Tag: mental capacity
In preparing my other blogs this week, I spent some time considering the issue of how we might see the increased access to medical assistance in dying (MAID) impact our practice area. As such, I thought that I would finish off this series of blogs focusing on MAID with a hypothetical question I have not yet encountered in practice, but which is inevitably going to be raised: what impact, if any, does MAID have on a will challenge?
Our regular readers will already be well aware that capacity is task, time, and situation specific.
Presumably, the standard of capacity applying to the decision to access MAID is that required to make other personal care decisions, such as receiving or refusing medical treatment. Section 45 of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, defines incapacity for personal care as follows:
A person is incapable of personal care if the person is not able to understand information that is relevant to making a decision concerning his or her own health care, nutrition, shelter, clothing, hygiene or safety, or is not able to appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of a decision or lack of decision.
I have been unable to find any literature suggesting whether the standard may be somewhat heightened as a result of the significant impact of the decision to actually receive MAID.
The standard for testamentary capacity typically applied remains that set out in the old English authority of Banks v Goodfellow. While some have suggested that the standard of testamentary capacity be updated, we are generally concerned with the same, well-established criteria:
It is essential to the exercise of such a power that a testator shall understand the nature of the act and its effects; shall understand the extent of the property of which he is disposing; shall be able to comprehend and appreciate the claims to which he ought to give effect; and, with a view to the latter object, that no disorder of the mind shall poison his affections, pervert his sense of right, or prevent the exercise of his natural faculties—that no insane delusion shall influence his will in disposing of his property and bring about a disposal of it which, if the mind had been sound, would not have been made.
While, historically, standards of mental capacity were viewed as hierarchical, recent case law and commentary have strayed from this understanding, instead viewing the different standards of mental capacity as just that: different. Courts will consider whether an individual understood the nature of the decision being made and appreciated the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their decision.
Consent to MAID must be confirmed very shortly before it is administered, which restriction has been of considerable controversy. While possessing the capacity to confirm consent to obtain MAID may not correspond to testamentary capacity, it may nevertheless become evidence suggestive of a degree of mental capacity that is valuable (in conjunction with other evidence) in establishing that a last will and testament executed shortly before death is valid.
Whether the fact that MAID has been achieved will be important evidence on a will challenge in support of testamentary capacity or not remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see how the laws relating to MAID evolve and how incidents of MAID may impact estate law over time.
Thank you for reading,
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
Thanks for reading.
Testamentary capacity is most commonly an issue when a testator prepares a new will later in life, against a form of progressive dementia, whether it became apparent before or after the creation of the will.
The Main Question to be Considered
In cases regarding progressive dementia, the question is whether the mental deterioration has deprived the testator of his or her testamentary capacity. If the testator has been deprived of their capacity, it is likely (but by no means certain) that the will they signed will be invalid. Pursuant to the case of Johnson v Huchkewich (2010 ONSC 6002), a diagnosis of dementia is not tantamount to a lack of testamentary capacity.
Requirements for Capacity
As established in Banks v Goodfellow [(1870), [1861-73] All ER Rep 47], “the standard of capacity in cases of impaired mental power, is…the capacity on the part of the testator to comprehend the extent of the property to be disposed of, and the nature of the claims of those he is excluding.” In applying the test for testamentary capacity, it is important to ensure that the testator was capable of appreciating the terms of the will, but also the circumstances surrounding the making of the will. The testator must be able to recall and comprehend circumstances beyond a range of familiar topics. As defined in Leger v Poirier (1944 CarswellNB 11), the individual must be able to have a “disposing mind and memory”, which is able to “comprehend, of its own initiative and volition, the essential elements of will-making, property, objects, just claims to consideration, revocation of existing dispositions, and the like.”
Therefore, in a case where an individual has progressive dementia and is attempting to make a testamentary document, the lawyer has an obligation to ascertain if the individual can appreciate the circumstances as a whole. The ability for the testator to rationally respond to questions is not enough to determine that the individual has full capacity.
Furthermore, it bears repeating that a testator who is incapable to manage his or her affairs due to progressive dementia, does not necessarily lack testamentary capacity. As established in the case of Cranford’s Will, Re, (1978 CarswellNfld 23), “in determining the testamentary capacity of an aged person it is necessary to be careful not to substitute suspicion for proof so as to render it impossible for old people to make wills…”
Thanks for reading,
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“Disability” is defined in Rule 1.03(1) to mean a person who is (a) a minor, (b) mentally incapable within the meaning of section 6 or section 45 of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, whether that person has a guardian or not, or (c) an Absentee within the meaning of the Absentee Act.
The procedure and requirements for the appointment of a Litigation Guardian are different for plaintiffs/applicants and defendants/respondents.
The initial appointment of a Litigation Guardian for a plaintiff or applicant occurs without a court order upon the filing of an affidavit with the court setting out the information outlined in Rule 7.02(2).
Where the party under a disability is a defendant or respondent to a proceeding, Rule 7.03(1) states that a Litigation Guardian must be appointed by motion to the court unless the exceptions set out in Rule 7.03 (2), (2.1) or (3) apply. These exceptions include the prior appointment of a Guardian or a valid Attorney for Property with express powers to act as Litigation Guardian, or where the Office of the Children’s Lawyer is representing a minor’s interest in an estate or trust. Where there is no appointed guardian or attorney under a power of attorney, any person not under a disability may act as a Litigation Guardian. Where there is no person willing to act as Litigation Guardian, the Public Guardian and Trustee may be appointed.
Litigation Guardians are necessary to protect parties under disability, but also to protect opposing parties and court procedures.
A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Huang v. Braga, 2016 ONSC 6306, considers the appointment of a litigation guardian for a defendant or respondent in circumstances of mental incapacity.
In that case, the defendant had retained five different counsel over 13 years. She had fired her counsel, rejected a large settlement and insisted on proceeding to trial. A capacity assessment was ordered and she was found to be incapable of acting for herself in the action, but capable of managing her property. On review of the totality of the circumstances, Archibald J. found the defendant to be a party under a disability and issued Judgment appointing the Public Guardian and Trustee to act as litigation guardian.
Archibald J. refers to the decision in C.C. v. Children’s Aids Society of Toronto,  OJ No. 5613, which establishes the following test for whether a Litigation Guardian is required:
- The person must appear to be mentally incapable with respect to an issue in the case; and
- As a result of being mentally incapable, the person requires legal representation to be appointed by the Court.
In addition, Archibald J. states that the cause of incapacity must stem from a source of mental incapacity such as mental illness, dementia, developmental delay or physical injury and not from some other reason such as lack of sophistication, education or cultural differences.
Archibald J. states that in determining whether a person “appears to be mentally incapable” the following factors should be considered:
(a) The person’s ability to know or understand the minimum choices or decisions required and to make them;
(b) An appreciation of the consequences and effects of his or her choices or decisions;
(c) An appreciation of the nature of the proceedings;
(d) The person’s inability to choose and keep counsel;
(e) The person’s inability to represent him or herself;
(f) The person’s inability to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant issues; and,
(g) The person’s mistaken beliefs regarding the law or court procedures.
Traditionally the Court has accepted the following types of evidence in support of same:
- medical or psychological evidence as to capacity (including, a capacity assessment, report or doctors certificate);
- evidence from persons who know the litigant well;
- appearance and demeanour of the litigant;
- testimony of the litigant; and,
- opinion of the litigant’s own counsel.
Thank you for reading.
In a devoted sports city such as New Orleans, it is not surprising to learn that both the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, and the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans, are owned by one person, Tom Benson. Recently though, New Orleans sports fan are turning their gaze away from the stadium, and instead to the Court where a dispute has ensued over Benson’s mental capacity and the consequence of this on his estate plan, estimated to be worth approximately $1.87 billion.
A recent article in the New York Times, highlights Benson’s recent announcement that when he passes away, ownership of the Saints and Pelicans are to be passed onto his wife of ten years, as opposed to his daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren. As a result of this, a claim was commenced to determine whether Benson is mentally capable and whether Benson’s property should be managed on his behalf. It is alleged that not only is Benson mentally unfit but also is being manipulated by his wife.
In response to allegations of incapacity, Benson’s lawyers argue that “…his decisions to give the teams to his wife, and not his daughter and her children, was not a result of pique of anger, but years of disappointment”.
Any finding with respect to Benson’s capacity will surely impact his estate plan and ability to designate a beneficiary.
As Hull & Hull blog readers know, this is not the first sports franchise where ownership is put into question because of capacity – recent blog’s found here and here tell the tale of Donald Sterling and the Los Angeles Clippers.
The above dispute provides a helpful reminder to estate solicitors and planners that when meeting with clients and obtaining instructions, it is important to take detailed notes and address any issues or concerns with respect to mental capacity. These notes can prove to be extremely helpful in any type of estate litigation.
Listen to Developments in Will Changes.
This week on Hull on Estates, Ian and Suzana discuss developments in will changes. They reference cases from Key Developments in Estates and Trusts Law in Ontario ed. 2008.
For our last blog before the Holiday Season, Ian and I wanted to mention the final four legal considerations to keep in mind when dealing with joint accounts.
Firstly, and in particular, mental capacity issues always need to be considered at the time that the joint account is established.
In addition, Powers of Attorney are often the source document behind the establishment of a joint account and the use and abuse of that document at the time that the joint account is established needs to always be considered. Another high-level abuse comes through the use of Internet banking, where one of the family members obtains the password of the parent and then simply proceeds to do his or her banking at will.
READ THE TRANSCRIBED PODCAST
During this podcast, we discussed the following:
(i) age restrictions to keep in mind when drafting a will;
(ii) requisite mental capacity; and
(iii) the issue of insane delusions. ——–