Humans are social beings. Some of us enjoy interacting with others, with animals, with virtual reality experiences, or all of the above!
I read a heartwarming story recently from the New York Times which featured a robot caregiver for the elderly named Zora. Zora was introduced to a nursing facility outside of Paris and she was rather well received.
The residents of this particular facility have dementia and other conditions that require twenty-four hour care. Zora can converse with the residents through the assistance of a nurse who types on a laptop for the robot to speak. Many residents formed an attachment to Zora and even treated the robot like a baby.
According to the makers of the Zora robot, it is the first robot in the world that takes care of people.
While a robot may not be able to replace the tender, love, and care of one’s family, it is easy to believe that a robot can make any one’s imagination wander, stimulate play, and even be a friend.
I say that as someone with very fond memories of Toy Story. The first Toy Story came out in 1995 and Toy Story 4 is about to be released in 2019 if you want to check out the trailer here.
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With the aging population, there are increasing numbers of individuals who may require a caregiver. And that caregiver is not always privately employed, or a direct family member or a spouse.
Currently, the socio-economic situation of such unpaid caregivers has been documented as “financial hardship” due to the void created upon the terminated relationship A recent article published by Canadian Family Law Quarterly suggests a two-pronged statutory remedy be put in place in order to: (i) provide legal recognition of such relationships, and (ii) compensate sacrifices of the unpaid/altruistic caregiver.
Who Should Compensate Unpaid Caregivers?
An important consideration in the contemplation of providing support to unpaid caregivers is whether the state or the individual accepting care should have the onus of providing financial support. In the case of Egan v Canada,  2 SCR 513, Justice Sopinka ruled in favour of individual responsibility and stated “the government was not required to be proactive in recognizing new social relationships [and that]… it is not realistic for the court to assume that there are unlimited funds to address the needs of it all.”
On the other hand, Nicholas Bala in an article published in the Queens Law Journal states: “an adult who shares a home and provides care for another economically dependent adult should be entitled to the same level of state assistance (or tax relief) [as paid caregivers] whether the dependent is a spouse, parent, sibling, uncle or friend.”
Currently, aside from equitable and statutory remedies (not available to all and not certain), the only private law safeguard put in place to protect unpaid caregivers is through wills and estate planning. To protect an unpaid caregiver through a will or estate plan would require forethought by the recipient of the care. The plan would need to be instituted at a point when the individual had capacity, and was able to properly execute a will or testamentary document.
In the case of unpaid caregiving, the care provider who is a family member may be a beneficiary of an existing estate plan (outside of any caregiving obligations). Entitlement to an enhanced benefit would be a fair way to compensate for unpaid care to the testator.
Another recourse for an unpaid caregiver is to apply for dependant’s relief pursuant to section 58(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”).
Section 58(1) provides that:
Where a deceased, whether testate or intestate, has not made adequate provision for the proper support of his dependants or any of them, the court, on application, may order that such provision as it considers adequate be made out of the estate of the deceased for the proper support of the dependants or any of them
In the case of Cummings v Cummings, 2004 CanLII 9339 (ON CA), the Court of Appeal acknowledged that “caregiving may give rise to both legal and moral obligations to provide support.” Therefore, if an unpaid caregiver can establish themselves as a dependant of the deceased individual who was receiving their care, it is possible they may get some recourse under the SLRA.
It nonetheless bears repeating that the case for law reform relates to the person who does not meet the definition of dependant: the non-direct family member, non-conjugal caregiver who altruistically provides caregiving at significant personal sacrifice and is not named in the Will on the termination (i.e. death) of the caregiving relationship.
Thanks for reading,
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