Tag: financial abuse
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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The Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority was established in 2010 by the Ontario government under the Retirement Homes Act, 2010, S.O. 2010 Chapter 11 (the “Act”), and acts as a licensing body for retirement homes in Ontario.
The fundamental principle of the Act is to ensure that a retirement home is “operated so that it is a place where residents live with dignity, respect, privacy and autonomy, in security, safety and comfort and can make informed choices about their care options.”
Section 67 of the Act states:
- (1) Every licensee of a retirement home shall protect residents of the home from abuse by anyone.
(2) Every licensee of a retirement home shall ensure that the licensee and the staff of the home do not neglect the residents
Section 67 encompasses financial abuse as well. According to Regulation 166/11 of the Act, financial abuse is defined as “any misappropriation or misuse of a resident’s money or property.” Pursuant to the Act, a licensee must establish a trust fund if they are in charge of money from a resident; however, the Act is silent with respect to loans between a resident and the licensee.
Due to the normal process of aging, financial decision-making ability naturally declines and, as such, it is important that places of trust, such as retirement homes, avoid situations that may lead to financial abuse. Residents of a retirement home are dependent on the operator of the home for housing, safety and care. This dependency creates an expectation of trust between the staff and the residents. Moreover, many elderly individuals may lack mobility, suffer from visual impairment, or may not have family that comes and visits them, resulting in more of an increased attachment or trusting relationship with individuals at the residence.
Where a retirement home resident is competent, the issue of whether financial abuse exists will depend on the circumstances surrounding the home. For example, it is a possibility that a perfectly competent retirement home resident may have a friendship with a staff member of the residence, and desire to give them a monetary loan or gift as a sign of friendship.
It is important not to assume that every case of an elderly person in a residence providing a loan to staff is financial abuse, as assuming vulnerability in adults may lead to paternalism. Furthermore, pursuant to the Quebec case of Quebec (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse) v. N. (R.), 2016 CarswellQue 13351, there is a “need to balance the protection of aged persons against exploitation, on the one hand, and the scrupulous need to respect their autonomy in exercising their legal rights on the other hand.”
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According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, approximately 60,000 of the 1.5 million older persons living in Ontario experience elder abuse. Of these reported cases, financial abuse is the most prevalent as it is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada.
As practitioners of elder law, we often see perpetrators who, sadly, are family members eager to get control of an aging parent’s finances. However, in other cases, the perpetrator is not a family member at all. Rather, he or she is an employee of a health care institution or a caregiver sent to provide in-home care.
Older persons in poor health are often isolated and vulnerable. This is particularly true with respect to those who live alone and are dependent on assistance from a health care worker, as well as those who reside in long term care facilities. Accordingly, many health care workers may find themselves in a position of power or influence over their charge. As a result, some Canadian provinces have enacted legislation that attempts to avoid the potential abuse of power that may emerge within these types of relationships.
For instance, in British Columbia, the Wills, Estates and Succession Act provides at section 52:
“In a proceeding, if a person claims that a will or any provision of it resulted from another person
(a) being in a position where the potential for dependence or domination of the will-maker was present, and (b) using that position to unduly influence the will-maker to make the will or the provision of it that is challenged,
and establishes that the other person was in a position where the potential for dependence or domination of the will-maker was present, the party seeking to defend the will or the provision of it that is challenged or to uphold the gift has the onus of establishing that the person in the position where the potential for dependence or domination of the will-maker was present did not exercise undue influence over the will-maker with respect to the will or the provision of it that is challenged.”
Accordingly, in relationships of dependence, an automatic presumption of undue influence is established and the burden of proof is shifted onto the person upholding the will. As undue influence cases are notoriously difficult to prove, this legislation can facilitate the process.
In Quebec, the legislature has gone even further. Art. 761 of the Civil Code of Quebec provides:
“A legacy made to the owner, a director or an employee of a health or social services establishment who is neither the spouse nor a close relative of the testator is without effect if it was made while the testator was receiving care or services at the establishment. […]”
This restriction on testamentary freedom is viewed as a necessity given the need to protect vulnerable people.
In Ontario, there are no similar legislative provisions in the Succession Law Reform Act. However, the Courts have established the principle of suspicious circumstances which creates a presumption of undue influence when certain circumstances are present.
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