B.C. Case Comment: Person Occupying Estate Property May be Required to Pay Occupational Rent

I am often asked by clients (whether they are the executor of an estate or a beneficiary) whether a person occupying real property which was owned by the deceased and has become an estate asset must pay rent for staying in that property.

Where an estate holds real property, there will usually be a period of time before the executor or administrator is ready or able to deal with the property, whether they intend to transfer the property to the beneficiary(ies) or sell the property and distribute the sales proceeds.

This issue is straightforward where, for example, one spouse dies, and the surviving spouse is the sole beneficiary of the estate and sole occupier of the property. The surviving spouse would not pay rent to occupy the property, because any rent would ultimately go back to that spouse as the beneficiary of the estate.

However, matters are usually not that straightforward. For example, a common scenario is the death of a parent, and one of their children resides in their property (or seeks to move into the property after the parent’s death). The property will eventually be sold so that the proceeds can be distributed between the deceased’s children, but in the meantime one of the children gets the additional benefit of getting to live in the property.

Another example is where the deceased was the sole occupier of the property, and rather than leave the property vacant someone moves in. This may be one of the beneficiaries, or even the executor.

The issue may be further complicated if the person occupying the property is paying expenses relating to the property (which would otherwise be payable by the estate), or if they allege that they are occupying the property for the benefit of the estate (so that it doesn’t remain vacant).

Where someone occupies and has the benefit of property belonging to the estate, they may be required to pay occupational rent to the estate. This may take the form of a debt payable to the estate, or a set-off from their share of the estate.  The concept of occupation rent is tied to unjust enrichment, as well as trespass. To permit someone to use estate assets results in an enrichment, to the detriment of the estate. Occupational rent will be considered where there is a claim of unjust enrichment and it is just and equitable to impose the remedy.

The issue of occupational rent was recently considered by the B.C. Supreme Court in In the Matter of the Estate of Euphemia Reagh, Deceased, 2021 BCSC 1807.  In Reagh, the deceased made a will dividing her estate equally amongst her four children. One of the children (“Randy”) was named as executor.

Randy and his family lived in the basement suite of the Deceased’s residence in Burnaby for 12 years prior to the Deceased’s death. The year before her death, the Deceased moved into a care facility, but returned to the Burnaby property after a short period of time. Upon her return, Randy and his family were now occupying the main floor. Randy claimed he paid his mother $1,000 per month in rent while she was alive, and he paid this amount for the first 12 months after her death.

After her death, there was a dispute concerning the appropriate rent to be paid. For a period of time (until the property was sold), Randy increased the amount paid for rent to $2,150 per month. Randy maintained the property, and claimed it as his principal residence, saving the estate $50,000 in taxes after its sale.

The Court agreed that $1,000/month in rent was too little. While there was an email discussing rent of $3,000, there was no confirmation that this was agreed to, and so no agreement was established. While the evidence of market rent before the court was “less than perfect”, the court was satisfied that $2,000/month in rent was more appropriate. Although the court was flexible in this case, a party who is making a claim for occupational rent should bring evidence as to the appropriate amount of occupational rent (i.e. market value).

It was just and equitable in this case that the executor pay occupational rent at market value. The executor was ordered to pay $12,000 (the difference between the $1,000 paid and the $2,000 rent which was appropriate, for 12 months).

This case serves as a reminder that executors (or others) cannot expect to occupy estate property rent-free, or for below market rent. If they try to do so, then the remedy of occupational rent may be available.

B.C. Case Comment: Court Resolves Dispute Over Sentimental Item to Avoid Further Estate Litigation

When an estate is being distributed, it is not uncommon for disputes to arise over sentimental objects that belonged to the deceased, often of low or no monetary value.  On occasion, a dispute over a sentimental family heirloom may be the only truly contentious issue between the beneficiaries.  Parties may agree on the distribution of the majority of the estate (i.e. the monies, real estate, etc…), but refuse to budge on certain of the deceased’s personal possessions.  In some cases, parties may become entrenched in their positions on the distribution of a sentimental object, and that hostility may result in a much larger (more expensive) dispute over the estate.

This could have been the case in the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision in Rhodes v. Myers 2021 BCSC 2043.  In Rhodes, a will-maker made a will dividing her estate into four equal shares, with each share to be given to one of her four adult children. Two of the children were named as co-executors of the estate.

There were disputes and disagreements between the children prior to their mother’s death, which only intensified after her death.  One of the co-executors sought the removal of the other co-executor (“Donald”).  Donald consented to the relief sought, including his removal, on the condition that his brother (“Allan”) receive the deceased’s bolt ring.

The ring was made by the deceased’s husband out of a bolt. The deceased never took it off. The Court observed that it clearly had “tremendous sentimental value to the children, but no monetary value”. The bolt ring was identified by the Court as the “sticking point” in the children being able to resolve the estate issues.

The petitioner (the other co-executor, “Patti”) claimed that the deceased gave her the ring sometime in the last months of her life.

The Court held that since the ring was an asset of the estate, they had jurisdiction to deal with it, and dealing with it now may enable the court to move forward with concluding the estate without further litigation. This is consistent with the object of the Supreme Court Civil Rules of securing the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits. The bolt ring, which has no monetary value, should be dealt with now, if it will avoid further proceedings later.

The Court considered the circumstances of the ring in detail, and concluded that the deceased intended the ring to go to Allan, and that this was well-known to all four siblings. The deceased lacked the capacity to gift the ring in the last months of her life. In this regard, the Court held that a geriatric consultation assessment was compelling. As a result, the ring was an asset of the estate, and Patti was directed to distribute it to Allan in accordance with the Deceased’s wishes.

In settling the issue of who was to receive the ring at this early stage, the Court likely assisted the parties in avoiding further time consuming and expensive estate litigation.

B.C. Case Comment: Court Refuses to Remove Sister as Trustee of Brother’s Trust

What can you do when you want to provide for your children equally, but you are concerned that one or more of your children may not be able to handle their share of your estate? If a parent has these concerns, they may decide to put a share of their estate in trust (often in a trust set out in the will itself). However, the parent must decide who will act as trustee and manage that money on behalf of their child.

One option which may seem attractive initially is to make another child the trustee. However, the result is that one sibling is in control of the other sibling’s share of the estate.   This often leads to tension, disputes, and ultimately litigation.

This was the case in the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision of Parsons v. Zaranski 2021 BCSC 2092. In Parsons, the Deceased had three children. He left his estate to his three children in equal shares, but he left one son’s share in a trust. His daughter was named as trustee of this trust. The trust was discretionary, with so much of the income and capital to be paid as the trustee decides is advisable for the care, maintenance, and education and benefit of the beneficiary during his lifetime.

Unsurprisingly, disputes arose. The beneficiary sought to remove and replace his sister as trustee. His complaints fell within the following categories;

  1. Failure to report on the activities of the trust;
  2. Failure to provide adequate funds during the beneficiary’s times of need; and
  3. Making an improper investment with trust funds from which she may derive a personal gain

The overarching concern for the court on an application to remove a trustee is whether the trustee’s conduct is putting the assets of the trust or the purposes of the trust in jeopardy. Conflict or friction between the trustee and the beneficiaries, without more, is insufficient to justify removal. The decision to remove a trustee must not be undertaken lightly, and should only be done in the clearest of cases and when it is necessary to protect the beneficiaries or the purpose of the trust.

The Court dismissed the application to remove the sister as trustee.

First, the Court found that the sister provided regular and complete reporting to her brother.

Second, the Court held that the sister responded appropriately to her brother’s requests for assistance. The case is a reminder that the exercise of discretion by a trustee pursuant to the terms of a trust is entitled to deference. In Parsons, the Court put it this way (at para. 78): “I am satisfied that Tammy could, in exercising her discretion, have paid more to William through the years, but I am also satisfied that she could have paid less.”

Finally, while the Court had some concerns about an investment made by the trustee with trust funds (it was an “error in judgment”), it was made in good faith and the trust was never at risk because the trustee would have reimbursed the trust if the investment had failed.

This case is a cautionary tale of the animosity, resentment and tension which you may create by putting one child in charge of another child’s trust. However, it also serves as a reminder to beneficiaries that animosity, resentment and tension is usually not enough, on its own, to remove a sibling as your trustee.

B.C. Case Comment Update: Alleged Victim of Elder Abuse Still Not Forced to Undergo Further Mental Capacity Assessment

I previously wrote about the B.C. Supreme Court decision in Hambleton (Litigation Guardian of) v. Hambleton 2021 BCSC 1155. In Hambleton, the Court refused to grant an order sought by a daughter that her mother attend a more extensive medical capacity evaluation. My previous post on the decision can be found here: https://www.bcestatelitigation.ca/case-comment/b-c-case-comment-alleged-victim-of-elder-abuse-not-forced-to-undergo-further-mental-capacity-assessment/

The daughter took the position that her mother suffered from severe dementia, and that she lacked capacity to make decisions regarding her financial affairs and was subject to undue influence by her other daughter. The mother retained her own lawyer and applied to strike the action which was brought in her name by her daughter (and to remove her daughter as litigation guardian).

The Court was satisfied that a less extensive assessment of the mother was adequate. It is an invasion of an individual’s rights to require them to undergo a mental capacity assessment, and the court should not make such an order without sufficient evidentiary basis for doing so. In this case, the mother had obtained an assessment to address the Court’s concern about capacity, and requiring her to undergo a further mental capacity assessment would not be appropriate.

The daughter appealed the result. The appeal has not yet been heard. However, pending the appeal the daughter applied for a stay of proceedings – an order that nothing happen in the underlying litigation until the appeal has been heard.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the application for a stay of proceeding.  The reasons can be found here: https://www.bccourts.ca/jdb-txt/ca/21/03/2021BCCA0377.htm.

The Court observed that the merits of appeal were “extremely low.” The order of the court below was a discretionary one, entitled to deference. It also would not bind the judge who ultimately would hear the application to remove the daughter as litigation guardian.

The Court also looked at irreparable harm and the balance of convenience. These factors favored the mother. She was currently a party to litigation that she wanted no part of, brought ostensibly on her behalf of by her daughter, who she does not want to represent her as litigation guardian. The mother’s personal autonomy was in the balance, and she was over 90 years old. To order a stay and keep the mother in the ligation until this issue was determined would cause her “much harm.”

This decision is another example of the courts protecting personal autonomy and the presumption of capability.

Repost: B.C. Court upholds $1.4M bequest to SPCA

My colleague, Georgia Barnard, (bio found here) posted on our firm blog about a recent estate litigation case.  The post can be found here.

In Henderson v. Myler 2012 BCSC 1649 (reasons for judgment found here), the B.C. Supreme Court considered whether a handwritten note was effective and changed the distribution of an estate as set out in a prior will.  The prior will provided that the SPCA would receive the residue of the estate (approximately $1.4 million).  The note provided that the SPCA would only receive $100,000.  The Court concluded that the note was not effective, and so the SPCA received the $1.4 million residue pursuant to the prior will.

A CBC news article on this decision can be found here.

As Georgia notes in her post, it is important to immediately prepare a new will or codicil if your wishes for your estate change.

B.C. Case Comment: Court Admits Unsigned Will After Will-Maker Dies Before Signing Document

It is not uncommon for people to make changes to their estate plan in the final stages of their life, whether they are ill or elderly.  Sometimes there is urgency – death may be imminent.  On occasion, someone may start to make these changes, but may die before the changes have been finalized.  What happens when it is known that someone wants to make certain changes to their estate plan, starts the process to make those changes, but does not complete the changes (for example by taking the final step of signing a new will)?

This was the case in the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision of Bishop Estate v. Sheardown 2021 BCSC 1571. In Bishop Estate, the deceased had given instructions to a lawyer to prepare her will, she reviewed the draft will, and she made a few minor clarifications.  All that remained was to have the will signed and witnessed.  Unfortunately, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the deceased cancelled her appointment with her lawyer to execute her new will.  She then died without ever signing her new will.

The deceased had a previous will, which named her now-deceased husband as beneficiary, or in the alternative the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation.  Under the new, unsigned will, the primary beneficiaries were the deceased’s nephew and niece-in-law.

A will must meet certain requirements to be valid, including the requirement that the will be in writing, signed by the will-maker in the presence of at least two witnesses.

However, in B.C. a court may cure deficiencies in an otherwise invalid will, and order it to be effective.  It must be established that the invalid document is (1) authentic, and (2) represents the deceased’s deliberate or fixed and final intentions regarding the disposal of her property upon death.  This is a fact specific inquiry.  I have previously discussed other cases that apply the test here.

In Bishop Estate, the Court considered the background as to why the the deceased was making changes to her estate plan in 2020.  Since the prior will was made in 2014, the deceased’s husband had died, and her nephew and his wife (the new beneficiaries) had moved to Kamloops and had become a regular part of her life.  The deceased gave detailed and specific instructions to her lawyer that she wanted to name her nephew and his wife as beneficiaries and remove the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation.

The Court concluded that the unsigned will represented the deceased’s fixed and final intentions.  The Deceased cancelled her appointment with her lawyer to sign her will because she could not leave her care facility and attend at the lawyer’s office in person as a result of the pandemic.  The Hospital Foundation argued that the deceased could have signed her will remotely, which will-makers were allowed to do as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  They argued that the deceased did not proceed with this option because she may have changed her mind about making a new will.  The Court did not accept this argument.  There was no evidence that the deceased was aware of this option, and the failure to execute the will remotely did not undermine her new testamentary intentions.

The Court ordered that the unsigned will was fully effective and determined how the deceased’s estate would be distributed.

B.C. Case Comment: No Claim in Unjust Enrichment Arising from Contribution to Family Business

I am often contacted by the child of a deceased parent who strongly believes that they have not been treated fairly in that parent’s will (or one of their siblings is making this claim against them).  The death of a parent often brings up long-held perceptions of favoritism, unfairness and lack of appreciation. It is not unusual for a child to seek to revisit events going back years or even decades. This commonly results in wills variation claims and other estate litigation.

One “historical” claim that is sometimes brought is a claim relating to unpaid contributions to a family business. Children are often expected to contribute time and efforts to a family business with no remuneration (but they receive room and board). When those children are not treated fairly under their parents’ wills, they seek to go back and revisit the issue of the unpaid services that they provided.

This was the case in the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision of Tang v. Tom 2021 BCSC 1399. In Tang, the plaintiffs sought a variation of their mother’s will, which failed to treat her five children equally.

One of the plaintiffs (Linda) also brought a claim in unjust enrichment with respect to her work at her parents’ grocery store between 1971 and 1981. She described her assistance to her parents as “extraordinary efforts.”

The family came to Vancouver in the 1960s, when the children ranged in age from eight to 17. The family (parents and children) worked extremely hard to improve their standard of life. The Court described their work ethic as “remarkable”. The parents purchased a small grocery store with an attached home and the family moved there in 1971. All of the children except one worked part-time at the store until it was sold in 1981. None of them were paid for their work. The children also worked various other jobs, and contributed their paycheques to the “family pot” of income to pay expenses. The children received pocket money, vehicles to commute to school, and payment of most of their living and school expenses.

Linda argued that she was a pivotal figure in the success of the grocery store business. The Court held that while Linda may have made significant contribution to the store (which at times may have been greater than the contribution of her younger siblings), she tended to exaggerate the scope and scale of her contribution, while minimizing the contributions of her siblings.

The Court had to consider whether Linda’s historic contributions to the family business constituted unjust enrichment. In order to satisfy the requirements for a claim in unjust enrichment, a plaintiff must show: (1) an enrichment of the defendant (in this case her mother/her mother’s estate), (2) a corresponding deprivation of the plaintiff, and (3) an absence of juristic reason for the enrichment.

A claim in unjust enrichment can be difficult to establish in the context of a family business, as there will often be mutual benefits to family members as they function as a common unit. This was the case in Tang. The Court concluded that while the contributions by the children (and in particular Linda) may have been significant (i.e. there was enrichment), the benefits to the children (housing, food, other amenities, etc…) were also significant. As a result, Linda failed to establish a legal claim against her mother’s estate for unjust enrichment.

Linda did have a moral claim to a portion of the estate, as did her siblings, as a result of their contributions to the family business and the common family unit. However, she did not have a legal claim in unjust enrichment distinct from that of her siblings.

The deceased left an estate which included real property assessed at approximately $1.7M, and personal property (bank and investment accounts) worth approximately $775,000. Her will left her real property to two of her children (neither of which was Linda) who provided a greater degree of care in the last three years of her life. The will divided her personal property equally between her five children.

The Court varied the Will to order specific gifts of $300,000 to each of the children who provided care in the three years of the deceased’s life, with the remainder of be divided equally between the five children. This would recognize the contributions of the children when the family was a joint economic unit (which included the acquisition of the real property), but also take into account the “significant sacrifices” made by the of the two children who provided end of life care.

B.C. Case Comment: Surviving Business Partner not Entitled to Receive Partnership Property by Right of Survivorship

What happens when your business partner dies, in particular when the assets of the business are held by you and your partner jointly? Do you receive your deceased partner’s “half” of the business, or does it go to their estate?

A fundamental characteristic of joint tenancy (i.e. registering assets in joint names) is the right of survivorship. When one joint tenant dies, their interest is extinguished, and the surviving joint tenant(s) take full ownership. For example, spouses often register title to their property in joint tenancy, so that the surviving spouse will receive the entirety of the property upon the other spouse’s death. This is accepted as a permissible estate planning tool.

However, where the property at issue is partnership property, there is a presumption that there is no right of survivorship as between partners. The death of a partner in a two-person partnership dissolves the partnership, and on dissolution each partner (including the estate of the deceased’s partner) is entitled to a proportionate share of the partnership assets after payment of debts.

This issue was recently considered by the B.C. Supreme Court in Garland v. Newhouse 2021 BCSC 1291. In Garland, the deceased and the spouse of his close friend (“Ms. Newhouse”) purchased an apartment building together in 2003, with the intention of earning a profit from the rental income. They also opened an account to manage the finances associated with the apartment building. The building and the account were both registered in their joint names.

When the deceased died, Ms. Newhouse took the position that the deceased intended for her to receive the apartment building and account through right of survivorship. The deceased’s estate took the position that the deceased intended for the beneficiaries of his estate (his children) to receive his share of the business assets.

The first question for the court was whether a partnership existed between the parties. The court held that there was a partnership. The deceased and Ms. Newhouse were not spouses, they each equally contributed to the purchase of the building and shared in the expenses and the rental income, with a goal to earn profit over time. This was clearly a business partnership.

Next, the court had to determine whether the presumption of right of survivorship was rebutted. As noted above, where the property in issue is partnership property, there is no presumption of right of survivorship between partners. In essence, the right of survivorship is inconsistent with the rules regarding treatment of partnership assets upon dissolution (including the death of a partner). In order for the right of survivorship to apply to partnership assets, “there must be evidence of a contrary agreement between the parties that is sufficiently clear and compelling to overcome the presumption that beneficial interest in partnership property does not transfer through the right of survivorship.”

Ms. Newhouse was unable to provide this evidence. The court was unable to determine why the deceased and Ms. Newhouse chose to register the apartment building in joint tenancy, and there was no credible evidence that they turned their minds to the significance of registering the property in joint tenancy. The court concluded that the parties did not intend and agree that on the death of one partner, the partnership property would transfer to the surviving partner for their personal benefit.

Ms. Newhouse failed to rebut the presumption against the right of survivorship in relation to the partnership property, and as a result she held legal title of the apartment building and the bank account in trust for herself and the deceased’s estate.

It is important to keep in mind business and partnership interests when making your estate plan. Of course this dispute likely could have been avoided if there was a written agreement reflecting the terms of the arrangement between the parties.

B.C. Case Comment: Creditor Entitled to Shares that Deceased tried to Settle into a Trust

A creditors may make a claim against a debtor’s estate. However, a creditor is sometimes disappointed to find that the debtor’s estate is insolvent or has insufficient assets to satisfy their claim. The creditor may look at other steps taken by the deceased debtor to strip their estate of assets. While the courts have recognized alter ego trusts, transfers into joint tenancy, etc.. as valid estate planning tools, creditors still have remedies available if the deceased has taken steps to defeat the claims of their creditors.

In the recent case of Lau v. McDonald 2021 BCSC 1207, the B.C. Supreme Court was asked to determine who owned shares of 319344 B.C. Ltd. (“319344”) which were previously held by the deceased. A creditor of the deceased wanted to execute against the shares to satisfy a debt owed by the deceased.

The deceased’s spouse argued that she was entitled to receive the shares. She said that she was the beneficiary of an alter ego trust settled by the deceased, and that the shares were settled into the trust pursuant to a deed of gift. However, the deed did not on its face transfer shares in 319344 to the trust. Instead, the deed referred to the transfer of shares in Noramco Capital Corp. (“Noramco”), a subsidiary of 319344. The Deceased did not own any shares in Noramco, only in 319344.

The 319344 shares were valued at almost $1,900,000 at the deceased’s date of death.

The creditor of the estate took the position that the 319344 shares formed part of the estate (as opposed to the trust), so that she could claim against them to satisfy the debt owed to her by the deceased.

There was a good argument that the deed contained a drafting error, and the issue became whether there was some legal basis to fix the error, and whether the spouse was able to keep the shares and avoid execution against them by the creditor.

First, the spouse argued that the deed should be interpreted to include the 319344 shares. However, the deed stated that it transferred “all of the issued shares of Noramco Capital Corp. which are beneficially held by [the deceased] as of the date hereof.” The Court was not willing to interpret this to include shares in 319344 when the deed clearly only referred to Noramco.

Next, the spouse asked that the deed be rectified, to give effect to the true agreement of the parties. Where a written instrument does not accord with the true agreement between the parties, equity has the power to rectify the document so that it reflects the true agreement. The mistake is not in the transaction itself, but the way that the transaction has been expressed in writing. This is a discretionary remedy.

In Lau, the Court held that there was sufficient evidence to establish an agreement by the deceased to transfer “all of his known material assets” into the trust.   The deed clearly failed to reflect this agreement, since it left out the 319344 shares and instead purported to transfer Noramco shares that the deceased did not even own.

As a result, the court concluded that rectification was available. If the discrepancy was pointed out to the deceased at the time of the transaction, the deceased would have obviously agreed to the necessary revision. It was ultimately an error by the deceased’s professional advisor (lawyer) who drafted the documents. In the end, the court characterized this as a “simple drafting mistake in inserting the name of a subsidiary rather than the parent company.” Equity ought to step in and fix this mistake.

However, this was not the end of the matter. The creditor made other arguments. She sought to argue that the shares were not properly transferred, and that the court may not generally assist a claimant in enforcing an imperfect gift. However, the court held that the transfer of the 319344 shares was properly completed. She sought to argue that the transfer of the shares to the trust was a fraudulent conveyance under the Fraudulent Conveyance Act, intended to defeat her claims. The court held that the deceased did not have this intention, and so there was no fraudulent conveyance.

The creditor’s last argument was that the transfer was contrary to s. 96 of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, which provides that a transfer at undervalue is void as against the trustee if it occurred within a specified period of time (which is set out in the section), and if the debtor was insolvent at the time of transfer or was rendered insolvent by it, or intended to defeat creditors. The Court in Lau held that the creditor established the test for s. 96.  The transfer of the shares rendered the deceased insolvent, even though he may not have intended to defeat his creditors.

Success on this one argument was enough for the creditor to be entitled to the shares.

B.C. Case Comment: Alleged Victim of Elder Abuse Not Forced to Undergo Further Mental Capacity Assessment

In B.C., a proceeding brought by a person under legal disability must be started by his or her litigation guardian. This often arises in the context of alleged elder abuse. A loved one may seek to remedy an incident of elder abuse (for example, undue influence), by bringing an action on behalf of the victim. However, what if the alleged victim of elder abuse denies the undue influence or other abuse, and does not want a claim to be brought on their behalf? This can be further complicated when the loved one bringing the claim on behalf of the victim ultimately benefits if that claim is successful (for example, by receiving part of the victim’s estate upon their death).

If the alleged victim insists that they have capacity to decide whether they want/need to bring a claim, and the loved one insists that they lack capacity, can the court order a medical assessment?

This was recently considered by the B.C. Supreme Court in Hambleton (Litigation Guardian of) v. Hambleton 2021 BCSC 1155.  In Hambleton, a daughter took the position that her mother suffered from severe dementia, and that she lacked capacity to make decisions regarding her financial affairs and was subject to undue influence by her other daughter (Alice).

The mother transferred title to her property to herself and Alice, and took out a reverse mortgage. Her daughter started an action, on behalf of her mother, seeking to challenge and set aside the transfer. The mother said she was capable of making her own decisions, and said that the transfer was consistent with the terms of her will made back in 2010 (where there was no suggestion of lack of capacity). The mother retained her own lawyer and applied to strike the action which was brought in her name by her daughter (and to remove her daughter as litigation guardian).

The Court had previously ordered that the mother attend a mental capacity examination at a time and place to be arranged by her care center, before any further steps were taken in the litigation. While there is a presumption that a person is capable, there was some medical evidence from 2015-2016, which indicated that the mother suffered a mental health event and was involuntarily committed to a facility. There was a gap in the evidence as to whether the mother was capable, which needed to be addressed with a medical assessment.

The mother did not arrange with her care facility to attend a medical assessment as ordered. Eventually, she was discharged from that facility. Instead, the mother unilaterally attended an assessment with a geriatric psychiatrist. The doctor concluded that the mother had mild cognitive impairment but was capable of personal financial decision making, and had testamentary capacity to sign legal documents.

The daughter took the position that the doctor’s assessment was inadequate, and sought an order that her mother undergo a more extensive medical capacity evaluation.

The Court was satisfied that the assessment was adequate. It is an invasion of an individual’s rights to require them to undergo a mental capacity assessment, and the court should not make such an order without sufficient evidentiary basis for doing so. In this case, the mother had obtained an assessment to address the Court’s concern about capacity, and requiring her to undergo a further mental capacity assessment would not be appropriate. It would be stretching the court’s parens patriae jurisdiction (the Court’s powers to make orders protecting persons under disability or potential disability) too far.

As a result, the mother had established that she had the requisite capacity, and she could proceed with her application to remove her daughter as litigation guardian (and presumably with her application to strike the claim that her daughter brought on her behalf).

A competent adult can deal with their assets during their lifetime as they see fit, and there is a presumption of competency. A court will only order a mental capacity assessment in extraordinary circumstances. A court will certainly not order an assessment as a matter of course when there are allegations of undue influence or elder abuse. This case also serves as a reminder that care needs to be taken to ensure someone is actually under a legal disability before a claim is brought on their behalf (especially when they are opposed to taking the action).