Many people who have been appointed committees of a patient’s estate wonder what their rights and duties are in that role. Some people believe that they are obligated to preserve the patient’s assets exactly as they were at the time of their appointment while others believe that they are entitled to alter the state of the patient’s assets, selling them or changing title, to meet the patient’s needs. So the question, is who is right? The answer is, it depends on the situation.
Section 18 of the Patients Property Act provides that a committee must exercise his or her powers for the “benefit of the patient and the patient’s family, having regard to the nature of the value of the property of the patient and the circumstances and needs of the patient and the patient’s family.” The Courts in British Columbia have interpreted this to mean that a committee is obligated to act with ordinary prudence, demonstrating honesty, with the standard of care which would be shown by the reasonable and prudent business person keeping the needs of the patient as paramount importance in all decisions which are made.
What is considered to be reasonable and prudent turns almost entirely upon the unique set of facts that apply to each patient.
In certain instances, if a patient has an expressed but unfulfilled intentions that would be to the benefit of the patient or the patient’s family, it is reasonable for the committee to carry out these wishes provided that the patient’s own interests are being fulfilled as the interests of the patient are preferred to the interests of the patient’s family.
Depending on the circumstances, actions which have been sanctioned by the Court include the setting up of trusts for the patient’s family, the sale of the patient’s assets, commencement of litigation on behalf of the patient, severance in the joint tenancy of a bank account and severance in the joint tenancy of a home.
In the end, the ultimate consideration by the Court is whether the reasonable and prudent business person would have concluded that the committee acted in a reasonable fashion. With this said, it is always recommended that a committee obtain professional advice before altering the state of a patient’s assets.