Earlier this year, our colleague Doreen So, blogged in two parts (here and here) on the matter of PGT v Cherneyko. It is a blog that discusses a litany of failures by an attorney for property. While Doreen covered the facts in full, they are worth repeating here in part:

“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 […]”

The PGT applied to take over as guardian for property and, among other things, to set aside the gift to Tina. The court agreed and ordered the $250,000 returned to Jean on the basis of resulting trust.

In a novel approach to the law of gifts, the court in Cherneyko relied on Pecore to establish that the gift ought to be returned, saying: “The leading Canadian case on the law of gifts, the Supreme Court of Canada in Pecore v Pecore, 2007 SCC 17 (CanLII) at paras. 24-26 established that where a gratuitous transfer of property is found, there is a presumption of a resulting trust. The onus falls to the recipient to rebut the presumption.” In the court’s view, Tina failed to rebut the presumption.

But this represents a new application of the Supreme Court’s analysis and it’s worth revisiting Pecore.

In 2007, Justice Rothstein, writing for a unanimous court (Justice Abella concurring) looked closely at gratuitous gifts of joint bank accounts, between parents and children, and whether the presumption of resulting trust and advancement applied in modern times:

“The presumption of resulting trust is a rebuttable presumption of law and general rule that applies to gratuitous transfers.  When a transfer is challenged, the presumption allocates the legal burden of proof.  Thus, where a transfer is made for no consideration, the onus is placed on the transferee to demonstrate that a gift was intended: see Waters’ Law of Trusts, at p. 375, and E. E. Gillese and M. Milczynski, The Law of Trusts (2nd ed. 2005), at p. 110.  This is so because equity presumes bargains, not gifts.”

The decision in Cherneyko represents a significant expansion of the principles of Pecore by applying them to inter vivos gifts between unrelated adults. Traditionally, if the courts determine that a transferor lacked the requisite capacity, the gift is void as the transferor lacked the capacity to form the proper intention to gift. Ball v. Mannin, an almost 200-year-old UK case established the original test for granting a gift and held that a person had capacity if the person was “capable of understanding what he did by executing the deed in question, when its general purport was fully explained to him.” The Supreme Court has previously outlined a separate test in Geffen v Goodman Estate in 1991, examining the nature of the relationship itself, and applying a presumption of undue influence where there is the presence of a dominant relationship. While the failed gift in Cherneyko was ultimately returned under a resulting trust, it will be fascinating to see if other courts also continue this expansion of Pecore.  We’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading!

Ian Hull and Daniel Enright