwall was at the time of the decision, ordinarily resident in British Columbia and because there was a “real and substantial” connection to British Columbia. The Court found that, in this case, both Alberta and British Columbia had jurisdiction.
Despite British Columbia having jurisdiction in this case, the Court found that the Alberta forum was nonetheless more appropriate and cited the following factors in favour of its decision:
- The similarity of the proceedings;
- Alberta having issued a final order; and
- The Respondent having attorned to Alberta’s jurisdiction by opposing the Appellant’s petition.
As a result, the Court stayed the Respondent’s petition but also made several Orders respecting Ms. Dingwall’s care and property. The parties’ costs on a “solicitor client basis” were to be payable by Ms. Dingwall’s Estate.
The Appellant appealed the following Orders made by the Court, other than the stay of the Respondent’s proceedings:
- issuing an Order on the matter after declining to exercise jurisdiction respecting it;
- finding the Court had territorial competence over the matter; and
- awarding solicitor-client costs payable from Ms. Dingwall’s Estate.
The BCCA Decision
The BCCA allowed the appeal and found that the lower Court erred in making Orders concerning the very matter over which it had declined to exercise jurisdiction. The Court noted that a decision to decline jurisdiction over a particular matter renders a judge incapable of deciding issues or making orders as to the substance of that matter.
As a result, the Court set aside the Orders respecting Ms. Dingwall’s care and property. In light of that finding, the Court of Appeal found it unnecessary to deal with the issue of whether British Columbia had territorial competence over this matter, given that the lower Court declined to exercise jurisdiction, in any event.
The Court of Appeal found that the Appellant was entitled to special costs payable by Ms. Dingwall’s Estate and that the Respondent was not entitled to costs.
The full decision can be found here: Pellerin v. Dingwall, 2018 BCCA 110
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Guardians of property (and attorneys for property) need to make reasonable efforts to determine whether the incapable person has a Will, and if so, to determine what the provisions of the Will are. This requirement is mandated by s. 33.1 of the Substitute Decisions Act (“the Act”).
Section 33.2 of the Act authorizes the guardian to obtain information from third parties with respect to the Will. The section requires that a person having custody or control of property belonging to the incapable person provide the person’s guardian with any information requested by the guardian that concerns the incapable person, and to deliver the property of the incapable person to the guardian when requested. “Property” is specifically deemed to include the incapable person’s Will.
Why is this important? Because a guardian is required to not dispose of property that is the subject of a specific bequest in the incapable person’s Will (other than money): s. 35.1 of the Act.
This prohibition is subject to certain exceptions. The property may be disposed of if the disposition of that property is necessary to comply with the guardian’s duties, or the guardian may make a gift of the property to the person entitled to it under the Will, if the gift is authorized under s. 37 of the Act. Section 37 sets out rules that apply to the making of gifts of the incapable person’s property.
In the event that property is the subject of a specific gift, and is disposed of by the guardian, the doctrine of ademption does not apply. Rather, the person who was entitled to the property under the Will is entitled to receive from the residue of the estate the equivalent of a corresponding right to the proceeds of the disposition, without interest: s. 36(1) of the Act. This is, however, subject to a contrary intention set out in the person’s Will.
The provisions relating to determining the terms of the Will and dispositions of property under a Will apply equally to attorneys acting under a Power of Attorney: s. 38(1) of the Act.
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When considering the commencement of an application for guardianship, either guardianship of property or the person, keep in mind the extensive notice requirements under the Substitute Decisions Act (“the Act”) contain extensive notice requirements.
An application for guardianship of property must be served on:
- the alleged incapable person;
- the person’s attorney for property under a Power of Attorney, if known;
- the person’s guardian of the person, if known;
- the person’s attorney for personal care under a Power of Attorney, if known;
- the person’s guardian of the person, if known;
- the Public Guardian and Trustee;
- the proposed guardian of property.
The above listed people are the parties to the Application.
In addition, application must be served by regular mail on:
- the alleged incapable person’s spouse or partner;
- the alleged incapable person’s children who are at least 18 (16 in the case of an application for guardianship of the person);
- the alleged incapable person’s parents; and
- the alleged incapable person’s brothers and sisters who are at least 18 (16 in the case of an application for guardianship of the person).
Similar service requirements apply to an application to terminate a statutory guardianship of property, a motion to terminate a guardianship of property, an application to appoint a guardian of the person, and a motion to terminate a guardianship of the person.
An exemption to the service requirements on family members is provided if the person’s existence or address cannot be ascertained by the use of reasonable diligence.
In addition to the Notice of Application, the applicant must serve the proposed guardian’s consent, a Management Plan, and a statement signed by the applicant indicating that the alleged incapable person has been informed of the nature of the application and their right to oppose the application, and describing the manner in which the person was informed. If it is not possible to so advise, reasons for not advising must be provided.
Failure to provide proper notice under the Act may lead to an adjournment of the proceeding in order to allow for service, causing further expense and delay.
In J.R.B. v. T.M.T., the court addressed the requirement that family members be served. There, the applicant was applying for guardianship of property for his wife, who was severely injured in a car accident. The applicant did not want to have to reveal his financial circumstances and those of his wife to her family members. The family members agreed that this was not necessary, and consented to a waiver of the service requirements. The Public Guardian and Trustee argued that service on family members was mandatory, and for the benefit of the incapable person, and could not be waived. The court held that the right to service was a right of the family members, and they could therefore agree to waive service.
It is implicit, however, that without such a waiver, service on known family members will be required.
Any person who is required to be served with the application materials is entitled to be added as a party to the application: s. 69(9) of the Act.
Have a great weekend.
An Attorney for Personal Care and a Guardian of the Person is statutorily mandated under section 66(3) the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 (the “SDA“) to make certain decisions in the incapable person’s best interests if the incapable person’s wishes and instructions are unknown or if it is impossible to act in accordance with those wishes and instructions.
A component of the best interests analysis, as set out in section 66(4), includes considering whether the guardian’s decision is likely to,
“i. improve the quality of the person’s life,
ii. prevent the quality of the person’s life from deteriorating, or
iii. reduce the extent to which, or the rate at which, the quality of the person’s life is likely to deteriorate.”
Given that improving the quality of a person’s life and preventing their quality of life from deteriorating are two sides of the same coin, there is exciting and heart-warming new technology which uses Google Street View to treat Alzheimer’s patients.
This new technology is a prototype called BikeAround. BikeAround is essentially a stationary bike that stimulates the experience of, literally, biking down memory lane for an Alzheimer’s patient. The patient is placed on a stationary bike which faces a projection of his/her familiar hometown streets from Google Street View. The experience is intended to prevent memory loss by bringing to mind locations that are associated with the patient’s memories. The simultaneous physical stimulation from the act of biking is also considered to be a crucial component of the benefits from this new technology.
Anne-Christine Hertz is the biomechanical engineer who developed BikeAround.
This video on Hertz’s research is not to be missed.
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The duties of a fiduciary must be performed diligently, with honesty and integrity and in good faith, for the benefit of the recipient. Whether a fiduciary can prove that he or she has complied with these duties will depend to a great extent on the ability of the fiduciary to account. While the duty to account is not debatable, the Court may consider the specific circumstances of the fiduciary when evaluating whether their actions are appropriate.
In Christmas Estate v Tuck  OJ No 3836, the executor disputed numerous cheques for the benefit of the attorney for property and other cash gifts that she was unable to substantiate with receipts or vouchers. The Court held that it would be inappropriate to impose strict accounting requirements where the parties had a “close family relationship”, in this case, mother and daughter.
The Court further declined to draw a negative inference when the attorney was unable to produce records to account for all transactions: the grantee had helped the grantor “in a multitude of ways” and, accordingly, the burden of strict accounting practices was inappropriate.
In Laird v Mulholland  OJ No 855, the Court noted that the overall credibility of an attorney for property is an important factor in determining whether that attorney’s informal accounts are satisfactory. The Court was unable to conclude that the attorney had acted dishonestly with a view to misappropriating the grantor’s assets, notwithstanding that his “record-keeping practices [left] much to be desired.
The Court pointed to the “abundant evidence” that the Attorney had performed “a multitude of services” which were entirely for the benefit of the grantor. The Court held that the fiduciary had acted “honestly and reasonably in all the circumstances” and should therefore be “relieved from personal liability.”
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Where an incapable person is named as a party in a legal proceeding, the appointment of a representative is necessary to ensure that the person’s interests are adequately represented in the litigation.
Litigation Guardians in Civil Proceedings
Rule 7.01(1) of the Rules of Civil Procedure states that, unless the Court orders or a statute provides otherwise, a litigation guardian shall commence, continue or defend a proceeding on behalf of a “party under disability.” The Rules define “disability” to include a person who is mentally incapable within the meaning of sections 6 or 45 of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992.
Rule 7 of the Rules of Civil Procedure provides additional guidance regarding litigation guardians in civil proceedings, including the powers and duties of a litigation guardian.
But what about parties who are under an incapacity and who are named as parties in a family law proceeding in Ontario?
“Special Parties” Under the Family Law Rules
In Ontario, the Family Law Rules apply to family law cases in the Superior Court of Justice’s Family Court, the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice. The Family Law Rules provide guidance on the appointment of representatives for incapable persons in family law matters.
Rule 2 of the Family Law Rules defines a “special party” as a party who is a child or who is or appears to be mentally incapable for the purposes of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 in respect of an issue in the proceeding.
Pursuant to Rule 4(2), the Court may authorize a person to represent a special party if the person is appropriate for the task and willing to act as representative. If there is no appropriate person willing to act, the Court may authorize the Children’s Lawyer or the Public Guardian and Trustee to act as the representative.
Mancino v Killoran – More Than One Potential Representative
A recent decision illustrates the conflicts that may arise when more than one person believes that they are the most appropriate person to act as an incapable person’s representative in a family law proceeding.
In Mancino v Killoran, 2017 ONSC 4515, the Applicant asserted a claim for spousal support and for an interest in a property against the Respondent (“Michael”). Michael had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and was a resident at a long-term care home. Michael’s sister (“Colleen”) and his son (“Allan”) both sought to represent Michael’s interests in the litigation, and filed affidavits in support of their positions.
Justice Gareau considered Michael’s power of attorneys and testamentary documents, which were executed at a time when Michael was still capable. Allan was named as Michael’s attorney for property and co-attorney for personal care. Allan was also named as the sole Estate Trustee of Michael’s Estate.
Justice Gareau held that “[t]he fact that Michael…, at a time when he had capacity, placed Allan… in a position of trust over his personal property and the administration of his estate indicates that he had confidence in Allan…to represent his best interests.” Michael’s sister Colleen was not named in any of Michael’s testamentary documents, which Justice Gareau found to be a “powerful and persuasive fact.”
The Court concluded that there was nothing in the evidence that would persuade the Court to depart from Michael’s express wishes regarding the management of his property. In the result, Allan was appointed to represent Michael as a special party in the family law litigation.
Thank you for reading,
Umair Abdul Qadir