Siblings, woman claiming to be wife fight over Vernon man's will

Were they really married?

The siblings and purported wife of a Vernon man whose mental condition required management of his affairs by the Public Guardian and Trustee are fighting over his will.

BC Supreme Court Justice Terence Schultes is hearing the case, which both parties are hoping to conclude without going to trial.

Petitioners Charles Ross and Patricia Weber say their brother Raymer's 1979 will should be honoured. They are the executors of his estate, valued at about half a million dollars.

Ross died after suffering a stroke in 2020.

His siblings seek a declaration that a 2019 will is invalid and that Korenna Matsen, who is alleged to have exerted undue influence, was not Ross' spouse, "either in a legal marriage or a marriage-like relationship."

Court documents show Ross had an intellectual disability throughout his life, and continued to live with his parents as an adult.

Ross' brother said in a deposition that their mother had to help take care of Raymer because he was "unable to function with daily tasks without supervision and direction."

In 2001, Ross entered into a representation agreement, which named the director of a local seniors centre as his representative. That same year, he contacted a local law firm and asked to prepare a new will, but the lawyer refused after consulting with his doctor.

Then, in 2003, a friend contacted the public guardian to express concern about possible financial abuse of Ross by his representative. More concerns were raised in 2004.

A geriatric psychiatrist found his thinking "superficial and childish," making him "vulnerable to abuse." A certificate of incapability was issued, and the public guardian became the committee of his estate.

In 2005, the psychiatrist wrote that Ross was "not competent to make changes to his will."

When his mother died in 2005, Ross received a life estate in the family home. According to his brother, it soon fell into decay, and filled up with garbage. The Salvation Army noted that he was living in "deplorable conditions" and that the house was infested with mice, lice and fleas.

In 2015, he accidentally started a fire in the house, and it became uninhabitable. Ross then moved in with Matsen. Ross' brother and sister sold the damaged property and paid his share of the proceeds to the public guardian.

Matsen claims she and Ross were married in September 2016, at O'Keefe Ranch.

She said they had been friends since the mid-1990s, and she felt Ross was "still quite capable in most respects."

She claims Ross started asking her to marry him about 2012 and gave her a promise ring made by a blacksmith out of a nail on a trip they took to Barkerville.

Matsen refutes she was after Ross' money, saying she had to spend her own money on him, as he received only $600 a month for room and board and $200 per week for spending money from the public guardian.

Schultes notes the 1979 will was drafted by and stored at a law firm, while the 2019 will "appears to be a word-processed document, and based on its font it may have been prepared from a precedent."

It does not name an executor, but leaves his "entire estate and all assets ... to my wife Korenna Matsen."

It continues: "As for my sister ... and brother ... they will receive zero of my estate as I have taken care of them financially throughout my lifetime."

Charles says his brother only ever referred to Matsen as his friend and that he lacked the capacity to understand what a marriage is.

In a deposition, Dr. David Screen said: "In my first meeting with Raymer, he was unclear as to why he was seeing me. He was accompanied by his 'friend' Korenna, who complained that the PGT was not providing him with enough money every week. Korenna had advised that she had taken Raymer to lawyers to try to increase the money given to him by the PGT. I was suspicious of Korenna's motivations immediately but at that time she assured me she was only looking out for Raymer...

"Korenna sought methods and opportunities to gain access to Raymer's finances, usually under the guise of caring for him. The reason I use the word 'guise' is because it seemed to me that she tended to reject other appropriate and legitimate methods for care, if those methods involved the use of his weekly funds outside her direct benefit or control. I would characterize Korenna's behaviour as predatory."

When Ross asked to be found of fit mind so he could change his will, Screen said: "It was clear to me that Raymer did not understand what marriage was."

Schultes determined that cross-examination of Ross' brother, Dr. Screen and Matsen would be necessary to assess their credibility.

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