Tag: elder abuse
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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I recently came across several articles (one of which can be found here) regarding the elder financial abuse of a senior gentleman in Moncton, New Brunswick. Around 2013, Mr. Goguen had been living in the home that he owned, with tenants residing in part of the property. Upon deciding to sell his home, Mr. Goguen was referred to Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier, licensed real estate agents in New Brunswick. After the home had been listed for sale for some time, without success, Ms. Hannah apparently told Mr. Goguen that his home was in such deplorable condition that it would be impossible to sell without making certain repairs (which Ms. Hannah says Mr. Goguen could not afford) and removing the tenants (whom Ms. Hannah has claimed were using drugs and not paying rent).
As a result of the alleged difficulty in selling Mr. Goguen’s house, he, Ms. Hannah, and Mr. Poirier entered into an agreement whereby Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier purchased Mr. Goguen’s home. The terms of the arrangement were not favourable to Mr. Goguen, and it appears that Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier did not follow through on certain aspects of the agreement.
The Financial and Consumer Services Commission, which regulates real estate agents in New Brunswick, has revoked Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier’s real estate licenses. The Commission stated that Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier committed financial abuse of a senior and took “outrageous and egregious advantage” of Mr. Goguen. The Public Trustee of New Brunswick has now become involved on Mr. Goguen’s behalf, and has filed a statement of claim against Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier, seeking $83,320.00, characterized as the amount owing to Mr. Goguen.
We’ve blogged about elder abuse a number of times. Unfortunately, due to factors such as isolation, physical difficulties, and cognitive impairments, elderly people are often vulnerable to abuse. Given this vulnerability, and the circumstances in which abuse occurs, it can go undetected for a significant amount of time. In such situations, it may be too late to make the elderly person “whole” if the abuse is not discovered until it is too late.
Fortunately in Mr. Goguen’s case, despite the fact that it took a number of years, the Public Trustee discovered the abuse and is now taking steps to protect Mr. Goguen and recoup funds owed to him by his abusers. However, the Public Trustee is seeking the amount of approximately $83,000.00, which may not fully reimburse Mr. Goguen for the value of the house had it been sold to a normal third-party purchaser. Additionally, one of the articles also notes that Mr. Goguen had named Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier as his attorneys, and also executed a will naming them as executors and beneficiaries of his estate. It is unclear whether the Public Trustee has sought any relief in this regard. As such, even though the Public Trustee may be pursuing relief on Mr. Goguen’s behalf, it is an unfortunate possibility that he may continue to feel the effects of the abuse.
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A few weeks ago, I received a voicemail from a robotic sounding voice that had me chuckling. According to the robot, court proceedings had been started against me for failure to pay my taxes. If I didn’t immediately call them back, they would issue an arrest warrant to “get [me] arrested”. While I laughed at the absurdity of the message, the sad reality is that many people fall prey to scammers.
Elderly people can be especially appealing targets for scammers and abusers due to a mix of factors, including social isolation. A recent CBC news article out of Moncton highlights the type of financial abuse to which elderly people may fall prey. The CBC reported that two real estate agents entered into a listing agreement in 2013 with an elderly man. They eventually entered into a further agreement allowing the real estate agents to purchase the home for three quarters of the listing price and requiring the victim to provide an interest-free loan to the agents along with credits towards the purchase price. Overall, the victim received approximately $17,000.00 in exchange for his home.
Not only were the real estate agents able to scam the victim on the sale of his home, the victim also named the two agents as his attorneys for property and as trustees and sole beneficiaries of his estate under his Will.
Eventually, the abuse was discovered when doctors determined the man lacked capacity to make decisions and contacted New Brunswick’s public trustee office. The public trustee’s office, in turn, passed along news of what happened to New Brunswick’s regulator for real estate agents, who have now suspended the licences of the agents for at least one year.
This story showcases just one of the ways in which a person might become a victim of financial abuse. Elderly people without the social support of family members or strong community ties may be especially vulnerable to this abuse. This story also highlights, however, the important role 3rd parties can play in catching and preventing elder abuse. This can be seen by the intervention of hospital staff, the public trustee office, and the professional regulators.
While the article doesn’t explain whether the victim had his power of attorney and will drafted by a lawyer, this article will hopefully also serve as a reminder to drafting solicitors to probe these issues when retained by clients who may be vulnerable to undue influence and abuse.
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I recently read this article from the New York Times, which discusses the Will of Harper Lee, author of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, as well as some of the events that occurred several years prior to Harper Lee’s death. Harper Lee died in 2016, at the age of 89. In the years leading up to her death, there was some question as to her capacity, and possible vulnerability to coercion or undue influence.
The New York Times article states that Ms. Lee had had a stroke in 2007 and also had severe vision and hearing problems. Ms. Lee resided in an assisted living facility before her death. The article also describes the position taken by counsel for Ms. Lee as part of a copyright dispute in 2013, where counsel stated that Ms. Lee had been taken advantage of and coerced into signing away her copyright because she was “an elderly woman with physical infirmities that made it difficult for her to read and see.”
A couple of years ago, in 2015, Ms. Lee published her second novel, “Go Set a Watchman”. It turned out that this novel had been an earlier draft of her extremely popular book, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which is purported to have been discovered by Ms. Lee’s lawyer, Tonja Carter, in 2014. There was some controversy surrounding the publication of “Go Set a Watchman” on the basis that Ms. Lee had not actually consented to the manuscript being published, and may have been manipulated into doing so. The publication of a new book was particularly remarkable given that Ms. Lee had only ever published one book prior to “Go Set a Watchman”—namely, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which was published in 1960. However, an investigation was performed, and a determination made that there had been no elder abuse of Ms. Lee.
After Ms. Lee’s death, her Will had not been made a matter of public record, as a result of the successful efforts by Ms. Carter (named in the Will as executor) to have the Will sealed on the basis that Ms. Lee, who was a very private person, would have wanted her Will to remain private. It was only unsealed recently after litigation by the New York Times, and after Ms. Lee’s estate withdrew its opposition to the Will being unsealed.
The Will was signed only 8 days before Ms. Lee’s death, and apparently directs that the bulk of her assets be transferred into a trust formed by Ms. Lee in 2011. Ms. Carter is one of the trustees of this trust. Further documents relating to the trust are not public, and accordingly, very few details are known about it.
Given the questions surrounding Ms. Lee’s potential vulnerability in the years leading up to her death, it will be interesting to see whether anything further develops in relation to her estate, or the trust which apparently will hold most of the assets of Ms. Lee’s estate.
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In a recent decision of the Superior Court, Justice Mew found that,
“In appropriate circumstances, I conclude that the relationship between an elderly resident of a retirement home and a personal support worker can also be a fiduciary one”.
Hoyle (Estate) v. Gibson-Heath, 2017 ONSC 4481, is a civil proceeding that was commenced after Ms. Gibson-Heath, a personal support worker, was criminally convicted of stealing $229,000.00 from Clifford Hoyle, an elderly resident of the retirement home where Ms. Gibson-Heath worked. Ms. Gibson-Heath was sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment and a restitution order was made for her to pay the shortfall between the full amount stolen and any amounts recovered by the Crown.
At the time of the proceeding before Justice Mew, Ms. Gibson-Heath was a discharged bankrupt and the Estate Trustees of the Estate of Clifford Hoyle were seeking an order that the restitution order survives Ms. Gibson-Heath’s bankruptcy and a civil judgment in the amount of the shortfall amongst other relief. Justice Mew determined that the restitution order survives Ms. Gibson-Heath’s bankruptcy pursuant to section 178(1)(a) of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act but he also went further to consider whether section 178(1)(d) would also apply as it relates to “any debt or liability arising out of fraud, embezzlement, misappropriation or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity or, in the Province of Quebec, as a trustee or administrator of the property of others”.
Justice Mew’s analysis can be found at paragraphs 16 to 19 of his reasons. Of note, his Honour commented as follows,
“Ms. Gibson-Heath’s role was to look after Mr. Hoyle. To act in his best interests. As an elderly gentleman, who was already in the early stages of dementia when he started to reside at Fairfield Manor East at the end of 2006, Mr. Hoyle was undoubtedly vulnerable to any abuse of the trust that he placed in those who cared for him.”
Ms. Gibson-Heath did not respond to this proceeding and Justice Mew also found that this was an appropriate case for substantial indemnity costs due to Ms. Gibson-Heath’s fraudulent conduct (click here for the costs decision).
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