Separate Finances are Worth the Hassle

When handling an elderly parent’s finances, good recordkeeping is often tedious and time-consuming. It can be much more convenient in the short-term to operate without records and keep finances joint with the parent. However, as shown in the case of Wilson Estate, Re, 2019 ABQB 726, this makes things much more difficult to defend in court.

This case involved two siblings struggling over their mother’s money. Jason Wilson helped take care of his mother, Leona Wilson, in her later years and was the personal representative of her estate. While managing Leona’s finances, Jason kept several joint accounts with her, some of which he used as his own personal accounts to take advantage of senior discounts. Those accounts together were worth around $2,100. Two days before Leona’s passing, a guaranteed investment certificate (GIC) worth over $100,000 matured and was deposited into one of Leona’s solely owned accounts before being transferred into one of the joint accounts. The bank listed the initial deposit as an “error”. Jason’s sister, Cynthia Wilson, naturally grew suspicious of this state of affairs and took Jason to court over his handling of the estate more than once.

Before the justice, the only evidence Jason could present in addition to his own words were the account statements and the testimony of one of Leona’s friends who helped her with her finances at times. Cynthia appeared to have no evidence. This was despite the Alberta Evidence Act, RSA 2000, c A-18, requiring Cynthia to have corroborating evidence and the common law placing a rebuttable presumption against Jason (Pecore v Pecore, 2007 SCC 17).

With little at hand, the Justice sided with Jason for having barely better evidence and for being a better witness than Cynthia. However, the Court made clear that if the amounts were greater, Jason likely would not have succeeded. This fight, both emotionally and financially, may have been avoided if only Jason kept separate finances and proper records.

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