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Friday, May 11, 2018

UBC and dead woman's gardener battle over her house and cash

One of the biggest challenges of a lawsuit involving the estate of a deceased person is understanding and proving what the deceased person intended to do. Almost any action can be interpreted in two or more ways depending upon the outcome desired by the person doing the interpretation.

In 2014, Mary Ann Gordon, a childless widow, died in Burnaby, BC at age 98. Her will had been redone a few times over the last few years of her life. At one point she wanted to leave her entire estate to the University of British Columbia (UBC) to fund research into macular degeneration, a disease from which she herself suffered. However, by the time she passed away, her house, car, and money had all been transferred to her gardener, David Ohori. The house was worth $1.7 million and there was about $170,000 in cash. In addition, Ohori was now the executor of what was left of her estate.

Click here to read the story.

This story came to light in 2018 because UBC is suing to have the assets returned to the estate so that they may have a share of them. They are alleging that Mrs. Gordon did not have the mental capacity to make the transfers of the property to Ohori. Clearly the allegation is that Ohori and his wife took advantage of a vulnerable, isolated person. On the other side, Ohori is alleging that he and his wife were such good friends with Mrs. Gordon that she treated them like a son and daughter.

An addition bit of information that I found interesting is that Mrs. Gordon's long-time lawyer that she had known for years met her on a few occasions to talk about transferring her assets and he found each time that she did not understand what was going on. It was only after the lawyer retired and Mrs. Gordon went to a new lawyer that the transfers were done.

This is where the challenge comes in. Was Mrs. Gordon a vulnerable person who was taken to the cleaners by opportunists? Or was she really so fond of these individuals that she wanted to treat them as the family she didn't have? Both sides will come up with evidence such as medical reports, comments made by her lawyer, anecdotes from neighbours and friends, and anything else they can think of that supports their position. In cases like this, sometimes even an exchange of Christmas cards becomes relevant.

Competent adults are entitled to leave their estates to friends or to charities if they wish. Other people don't necessarily have to like their choices or to find them sensible. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to  brush aside that simple concept when a person is elderly, but individuals don't lose their autonomy simply by aging. It is absolutely essential that the court is very careful not to take away a person's right to dispose of her property, just as it is also essential that the court must protect those who are vulnerable to financial abuse.

The more isolated the person, the easier it is for someone to take advantage. In Mrs. Gordon's case, the only person she had around her, looking out for her interests, was her lawyer. Those who take financial advantage of seniors know full well there is nobody around to see what they're doing or to care about it. Was this the case for Ohori? Was he a friend or a vulture? I look forward to reading more about this case as time goes on. The court has a tough call to make.

The attached photo is from an article in the Vancouver Courier and is credited to Cornelia Naylor.


2 comments:

  1. Clearly the allegation is that Ohori and his wife took advantage of a vulnerable, isolated person. [....]

    There are too many puzzle pieces missing at this point. More investigation is required and hopefully some 'truths' and more facts come to light. Thoughts that cross my mind with the info that we have.

    It is very possible that the Ohori's became good neighbours and friends and they genuinely liked Mrs Gorden and they helped her a fare amount. It happens. Also, they were no doubt aware of her status and it probably crossed their minds that she might be generous to them. Mrs Gorden did not have any children. No other family is mentioned. At her age I would be very thankful for such help and I would want to compensate them. Unfortunately, Mrs Gorden might not have been mentally capable to at the end to alter her will, assuming that is what she intended.

    Wills are what they are. 'Intent' and the surrounding 'facts' often come into play such as in this case. UBC wants the money and they want the court to accept it's (will) validity. If the Ohori's are what they claim to be then perhaps they have a claim to some of the money. Perhaps all of it. Perhaps, each party should get half? TBC.

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    Replies
    1. You're right. All of the facts have at least two sides. I don't envy the judge having to figure this one out, assuming it gets that far. Most of the time both sides end up settling (perhaps, as you say, with each side getting half).

      This is really awful litigation in some ways. I represent a lot of families who are in the middle of this type of dispute. Everything a person has said or done for years gets dragged out and examined and sometimes twisted. It's so tough on the people involved!

      Lynne

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