In Ontario, we are fortunate to have the ability to execute powers of attorney in respect of our property and our health care. I recently learned that Jersey, in the Channel Islands, has only lately gained the ability to execute a “Lasting Power of Attorney” to record their decisions and intentions in respect of their assets and care. On that note, I thought I would take the opportunity to provide a quick reminder of the importance of executing powers of attorney, and the possible consequences of not doing so.
Powers of attorney in Ontario are governed mainly by the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 30 (the “SDA”). The SDA sets out, among other things, the requirements for powers of attorney, the requisite capacity to grant a power of attorney, and the powers and duties of attorneys. There are two types of powers of attorney: powers of attorney for personal care (dealing with your health, medical care, and other matters related to your well-being) and powers of attorney for property (dealing with your property and financial matters). Generally, powers of attorney will come into play if you become incapable of managing your property or personal care, respectively, but it is also possible to grant a power of attorney for property that is effective immediately (that is, not conditional upon later incapacity).
What Happens if I Don’t Execute Powers of Attorney?
If you do not execute powers of attorney, and you never lose capacity, you may never realize how important they are. However, as we have blogged about previously, as our population begins to live longer, there has been an increase in dementia and other aging-related conditions associated with cognitive decline, meaning that the use and activation of powers of attorney is increasing.
Taking the step of executing powers of attorney means that you have the chance to make your own decision regarding who will handle your affairs in the event that you are no longer capable. If you become incapable, and have not named an attorney for property or personal care, it is open (and may become necessary, depending on your circumstances) for an individual to bring an application seeking to be appointed as your guardian for property or personal care, thus allowing them to act as your substitute decision-maker. The application process requires that notice be given to certain people (including certain family members), and if someone disagrees with the appointment of the proposed guardian, they may contest the guardianship—but the key detail to remember is that the ability to make the decision is taken away from you.
A guardianship application can also be brought if a person has executed a power of attorney, but the existence of a power of attorney will be an important factor for the court’s consideration: pursuant to the SDA, if the court is satisfied that there is an alternative course of action that is less restrictive of the person’s decision-making rights, the court shall not appoint a guardian.
Naming someone to act on your behalf with respect to your property and personal care is a big decision. It is almost certain that you are in the best position to make a determination as to who you want acting for you in this regard. We should all take the opportunity to exercise our own decision-making rights, to choose the person that we want to play the important role of attorney, and not leave it up to others to make this decision for us.
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Does an attorney, or guardian, have the power to change a grantor’s estate plan?
According to section 31(1) of the Substitute Decisions Act, a guardian of property (or attorney for property) has the power to do on the incapable person’s behalf anything in respect of property that the person could do if capable, except make a will.
The statute, however, is deceptively simple. Can a guardian transfer property into joint tenancy? Can a guardian sever a joint tenancy? Can a guardian change a beneficiary designation on a RRSP, RRIF or insurance policy? Can an inter vivos trust be established or an estate freeze undertaken to save taxes? There are numerous cases which have tested these issues.
For instance, in Banton v Banton, Justice Cullity found that although the grantor’s attorneys had the authority to create an irrevocable inter vivos trust, they nonetheless breached their fiduciary obligations owing to the grantor, in creating the trust.
The irrevocable trust provided for income and capital at the trustee’s discretion for the grantor’s benefit during his lifetime and a gift over of capital to the grantor’s children, who were also the attorneys. The scheme of distribution of the irrevocable trust was the same as provided for in the grantor’s will. However, the court found that the fact that the remainder interest passed automatically to the grantor’s issue defeated the grantor’s power to revoke his will by marriage and would deprive his common law spouse of potential rights under Parts II and V of the Succession Law Reform Act and Part I of the Family Law Act. The court found that the gift of the remainder of the interest went beyond what was required to protect the grantor’s assets.
Justice Cullity stated:
“I do not share the view that there is an inviolable rule that it is improper for attorneys under a continuing power of attorney to take title to the donor‘s assets either by themselves or jointly with the donor . This must depend upon whether it is reasonable in the circumstances to do so to protect or advance the interest, or otherwise benefit, the donor.”
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While digital assets constitute “property” in the sense appearing within provincial legislation, the rights of fiduciaries in respect of these assets are less clear than those relating to tangible assets. For example, in Ontario, the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, and Estates Administration Act provide that attorneys or guardians of property and estate trustees, respectively, are authorized to manage the property of an incapable person or estate, but these pieces of legislation do not explicitly refer to digital assets.
As we have previously reported, although the Uniform Law Conference of Canada introduced the Uniform Access to Digital Assets by Fiduciaries Act in August 2016, the uniform legislation has yet to be adopted by the provinces of Canada. However, recent legislative amendment in one of Ontario’s neighbours to the west has recently enhanced the ability of estate trustees to access and administer digital assets.
In Alberta, legislation has been updated to clarify that the authority of an estate trustee extends to digital assets. Alberta’s Estate Administration Act makes specific reference to “online accounts” within the context of an estate trustee’s duty to identify estate assets and liabilities, providing clarification that digital assets are intended to be included within the scope of estate assets that a trustee is authorized to administer.
In other Canadian provinces, fiduciaries continue to face barriers in attempting to access digital assets. Until the law is updated to reflect the prevalence of technology and value, whether financial or sentimental, of information stored electronically, it may be prudent for drafting solicitors whose clients possess such assets to include specific provisions within Powers of Attorney for Property and Wills to clarify the authority of fiduciaries to deal with digital assets.
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The Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 30 (the “SDA”), governs, among other things, the appointment of guardians for incapable persons. There are two types of guardians: a guardian for property and a guardian for personal care.
Sections 22(1) and 55(1) of the SDA provide that the Court may, on any person’s application, appoint a guardian of property or of the person, for a person who is incapable of managing property or personal care if, as a result of the said incapacity, it is necessary for decisions to be made on his or her behalf.
In order to appoint a guardian for someone, the Court will need to make a finding of incapacity for that person. This is an important hurdle, and the Court will generally need to see evidence that the person in question has been assessed as incapable of managing property and/or personal care prior to making a finding that he or she is incapable.
Depending on the circumstances, a person may submit to a capacity assessment voluntarily. However, according to section 78(1) of the SDA, if a person refuses to be assessed, an assessor shall not perform the assessment. Section 79 of the SDA allows the Court to order that a person be assessed, provided that the Court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe the person is incapable. Additionally, to obtain a Court Order for an assessment, there must be a proceeding under the SDA, in which the person’s capacity is in issue. The Ontario Court of Appeal in Neill v Pellolio, 2001 ONCA 6452 held that there is no stand-alone relief available for an Order for a capacity assessment in the absence of an application brought under the SDA. Accordingly, obtaining a finding of incapacity from the Court may not be a simple endeavour.
The SDA also has in place measures to protect an individual’s decision-making rights from undue restriction. Sections 22(3) and 55(2) state that the Court shall not appoint a guardian if it is satisfied that the need for decisions to be made will be met by an alternative course of action that does not require the Court to find the person incapable, and is less restrictive of the person’s decision-making rights than the appointment of a guardian.
Accordingly, for example, if a person has already granted a power of attorney, allowing the named attorney to act would constitute a less restrictive course of action which also does not require the Court to make a finding of incapacity in order for decisions to be made for an incapable person. Furthermore, if a person is incapable of managing their property or personal care, but remains capable of granting a power of attorney, that would likely also constitute a less restrictive course of action, and would allow that person to exercise their decision-making rights.
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The Court of Appeal of British Columbia (the “BCCA”) recently dealt with an appeal from an Order of the British Columbia Supreme Court which declined to exercise jurisdiction by staying a petition for guardianship of an incapable person. This Order also included various terms relating to the person’s care and property.
This appeal dealt with the guardianship of Ms. Dingwall, the mother of both the Appellant and the Respondent.
At all material times, Ms. Dingwall and the Appellant lived in Alberta and the Respondent resided in British Columbia. Between 2010 and 2014, Ms. Dingwall resided for various periods in both Alberta and British Columbia. At the time of this appeal, Ms. Dingwall lived in a care home in British Columbia. She suffered from advanced dementia.
The Alberta Proceedings
On February 5, 2015, the Appellant sought an Order from the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench appointing him as Ms. Dingwall’s guardian and trustee. The Respondent opposed this Order and in September, 2015 filed an Application to move the proceedings to British Columbia. This Application was never heard and the matter continued to be heard in Alberta.
On July 7, 2016, the Court granted the Order sought by the Appellant which appointed him as Ms. Dingwall’s guardian and provided him with the authority to make decisions with respect to Ms. Dingwall’s health care, the carrying on of any legal proceeding not related primarily to Ms. Dingwall’s financial matters and Ms. Dingwall’s personal and real property in Alberta.
The British Columbia Proceedings
A few weeks prior to the Alberta hearing, the Respondent filed a petition with the Supreme Court of British Columbia seeking a declaration that Ms. Dingwall was incapable of managing herself or her affairs due to mental infirmity and an Order appointing her as committee of Ms. Dingwall’s person and Estate. The Appellant opposed the Respondent’s petition by arguing that the Supreme Court of British Columbia lacked jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia asserted jurisdiction because Ms. Dingwall was at the time of the decision, ordinarily resident in British Columbia and because there was a “real and substantial” connection to British Columbia. The Court found that, in this case, both Alberta and British Columbia had jurisdiction.
Despite British Columbia having jurisdiction in this case, the Court found that the Alberta forum was nonetheless more appropriate and cited the following factors in favour of its decision:
- The similarity of the proceedings;
- Alberta having issued a final order; and
- The Respondent having attorned to Alberta’s jurisdiction by opposing the Appellant’s petition.
As a result, the Court stayed the Respondent’s petition but also made several Orders respecting Ms. Dingwall’s care and property. The parties’ costs on a “solicitor client basis” were to be payable by Ms. Dingwall’s Estate.
The Appellant appealed the following Orders made by the Court, other than the stay of the Respondent’s proceedings:
- issuing an Order on the matter after declining to exercise jurisdiction respecting it;
- finding the Court had territorial competence over the matter; and
- awarding solicitor-client costs payable from Ms. Dingwall’s Estate.
The BCCA Decision
The BCCA allowed the appeal and found that the lower Court erred in making Orders concerning the very matter over which it had declined to exercise jurisdiction. The Court noted that a decision to decline jurisdiction over a particular matter renders a judge incapable of deciding issues or making orders as to the substance of that matter.
As a result, the Court set aside the Orders respecting Ms. Dingwall’s care and property. In light of that finding, the Court of Appeal found it unnecessary to deal with the issue of whether British Columbia had territorial competence over this matter, given that the lower Court declined to exercise jurisdiction, in any event.
The Court of Appeal found that the Appellant was entitled to special costs payable by Ms. Dingwall’s Estate and that the Respondent was not entitled to costs.
The full decision can be found here: Pellerin v. Dingwall, 2018 BCCA 110
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The applicability of limitation periods to estates, trusts, and capacity matters is crucial for litigators to consider. In a recent decision of the Superior Court of Justice, the Court was asked to consider the application of the limitation period in Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”) to a claim that was advanced by the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”) as the litigation guardian of an incapable support claimant.
Shaw v. Barber, 2017 ONSC 2155, is an important precedent for the proposition that limitation periods do not run against the incapable person from the day that the PGT becomes his/her statutory guardian of property. By operation of section 16(5) of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, the PGT automatically becomes an incapable person’s statutory guardian of property the moment they receive a certificate of incapacity from the assessor. In Shaw v. Barber, the dependant support claimant, Lois Shaw, was assessed and found to be incapable of managing property on February 16, 2015 and a copy of the certificate was sent to the PGT on or about February 25, 2015.
Prior to the assessment, Ms. Shaw lived with Frank Cyril Barber on the date of his death, although they were not married. Mr. Barber died in August, 2014, leaving a Will which named his son as the sole Estate Trustee and beneficiary of his Estate. A Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee with a Will was issued to Mr. Barber’s son on February 5, 2015. Pursuant to section 61(1) of the SLRA, an application for dependant support may not be made six months after the grant of probate, subject to the Court’s discretion in section 61(2) to allow claims against the undistributed portion of an estate. Without considering the Court’s discretion in section 61(2) of the Act, Justice McNamara found that Ms. Shaw’s claim for dependant support was not statute barred despite the fact that it was issued, one year after six months from probate, on August 5, 2016.
In his reasoning, Justice McNamara considered the tolling provision applicable to incapable persons while he/she is not represented by a litigation guardian in section 7 of the Limitations Act, 2002 (which applies to the section 61 of the SLRA). The turning point then becomes whether a guardian of property is automatically a litigation guardian in relation to the claim at issue since a guardian has the power to do anything the incapable person may do except make a will. In this case, there was an affidavit from PGT counsel which explained the time consuming investigations involved when the PGT becomes a statutory guardian of property because of the lack of first-hand information from the incapable individual. Justice McNamara determined that a guardian of property shall act as litigation guardian when he/she has determined that there is a basis for exercising their authority in that role, and that imposing a limitation period from the date in which the PGT becomes statutory guardian is contrary to the Limitations Act and it would create impossible timelines and potential injustice for this vulnerable group. Furthermore, Justice McNamara was also persuaded by the fact that the Estate Trustee in this case will not be prejudiced by the delay, given that he is also the sole beneficiary, and that he was aware all along that the PGT was considering a claim against the Estate.
This case is also an example of the latitude that Courts may accord to large-scale claimants as seen in 407 ETR Concession Company Limited v. Day, 2016 ONCA 709.
Please do not hesitate to contact our firm for a copy of Justice McNamara’s reasons in Shaw v. Barber and click here for comments from Russel Molot, counsel for the PGT in this matter, as reported in the Law Times.
Canada’s model legislation regarding digital assets, the Uniform Access to Digital Assets by Fiduciaries Act (the “Canadian Model Act”), was introduced in August 2016, and borrows heavily from its American predecessor, the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (the “American Model Act”).
The Canadian Model Act defines a “digital asset” as “a record that is created, recorded, transmitted or stored in digital or other intangible form by electronic, magnetic or optical means or by any other similar means.” As with the definition appearing within the American Model Act, this definition does not include title to an underlying asset, such as securities as digital assets. Unlike the American Model Act, the Canadian Model Act does not define the terms “information” or “record.”
In the Canadian Model Act, the term “fiduciary” is also defined similarly as in the American Model Act, restricting the application of both pieces of model legislation to four kinds of fiduciary: personal representatives, guardians, attorneys appointed under a Power of Attorney for Property, and trustees appointed to hold a digital asset in trust.
One challenge that both pieces of model legislation attempt to address is the delicate balance between the competing rights to access and privacy. The American Model Act is somewhat longer in this regard, as it addresses provisions of American privacy legislation to which there is no equivalent in Canada. Canadian law does not treat fiduciary access to digital assets as a “disclosure” of personal information. Accordingly, under Canadian law, the impact on privacy legislation by fiduciary access to digital assets is relatively limited.
The Canadian Model Act provides a more robust right of access to fiduciaries. Unlike the American Model Act, the Canadian Model Act does not authorize custodians of digital assets to choose the fiduciary’s level of access to the digital asset. Section 3 of the Canadian Model Act states that a fiduciary’s right of access is subject instead to the terms of the instrument appointing the fiduciary, being the Power of Attorney for Property, Last Will and Testament, or Court Order.
Unlike the American Model Act, the Canadian equivalent has a “last-in-time” priority system. The most recent instruction concerning the fiduciary’s right to access a digital asset takes priority over any earlier instrument. For example, an account holder with a pre-existing Last Will and Testament, who chooses to appoint a Facebook legacy contact is restricting their executor’s right to access their Facebook account after death pursuant to the Will.
Despite their differences, both pieces of model legislation serve the same purpose of facilitating access by attorneys for or guardians of property and estate trustees to digital assets and information held by individuals who are incapable or deceased and represent steps in the right direction in terms of updating estate and incapacity law to reflect the prevalence of digital assets in the modern world.
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When dealing with the administration of an estate, there is the possibility that a bequest will be left to a minor, resulting in the need for it to be held in trust until the minor reaches the age of majority. It is also possible to have a situation where the executor named in a will is a minor at the date of death of the testator, pursuant to section 26 of the Estates Act. This will result in a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee being issued to the guardian of the named executor, until he or she turns 18. The guardian acting as executor is called durante minore aetate, which translates to “during the minority”.
Pursuant to section 26 of the Estates Act:
(1) Where a minor is sole executor, administration with the will annexed shall be granted to the guardian of the minor or to such other person as the court thinks fit, until the minor has attained the full age of eighteen years, at which time, and not before, probate of the will may be granted to the minor
(2) The person to whom such administration is granted has the same powers as an administrator has by virtue of an administration granted to an administrator during minority of the next of kin.
The powers of durante minore aetate to act in the place of a minor are not limited. As per Re Cope, (1880), 16 Ch. D. 49 (Eng Ch Div) at 52:
The limit to his administration is no doubt the minority of the person, but there is no other limit. He is an ordinary administrator: he is appointed for the very purpose of getting in the estate, paying the debts, and selling the estate in the usual way; and the property vests in him.
In Monsell v Armstrong, (1872) LR 14 Eq 423 at 426, the court held there is “no distinction between a common administrator durante minore aetate as regards the exercise of a power of sale.” Along with the power of sale, it seems too that an administrator for the use and benefit of a minor may also assent to a legacy and may be sued for the debts of the deceased.
An application for a certificate of appointment for the use and benefit of a minor should be in Form 74.4, 74.4.1, 74.5, or 74.5.1 (forms can be found here) and should include an explanation stating that the executor named in the will is not the applicant due to the minority of the named executor. Once the application is filed, the matter will be referred to a judge. If the judge orders a certificate of appointment of estate trustee with a will, it will include the phrase “Right of (name of minor executor) to be appointed estate trustee on attaining 18 years of age is reserved.”
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Many people will remember the issues which played out very publicly for Britney Spears in 2007. Nine years have passed since these incidents, and, to the outside world, it appears that Britney has turned things around, recently extending her residence in Las Vegas for an additional two years and $35 million. While Britney may have put the worst of these issues behind her, one legal consequence of such a time still has a daily impact upon her life.
In the midst of Britney’s issues playing out in the tabloids, Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, applied for court-appointed conservatorship over Britney’s affairs. Such a conservatorship was ultimately granted, giving Britney’s father complete control over Britney’s financial decision making. As reported in the National Post this week, even though nine years have passed since the initial court Order, such a conservatorship is still in effect. As a result, every aspect of Britney’s financial affairs are governed through her conservatorship, with as mundane of purchases as coffees from Starbucks, and songs from iTunes, being tracked by the court.
In Ontario, the closest equivalent we have to court-appointed conservatorship is court-appointed guardianship, which is governed by Part I of the Substitute Decisions Act. Such an Application may be brought on behalf of a person who “is incapable of managing property”, allowing for an alternate individual to be appointed as their guardian of property, administering their assets in accordance with a court approved “management plan”. As granting guardianship has a major impact upon an individual’s life, removing much of their autonomy, the court only does so when absolutely necessary. Indeed, in accordance with section 22(3) of the Substitute Decisions Act, the court shall not appoint a guardian if it is satisfied that there is an alternative course of action that does not require the court to find the person to be incapable of managing their property, and is less restrictive of the person’s decision-making rights.
In light of Britney’s apparent recovery, a natural question which would follow is whether the conservatorship is still necessary. In Ontario, if it is believed that a guardianship is no longer necessary, a Motion may be brought under section 28 of the Substitute Decisions Act to terminate the guardianship. If the court agrees, and the guardianship is terminated, the individual on whose behalf the guardian was appointed would regain control over their financial affairs and decision making.
Estate planning and planning for the future are sometimes difficult tasks, particularly when it comes to end-of-life planning. When forced to confront their own mortality, many people are hesitant to dive in and make a plan. Unfortunately, this may result in their wishes being unknown if an emergency situation arises.
In Ontario, when a person is incapable of making their own decisions with respect to their care, the Health Care Consent Act (the “HCCA”) and the Substitute Decisions Act (the “SDA”) allow others to make decisions on the incapable person’s behalf. Section 20 of the HCCA sets out a list of persons who may give or refuse consent to treatment on behalf of someone who is incapable to give their own consent at the time. The list of people who may make decisions is as follows:
- The incapable person’s guardian of the person, if the guardian has authority to give or refuse consent to the treatment.
- The incapable person’s attorney for personal care, if the power of attorney confers authority to give or refuse consent to the treatment.
- The incapable person’s representative appointed by the Board under section 33, if the representative has authority to give or refuse consent to the treatment.
- The incapable person’s spouse or partner.
- A child or parent of the incapable person, or a children’s aid society or other person who is lawfully entitled to give or refuse consent to the treatment in the place of the parent. This paragraph does not include a parent who has only a right of access. If a children’s aid society or other person is lawfully entitled to give or refuse consent to the treatment in the place of the parent, this paragraph does not include the parent.
- A parent of the incapable person who has only a right of access.
- A brother or sister of the incapable person.
- Any other relative of the incapable person.
A person included in this list may give or refuse consent only if no person described in an earlier paragraph is willing or available to do so. The SDA, in turn, deals with Powers of Attorney and Guardians.
If you have not taken the time to think through your wishes with respect to treatment and communicate them to others, it is difficult to know whether your substitute decision maker under the HCCA or SDA will make the choice that you would have made yourself, had you been capable. One way of dealing with this issue is by clearly expressing your wishes, such as with a “living will”. The Ministry of the Attorney General describes a “living will” as an expression that is “sometimes used to refer to a document in which you write down what you want to happen if you become ill and can’t communicate your wishes about treatment…[t]he term ‘advance directive’ is also frequently used to refer to such a document.” The Ministry of the Attorney General also notes that you can include your treatment wishes in a Power of Attorney document to ensure that your attorney is aware of them.
Pursuant to the SDA s. 66(3), guardians of the person and attorneys for personal care have a duty to make decisions on an incapable person’s behalf in accordance with the incapable person’s wishes, if known. The guardian or attorney must also use reasonable diligence to ascertain whether the incapable has set out such wishes. Accordingly, it is important to consider including your wishes in your Power of Attorney for personal care and communicating them to your attorney, to ensure that your wishes are known.
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