Tag: Estate Litigation
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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As we age, many of us begin to experience the normal consequences of aging, including some memory loss. Unfortunately, many of us may end up suffering from Alzheimer’s and related dementias. As a result, capacity has become a bigger problem among seniors.
There are ways to manage decision-making for a senior who has lost capacity to make his or her own decisions about care or property. If the person executed a power of attorney, their attorney can step in. If there is no power of attorney, a guardian can be appointed by the court. However, the imposition of a substitute decision maker can be a significant restriction on an older adult’s liberty, and some seniors may resist that imposition.
An article in The Walrus earlier this year considered this issue, and the impact a finding of incapacity can have on a senior’s autonomy in Canada.
One of the concerns discussed in the article is that “some seniors find that, once declared incapable, they are unable to challenge the decision.” In Ontario, we have the Consent and Capacity Board, which is an independent tribunal that, among other things, reviews various determinations regarding an individual’s capacity. However, this is apparently a rarity in Canada. The only other similar body is located in the Yukon.
Another issue raised by the Walrus article is with the lack of a standardized system for assessing capacity. The person doing the assessment can vary (doctor, nurse, social worker, etc.), as well as the tests conducted. This is made even more complicated by the fact that there are differing levels of capacity for different tasks (e.g. making a Will, managing property, getting married, granting a power of attorney for personal care).
Unfortunately, the lack of attention paid to the issue of aging and capacity appears to be systemic. As cynically, but perhaps also realistically stated in the Walrus article: “It can seem like a great deal of attention is paid to other institutions that house vulnerable segments of the population, such as children in daycares. But there’s no future in aging; there is next to no potential that a senior might one day cure cancer or be the next prime minister. Reform in elder care may be desperately needed, but it hasn’t been forthcoming.”
There is a fine balance to be struck between restricting seniors’ autonomy, and protecting vulnerable people. A collaborative “supported decision-making model”, as discussed in the article may be one way of doing this. I hope that as more attention is drawn to these issues, there will be greater awareness, and increased progress and reform for our seniors.
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Motions for security for costs are means of ensuring that there is a sum in place to pay the defendant’s costs, should the defendant be entitled to costs. It is not a motion that is often brought, but it is typically considered when the plaintiff is not a resident of Ontario and there is concern that his or her case may not have merit.
Rules 56 and 61.06 of the Rules of Civil Procedure govern motions for security for costs. The test for obtaining security for costs is two-fold:
- The defendant must show that the plaintiff’s action or application fits into one of the categories specified in subrule 56.01(1) which include the following:
(a) the plaintiff or applicant is ordinarily resident outside Ontario;
(b) the plaintiff or applicant has another proceeding for the same relief pending in Ontario or elsewhere;
(c) the defendant or respondent has an order against the plaintiff or applicant for costs in the same or another proceeding that remain unpaid in whole or in part;
(d) the plaintiff or applicant is a corporation or a nominal plaintiff or applicant, and there is good reason to believe that the plaintiff or applicant has insufficient assets in Ontario to pay the costs of the defendant or respondent;
(e) there is good reason to believe that the action or application is frivolous and vexatious and that the plaintiff or applicant has insufficient assets in Ontario to pay the costs of the defendant or respondent; or
(f) a statute entitles the defendant or respondent to security for costs.
- If the plaintiff’s action or application does fit into one of the above-noted categories, the plaintiff has the option of attempting to prove that it would be unjust to order security, because they are impecunious, and the claim has merit.
An interesting consideration in the context of estate litigation that needs to be addressed is the fact that the party commencing a proceeding is not always the “plaintiff” or “applicant”, as defined by Rule 56. For example, a party may be propounding a Will in response to a Notice of Objection in which case although the propounder is technically the Applicant, the claim is made by the Objector. This issue has been considered by the Courts:
- In Vout v Hay  2 SCR 876, Justice Sopinka commented on this issue allowing the Court, on a motion for security for costs, to cast the challenger as the real “plaintiff” such that the propounder could indeed move for security for costs.
- In Boutzios Estate, Re (2004), 5 ETR (3d) 51 (Ont SCJ), Justice Greer, exercised her discretion under section 131 of the Courts of Justice Act, to order for security for costs and did not address the question of who had the burden of proof and rebuttable presumptions, as section 131 allows the Court to award the costs of and incidental to a proceeding or a step in a proceeding against any party at any time.
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A recent decision of the Superior Court of Justice, Cornpilas v Ioannidis, reaffirmed the importance of clarity of language in asserting legal or equitable claims particularly when such claims are asserted outside of formal litigation proceedings.
The decision concerned the remedies available to co-owners of a property arising as a result of the laissez-faire conduct of the other co-owner. The property in question had been owned by two separated spouses as tenants in common, each of whom devised their respective interests in the property to different parties. The wife, who died in 2012, left her interest in the property to the Applicants, being four of her grandchildren. The husband, who died in November 2017, left his interest to one of his sons, being the Respondent. The Respondent was the uncle of each of the Applicants.
The Respondent had moved into the property with his spouse and family to care for his father several years prior to his father’s passing, although he continued to reside there, rent-free, for a number of years thereafter. The Applicants had made overtures shortly after their grandfather’s passing about wishing to sell the property and threatening to move for partition and sale, but the Respondent remained. The Applicants commenced an application in February 2019 in which they asserted a claim of unjust enrichment against the Respondent arising from his continued sole occupation of the property despite the Applicants’ interest in it. The Applicants sought orders for retroactive payment of occupation rent, or damages in the alternative.
The Court agreed that the Respondent had been unjustly enriched to the detriment of the Applicants and held that an award for payment of occupation rent was an appropriate remedy. However, the Court’s opinion of the period for which such rent would be payable differed from that of the Applicants, primarily owing to the Applicants’ failure to clearly particularize their claim.
The Applicants asserted that they were entitled to payment of occupation rent from November 2017 until the date the Respondent vacated the property, which eventually came in April 2020. The Applicants’ position was based in part on the fact that they had purportedly conveyed to the Respondent, shortly after their grandfather died, that the property should be vacated and sold, or otherwise that the Respondent should buy out the Applicants’ interest. The Respondent did neither. As such, the Applicants claimed they were entitled to occupation rent from date of death onward.
The Court disagreed with the Applicants’ position and awarded occupation rent payable only from the date the Application was issued to the date the property was vacated. The Court declined to go further on the basis that the Applicants had not clearly conveyed their intention to assert a claim for occupation rent against the Respondent as a result of his possession of the property. Although the Applicants referred to a demand letter in which they specifically characterized the Respondent as a tenant, that letter also authorized the Respondent to continue residing there without making reference to an intention to seek payment of occupation rent. In the absence of specific evidence to the contrary, the Court held the notice of application to be the earliest claim by Applicants for payment of occupation rent. The Court was clear that it was not prepared to infer that the Applicants had asserted claim for payment of occupation rent.
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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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Sometimes there is a grey area when it comes to a person’s loss of capacity, and the time when his or her attorney for property first began to act on an incapable’s behalf. In such a situation, it can be difficult to determine the starting date for an attorney’s fiduciary accounting period.
The recent decision of The Public Guardian and Trustee v Willis at al, 2020 ONSC 3660, dealt with this kind of situation. One of the issues was whether the respondent should be required to pass his accounts for the period before he became the attorney for property for his mother, Mrs. Willis.
The respondent was his mother’s only living child, and was acting as her attorney pursuant to a power of attorney for property dated May 2, 2018. Mrs. Willis was assessed as incapable of managing her property in September 2018, but the decision notes that she had been “clearly suffering from some cognitive deficits prior to June 2018”.
The Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”) sought to have the respondent provide an accounting back to January 1, 2015, because the respondent had arranged several mortgages on his mother’s behalf in that period. The respondent, however, only agreed to pass his accounts starting from May 2, 2018 when he became his mother’s attorney for property. One of the main reasons that the respondent did not want to pass his accounts prior to that period was due to the expense, because it was clear that Mrs. Willis was insolvent, and the respondent would likely have to personally bear the costs of passing his accounts. The PGT clarified during the hearing that it was not seeking court format accounts for the period from 2015-2018, but only “justifiable explanations of money coming in and out of his mother’s RBC account and how mortgage advances were spent plus all relevant disclosure.”
The court found that the respondent had assisted his mother with paying bills and arranging mortgages prior to the time that she was assessed as incapable. It was also noted in the decision that there was “no doubt” that even while Mrs. Willis was capable, she was unsophisticated, vulnerable, and relied on the respondent. The respondent also had access to his mother’s bank account before January 1, 2015.
The court held that, even if an individual is not specifically appointed in a fiduciary role (such as an attorney) one must look at the types of duties that the individual was carrying out to determine if they were acting in a fiduciary capacity. On this basis, the court found that the respondent had been acting as a fiduciary for Mrs. Willis for some time, and determined that he should provide detailed explanations of financial transactions upon the PGT’s request from January 1, 2015 to May 1, 2018 (in addition to the passing of accounts to which the respondent had consented starting from May 2, 2018).
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Estate litigation exists in a somewhat unique corner of the litigation world for as a Will can potentially have numerous beneficiaries, each of whom could receive differing amounts from the estate, the potential individuals who could be impacted by any court decision can often extend beyond the parties actively participating in the litigation. As estate litigation can be both emotionally and financially expensive, if you are a beneficiary who only was to receive a relatively modest bequest of say $5,000, you may question whether it can be financially justified for you to retain a lawyer to actively participate in the litigation or whether you should just throw your hands up and not participate. Although the final decision of whether to participate will be case specific to the beneficiary in question, there may be a third option other than actively participating or simply not responding, being that you can formally “submit” your rights to the court.
The concept of “submitting” your rights to the court is in effect a formal declaration to the court that you will not be actively participating in the litigation but that you would still like to be provided with notice of certain steps. By formally submitting your rights to the court the plaintiff is required to provide you with written notice of the time and place of the trial, as well as a copy of the eventual Judgment. You are also personally insulated from any costs award that may be made in the proceeding (other than incidentally as a beneficiary of the estate should costs be awarded out of the estate).
The potentially most attractive incentive to formally submitting your rights to the court however may be that in the event any settlement is reached amongst the other parties that no Judgment may be issued implementing the settlement unless the court is provided with your consent to the settlement or an affidavit confirming that you had been provided with a copy of settlement and had not served and filed a “Rejection of Settlement“. Such a requirement could provide you with the opportunity to object to any settlement before it is implemented, potentially sidelining any settlement that you believe unfairly impacted your interest in the estate.
The process by which an individual can “submit” their rights to the court is governed by rule 75.07.1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, with the individual submitting their rights to the court being required to serve and file a “Statement of Submission of Rights to the Court“.
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In Ontario the courts have been rapidly adapting their practice and procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning on July 6, 2020, the Superior and Ontario Court of Justice will now be further expanding its operations. The date is dependent on approval from the Chief Medical Officer of Ontario.
The Ministry of the Attorney General (“MAG“) has established an incremental plan to prepare courthouses to facilitate the return of full court operations in Ontario. MAG has announced that Phase One will be implemented on July 6, 2020 in a limited number of courthouses and courtrooms. Court operations will continue to expand with a targeted completion date of November 1, 2020.
I will briefly highlight some of the takeaways from MAG’s strategy for re-opening:
- Reopening of 74 courthouses and 149 courtrooms across Ontario;
- Workplace safety considerations are being implemented throughout courthouse and courtrooms including the installation of plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizer stations, and distance markers. There will also be increased screening procedures for those entering any courthouse and caps on the number of occupants in each room;
- Each courthouse will have risk assessment conducted so that the proper preventative measures can be put into place;
- Virtual hearings will continue as we gradually phase back to in-person appearances.
MAG has yet to clarify on the types of in-person court appearances that will be heard during Phase One. Since the declaration of the emergency, the Superior Court of Justice has heard many “urgent” matters, being motions, case conferences, and pre-trials. It is hoped that the types of matters that are to be heard will be expanded as a part of Phase One.
In the meantime, counsel should continue to utilize and embrace the new technologies offered by the Courts to schedule virtual hearings and integrate them into their regular practice. Rather than waiting for a complete re-opening of the Courts, lawyers should be prepared to “attend” virtual hearings in order to best serve clients and provide them with access to justice.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way the legal profession works at least on a temporary basis. In Ontario, lawyers are required to embrace technology to facilitate dispute resolution and to move files along. Mediations, discoveries, and Court hearings are being conducted virtually via videoconference. Today I will consider some of the benefits of remote mediation and then tips on how to master it.
- Cost – cost will inevitably be lower as it will be organized on an online platform.
- Convenience – The mediation can be arranged on short notice, as all parties can participate from their location of choice. Travel and the associated costs are no longer an issue. Participation of parties that might not have otherwise be available to participate in mediation may now be accessible.
Tips for Successful Remote Mediation:
- Ensure your client is set up with the proper technology: a computer equipped with webcam, microphone, and speakers. Lawyers cannot assume that every client has access to a computer and quick internet connection.
- Consider using a 3rd party provider such as Neesons Court Reporting & Mediation, to host the mediation. This provider can facilitate the movement of parties in and out of plenary and breakout rooms, summon the mediator, arrange a counsel-to-counsel meeting, and assist with technical issues. This will ultimately save the parties time and expense.
- Ensure your clients are aware of privacy and confidentiality within meeting rooms. Client comfort is essential for a successful mediation.
- A lack of personal interaction means that your client may not be able to warm up to a mediator, which often times is necessary for a successful mediation. An effective mediator will structure a meditation in a way to facilitate adequate confidential one-on-one communication with the parties to assist with resolving the limitations of working with a
mediator through a video link rather than in person.
- Take lots of breaks as attending virtual mediation is more tiring than in person.
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A recent class action proceeding against the estate of a deceased illustrates an estate’s limited liability. That is, an estate can’t be liable for more than what is left in the estate.
The case, Davidson v. Solomon (Estate), 2020 ONSC 2898, involved a class action against the estate of a deceased orthodontist. The orthodontist was alleged to have, for years prior to his retirement in 2015, “inappropriately” video recorded patients while he was providing them with dental services. 295 patients, many of whom were minors, were identified as victims.
Dr. Solomon was charged in 2017 with various offences, including voyeurism, making child pornography and possessing child pornography. He died on October 5, 2017 at the age of 69, before the criminal charges were tried. Accordingly, the criminal charges were withdrawn.
The incidents were discovered in 2017 when the Royal College of Dentists began investigating after receiving a complaint about Dr. Solomon’s services. In the course of the investigation, camcorder tapes were discovered, and Children’s Aid and the police were notified. The tapes dated from 1994 to 2014.
A class action was brought against Dr. Solomon on September 29, 2017. According to a news report, the claim sought damages of $1m, Family Law Act damages of $50,000 for each family law claimant, and $500,000 in punitive and exemplary damages. The claim was continued against Dr. Solomon’s estate after his death.
The estate denied the allegations. The allegations were never proven in court.
However, after extensive investigation, including dialogue with the estate’s lawyers, the representative plaintiff’s lawyer determined that the value of the estate was likely limited to $500,000. In light of the criminal nature of the allegations, it was determined that professional liability insurance was not likely to respond to the claim. Thus, it was concluded by the representative plaintiff that any judgment for damages would be limited to $500,000.
In light of this, a settlement was reached which saw to the estate paying a total of $425,000 for damages, administration fees, and legal costs. The court approved this settlement, noting, amongst other factors, that the estate had limited assets to satisfy any judgment. In approving the settlement, the judge hearing the approval motion stated, “Furthermore, there is a significant risk that but for this settlement, the Class Members would recover nothing, given the limited assets available to satisfy any judgment.”
Presumably, the estate plead plene administravit praetor: that the estate had limited assets. Read about this doctrine here.
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