Tag: elder abuse
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.
Thanks for reading! Stay safe!
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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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
A recent report of the Canadian Armed Forces into the state of five Ontario nursing homes has shed light on disturbing issues inside of the homes.
Early into the COVID state of emergency, the Canadian Armed Forces was asked to assist at 5 Ontario nursing homes, and 25 Quebec nursing homes. In the course of their duties, the Armed Forces noted serious shortcomings at the nursing homes. The report has led to calls for various action, including a coroner’s investigation, and possible police investigations.
It should be noted that there is a statutory duty on everyone to report any suspected impropriety occurring at a long-term care facility. Specifically, s. 24 of the Long Term Care Homes Act, 2007 requires that a person who has reasonable grounds to suspect any of the following has occurred or may occur to immediately report the suspicion and the reasons upon which it is based to the Director of Long Term Care:
- improper or incompetent treatment or care of a resident that resulted in harm or a risk of harm to the resident;
- abuse of a resident by anyone or neglect of a resident by the licensee or staff that resulted in harm or a risk of harm to the resident;
- unlawful conduct that resulted in harm or a risk of harm to a resident;
- misuse or misappropriation of a resident’s money; or
- misuse or misappropriation of funding provided to a licensee.
While there is an obligation on everyone to report the suspicion of such conduct, it is only an offence if certain described individuals fail to report. These individuals include the licensee, an officer or director of any corporate licensee, a staff member, or any person who provides professional health, social work or social services to a resident or licensee.
Long term care licensees also have a statutory obligation to ensure that any alleged, suspected or witnessed incident of abuse of a resident by anyone, neglect of a resident by the licensee or staff is investigated, and that “appropriate action” is taken in response to any incident. The results of the licensee’s investigation and the action taken in response are to be reported to the Director. Further, the Act requires that the licensee must establish a procedure for initiating complaints to the licensee and for how the licensee deals with the complaints.
The report of the Canadian Armed Forces will, hopefully, bring about positive change for a vulnerable, often voiceless segment of society. Others should (or in some cases, must) also come forward to report harmful conditions or conduct. If you see something, say something.
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In a recent story entitled, “What can happen when seniors appoint the wrong power of attorney”, CBC News sheds light on a problem that may be on the rise in Canada: attorneys for property preying on elderly incapable people.
The story focuses upon Christine Fisher, a widow and World War Two veteran, and Theresa Gardiner, who became Ms. Fisher’s attorney and then defrauded her of at least $78,000 over the course of three months. The attorney was charged, but after agreeing to pay $20,000 in restitution, the charges were dropped, the police citing an insufficient chance of conviction. The difficulty in convicting predator attorneys, in fact, is all too common, for the key witnesses in such cases often suffer from dementia and other impairments, and therefore struggle to recall or recite the requisite facts in their testimony.
Placing one’s trust in a family member may be safer, but it is not bullet-proof, as evidenced by the case of Royale Klimitz, whose eldest son, David Klimitz, used the power of attorney to drain his mother’s retirement savings from $557,000 to a mere $83. When Ms. Klimitz died shortly after, her other two children alleged it was of a broken heart. Before she died, however, she provided the Crown with two video-taped victim impact statements which contributed to her son’s conviction.
Not all predator attorneys are necessarily evil and insidious. As we have blogged in the past, some predator attorneys are otherwise good people who fall into temptation. This often occurs because being an attorney allows for opportunity to do wrong with little chance of detection; predator attorneys also often rationalize that in doing the work, they are entitled to more desserts; and financial need can be a burden too heavy for some people’s moralities to withstand.
So then, what can elderly people, in arranging their affairs, do to protect themselves? Sections 32, 33, and 35 of the Substitute Decisions Act impose obligations on attorneys to consult with the incapable person’s family members, keep detailed records of the incapable person’s finances, and review the incapable person’s will to ensure that testamentary assets are preserved.
Most importantly, just like picking spouses, business partners, or sports teams, the happiest results flow from the selection of trustworthy people. Similarly, it is best to avoid those with selfish and dishonest tendencies, or who would sway like aspens rather than stand like oaks under economic pressure. So when your sibling cheats on board game night, or your friend constantly “forgets” to bring wine or a dessert to dinner parties, or your child’s favourite conversational topic becomes “my inheritance” – it may be wise to steer well clear and choose another attorney!
Thank you for reading. Have a wonderful day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
One way that dispositions such as a gift during one’s lifetime, or a Will, may be challenged is on the basis of undue influence. However, allegations of undue influence are often difficult to prove. Additionally, due to the nature of these types of allegations, which often call into question the character of the alleged influencer, they are taken seriously by the court. As a result, parties should be cautious in alleging undue influence, and should be virtually certain that they will be able to back up their claims.
A recent example of this was in the costs decision of Nimchick v Nimchick, 2019 ONSC 6653. A mother and daughter had claimed that their son/brother (“B”) had devised a plan to financially exploit his mother for the benefit of himself, his spouse, and his son, (“J”). The circumstances leading to this allegation involved the mother adding J’s name to a bank account belonging to the mother, for the purpose of paying for J’s student loans, with any excess going to B. The trial judge dismissed the mother and daughter’s claim, finding that the mother intended to gift the money to B and J, and that B had not exerted undue influence over his mother.
The defendants, who were wholly successful, sought their substantial indemnity costs, in the amount of approximately $147,000.00. The court noted that the defendants’ partial indemnity costs of the action were approximately $100,000.00.
In making its determination as to costs, the court considered the circumstances in which elevated costs are warranted, including where the unsuccessful party has engaged in reprehensible, scandalous, or outrageous behaviour that is worthy of sanction. The court found that the mother and daughter’s behaviour had been of this nature. This conclusion seemed to have largely been based on the court’s finding that the mother and daughter advanced baseless allegations of wrongdoing and failed to prove their claims of civil fraud and deceit. Overall, the court preferred B’s evidence to the evidence from the mother and daughter.
The court ultimately awarded costs to the defendants in the amount of $100,000.00. This amounted to the defendants’ partial indemnity costs, according to a note included in the decision. Accordingly, it does not appear that the award against the plaintiffs was necessarily on an elevated scale. The costs awarded were, however, $15,000.00 more than the amount submitted by the plaintiffs as being appropriate.
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Financial elder abuse can take many forms. We have previously blogged about elder abuse by family members, as well as the role technology plays in the increase in phone and email scams affected seniors.
This Global News article tells the story of an elderly couple who claim they were pressured into selling their house.
The couple had lived in their home in Woodbridge, Ontario, for over 20 years, and had no plans to move or sell their home. Although the house was not for sale, in February 2012, a real estate agent showed up at the couple’s door with an offer to purchase the home. There is some dispute about the subsequent interactions between the couple and the agent, but ultimately, a contract was signed for the sale of the couple’s home. After seeking advice from a lawyer, the couple refused to close on the sale of the home. The buyer brought a claim against the couple to enforce the contract, and it appears from the article that, as of October 2018, the litigation remained ongoing.
The couple say that, initially they ignored the offer to purchase that had been delivered by the real estate agent. The husband told his daughter that he had asked the agent several times to give him a few days to consult with his children before finalizing any deal. On the other hand, the agent says that negotiations occurred over a three-day period, and the couple had several days to consider the offer and consult with their children.
There is also a question of whether the couple was capable of entering into the sale transaction. The couple’s daughter says that the wife was 84 years old at the time and suffering from early onset dementia, and that the husband was not fluent in English.
The couple’s daughter believes that her parents were pressured into agreeing to sell their home by the agent. The article mentions that a similar situation could come up with any door-to-door salesperson, as elderly people are generally home during the day, and will typically open their door and talk to people. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a simple solution if an older adult is pressured into an agreement. If the other party to the agreement is intent on enforcing it, the senior may need to resort to failing to comply with the terms of the contract, which is likely to lead to litigation. That can be a stressful and time-consuming endeavour—the couple in the article are apparently still involved in litigation years after the contract was entered into.
Incidents like these are an unfortunate reminder that elder abuse continues to be an issue, and that it can take many forms. That being said, with increased attention will come increased awareness, which, I hope, will lead to the prevention or avoidance of similar issues in the future.
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Our readers will all be familiar of the issue of elder abuse, and the various forms that it can take. It is also well-known that elder abuse if underreported, giving rise to challenges in determining just how common it is and how incidence rates may be fluctuating within the context of our aging population.
A new study by Comparitech explores the issue of the underreporting of elder abuse and extrapolates reported incidents and studies regarding underreporting to gain an appreciation of how commonly it is actually occurring in the United States. Comparitech estimates that at least 5 million cases of financial elder abuse occur every year in the United States alone. While damages of $1.17 billion are reported, it is believed that the actual losses to seniors total $27.4 billion.
Technology also appears to be playing a role in increasing rates of elder abuse. Comparitech found that 1 in 10 seniors were victims of elder abuse and that the use of debit cards have become the most common tool in defrauding them of their funds. With phone and email scams on the rise in recent years, underreporting is anticipated to become a growing problem while incidence rates continue to increase without any way to determine exactly how many seniors are affected.
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Although knowledge and understanding of the issue of elder abuse is growing, I don’t think we have yet arrived at a point where it is openly discussed among different groups of people, or where victims of abuse feel completely comfortable coming forward.
In New Brunswick, the Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults Research Team (ANOART) is conducting research into abuse of older adults, and specifically looking at how abuse affects older men and women differently. This article discusses ANOART’s work and an upcoming conference on this topic.
According to the ANOART, older men more often suffer abuse from their children, but older women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. This specific type of abuse in relation to older women is not mentioned in discussions of elder abuse as often as other types of abuse, such as financial abuse, or general physical abuse. However, ANOART has found that intimate partner violence against women earlier in life does not stop later in life, but rather evolves.
Although the aggressor of intimate partner violence may be less physically capable of physical abuse as they age, the older woman who is being abused may still feel pressure not to speak out, as to do so may create tension or conflict within their family. Older women may also be financially dependent on their partner, which can be a significant barrier to reaching out.
Services for intimate partner violence are usually focused and targeted at younger women, leaving a gap when it comes to older women. ANOART is working to break the stigma surrounding intimate partner violence against older women, to spread information, and to raise awareness. The hope is that this will assist in reaching out to those who need help more effectively, and make it easier for olden women to seek help.
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Many of us are familiar with the concept of “elder abuse” or “elder neglect”, however, it is not always clear what that entails. WEL Partners consulted with the Toronto Police Services in developing an information guide for officers, on this very topic. It is now a guide that has been distributed to officers in the field.
Elder abuse/neglect “is any action or inaction, by a person in a position of trust, which causes harm to an older person”, as the guide indicates. As Toronto Police Services officers are often the only point of contact for older adults with the “outside world”, they are also often their only real chance of getting the help they need.
The guide lists various reasons as to why elder abuse/neglect is often under reported by the older adults that are the victims of such treatment:
- dependence on abuser/family member
- rationalization/minimization of the abuse
- denial of the abuse
- lack of recognition of abuse
- physical inability to report abuse
- feelings that they will not be believed
In the absence of victim/witness statements that are often relied on as evidence, the officers investigating these situations should be able to recognize some subtle warning signs of potential abuse of older individuals.
Some common types of abuse are noted as follows:
- Financial abuse
- Physical abuse
- Psychological abuse
The report describes various red flags for each of the categories listed of the common types of abuse. It further describes some additional considerations such as the mental capacity of the senior adult and the following questions to consider in assessing whether capacity is present:
- ability to understand the information needed to make a decision; and
- ability to appreciate the consequences of making, or not making, a decision.
For more information on this valuable resource in assessing whether the circumstances at hand show signs of elder abuse/neglect, see the Elder Abuse & Neglect: A Guide for Police Officers.
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