UBC fighting over estate with deceased woman's gardener

UBC is in a legal battle for the estate of a recently deceased Burnaby woman with her gardener.

The woman, Mary Ann Gordon, decided to leave the majority of her estate to UBC to fund research into macular degeneration and other eye diseases in September 2000 after going blind. But while UBC was named the sole residual beneficiary in her will, her house, car and most of her money were in possession of her former gardener, David Yukio Ohori, who is now contesting the will.

Ohori started working for Gordon in 1998, and according to court documents, developed a close friendship with her. In Ohori’s response to UBC’s petition, this included shopping for her, driving her to appointments and sharing meals with her. She apparently referred to him as ‘her son’ when introducing him to the staff at the long term care facility where she was living.

A new will, written in 2003, named both a neighbour and Ohori as co-executors of the will, and also left $25,000 for each. A 2005 amendment increased Ohori’s portion to $50,000, and later amendments in 2008 made Ohori the sole executor, as well as attorney and representative.

According to Ohori, after Gordon moved into long-term care, she told him that she wanted her house to go to him instead of UBC.

Carlos Bernardino, a lawyer who had known Gordon for over 15 years, talked to her about the transfer three times in 2011 and 2012, concluding each time that she did not have the mental capacity to sign over her property. On one of these visits, Gordon scored 17 out of 27 on a mini-mental status exam that showed that she did not not know what year it was and believed she was in Bellingham.

After Bernardino retired, Ohori and his wife brought Gordon to another lawyer, Stephen Miller. Miller concluded that Gordon did have the mental capacity to make the transfer and witnessed her signature as she signed the house over to Ohori. Miller declined to comment for this story.

UBC filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court last August to have the house, as well as nearly $170,000 in cash, returned to Gordon’s estate, arguing that she lacked the mental capacity to transfer them to Ohori before her death.

“Where an individual leaves a gift in his or her will to UBC, the university has an obligation to ensure the intentions of the deceased are honoured,” said UBC counsel Elizabeth Moxham in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey.

“The university owes this obligation not only to the donor, Mrs. Gordon, but also to other donors and to the community that the university serves to ensure that donors’ gifts are received by the university as the donors intended so that they can be used for the charitable purposes that the donors intended.”

The Ubyssey was unable to reach Ohori for comment.

UBC was able to mount this legal challenge due to the 2014 Wills, Estates and Succession Act, which allows beneficiaries to appeal to the court to sue to have assets returned to the estate in cases where mental capacity was in question. Before this change, only an executor could do this. This bill also made significant changes in cases in which there is no will, and allows the courts to consider documents such as emails, scraps of paper and DVDs as a will if the court believes that the willmaker intended it to be a will.

If successful, UBC stands to acquire $2 million in assets, according to the Vancouver Courier. In their 2017/2018 operating budget, UBC projects they will receive $169 million in philanthropic contributions for the 2017/2018 fiscal year, a figure which includes estate gifts.

It is unclear exactly how common these estate gifts are worth. However, the budget specifies that “more than $400 million of future estate gifts have been identified,” implying that Ms. Gordon is far from the only person intending to gift part or all of their estate to UBC.