When a parent transfers assets to an adult child, the rebuttable presumption of resulting trust will apply to that transfer. Unless the child can rebut the presumption, it will be presumed that the child was holding the transferred assets in trust for the parent.
But what kind of evidence will be needed to rebut the presumption? Ideally there would be some kind of documentation made contemporaneously with the transfer to support the parent’s intention. If the documentation is lacking, there may be evidentiary issues where the parent has passed away or is incapable, and is not able to give evidence as to his or her intention at the time of the transfer.
In the recent decision of Pandke Estate v Lauzon, 2021 ONSC 123, the court considered two cheques paid by a mother, Carol, to her adult son and daughter-in-law, Steven and Marnee, in the amounts of $35,000.00 and $90,000.00, respectively, shortly before her death. The court reviewed the evidence in determining whether the presumption of resulting trust was rebutted, or whether Carol had intended the cheques to be gifts.
Carol was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2017, and died about a month following her diagnosis. At the time that she was diagnosed, she lived with her husband, William, to whom she had been married since 1992. Following her diagnosis, it was decided that Carol would move in with Steven and Marnee, as William was not physically capable of providing her the care that she would require. Shortly after moving in with Steven and Marnee, Carol provided a cheque in the amount of $35,000.00, payable to Marnee, with a note on the cheque stating that it was “For Rent”. Four days later Carol provided another cheque payable to Steven, in the amount of $90,000.00, with the note on the cheque stating “Medical Expenses”. The total value of the two cheques constituted the majority of Carol’s liquid assets. William, who was the sole beneficiary of Carol’s estate, challenged these payments following Carol’s death.
The court found that the $35,000.00 payment was intended to be a gift by Carol to Steven and Marnee. Part of the evidence on which the court’s conclusion in this regard was based was Marnee’s hearsay evidence of what Carol had told her about why she was making the payment, being that Steven had left his job to care for Carol and she did not want him to suffer financially as a result. The court found that Marnee’s hearsay evidence could be admitted, notwithstanding that it was hearsay, on the basis that it fell within a traditional exception to the hearsay rule (that the statement is adduced to demonstrate the intentions or state of mind of the declarant at the time the statement was made) and under the principled approach to hearsay evidence as it met the necessity and reliability requirements. The court also found that Marnee’s evidence was corroborated by independent evidence.
However, with respect to the $90,000.00 payment, the court found that there was insufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of resulting trust. Although the court admitted Steven’s evidence of statements made by Carol to him as to her state of mind at the time the cheque was signed, the court also raised other concerns with Steven’s evidence. For instance, the reference to “Medical Expenses” noted on the cheque was concerning, as there were no medical expenses, and the court wondered why Carol would not have simply indicated that it was a gift if that is what she intended it to be. The court was also not convinced by a statement that Steven said was made by Carol that she was making the payment because she did not want Steven to suffer financially because he had left work to care for her, given that only a few days before Carol had made the $35,000.00 payment, which paid off Steven’s truck loan, line of credit, and left around $15,000.00 cash to spare. There was also no corroborating evidence of Carol’s intention to gift the $90,000.00 amount to Steven. As a result, Steven held the $90,000.00 in trust for Carol’s estate.
Unfortunately, it is often the case that payments to adult children are challenged after the parent has died. Unless the parent has taken special care to document his or her intention in making the payment, the intention can be difficult to determine with any degree of certainty. Accordingly, a parent making a gift to an adult child should consider seeking legal advice as to the best way to document such a transfer in order to ensure that their intentions will be upheld. From the opposite perspective, if a parent wants to make a transfer on the basis that their adult child will hold the asset in trust for him or her, or his or her estate, the parent should also consider seeking legal advice to ensure that this is properly documented in order to reduce the chance of issues arising in this regard after his or her death.
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In the spirit of the holidays, today I thought I would write about a recent decision related to gifting. In Grosseth Estate v Grosseth, 2017 BCSC 2055, the British Columbia Supreme Court considered whether the presumptions of resulting trust and undue influence were applicable to various inter vivos gifts made by a deceased uncle to one of his nephews. Ultimately, the court concluded that both presumptions were rebutted, and the gifts were valid.
In Grosseth Estate, the deceased, Mort, left a Will providing that the residue of his estate was to be distributed equally amongst his 11 nieces and nephews. However, most of his estate had been gifted to one particular nephew, Brian, and his wife, Helen, prior to Mort’s death. This left only about $60,000.00 to be distributed in accordance with Mort’s Will. One of Mort’s other nephews, Myles, who was the executor of Mort’s estate, brought a claim against Brian and Helen following Mort’s death, seeking to have the money that had been gifted to them by Mort, returned to the estate.
About 10 years prior to Mort’s death, he moved from Alberta, where he had lived most of his life, to British Columbia, where he moved into Brian and Helen’s basement suite. Mort became a full participant in the family; he was included on family outings, attended family dinners every night, and became like a grandfather to Brian and Helen’s children.
For the first couple of years after Mort moved in, he gave Brian and Helen money each month, on an informal basis, as contribution to household costs. Around 2 years after Mort had been living with them, Brian and Helen had decided to purchase a commercial property for Helen’s chiropractic practice. Mort insisted on gifting $100,000.00 towards the purchase price, making it clear that he did not want anything in return. Following this payment, Mort did not make further contributions to the monthly household expenses. The court concluded that there was a tacit agreement amongst Mort, Brian, and Helen that Mort’s generous gift had cancelled any notion that further payments would be required. Several years later, Mort also gifted $57,000.00 to Brian and Helen to pay off the balance of their mortgage.
The court found that the nature of the relationship between Mort, Brian, and Helen gave rise to the presumption of resulting trust as well as the presumption of undue influence. However, both of these presumptions are rebuttable.
The court acknowledged that, with respect to undue influence, Mort did depend on Brian and Helen, but based on the evidence of a number of individuals, concluded that he remained independent and capable throughout. Accordingly, the presumption of undue influence was rebutted.
The presumption of resulting trust was also rebutted as the court was satisfied that Mort intended the transfers to be gifts motivated by “a natural and understandable gratitude to Brian and Helen for the happiness and comfort of his final years.”
It is not uncommon for this type of situation to come up. Where a deceased lived with one niece or nephew (or sibling), or where the niece/nephew/sibling is the primary caregiver prior to the deceased’s death, any gifting that was done in the context of this relationship may be vulnerable to challenge on the basis of resulting trust or undue influence. Unfortunately, in some instances, the relationship dynamics involved in these kinds of arrangements can result in suspect gifts or transfers. Transfers made without clear evidence of an intention to gift can also raise questions. In this case, the court did not find that there was any improper behaviour on the part of the giftees, did find evidence of an intention to gift, and the transfers were ultimately upheld.
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