Letters to the Editor

A differing take on how public guardian trustee works–or doesn’t–for seniors

To the editor:

I have just finished reading the column by Sharen Marteny which appeared in your June 5 issue, headlined How a Public Guardian can Support Seniors.

First, I will readily admit that there is a place for the public guardian and trustee (PGT). However; Marteny’s column puts forth a much rosier picture than that which actually exists. Nowhere does she ever point out some of the serious faults of the PGT that must be avoided at all cost.

Early in her column she states: “Seniors may have authorized someone else to make decisions through an enduring Power of Attorney, etc. If no such agreement is in place the PGT may be appointed.” This is absolutely untrue. What actually happens is even when there is an agreement in place, the first thing the PGT does is cancel any and all Power Of Attorney agreements, even if the document was originated when the senior was fully competent.

An example of this “abuse” of a senior’s rights was fully aired by both CBC TV and CBC Radio in Kelowna several  months ago. If you want the details just search out  “CBC and PGT.”

What happens next is after cancelling any and all representation agreements a senior may have made, the PGT actually takes over all the  senior’s finances—closes all bank accounts, takes ownership of any stocks, etc., and removes the contents of safety deposit boxes. The senior is literally left with nothing. Even a joint bank account is not safe.

She goes on to point out the “PGT is independent of government.” Unfortunately, this is true, but what it also means is that while the PGT maintain they will react to family and friends concerns, once they make a decision, even if it goes against the family’s wishes, there is absolutely no recourse.

There is no complaint resolution mechanism within the PGT. Their decision is final. Oh, they will say if you have a concern you can complain to the provincial ombudsman, but in reality what this means is by the time the ombudsman gets to looking at the issue the senior has now passed away.

For even more examples of the PGT’s dictatorial attitude refer to the Elders Advocate Society of Alberta (www.elderadvocates.ca). Alberta has been more aggressive in dealing with seniors’ issues than B.C. and has had a Seniors Advocate Society since 1992. While B.C. has been very slow to respond to the need for a seniors’ advocate, Alberta  reports on the more egregious cases that have occurred in B.C.

A perfect example is the 2009 case of George Brent and his wife Dolores of Montrose, B.C.  In that case, the PGT took over the joint bank account of George and his wife, placed an attachment on the house title, and proceeded to move Dolores to a facility of their choice.

George wanted her to be at home and she wanted to be there too. But it was not to be.

Despite George having an enduring Power of Attorney, she was moved to Trail, George’s Power of Attorney was cancelled and the PGT took over all their finances.

The PGT state their goal is to “assist where there is no one else to do so.” This too is absolutely untrue. Even if there are friends or family able and willing to look after the person, the PGT will cancel all the arrangements the senior has made and take over themselves.

It must be noted that they will do this only when the senior has significant money. The reason for this is simple: The PGT take a minimum of five per cent of the value of the entire estate as their annual fee.

For example, take a case where a senior has lived in their house for 60 years. Here in the Lower Mainland, it is now likely worth close to $1 million.

A couple may have saved $100,000 over their lifetime so their estate is now  $1.1 million. The PGT takes five per cent annually so their charge in this case would be $55,000 per year—that’s right, they charge the five per cent on the assessed value of the home as well.

So to get the cash to pay their fees, the couple will sell the home, use some to pay for care for the owner, likely about $3,000 per month, plus be charged $55,000 annually for doing so.

So the total cost to the person is now $91,000 annually which will deplete their estate in just a few years.

Compare this to a family member or close friend who, in most cases, do not charge anything.

Also, Marteny says if a senior’s health improves, the PGT will no longer be involved. Absolutely untrue. The only way to remove the PGT is to get a court order—and that means time and money spent.

Marteny also is in error when she says the PGT pays a senior’s expenses “out of a trust fund.” The PGT pays a senior’s expenses only from the funds the senior already has. They are indeed in a trust fund but only the senior’s funds are used. There is no way the PGT can pay one cent of expenses if the senior does not have the funds available. The PGT operates only with the client’s funds.

E. (Ted) Shier,

North Vancouver

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