We are often contacted by clients with concerns about misconduct by a person holding a power of attorney. We may be contacted by the person who granted the power of attorney (the “donor”) or a family member of the donor who has discovered the abuse under the power of attorney (either during the donor’s lifetime, or after their death).
These clients are upset when they discover what has happened, and often they ask the same questions:
- “Isn’t this criminal?”
- “Should I also go to the police?”
- “Shouldn’t this person be in jail for what they’ve done?”
We assist with obtaining civil remedies against the attorney, including recovery of property that has been taken and damages for breach of fiduciary duty. However, it should be kept in mind that theft by a person holding a power of attorney is also an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.
Section 331 provides as follows:
Theft by person holding power of attorney
331 Every one commits theft who, being entrusted, whether solely or jointly with another person, with a power of attorney for the sale, mortgage, pledge or other disposition of real or personal property, fraudulently sells, mortgages, pledges or otherwise disposes of the property or any part of it, or fraudulently converts the proceeds of a sale, mortgage, pledge or other disposition of the property, or any part of the proceeds, to a purpose other than that for which he was entrusted by the power of attorney.
Misconduct by a person holding a power of attorney may also fall within general Criminal Code provisions relating to theft and fraud.
There are key differences between moving forward with civil proceedings and criminal proceedings. In a civil claim for breach of fiduciary duty you must prove your claim on a balance of probabilities, while a criminal conviction must be established on the higher standard of beyond reasonable doubt. In civil proceedings, a plaintiff may also be able to rely upon rules which reverse the onus of proof for breach of fiduciary duty in certain circumstances.
People have been convicted and imprisoned for misconduct using a power of attorney. Here are few examples:
In R. v. Kaziuk 2011 ONCJ 851, the victim was 86 years of age at the time of the offences. The accused was her son, who she named as her power of attorney. At one point, the victim was “well off financially”, she owned her own properties mortgage-free and she had significant savings in her account. Then she signed a power of attorney naming her son as her attorney. The son used the power of attorney to register mortgages on his mother’s properties, as collateral for his own personal loan (to cover his own mortgage against his own home).
As a result of the son’s conduct, his mother lost her car and her savings, and she was evicted from her property when the banks seized her properties as a result of the fraudulent mortgages registered against title without her consent and knowledge. She lost everything and ended up living in a homeless shelter.
The son was 57 years old, and blamed his “financial misfortunes” and depression. He was convicted of theft exceeding $5,000 and fraud exceeding $5,000. The judge also held that the offence under s. 331 (theft by person holding power of attorney) had been proven. The judge described this as a “despicable breach of [his mother’s] love and trust. The son was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, which was reduced to 8 years on appeal. There were aggravating factors, including a finding that the son was incapable of feeling empathy and had no conscience.
In R. v. Hooyer 2016 ONCA 44, the victim suffered from dementia and resided in a long-term care facility. The accused had known the victim since the accused was a child. After the victim’s wife died, the accused assumed control over the victim’s property, moving into his home, dissipating his assets, and diverting nearly $400,000 for his own use. He did not attend to the victim’s care, and did not see the victim for several years. He failed to pay the bill for the care facility, which resulted in a downgrade of the victim’s accommodation. The accused argued that he honestly believed he was authorized to use the money for his own purposes. At trial we was convicted of fraud and theft, and he was sentenced to imprisonment of two years less a day and six months to be served concurrently, and restitution of the monies that he took.
Finally, in R. v. Banoub 2019 ONCJ 681, the offender was the power of attorney for her mother, who suffered form dementia and lived in a care facility. Over a period of four years, the offender depleted the monies in the mother’s bank accounts and investments by $161,000. She spent the monies on gambling, living expenses, and a trip. The offender was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and three years’ probation.
The above cases confirm that misconduct under a power of attorney is a serious matter and may amount to a criminal offense resulting in imprisonment.