Elder abuse targets some of the most vulnerable members of Canadian society. The abuse does not have to be physical; finance abuse is also a very serious threat to seniors. When this is combined with predatory marriage, Canadian seniors face real threats to the personal safety, financial security and the legacy that they intent do leave behind. Luckily, the courts have a number of tools at their disposal to counteract this form of abuse. In this blog post I want to canvas several ways in which the courts can combat financial and estate abuse.
The case of Juzumas v Baron provides an interesting case study on how the court can correct the wrongs perpetrated through predatory marriage. The facts of the case show a pattern of abuse towards an elderly Lithuanian Canadian, Mr. Juzumas. He was targeted by Ms. Baron and her son through conduct that Justice Lang characterized as reprehensible. Ms. Baron initially provided housekeeping services for free to Mr. Juzumas. As things progressed, she increasingly took control of Mr. Juzumas’ life. She began taking $800 a month in fees for the housekeeping services. This moved up to $1200 over time. The two eventually married, not out of mutual affection, but because she wanted to secure a survivor’s pension. The two never lived together and Ms. Baron verbally abused her ‘husband’ regularly. When she discovered he had executed a will that would have denied her his largest asset, the house, she became furious. She orchestrated a transfer of the house to her son. Mr. Juzumas did not speak English, did not understand the transfer, and seemed genuinely surprised when he was told about it sometime after it was executed. Ms. Baron completely dominant Mr. Juzumas and he was dependent upon her, largely because he was terrified of ending up in a nursing home.
The court utilized the contract law doctrines of unconscionability and undue influence to render the transfer of the house unenforceable. The court also said there was evidence of non est factum (‘not my deed’ or ‘not my deal’) and that there was a lack of consideration (no money was given for the house). The facts of this case show that it was not just a bad deal that Mr. Juzumas wanted out of, there was serious wrong doing that made the contract unenforceable.
Ms. Baron also made a claim for quantum meruit, which is basically a claim for compensation for work that you have already done. In this case, Ms. Baron claimed that the months of housekeeping deserved compensation. The judge rejected this claim on several grounds. Firstly, there was never an agreement that she’d be paid. Secondly, she took compensation at $800 and then $1200 for most of the time. Thirdly, and most importantly, she cannot claim this type of relief because she is a wrong doer. As the judge put it, she does not have clean hands, her reprehensible behavior disqualifies her from any compensation she may have been owed.
Finally, Ms Baron also made claims to the house based on family law principles. She claimed the house was a matrimonial home, the value of which is subject to the equalization process. The judge rejected this claim on the basis that she never slept in the home, let alone ordinarily occupied it, therefore it was not a matrimonial home. The fact that it is not a matrimonial home means that Mr. Juzumas could deduct the value of the home at the date of marriage from the value of the home at separation for his net family property calculation. Ms Baron would have been able to claim a portion of the appreciation in value of the home through the equalization process. However, the judge found that the parties were validly married and separated all within the same day. Therefore, there was no appreciation in the value of the house to divide. The judge very skillfully used the family law to deny Ms. Baron any claim to Ms. Juzumas’ property.
This case provides a rare bright spot in the area of financial abuse of elderly Ontarians. The court was able to utilize the principles of contract law, family law and equity to deny Ms. Baron any compensation that she tried to take through her reprehensible behavior. This case involved a number of different fields of law. There were family law, contract law, wills and estates law and real estate law elements overlaid on top of a clear case of elder abuse. The interplay between these fields can be complex and requires significant expertise to sort through. The lawyers at Dale Streiman Law LLP have been leaders in these fields for decades. They have expertise on these issues and have successfully served client throughout southern Ontario.
By: Fred Streiman & Stephen Duffy