Category: Power of Attorney
Yesterday, I blogged on Public Guardian and Trustee v. Cherneyko et al, 2021 ONSC 107. Today’s blog will focus on some of the breaches of fiduciary duty that were found by the Court. For those who have not read yesterday’s blog, this is a case that involves Jean, a 90 year old woman, and Tina, the attorney for property, who was purportedly given a gift of $250,000.00 just days before Jean was hospitalized for acute delirium and progressive cognitive decline.
While the purported gift of $250,000.00 to Tina was found to be invalid, the Court went on to find that Tina was in breach of her fiduciary duty to Jean by accepting the money. Tina was in breach because she knew that Jean was exhibiting signs of cognitive decline when they went to the bank. In the Court’s view,
“a person acting in a fiduciary capacity for a person actively demonstrating moments of irrationality should be very cautious about any big financial moves that person claims they want to make in and around such periods of demonstrated incapacity. Even if Jean was clearly acting in a competent manner during the few hours she attended the CIBC with Tina on August 27, 2019, I agree with the submissions of the PGT it is no answer to an accusation of breach of duty to assert that an attorney was simply acting in accordance with the wishes of the grantor of the attorney. Tina should have proceeded with caution at that time. I find she did not exercise the appropriate degree of caution and good judgment given the circumstances about which she knew.” (para 42)
The Court also reiterated Justice Penny’s comments in Ontario (Public Guardian and Trustee) v. Harkins,  O.J. No. 3313, that a fiduciary’s first duty is to see to the best interest of the person regardless of what their stated wishes may be. The Court was very critical of how a $250,000.00 gift to Tina could possibly benefit Jean, and expressed disapproval on how there was no evidence of any effort on Tina’s part in considering whether this money would better serve Jean if it was applied towards Jean’s in-home care instead of admitting Jean to a long term care home.
Of relevance to the unique circumstances that surround the care of others during Covid-19, the Court commented that,
“since March 2020 more than at any time in the past, any genuinely concerned person charged with caring for an elderly person in long term care would have at least considered the issue of taking whatever steps could be taken to remove the person from this situation if it was in any way possible.” (para. 47)
Instead, Tina allowed her adult son to move into Jean’s home, and she was found to be actively misusing Jean’s assets for her own and her family’s benefit which were additional breaches of her duties as fiduciary. The Court also disapproved of how Tina did not take any steps to sell Jean’s house in order to maximize or preserve its value which, reading between the lines, seem to be a concern for the uncertainty in today’s markets.
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Right from the start, 2021 is starting to look like it will be another extraordinary year of historic significance. In the world of estates, trusts, and capacity litigation, there was a decision released on January 5th where serious breaches of fiduciary duty by an attorney for property were found and the PGT was ordered to take over. The facts in Public Guardian and Trustee v. Cherneyko et al, 2021 ONSC 107, read like a law school case study and the reasons are worth noting.
Jean Cherneyko is a 90 year old woman. Jean did not have any children of her own. Her closest known relative was a niece in the US. By the time of the PGT application, Jean was in a long term care home. Prior to that, Jean lived alone in the same home that she had lived in since 1969. Jean had a friend named Tina who she had known for about five years. On August 15, 2019, Jean and Tina went to a lawyer’s office. Jean named Tina as her attorney for property and personal care. Jean also made a new Will which named Tina as the estate trustee and sole beneficiary of her estate. A week or so later on August 27th, Jean and Tina went to Jean’s bank where $250,000.00 was transferred to Tina, and $195,329.50 was transferred to Jean’s niece. Days later on August 31st, Jean was hospitalized for acute delirium and progressive cognitive decline. During Jean’s admission, Tina noted that Jean had become increasingly confused over the prior few months and that Jean exhibited lethargic behaviour and complained of bodily soreness. On September 1, 2019, Jean was diagnosed as being cognitively impaired. Thereafter, Jean was transferred to long term care on October 1st based on Tina’s authorization as Jean’s attorney for property. Short time after that, Tina’s son moved into Jean’s home and the PGT started to investigate in March, 2020 when the bank froze Jean’s accounts.
As a result of their investigation, the PGT brought an application to remove and replace Tina as Jean’s attorney for property. The PGT also sought to set aside the $250,000.00 transfer to Tina and the return of various other sums that were received by Tina, which totalled approximately $350,000.00.
First, the Court found that the transfer of $250,000.00 to Tina was not a gift. Tina failed to rebut the presumption of resulting trust for the gratuitous transfer. Tina put forth evidence that there was a bank manager who spoke to Jean at the time of the transfer, and that the banker told Jean that she would have still have enough money to live after the transfers to Tina and the her niece. This evidence was tendered through Tina’s affidavit without any direct evidence from the banker. The Court disregarded Tina’s reliance on the banker’s involvement because Tina herself had deposed that Jean was having “moments of delirium and irrationality, her condition fluctuated between lucidity and confusion” in late August, 2019 (para. 31) and there was no evidence that the banker was informed.
The Court also seriously questioned whether any of the payments to Tina were truly what “Jean wanted” because Jean’s power of attorney for property clearly stated that there was to be no compensation. The Court agreed with the PGT’s contention that Tina should not have paid herself $2,000.00 per month in compensation and on how that sum was unreasonably high given that Jean’s long term care costs were only $2,701.61 per month.
The value of the transfers, which was about a quarter of Jean’s net worth at the time, when considered in the context of Jean’s September 1st diagnosis also led the Court to find that Jean lacked capacity to gift Tina such a substantial sum.
The Court’s focus on context, timing, and proportionality as benchmarks in its analysis are very important for litigators and advisors to keep in mind.
Stayed tuned this week for Part 2 on Cherneyko: the breaches of fiduciary duty.
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In July, my colleague Paul Trudelle discussed the Virtual Signing of Wills, noting that in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ontario government introduced an Order in Council specifically dealing with the execution of Wills and Powers of Attorney.
On December 10, 2020, pursuant to Ontario Regulation 458/20: Extensions of Orders under the Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, virtual signing of Wills and Powers of Attorney have been extended until January 20, 2021 in Ontario.
Ontario Regulation 129/20: Signatures in Wills and Powers of Attorney among other things, provides the following:
1. The requirement for a testator or witness to be present in each other’s presence for the making of a Will (or Power of Attorney) may be satisfied by means of audio-visual communication technology, with certain restrictions.
2. “Audio-visual communication technology” means any electronic method of communication in which participants are able to see, hear and communicate with one another in real time.
3. At least one person who is providing services as a witness must be a licensee within the meaning of the Law Society Act at the time of the execution of the Will (or Power of Attorney).
4. The signatures or subscriptions may be made by signing or subscribing complete, identical copies of the Will (or Power of Attorney) in counterpart, which together shall constitute the Will (or Power of Attorney).
5. For this purpose, copies of a Will (or Power of Attorney) will be considered identical even if there are minor, non-substantive differences in format or layout between the copies.
Thank you 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.
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.
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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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