Pursuant to section 3 of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 (the “SDA”), if there is a proceeding under the SDA where a person’s capacity is in issue, but they do not have legal representation, the court may direct that the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”) arrange for legal representation for the person. The person will be deemed to have capacity to instruct counsel. This legal representation is often referred to as “section 3 counsel”.
We have previously blogged about the role of section 3 counsel (for instance, here and here). Section 3 counsel has been described as a safeguard that protects the dignity, privacy, and legal rights of a person who is alleged to be incapable.
Section 3 counsel plays a very important role in proceedings dealing with a person’s capacity, as they allow the person whose capacity, and possibly their rights and liberties, are at issue, to have a voice before the court.
In Singh v Tolton, 2021 ONSC 2528, there was a proceeding relating to the validity of powers of attorney executed by Rajinder Kaur Singh. The PGT proposed that the court consider appointing section 3 counsel for Rajinder. One of Rajinder’s children also requested that section 3 counsel be appointed. One of her other children, Anney, took the position that section 3 counsel was not necessary and raised a concern with the expense of appointing counsel, which cost would be borne by Rajinder.
The court concluded that this was an appropriate situation for the appointment of section 3 counsel. In coming to this conclusion, the court considered the purpose of the SDA, which is to protect the vulnerable. As noted by Justice Strathy, as he then was, in Abrams v Abrams,  O.J. No. 5207, proceedings under the SDA do not seek to balance the interests of the litigants, “but the interests of the person alleged to be incapable as against the interest and duty of the state to protect the vulnerable.” Section 3 is just one of the provisions of the SDA that demonstrate the care that must be taken to protect the dignity, privacy, and legal rights of the individual.
The court in Singh v Tolton also noted that the material before it disclosed a family at odds regarding Rajinder’s personal care. In a situation such as this, there may be a concern that the wishes or best interests of the person whose capacity is in issue will be lost amidst the fighting family members. Section 3 counsel can serve a crucial function in these types of circumstances, by sharing the person’s wishes and instructions with the court.
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When a parent transfers assets to an adult child, the rebuttable presumption of resulting trust will apply to that transfer. Unless the child can rebut the presumption, it will be presumed that the child was holding the transferred assets in trust for the parent.
But what kind of evidence will be needed to rebut the presumption? Ideally there would be some kind of documentation made contemporaneously with the transfer to support the parent’s intention. If the documentation is lacking, there may be evidentiary issues where the parent has passed away or is incapable, and is not able to give evidence as to his or her intention at the time of the transfer.
In the recent decision of Pandke Estate v Lauzon, 2021 ONSC 123, the court considered two cheques paid by a mother, Carol, to her adult son and daughter-in-law, Steven and Marnee, in the amounts of $35,000.00 and $90,000.00, respectively, shortly before her death. The court reviewed the evidence in determining whether the presumption of resulting trust was rebutted, or whether Carol had intended the cheques to be gifts.
Carol was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2017, and died about a month following her diagnosis. At the time that she was diagnosed, she lived with her husband, William, to whom she had been married since 1992. Following her diagnosis, it was decided that Carol would move in with Steven and Marnee, as William was not physically capable of providing her the care that she would require. Shortly after moving in with Steven and Marnee, Carol provided a cheque in the amount of $35,000.00, payable to Marnee, with a note on the cheque stating that it was “For Rent”. Four days later Carol provided another cheque payable to Steven, in the amount of $90,000.00, with the note on the cheque stating “Medical Expenses”. The total value of the two cheques constituted the majority of Carol’s liquid assets. William, who was the sole beneficiary of Carol’s estate, challenged these payments following Carol’s death.
The court found that the $35,000.00 payment was intended to be a gift by Carol to Steven and Marnee. Part of the evidence on which the court’s conclusion in this regard was based was Marnee’s hearsay evidence of what Carol had told her about why she was making the payment, being that Steven had left his job to care for Carol and she did not want him to suffer financially as a result. The court found that Marnee’s hearsay evidence could be admitted, notwithstanding that it was hearsay, on the basis that it fell within a traditional exception to the hearsay rule (that the statement is adduced to demonstrate the intentions or state of mind of the declarant at the time the statement was made) and under the principled approach to hearsay evidence as it met the necessity and reliability requirements. The court also found that Marnee’s evidence was corroborated by independent evidence.
However, with respect to the $90,000.00 payment, the court found that there was insufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of resulting trust. Although the court admitted Steven’s evidence of statements made by Carol to him as to her state of mind at the time the cheque was signed, the court also raised other concerns with Steven’s evidence. For instance, the reference to “Medical Expenses” noted on the cheque was concerning, as there were no medical expenses, and the court wondered why Carol would not have simply indicated that it was a gift if that is what she intended it to be. The court was also not convinced by a statement that Steven said was made by Carol that she was making the payment because she did not want Steven to suffer financially because he had left work to care for her, given that only a few days before Carol had made the $35,000.00 payment, which paid off Steven’s truck loan, line of credit, and left around $15,000.00 cash to spare. There was also no corroborating evidence of Carol’s intention to gift the $90,000.00 amount to Steven. As a result, Steven held the $90,000.00 in trust for Carol’s estate.
Unfortunately, it is often the case that payments to adult children are challenged after the parent has died. Unless the parent has taken special care to document his or her intention in making the payment, the intention can be difficult to determine with any degree of certainty. Accordingly, a parent making a gift to an adult child should consider seeking legal advice as to the best way to document such a transfer in order to ensure that their intentions will be upheld. From the opposite perspective, if a parent wants to make a transfer on the basis that their adult child will hold the asset in trust for him or her, or his or her estate, the parent should also consider seeking legal advice to ensure that this is properly documented in order to reduce the chance of issues arising in this regard after his or her death.
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Just over a week ago I had the privilege to attend the OBA’s annual evening with the judges of the Toronto Estates List. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the event was held virtually this year, but it was nonetheless very interesting and informative and I’m sure everyone appreciated the judges sharing their time. I take this opportunity to mention a few of the topics discussed.
- New Technology Implemented by the Court
The Estates List judges shared with event attendees that the new technology that has recently been adopted by the Court is here to stay. It was suggested that counsel invest the time to learn how the CaseLines system works and get comfortable with it, as it is intended that CaseLines will be in use going forward. The use of sync.com is already being phased out, and mainly CaseLines will be used in the future. This is expected to be the case even when we are able to return to in-person hearings.
- New Model Orders
We have previously blogged about the model orders that have recently been added to the Estates List Practice Direction. At the event, the judges emphasized that the model orders are an excellent resource and should be used going forward.
- Availability of Case Conferences
The Estates List judges clarified that case conferences continue to be available. It was suggested that before parties take steps to gear up for a contested motion, if they are not able to solve the matter on their own, they should consider scheduling a 30 minute case conference, and try to work it out with the assistance of one of the members of the Estates List Bench. This may allow matters to be resolved more quickly, thus freeing up court resources for other matters, and in a way that is more cost-effective for the parties.
- The Court’s Workload
Between January and March of this year, the Estates List heard between 400-500 matters, which is close to the number of matters that would be heard in a regular year. The number of matters being heard in writing has almost doubled from the norm, with the Estates list having heard almost 900 matters in writing so far this year, compared with around 1500 in a whole year in normal times. It is clear that the Estates List continues to operate effectively notwithstanding the lack of in-person attendances.
I understand that the event was recorded and will be available for later viewing. I encourage anyone who missed the event to check out the recording and take advantage of the advice and tips from the Bench.
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Plan Well Guide’s Toolkit for Legal Practitioners: Helping You Help Your Clients Plan for Incapacity
Last year, my colleague Nick Esterbauer blogged about the Plan Well Guide – a free online tool to assist individuals with their advance care planning. An advance care plan sets out how a person wishes to be treated during a serious illness or health crisis. The Plan Well Guide helps users to create a ‘Dear Doctor’ Letter explaining their values and preferences with respect to their future medical care, which can then be given to their physician and substitute decision-makers to ensure that their wishes are known. For a more in-depth look at the Plan Well Guide and the process of creating a Dear Doctor letter, you can read Nick’s blog here.
Recently, the Plan Well Guide launched a new toolkit designed for legal practitioners. This free online toolkit is intended to help lawyers help their clients become better prepared for future serious illness and incapacitation. In addition to various educational resources for both lawyers and their clients, the toolkit includes:
- a sample power of attorney for personal care;
- a sample advanced health care directive;
- a sample personal directive;
- a sample ‘Dear Doctor’ letter; and
- a step-by-step guide on how lawyers can incorporate the Plan Well Guide into their practice.
Of course, the sample legal documents contained in the toolkit should be amended to reflect the client’s specific set of circumstances and the laws of the applicable jurisdiction.
What I like most about the Plan Well Guide’s new toolkit is that it highlights the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to advance care planning. An effective advance care plan – that is, a plan which facilitates medical substitute decision-making that is consistent with the incapable person’s actual values and preferences – depends on the collaborative efforts of a person’s lawyers, doctors, and substitute decision-makers. The Plan Well Guide and its new toolkit offer accessible ways for legal professionals, health care professionals, and their clients/patients to coordinate their efforts to make serious illness planning more effective. If a lawyer is interested in improving the quality of future medical decision-making and patient outcomes for their clients, the Plan Well Guide’s toolkit for legal practitioners is certainly worth looking into.
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Sometimes when parties arrive at a settlement, notwithstanding that the settlement may objectively be in their interests, they may not necessarily be pleased with the outcome. If the settlement has been concluded and fully documented, however, a party who has had second thoughts will likely be out of luck if they want to avoid complying with the agreement. This is important because parties should usually be held to the bargains that they make in a settlement.
A settlement does not necessarily have to be in writing to be valid, but like any contract, there must be a “meeting of the minds” on the essential terms of the agreement.
In a recent decision, Daehn v Lalonde, 2021 ONSC 301, the court considered a motion to enforce a settlement where draft minutes of settlement had been exchanged, but not signed. The dispute between the parties underlying the settlement concerned the validity of competing Wills. The parties were engaged in negotiations between January and July 2019, during which time several offers and versions of draft minutes of settlement were exchanged. In mid-July, counsel for the responding parties to the motion advised the moving party that he would no longer be acting for the responding parties, and retracted all offers to settle made by the responding parties.
The moving party took the position that certain conduct by counsel for the responding parties should be taken as akin to acceptance of terms in the minutes of settlement. Such conduct included providing bank statements that had been requested as a condition of settlement, and proposing changes to some terms of the draft minutes without complaint about others. The court did not accept this argument, and did not find acceptance of the agreement by words or conduct of the responding parties.
The court briefly reviewed the law regarding validity and enforcement of settlements. Like a contract, a concluded settlement requires both a mutual intention to create a legally binding contract, and agreement on all essential terms of the settlement.
The court found that the responding parties never agreed to the terms of settlement. Despite the moving party’s argument that the responding parties had agreed to the sole “essential” term, the court found that it cannot be the case that the moving party alone can dictate what terms of the settlement are essential. The court concluded that a settlement cannot be imposed where no agreement was reached.
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Earlier this year, our colleague Doreen So, blogged in two parts (here and here) on the matter of PGT v Cherneyko. It is a blog that discusses a litany of failures by an attorney for property. While Doreen covered the facts in full, they are worth repeating here in part:
“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 […]”
The PGT applied to take over as guardian for property and, among other things, to set aside the gift to Tina. The court agreed and ordered the $250,000 returned to Jean on the basis of resulting trust.
In a novel approach to the law of gifts, the court in Cherneyko relied on Pecore to establish that the gift ought to be returned, saying: “The leading Canadian case on the law of gifts, the Supreme Court of Canada in Pecore v Pecore, 2007 SCC 17 (CanLII) at paras. 24-26 established that where a gratuitous transfer of property is found, there is a presumption of a resulting trust. The onus falls to the recipient to rebut the presumption.” In the court’s view, Tina failed to rebut the presumption.
But this represents a new application of the Supreme Court’s analysis and it’s worth revisiting Pecore.
In 2007, Justice Rothstein, writing for a unanimous court (Justice Abella concurring) looked closely at gratuitous gifts of joint bank accounts, between parents and children, and whether the presumption of resulting trust and advancement applied in modern times:
“The presumption of resulting trust is a rebuttable presumption of law and general rule that applies to gratuitous transfers. When a transfer is challenged, the presumption allocates the legal burden of proof. Thus, where a transfer is made for no consideration, the onus is placed on the transferee to demonstrate that a gift was intended: see Waters’ Law of Trusts, at p. 375, and E. E. Gillese and M. Milczynski, The Law of Trusts (2nd ed. 2005), at p. 110. This is so because equity presumes bargains, not gifts.”
The decision in Cherneyko represents a significant expansion of the principles of Pecore by applying them to inter vivos gifts between unrelated adults. Traditionally, if the courts determine that a transferor lacked the requisite capacity, the gift is void as the transferor lacked the capacity to form the proper intention to gift. Ball v. Mannin, an almost 200-year-old UK case established the original test for granting a gift and held that a person had capacity if the person was “capable of understanding what he did by executing the deed in question, when its general purport was fully explained to him.” The Supreme Court has previously outlined a separate test in Geffen v Goodman Estate in 1991, examining the nature of the relationship itself, and applying a presumption of undue influence where there is the presence of a dominant relationship. While the failed gift in Cherneyko was ultimately returned under a resulting trust, it will be fascinating to see if other courts also continue this expansion of Pecore. We’ll keep you posted.
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Ian Hull and Daniel Enright
Something that surely no testator or beneficiary wants to see is the failure of a gift made in a Will. Unfortunately, circumstances can arise where the language of a Will may be ambiguous, or where events occurring during the estate administration expose uncertainty in a term of the Will that wasn’t necessarily apparent at the time of drafting or execution.
In Barsoski v Wesley, 2020 ONSC 7407, the estate trustee sought directions from the court regarding a clause in the deceased’s Will that allowed the deceased’s friend (the “Respondent”) to live in the deceased’s home during his lifetime, or such shorter period as the Respondent desires. Upon the earlier of the Respondent advising that he no longer wished to live in the home, or the Respondent “no longer living” in the home, the house and its contents are to be sold, and the proceeds added to a gift to another beneficiary of the Deceased’s Will, a charity, St. Stephens House of London (“St. Stephens”).
The deceased died in June 2017. Confusion arose when it became apparent that the Respondent was not actually living in the home on a full-time basis. This first came up around December 2017 and continued for a couple of years. The home was in London, but the Respondent continued living and working full-time in Toronto following the deceased’s death, and seemingly up until 2019. He then started a full-time job in Sault Ste. Marie in 2019.
The Respondent’s evidence was that he was using the home as his primary residence in that he spent time at the home on weekends 1-2 times per month, and used it as his address for his driver’s license and for CRA purposes. He stated that he planned to live in the home full-time after he retired around July 2021.
St. Stephens, as the gift-over beneficiary of the home, took the position that the Respondent had not been living in the home, and therefore it should be sold pursuant to the terms of the Will.
The court first considered whether the Will gave the Respondent a life estate or a licence to use the home subject to a condition subsequent, concluding that the proper interpretation was that it was a licence with a condition subsequent. The condition subsequent in question was when the Respondent was “no longer living” in the home. The court outlined that a “condition subsequent is void for uncertainty if the condition is ‘far too indefinite and uncertain to enable the Court to say what it was that the testator meant should be the event on which the estate was to determine’”. Accordingly, the court concluded that it was impossible to define, on the terms of the deceased’s Will, what it meant to “live” in the home.
The question of whether, on the facts, the Respondent’s use of the home constituted him “living” there is an interesting one. However, due to the court’s conclusion that the terms granting the Respondent an interest in the home were void for uncertainty, it was unnecessary for the court to make any findings of fact on this particular question.
The estate trustee, who was also the drafting lawyer, gave evidence (that was ultimately inadmissible) that the deceased had been considering some changes to her Will prior to her death. The changes would put time restrictions on the Respondent’s use of the home, including that he would be required to move into the home within 90 days of her death, and not be absent from it for more than 120 days. These additional terms may have provided sufficient certainty for the beneficiary to know what he had to do in order to maintain his interest in the home, and for the estate trustee to administer the estate. Although this evidence had no impact on the court’s decision, it can serve as an important reminder that if one wants to change their Will, one should do so as soon as possible to ensure the Will reflects their wishes at the time of their death.
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As my colleague, Nick Esterbauer, blogged about last week (here and here), the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all of us, including the courts and the legal profession, towards the increasing use of technology. This has included the use of video-conferencing for examinations of witnesses in the litigation context. As we adapt to this new world, there are inevitably going to be ‘hiccups’. It is crucial to maintain the integrity of the process and to ensure that virtual examinations are not abused.
A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dealt with just such a situation. In Kaushal v Vasudeva et al., 2021 ONSC 440, the cross-examination of the respondent to an application was held over Zoom. The respondent required an interpreter for his cross-examination, and the respondent, his lawyer, and the interpreter all attended at the lawyer’s boardroom for the examination. They were all in the same room together, but on separate devices. The respondent’s wife and son came to the lawyer’s office with him, but according to the respondent they remained in the reception area at all times. It was confirmed on the record by the respondent’s lawyer that the only people present with the respondent during the examination were the lawyer and the interpreter.
Following the examination, the applicant noticed that a microphone and camera in the respondent’s lawyer’s boardroom had been left on, and he could hear the respondent’s wife and son speaking. It appeared to the applicant that the wife and son had listened in on the examination.
The respondent denied that his wife and son were present in the boardroom during his cross-examination. His lawyer’s legal assistant also provided affidavit evidence that the wife and son were not in the boardroom during the examinations.
The interpreter, however, ultimately swore two affidavits that the wife and son were present in the boardroom throughout the respondent’s examination, and were prompting the respondent’s answers by hand and facial gestures. The court accepted the interpreter’s evidence in its entirety.
The court concluded that there was misconduct during the respondent’s cross-examination on the basis that his wife and son were present and made hand and facial gestures to assist him with his answers. The court further concluded that the respondent’s misconduct amounted to abuse of process and that his affidavit responding to the application must be struck. It was the court’s view that it “must send a strong message that interference in the fact-finding process by abusing or taking advantage of a virtual examination will not be tolerated. In a broader sense, this type of misconduct strikes at the very heard of the integrity of the fact-finding process such that general deterrence is also a factor.”
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It is generally understood that, in order to execute a valid Last Will and Testament, a testator must meet the legal test for capacity. Drafting solicitors must remain especially vigilant when preparing a Will for an elderly client.
On October 16, 2013, we blogged on the correlation found between oversleeping and mental incapacity. Though the cause for the correlation was unknown, studies conducted by Columbia University and Hospital University of Madrid concluded that those who regularly oversleep might be more likely to develop Dementia. “Oversleeping” was classified as sleeping for nine or more hours every night.
Researchers funded by the National Institute of Health have found evidence that the reverse is also true when it comes to sleep: those already suffering from progressive neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s Disease, may experience more severe symptoms and a quicker decline as a result of chronic lack of sleep. Sleep patterns can affect cognitive ability and, in turn, the ability to execute a Will. These findings negate some cultural beliefs that “sleep is for the weak” and instead suggest that sleep is more important than we might want to believe.
Just as we cleanse our physical bodies at the end of each day, the brain also undergoes a process to cleanse itself of its “waste,” otherwise known as amyloid plaques. This detoxification process occurs while we are sleeping. Amyloid plaques are produced throughout the day and, like any other plaque that is built up, they can cause harm to our bodies when not properly removed. Amyloid plaques, specifically, have been linked to brain functioning and associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Without a proper night’s sleep, our brains are unable to eliminate these damaging toxins and thus cannot maintain optimal functioning.
Given the compelling evidence linking sleep patterns to possible cognitive decline, if you wish to remain capable of executing a Will, the importance of a good night’s rest cannot be overstated.
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Suzana Popovic-Montag and Tori Joseph
In a will challenge proceeding, the propounder has the onus of proving due execution, knowledge and approval, and testamentary capacity. The propounder is assisted by a presumption that if the will was duly executed, after having been read over or read to the testator who appeared to understand it, the testator had knowledge and approval, and the necessary testamentary capacity. This presumption can be rebutted by evidence of suspicious circumstances, based on evidence led by the challenger. The challenger must introduce evidence that, if accepted, refutes knowledge and approval or testamentary capacity. If this is done, the onus reverts to the propounder. Where a challenge is based on undue influence, the onus of proving undue influence is on the challenger.
The difficulties that arise for a challenger in refuting the presumption of capacity or of proving undue influence are discussed in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decision of Logan Estate (Re), 2019 ABQB 860 (CanLII).
There, the deceased had 2 prior wills that provided that her estate was to be divided amongst her 6 children. If a child was to predecease, that child’s share would go to his or her issue. Subsequently, one of the children died. The deceased made a new will, leaving her estate to the 5 surviving children. A child of the predeceased child challenged this will.
The evidence of the drafting solicitor was that the deceased directed the changes. According to the lawyer’s notes, the husband of the predeceased child (the challenger’s father) told the deceased that he had lots of money, and that his children would be well taken care of financially under his estate.
The husband later denied this. However, by this time, the husband was suffering from dementia. He was not able to provide an affidavit or be examined on his evidence.
The court referred to the onuses, and the “epic hurdle” on the challenger. Section 11 of the Alberta Evidence Act (similar to s. 13 of the Ontario Evidence Act) requires that in an action by or against heirs, next of kin, executors, administrators or assigns, an opposed or interested party may not obtain a judgment on that person’s own evidence in respect of any matter occurring before the death of the deceased person unless the evidence is corroborated by other material evidence.
On the issue of corroboration, the court quoted from Ian Hull and Suzana Popovic-Montag’s Probate Practice:
“The issue of meaningful corroboration with respect to claims against an estate is a fundamental starting point in any estate litigation evidentiary analysis. One of the unique challenges of estate litigation is that the star witness and primary source of information is, almost always, dead. Section 13 of the Evidence Act specifically addresses this dilemma, and aims to prevent claims against estates that are based on mere allegations. The provision requires that there be independent corroboration of allegations [claims] against estates.”
As the evidence of the challenger could not be corroborated, due to her father’s incapacity, her challenge to the will was dismissed.
In dismissing the challenge, the court offered this cold comfort to the challenger:
I appreciate that [the challenger] is disappointed that she is not receiving what she believes is her proper share of Velma’s estate. However, a family member (even a lineal descendant) does not have an automatic right to a share in the estate of a deceased relative who leaves a will. The testator, through her will, has the sole power to determine the distribution of her assets. A testator may change her mind from a previous will, whether for good reason or not. These harsh realities apply even where the ultimate distribution is contrary to that family member’s sense of fairness or rationality.
The decision was upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeal of Alberta at Logan Estate (Re), 2021 ABCA 6 (CanLII).
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