Category: Power of Attorney
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.
Canada’s population is rapidly aging. With baby boomers constituting just over one quarter of our population, the percentage of elders in our society is rising at an alarming rate. In 2014, the percentage of seniors north of 65 was 15.6 percent of the population. By 2030 – in the next decade – seniors will make up 23 percent of the Canadian population. With this change in demographics, elder abuse (and financial exploitation in particular) has become somewhat of an epidemic.
Financial exploitation commonly occurs when an attorney for property abuses his/her power afforded by the Power of Attorney (“POA”) document. Executing a POA is a vital component of every estate plan. When properly drafted and with the appropriate understanding of rights, duties and obligations, a POA has the effect of protecting individuals and their heirs against future incapacity. When drafted improperly and without a clear recognition of duties and responsibilities, the consequences can be grave.
Toronto resident, Christine Fisher (“Fisher”), is all too familiar with the devastating impact that POA abuse can have on an individual’s financial situation. In 2016, Fisher was 94 and living independently in her own apartment despite suffering from the beginning stages of Dementia. Fisher ultimately executed a POA appointing an old colleague, Theresa Gardiner (“Gardiner”), as her attorney for property. In her role as attorney, Gardiner immediately moved Fisher from her apartment to a seniors’ residence – a decision that was not viewed favourably by Fisher’s family and long-time friend, Nancy Lewis (“Lewis”). In the coming months, Lewis discovered that Gardiner had been abusing the power granted to her under the POA by misappropriating Fisher’s funds. By breaching her fiduciary duty, Gardiner exacerbated Fisher’s financial situation and improved her own. In an attempt to justify her misconduct, Gardiner told CBC News that Fisher had gifted her the money. In July of 2019, Gardiner was charged with several counts of theft. Most of these charges were withdrawn by the Crown in November of 2019.
Unfortunately, the story of Christine Fisher is not an anomaly. It is a reflection of society’s tendency to overlook and ignore vulnerable elders. Given the substantial risks associated with appointing an inappropriate attorney, lawyers should remain vigilant to possibilities of incapacity, fraud and undue influence prior to creating a POA for a client. Recognizing the warning signs is the first step to protecting this vulnerable population.
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Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph
New fears and anxieties brought on by the health crisis may play a part in the uptick we are seeing in the making of wills and powers of attorney documents. Ontarians, particularly vulnerable older Ontarians, may take comfort at this time in having their estate plans laid out, as well as having individuals in place to manage their finances and personal care in the event of illness, incapacity or physical inability to manage these tasks themselves.
Once these powers are granted, disputes can arise over when an attorney can start acting in the appointed role, particularly when incapacity is required prior to the attorney commencing to act. In the management of one’s property, donors often sign power of attorney documents where the ability to commence acting takes effect from the date of the document. However, donors sometimes opt to have the authority deferred to the time of incapacity. Similarly, when it comes to the management of one’s personal care, the attorney cannot act until the grantor lacks the capacity to do so.
How incapacity is determined is often impacted by the power of attorney document itself and the varying level of protections that a donor may wish to have in place. For instance, the grantor may choose to have the power of attorney document stipulate that (i) one physician’s letter opining that the donor is incapable will suffice, or (ii) two physician’s letters are required, or (iii) incapacity be determined by a formal capacity assessment conducted by an accredited capacity assessor.
Should a capacity dispute arise, it is noteworthy that the Substitute Decisions Act protects the privacy, dignity, and legal rights of the individual through the following provisions:
- there is a presumption of capacity (s. 2);
- a person whose capacity is in issue is entitled to legal representation (s. 3);
- a person alleged to be incapable is entitled to notice of court proceedings (ss. 27(4) and ss. 62(4));
- the court must not appoint a guardian if it is satisfied that the need for decisions to be made can be met by an alternative course of action that is less restrictive of the person’s decision making rights (ss. 22(3) and ss. 55(2));
- in considering the choice of guardian for property or personal care, the court is to consider the wishes of the incapable person (ss. 24(5)(b) and ss. 57(3)(b)); and
- subject to exceptions, a person has a right to refuse an assessment, other than an assessment ordered by the court (s. 78).
Giving someone the power to control our finances and personal care are some of the most important decisions we make that can impact the quality of life in our elder years. Sober and thoughtful consideration of the best person(s) for the role is essential, and may minimize discord, disputes and abuse in this area.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
The looming threat of COVID-19 has caused some people to see their own mortality in a new and clearer light. In addition to the existential and/or religious contemplation that may arise from this reality, individuals are also turning their minds to more practical end of life planning.
An end of life plan, also referred to as an advance care plan (“ACP”), sets out how an individual would like to be cared for in the final months of their life. In Ontario, an ACP will usually include a Power of Attorney for Personal Care designating a trusted person(s) to make healthcare decisions on behalf of an individual in the event of their incapacity.
An ACP may also include an advance directive, or “living will”, which is a written statement of wishes about future care. Unlike a Power of Attorney, advance directives are not referenced in Ontario’s health care legislation and are not a legal document. However, Ontario law does recognize that wishes and preferences regarding future care choices that are expressed when mentally capable ought to be respected and followed, if possible. Thus, a Power of Attorney or other substitute decision maker is expected to abide by an advance directive to the extent possible. This makes advance directives a useful tool for anyone seeking greater control over the medical treatment they receive while incapable.
Interestingly, a COVID-19-specific advance directive has emerged in the United States. Dr. Andrea Kittrell, a head and neck surgeon practicing in Virginia, established an organization called Save Other Souls (“SOS”) whose objective is to assist individuals with their advance care planning as it pertains to COVID-19-related medical treatment. Specifically, SOS provides guidance on preparing a document that has been coined the “COVID-19 SOS Directive”. This document is a type of altruistic advance directive wherein a person expresses their wish to defer lifesaving critical care hospital placement, medication, and/or equipment to another patient in need during a declared emergency and where there are insufficient health care resources to go around.
Since the COVID-19 SOS Directive was developed for use in jurisdictions outside of Ontario, I will not opine on the effectiveness of this particular document. However, the document is a reminder of the importance of considering one’s own ACP in light of the global pandemic. For information on COVID-19-related advance care planning for Canadians, you can check out Dying With Dignity Canada’s COVID-19 ACP Toolkit. Another helpful resource is the Plan Well Guide which is discussed in Nick Esterbauer’s blog here.
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I have previously blogged about Vanier v Vanier, a decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal relating to a dispute amongst attorneys, in which the Court of Appeal agreed with a statement by the motion judge that the attorneys had “lost sight of the fact that it is [the incapable’s] best interests that must be served here, not their own pride, suspicions, authority or desires”. Unfortunately, it is often the case that in disputes amongst family members over the management of an incapable family member’s care or property, the incapable’s interests may be overshadowed by the fight amongst the other members of the family.
The recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision in Lockhart v Lockhart, 2020 ONSC 4667, appears to be another similar situation.
The applicant, Barbara, and the respondent, Robert, are children of Mrs. Lockhart. Mrs. Lockhart was 89 years old at the time of the decision. A number of years before, she had contracted bacterial meningitis and had suffered some long-lasting effects that impacted her cognition. Mrs. Lockhart’s husband predeceased her on October 2, 2018. Prior to his death, he had made personal care and treatment decisions for Mrs. Lockhart when she was not able to do so herself. After Mrs. Lockhart’s husband’s death, Barbara was unable to locate a power of attorney for personal care for Mrs. Lockhart; accordingly, Barbara and Robert proceeded to make personal care decisions on Mrs. Lockhart’s behalf, jointly.
However, in December 2018, Robert arranged to have Mrs. Lockhart sign a power of attorney for personal care and a power of attorney for property naming him as her sole attorney (the “2018 POAs”). Barbara was not aware of the 2018 POAs, and was not involved in their preparation or execution. Barbara did not even become aware of the 2018 POAs until April 2020 when Robert revealed them to her in the midst of a dispute between Barbara and Robert relating to Mrs. Lockhart’s care. Barbara subsequently challenged the validity of the 2018 POAs on the basis that, among other things, Mrs. Lockhart was not capable of granting them.
The court found that the 2018 POAs were of no force and effect, and were void ab initio. The court was also asked to determine which of Barbara and Robert would be authorized to make decisions on Mrs. Lockhart’s behalf under the Health Care Consent Act, 1996 (the “HCCA”). Each of Barbara and Robert took the position that they should have sole decision-making authority.
Notably, the court stated specifically that “[t]his dispute has less to do with Mrs. Lockhart’s interests and more to do with a power struggle between two siblings.” Given this outcome, and the facts leading to the litigation, I found the solution arrived at by the court interesting. The court determined that both Barbara and Robert are authorized to make personal care, health care, and treatment decisions under the HCCA, on behalf of Mrs. Lockhart, jointly. It appears that the court was satisfied that both of Barbara and Robert would exercise that authority in Mrs. Lockhart’s best interests, notwithstanding the dispute between them that lead to litigation. Other than the major disagreement between Barbara and Robert that lead to the litigation, the court found that “it appears that they have, in the main, come to decisions that have been in Mrs. Lockhart’s best interest and have kept her safe.” This historic ability to make joint decisions seems to have been sufficient for the court to decide that Barbara and Robert should continue doing so going forward.
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The job of being an attorney for personal care for an incapable person is not an easy one. The attorney often has to make difficult decisions regarding an incapable person’s medical care and treatment, personal care, food, clothing, and shelter. A particularly difficult decision that can arise in the case of older adults is the decision of whether an older incapable person should be placed in a retirement or long-term care home.
I recently came across a decision that considered a personal care attorney’s decision to move his mother, Ann, into a long-term care facility. As set out in Corbet v Corbet, 2020 ONSC 4157, prior to the move, Ann had been living with her personal care attorney’s son (Ann’s grandson), and his spouse. The personal care attorney lived in the USA. The grandson and spouse were the defendants to an action brought by the personal care attorney, and the defendants had brought the motion that was dealt with in the decision. The motion sought an order that Ann return to live with the defendants.
The Corbet decision discussed the powers and duties of an attorney for property, as governed by the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 30 (the “SDA”). Section 66 of the SDA provides that a personal care attorney must exercise his or her powers and duties diligently and in good faith. If the attorney knows of prior wishes or instructions of an incapable person, they shall make their decision in accordance with those prior wishes or instructions. If the attorney does not know of a prior wish or instruction, or if it is impossible to make the decision in accordance with the wish or instruction, the attorney shall make the decision in the incapable person’s best interests. Although making a determination of what is in the incapable person’s best interests can be difficult, the SDA does set out the factors that the attorney must consider, as follows:
- the values and beliefs that the guardian knows the person held when capable and believes the person would still act on if capable;
- the person’s current wishes, if they can be ascertained; and
- the following factors:
- (i) Whether the guardian’s decision is likely to,
- improve the quality of the person’s life,
- prevent the quality of the person’s life from deteriorating, or
- reduce the extent to which, or the rate at which, the quality of the person’s life is likely to deteriorate.
- (ii) Whether the benefit the person is expected to obtain from the decision outweighs the risk of harm to the person from an alternative decision.
- (i) Whether the guardian’s decision is likely to,
Ultimately, the court determined that it was not prepared to grant the order sought by the defendants. Some of the factors that were determinative included the following:
- Ann had entrusted her only son as her attorney for personal care.
- The court should not attempt to micromanage an attorney’s day-to-day handling of an incapable person’s affairs unless there is clear evidence the attorney is not acting in good faith.
- Before making the decision to move Ann to the long-term care facility, the attorney consulted with Ann’s family doctor, and had a comprehensive assessment of the defendants’ home done by the LHIN case manager.
- Although Ann had expressed that she wanted to “go home”, the court found that Ann perceived her home as the home she had shared with her late husband, and not the defendants’ home.
- There was no evidence that the personal care attorney failed to consider the best interests criteria as set out above.
- There were allegations that the defendants had mistreated or neglected Ann, and that they had misused or misappropriated her money. As a result, it remained to be determined whether they were “supportive family members” with whom the attorney has a duty to consult under the SDA.
Attorneys for personal care would be well-advised to carefully consider their decisions, in light of the guidelines set out in the SDA, and to document their considerations in making decisions on behalf of an incapable person.
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Natalia Angelini recently blogged about some helpful tips from LawPRO on how to minimize the risk when virtually witnessing Wills and powers of attorney. On April 24, LawPRO posted another helpful article about the risks of “renting out” your signature as a virtual witness.
The emergency legislation requires that one of the witnesses to a Will that is executed by means of audio-visual communication technology (which now temporarily meets the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26 requirement that the testator and witnesses be “in the presence of” each other), be a Law Society licensee. This means that some of us may be asked to be witnesses to a Will or power of attorney that we did not prepare ourselves. However, as LawPRO points out, simply being a witness does not necessarily mean that we will not be held responsible if there are problems with the Will or power of attorney.
Some of the issues that may arise could include the following:
- Problems with the Will or power of attorney not being executed properly, in accordance with the requirements for due execution and the specific requirements of virtual execution pursuant to the temporary legislation.
- The Will or power of attorney not reflecting the testator or grantor’s wishes. This may arise if a testator or grantor prepares their own Will or power of attorney from an online service or kit, resulting in a document that is likely not tailored to the testator or grantor’s particular situation, financial circumstances, and wishes.
- Technical errors in the document, such as the omission of a residue clause, which can drastically impact the distribution of the testator’s assets.
LawPRO has provided some tips for how to protect yourself if you are asked to be a witness to a Will or power of attorney that you did not prepare (although the tips seem equally applicable if you did prepare the document in question):
- Take detailed notes.
- Send a reporting letter following the execution of the document and confirm the scope of your retainer.
- Record the signing (with the client’s permission).
You may also consider having the testator or grantor sign a limited retainer agreement, before you witness the Will or power of attorney, which explicitly sets out that you have been engaged only for the purpose of witnessing the document, and not to review it or provide any legal advice.
Thanks for reading, and stay safe!
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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.
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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.
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The motions in Volk v. Volk, 2020 ONCA 256, arose from an appeal of an order to, inter alia, sell a property owned, in part, by Doris Volk, who is incapable of managing her own property, and to pay the net proceeds of sale to Doris’ husband, George. This case is instructive for how matters are currently proceeding before the Court of Appeal and in general for the scope of examinations under SDA matters.
George is not Doris’ attorney for property. The attorneys for property are Doris’ daughter, Darlene, and Doris’ sister, Lisa. George brought an application under the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 because he claimed that the property was improperly transferred by the attorneys from Doris, as the sole owner, to Doris and Darlene’s daughter, Felicia, as tenants in common. At the time of the application, the property was registered with a 1% interest in Doris’ name and the rest was registered in Felicia’s name. Furthermore, the property was occupied by Darlene but George claimed that the carrying costs of the property were paid from Doris’ money in further breach of trust.
George’s application was granted on January 7, 2020 on the consent of Lisa. Darlene, Felicia, and the Public Guardian and Trustee did not appear or file opposing materials. The house was sold with a closing date of May 16, 2020.
Darlene and Felicia appeals the order of January 7th on ground that they were not properly served or provided with adequate notice of the application. They also brought a stay motion with a supporting affidavit from Felicia. Felicia was cross-examined on her affidavit and she refused a number of questions on the advice of her counsel. This led George to bring a refusals motion and an request for an adjournment of the motion for a stay pending appeal.
Both the refusals motion and the stay motion were scheduled to be heard before Justice Paciocco on April 14, 2020. Justice Paciocco noted that the agreement for purchase and sale gave the stay motion added urgency. The matter proceed on April 14th with counsel for Darlene and Felicia appearing by phone and counsel for George appearing by videoconference. George’s refusals motion was allowed in part. Justice Paciocco clarified that the proper scope of a cross-examination on an affidavit is governed by the issues that are relevant to motion. It includes questions that are relevant to credibility so long as it within the competence of the motions judge to determine (para. 10). He then goes on to give reasons for why certain categories of questions ought to be answered and why other categories were found to be irrelevant or unfair. Of note, questions about Doris’ state of mind were properly refused because it was unfair for Felicia to speak for Doris (para. 19).
Since counsel for George acknowledged that further examinations were not feasible as a result of COVID-19, Justice Paciocco ordered a timetable for answers and follow up questions in writing. The stay motion was adjourned to May 1st.
Thanks for reading and keep well.