Tag: public trustee
One of the reasons people pursue wealth is to render themselves, and their loved ones, less vulnerable. Wealth can protect against unhappy contingencies and mitigate ill fortune, such as loss of employment, sickness, or the death of a provider. With COVID-19, some of the most adversely-affected Canadians are those without any economic cushion to fall back upon. Wealth, however, can also make people more vulnerable, for it can draw the jealous attention of unscrupulous have-nots, as evidenced by the abundance of greed-fuelled elder abuse and power of attorney predation. Our legal system, therefore, has developed safeguards against the improper use of an incapable person’s funds – and as a recent New Brunswick decision demonstrates, as well as checking bad actors, these safeguards also apply to the more innocent missteps of parties with apparently good intentions.
In Public Trustee v. Morley,  N.B.Q.B. 18, the Public Trustee in charge of an infirm person, Norma Morley, sought the Court’s authorization to transfer Norma’s house to her adult daughter, Patricia Morley, on the pretexts that Patricia “suffer[ed] from mental issues that prevent[ed] her from leaving [Norma’s] home” and that Norma, who resided in a nursing home, “ha[d] assets that [could] provide for her maintenance other than the house”. Ostensibly, the Public Trustee’s request was reasonable, for the statute – subsection 13(1) of the Infirm Persons Act – allows for an infirm person’s representative to provide for the infirm person’s dependants, and at first glance, Patricia qualified as a dependant.
The Court denied the request, however, finding that the proposed gift was not in the best interests of Norma. In coming to this decision, the Court was guided by several considerations: (1) it was uncertain whether there were enough assets to provide for Norma following the gift; (2) the proposed gift was at odds with Norma’s Will; (3) Norma had not made similar gifts in the past, when she was capable; (4) there was no evidence tendered as to Patricia’s needs and means; and (5) Patricia’s needs are secondary to Norma’s. On this last point, other than the house, Norma had approximately $70,000 in assets – a thin and precarious economic cushion.
If this case had been adjudicated in Ontario, we could expect a similar result. Subsections 37(1) and 37(2) of Ontario’s Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 dictate that an incapable person’s property can be used to support dependants, but expenditures on behalf of dependants are conditional upon sufficient property remaining to provide for the incapable person. Subsections 37(3) and 37(4) allow for a guardian of property to make gifts to the incapable person’s relatives if, again, enough property remains and there is reason to believe the incapable person, if capable, would make such gifts. In this case, insufficient property remained to justify a gift and there was no reason to believe Norma would have gifted her house to Patricia, for her prior conduct and Will suggested otherwise.
The Public Trustee’s position was unenviable – trying to stretch limited means to cover two vulnerable people – but the cure proposed ran counter to Norma’s previously expressed wishes as well as leaving her exposed to mischance.
Thank you for reading – Have a great day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
I recently came across several articles (one of which can be found here) regarding the elder financial abuse of a senior gentleman in Moncton, New Brunswick. Around 2013, Mr. Goguen had been living in the home that he owned, with tenants residing in part of the property. Upon deciding to sell his home, Mr. Goguen was referred to Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier, licensed real estate agents in New Brunswick. After the home had been listed for sale for some time, without success, Ms. Hannah apparently told Mr. Goguen that his home was in such deplorable condition that it would be impossible to sell without making certain repairs (which Ms. Hannah says Mr. Goguen could not afford) and removing the tenants (whom Ms. Hannah has claimed were using drugs and not paying rent).
As a result of the alleged difficulty in selling Mr. Goguen’s house, he, Ms. Hannah, and Mr. Poirier entered into an agreement whereby Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier purchased Mr. Goguen’s home. The terms of the arrangement were not favourable to Mr. Goguen, and it appears that Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier did not follow through on certain aspects of the agreement.
The Financial and Consumer Services Commission, which regulates real estate agents in New Brunswick, has revoked Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier’s real estate licenses. The Commission stated that Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier committed financial abuse of a senior and took “outrageous and egregious advantage” of Mr. Goguen. The Public Trustee of New Brunswick has now become involved on Mr. Goguen’s behalf, and has filed a statement of claim against Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier, seeking $83,320.00, characterized as the amount owing to Mr. Goguen.
We’ve blogged about elder abuse a number of times. Unfortunately, due to factors such as isolation, physical difficulties, and cognitive impairments, elderly people are often vulnerable to abuse. Given this vulnerability, and the circumstances in which abuse occurs, it can go undetected for a significant amount of time. In such situations, it may be too late to make the elderly person “whole” if the abuse is not discovered until it is too late.
Fortunately in Mr. Goguen’s case, despite the fact that it took a number of years, the Public Trustee discovered the abuse and is now taking steps to protect Mr. Goguen and recoup funds owed to him by his abusers. However, the Public Trustee is seeking the amount of approximately $83,000.00, which may not fully reimburse Mr. Goguen for the value of the house had it been sold to a normal third-party purchaser. Additionally, one of the articles also notes that Mr. Goguen had named Ms. Hannah and Mr. Poirier as his attorneys, and also executed a will naming them as executors and beneficiaries of his estate. It is unclear whether the Public Trustee has sought any relief in this regard. As such, even though the Public Trustee may be pursuing relief on Mr. Goguen’s behalf, it is an unfortunate possibility that he may continue to feel the effects of the abuse.
Thanks for reading.
Other blog posts that may be of interest: