A Burnaby widow who left her estranged developmentally disabled daughter $15,000 out of a $1.8-million estate failed to make adequate provisions for her in her will, a B.C. Supreme Court judge has ruled.
Jean Geluch signed two wills in January 2016 – one just four days before her death at age 89 from cancer on Jan. 24 of that year, according to court documents.
The first will left $350,000 to various charities, including the SPCA and BC Wildlife Federation, and nearly $1.45 million to other individuals.
But to her only child, Sharon Geluch, a woman in her 70s with whom she had had very little contact after placing her in state care at age four, the elder Geluch left just $15,000.
The second will, signed eight days later – after Jean Geluch had checked into the hospital for the last time – again left $15,000 to her daughter; $105,000 to her brother, Ted Josefowich;and about $260,000 to her niece, Carol Wells, who had looked after her during her final illness.
On that same day, Jan. 20, Jean Geluch also signed a document transferring her primary asset – her Burnaby home worth more than $1.4 million – to Wells on trust terms that were unclear even to Jean Geluch’s lawyer, Peter Hansen, according to court documents.
The Public Guardian and Trustee, a provincial appointee whose job is to protect the legal and financial interests of children and of adults who need help with decision making, stepped in to contest both wills as well as the transfer of the Burnaby property.
On Sharon Geluch’s behalf, the PGT argued the wills were invalid because Jean Geluch lacked the capacity to make them, she had been under undue influence from her brother and niece and she lacked the required knowledge for the wills to reflect her wishes.
The PGT also applied to the court to have Jean Geluch’s last will changed because it failed to make “adequate, just and equitable provision” for her daughter.
After citing a number of “suspicious circumstances” surrounding both wills, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Amy Francis ruled Jean Geluch did not have “knowledge and approval” – the necessary understanding of the content of the wills or of the transfer of her home when she signed the documents.
In a Dec. 19 decision, she also ruled Jean Geluch’s wills had failed to make adequate provisions for her daughter, who currently lives in a private home with a home-share worker who helps her with all the activities of daily living, including banking, household management, medication management and transportation.
Jean Geluch’s lawyer testified that his client had been concerned a larger gift to her daughter would lead to Sharon Geluch’s caregivers exploiting her by using the funds to take her on trips.
An email from Carol Wells to Peter Hansen expressed the same idea.
“Apparently, Sharon has been travelling to some rather exotic locations such as Florida and Mexico and would like to travel to Europe if the exchange rate becomes favourable,” stated the email. “Jean believes someone has been encouraging Sharon to participate in these ‘outings’ because Sharon wouldn’t really know the difference between Florida and Stanley Park.”
But Christina Peters, an occupational therapist, testified Sharon Geluch – whose sole income is Old Age Security – had been scrimping on her basic expenses to save for a trip to Disneyland.
“To the extent that the reason for the very small bequest to Sharon under the Jan. 12 will was to ensure that Sharon could not engage in travel, one of the things in life that brings Sharon great joy, the bequest borders on being cruel,” wrote Francis in her ruling.
Peters also testified that there were a number of treatments and activities that would improve Sharon Geluch’s quality of life if she had the money to pay for them, according to Francis’s ruling.
In the end, Francis ruled the Jan. 20 will and property transfer were not valid.
She also ruled Jean Geluch’s daughter and not her niece was the rightful residual beneficiary in the Jan 12 will.
The ruling upped Sharon Geluch’s bequest from $15,000 to about $890,000.
“Sharon’s moral claim is strong,” Francis said in her ruling. “She can bear no responsibility for her mother’s choice not to have a relationship with her. Sharon’s financial circumstances are extremely modest. She does not have an independent means of support. Expert evidence was tendered at trial to suggest that Sharon would benefit from a number of treatments and activities.”
Francis said a will-maker’s “moral duty” to provide for adult children can be negated for valid and rational reasons but that Jean Geluch’s reasons had been “neither valid nor rational nor justifiable in the circumstances.”