It is often said that an Attorney for Property can do anything on behalf of the grantor’s behalf except make a will. This is on account of section 7(2) of the Substitute Decisions Act (the “SDA“), which provides:
“The continuing power of attorney may authorize the person named as attorney to do on the grantor’s behalf anything in respect of property that the grantor could do if capable, except make a will.” [emphasis added]
Although at first glance it would appear that the potential tasks that an Attorney for Property could complete on behalf of a grantor are almost absolute, with the Attorney for Property being able to do anything on behalf of the grantor except sign a new will, in reality the tasks that an Attorney for Property may complete relative to the grantor’s estate planning is more restrictive than this would suggest at first glance. This is because the definition of “will” in the SDA is defined as being the same as that contained in the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“), with the SLRA in turn defining “will” as including not only typical testamentary documents such as a Last Will and Testament or Codicil, but also “any other testamentary disposition“. As a result, the stipulation that an Attorney for Property can do anything on behalf of the grantor “except make a will” would include not only a restriction on the Attorney for Property’s ability to sign a new Last Will and Testament or Codicil on behalf of the grantor, but also a restriction on the Attorney for Property’s ability to make “any other testamentary disposition” on behalf of the grantor.
It is fairly common for individuals such as spouses to own real property as joint-tenants with the right of survivorship. When one joint-owner dies ownership of the property automatically passes to the surviving joint-owner by right of survivorship, with no portion of the property forming part of the deceased joint-owner’s estate. Although such an ownership structure may make sense when the property is originally purchased, it is not uncommon for circumstances to arise after the property was registered (i.e. a divorce or separation) which may make one of the joint-owners no longer want the property to carry the right of survivorship. Should such circumstances arise, one of the joint-owners will often “sever” title to the property so that the property is now held as tenants-in-common without the right of survivorship, making efforts to attempt to ensure that at least 50% of the property would form part of their estate should they predecease the other joint-owner.
Although severing title to a property is fairly straight forward while the owner is still capable, circumstances could become more complicated should the owner become incapable as questions may emerge regarding whether their Attorney for Property has the authority to sever title to the property on behalf of the grantor, or whether such an action is a “testamentary disposition” and therefor barred by section 7(2) of the SDA.
The issue of whether an Attorney for Property severing title to a property is a “testamentary disposition” was in part dealt with by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Champion v. Guibord, 2007 ONCA 161, where the court states:
“The appellants argue that the severing of the joint tenancies here constituted a change in testamentary designation or disposition and is therefore prohibited by s. 31(1) of the Substitute Decisions Act because it is the making of a will.
While we are inclined to the view that the severance of a joint tenancy is not a testamentary disposition, we need not decide that question in this case. Even if it were, we see no error in the disposition made by the application judge, because of s. 35.1(3)(a) of the Substitute Decisions Act.” [emphasis added]
Although the Court of Appeal does not conclusively settle the issue in Champion v. Guibord, the court appears to strongly suggest that they are of the position that an Attorney for Property severing a joint-tenancy is not a “testamentary disposition” within the confines of the SDA.
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A recent decision of the Hong Kong Court of Appeal addresses the importance of the solicitor’s role in preparing and attending to the execution of a Will, particularly in the context of a Will challenge. The decision is discussed in this article. Although the decision is from Hong Kong, the test applied in respect of testamentary capacity is, as it is in Canada, the classic criteria from Banks v Goodfellow. In this regard, I found it interesting to consider the Hong Kong Court’s decision.
In Ontario, when a Will has been duly executed, meaning that it has been executed in accordance with the requirements set out in the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26, there is a presumption that the Will is valid. However, where suspicious circumstances are shown to exist surrounding the preparation and execution of a Will, this presumption will be spent, and the propounder will be required to prove that the testator had the requisite testamentary capacity to execute the Will. We have previously blogged about which party must prove certain elements in a Will challenge.
According to the article, the same presumption arising from due execution appears to exist in Hong Kong. In the decision of Choy Po Chun & Anor v Au Wing Lun (CACV 177/2014), the Hong Kong Court of Appeal places some additional responsibility with respect to the “due execution” of Wills on solicitors preparing them. In particular, the Court of Appeal sets out that a solicitor should undertake proper groundwork and make proper enquiries, such as following a checklist from the British Medical Association regarding the assessment of mental capacity, and the “golden rule” that a Will for an elderly or ill testator should be witnessed or approved by a medical practitioner who has examined the testator.
In this decision, the Court of Appeal set aside the lower court’s decision that the Will in question was valid. As the solicitor had not taken the additional steps noted above (namely following the checklist and the “golden rule”), it could not be presumed that the Banks v Goodfellow criteria had been met, and therefore each element of the test should have been asked, and proven by the propounder of the Will.
In reviewing the guidelines set out by the Court of Appeal, as summarized in the article, it seems as though the solicitor is being asked to consider whether suspicious circumstances may appear to exist, and to take additional steps if that may be the case. In particular, the Court of Appeal suggests the following:
- Where Will instructions are given by the children of an elderly testator who is not in good health, the lawyer should meet with the testator personally to confirm instructions;
- In the case of an elderly or infirm testator, the solicitor should follow the checklist noted above; and
- The solicitor should follow the “golden rule” when preparing a will for an aged or seriously ill testator.
While this decision is not binding in Canada, it nevertheless raises some interesting points, which a prudent solicitor may wish to consider and implement in their practice. For instance, it may be advisable to confirm instructions directly with the testator if initially provided by another individual, and take steps to confirm whether a testator has the requisite capacity in circumstances where he or she may be elderly and/or in poor health.
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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.
The Rules of Civil Procedure are the the Barrister’s Bible. While we may not keep them on our bedside tables, they can be found on every good litigator’s desk as well as scattered throughout the office in strategic locations.
As lawyers, we generally have good memories for anything logical or analytical – case names can be remarkably pulled out of a hat at a moment’s notice. Not quite so for the Rules. Why? Because they aren’t always self evident or logical, especially when they work in tandem with other legislation that qualifies or expands on them. For example, did you know that a person who is “incapable” can, nonetheless, be “competent”?
Under Rule 31.03 (5)(b) a person who has been declared incapable of looking after their property or personal care pursuant to the Substitute Decisions Act may be examined if he or she is competent to give evidence.
There is a prima facie right to examine an adverse party pursuant to Rule 31.03(1). All persons are presumed competent to give evidence pursuant to section 18 (1) of the Evidence Act. This presumption is rebuttable by sufficient evidence to the contrary. The onus rests on the party alleging incompetence to establish that the witness has no capacity to perceive, recollect and communicate evidence in the proceeding. (See R. v. Caron, 1994CanLII 8735 (ON CA) The evidence required for a determination of incompetence is medical evidence from a person qualified to speak with authority on the subject.
In Trypis v. Lavigne, 2008 CanLII 26266 the Ontario Superior Court sets out the general principles applicable to the issue of competency of a party to give evidence. Trypis is twist in the other direction whereby a person who was “capable”, in that there had not yet been a finding of incapacity under the SDA, was found “incompetent” to testify.
If you’d like to see more on the subject, see Natalia Angelini’s blog, The Right to Examine Incapable Persons and Minors.
Have a super weekend and thanks for reading this week.
Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.
Listen to the Health Care Consent Act.
This week on Hull on Estates, Megan Connolly and Sean Graham review the Golubchuk case out of Manitoba and discuss the Health Care Consent Act of Ontario.
Listen to The Question of Compensation and Complaints.
This week on Hull on Estates and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana discuss the question of compensation and complaints regarding compensation.