A Richmond woman was ordered to pay $400,000 in damages to her late boyfriend’s estate after she was found to have taken advantage of her position and spent all his money meant for investment.
Diana Warriner faced her boyfriend’s ex-spouse and children in court after attempting to take control of his estate. Her boyfriend passed away due to a fentanyl overdose in October 2018 and did not have a will. The Richmond News is not using the man’s name to protect the identity of his children.
Warriner wanted control of her boyfriend’s estate, claiming she had lived with him for more than two years in a marriage-like relationship, which would mean she was his spouse according to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act. She also claimed her boyfriend was paying her back by sending her $350,000.
The ex-spouse, who was granted administration of the estate, argued that Warriner was supposed to be holding the money in trust and that she had manipulated the boyfriend in his vulnerable state due to his active substance use disorder.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Janet Winteringham rejected Warriner’s claims, pointing out inconsistencies in both her testimonies about her relationship and about the $350,000 transfer.
“I have grave difficulty with the veracity of Ms. Warriner’s testimony,” Winteringham wrote.
Woman did not know boyfriend 'very well': judge
Warriner’s boyfriend had lived together with his ex-spouse and their two children in their Surrey family home before they separated in 2015. His ex-spouse then moved out of the home while he stayed.
Warriner claimed she had lived with her boyfriend for more than two years at the family home but her purported move-in dates were rejected by Winteringham.
“Ms. Warriner’s evidence on the date she moved into the (family home) was equivocal and inconsistent with the totality of the evidence presented, including the documentary record,” wrote Winteringham.
Although Winteringham accepted that Warriner was living with her boyfriend at the time of his death, she concluded they were not living together in a marriage-like relationship for more than two years.
“In sum, there is documented evidence, signed by Ms. Warriner and (the boyfriend) declaring their marital status as single after October 8, 2016,” wrote Winteringham.
“Their finances were separate, and Ms. Warriner maintained her mailing address as the (Richmond residence).”
Although there was a dental benefits application from the boyfriend in 2016 that stated that Warriner was a “common law girlfriend” who moved in with him on April 28, 2015, Winteringham deemed it “suspect” since it was Warriner who had filled in the form, and it was “unusual” to say “common law girlfriend.”
Testimony from the boyfriend’s two children and his friend of more than 25 years also supported the fact that Warriner was not living with the boyfriend for two years prior to his death. Records from the MCFD, which made note of their relationship, also do not show they were living in a marriage-like relationship.
Although the boyfriend’s sister and niece testified on Warriner’s behalf that they did live together, their testimony was rejected for having unreliable timelines.
Winteringham pointed out other inconsistencies in Warriner’s testimony, including her claim of “a very active integrated life with the children…and all of their activities,” which contradicted with the children’s evidence that she only attended a few of their games.
Warriner also claimed the couple had plans to have children, although she initially said the opposite, and she had given “shifting evidence about (the boyfriend’s) apparent good health in 2018,” in contrast with evidence from his friend’s testimony of the boyfriend’s drastic weight loss.
“In sum, Ms. Warriner tried to paint a picture of a couple making plans for a future together. I agree with counsel’s suggestion to her: she really did not know (the boyfriend) very well. Notably, she seemed unfamiliar with the severity of his medical issues,” Winteringham wrote.
“I have concluded that she had made up a story and added certain features to it when necessary.”
Money not meant for girlfriend’s use
The most “significant and material area of inconsistency” in Warriner’s testimony, wrote Winteringham, was about the $350,000 transfer.
Prior to his death, the boyfriend had sold the family home for more than $800,000 and paid off some debts with the proceeds. He also transferred $350,000 from the proceeds to Warriner, who claimed it was money he owed her.
“I accept the (ex-spouse’s) submission that (Warriner’s banking records were) created after the fact and is self-serving. Ms. Warriner has simply selected every non-descript banking transaction and attributed it to an expense incurred by (her boyfriend) or his children,” Winteringham wrote.
And even if the court accepted all the transaction amounts Warriner attributed to the boyfriend, the total would be “far short” of $350,000.
Winteringham also took note of examples of Warriner lying about her income in a loan application and a rental application, calling Warriner’s claim that she thought she could disclose future anticipating earnings instead of her actual income “preposterous.”
Warriner had claimed as well that a contractor was hired to renovate the family home for the sale, but she was unable to show the authenticity of the invoice and she did not provide a consistent story about the details of the work done and who the contractor was.
Winteringham determined that the boyfriend had intended to invest the $350,000 instead of gifting it to Warriner, as this is what he had told his friend and his banker. He also wanted to shield the money from the ex-spouse “based on some notion that she intended to go after this money.”
Woman took advantage of boyfriend’s vulnerable state
Warriner was also found to have undue influence over the boyfriend when he transferred the $350,000 to her.
The boyfriend was in a vulnerable state at the time of the transfer as he was dealing with “significant health issues” and was “actively using drugs.” One of the children said he acted odd and “was not himself,” while others said he was “stressed.”
Winteringham considered it to be “suspicious” that the transfer happened without the boyfriend’s banker knowing, as the banker was trying to help him manage his money. The transfer had also happened in Langley, where none of the staff knew the boyfriend, rather than his usual branch.
“I reject Ms. Warriner’s explanation that (the boyfriend) went to this bank because he wanted to buy shoes for the children,” Winteringham wrote.
She added that the boyfriend was “not sophisticated in financial matters” while Warriner had more experience having worked for her family company and owned and ran a rental property. She also found that while they were not spouses, the boyfriend was in a marriage-like relationship of less than two years with Warriner at the time.
“Based on the nature of their relationship, (the boyfriend’s) vulnerability at the time (because of his ongoing drug addiction and health condition and his paranoia about (the ex-partner)), Ms. Warriner was able to dominate his will. She exercised a persuasive influence over him,” Winteringham wrote.
By the time of the trial, Warriner had spent the entire sum without giving the children any of the money.
“Since the $350,000 cannot be returned, I award (the boyfriend’s estate) damages in the amount of $350,000,” wrote Winteringham.
“This is especially appropriate when considering the significant unfairness of allowing Ms. Warriner to benefit from her misconduct, while leaving (the boyfriend’s) children with a minimal inheritance.”
Spending boyfriend’s money after his death without helping his kids was ‘egregious’: judge
Winteringham agreed that punitive damages were warranted for this case as Warriner had spent almost “the entirety” of her boyfriend’s estate “without any accounting to (the boyfriend’s) two minor children” who were only 11 and nine years old at the time.
Punitive damages are exceptional remedies awarded to punish “malicious and oppressive conduct that markedly departs from ordinary standards of decent behaviour,” and are proportionate to factors such as the harm caused, the degree of misconduct, the vulnerability of the victim and any advantage gained.
“Despite his end, there is no dispute on the evidence that (the boyfriend) loved his children and wanted to take care of them,” Winteringham wrote, adding that Warriner had promised to take care of the children if her boyfriend passed away.
“Ms. Warriner failed to take any steps to fulfil her promise to (the boyfriend); he trusted her and she abused that trust,” Winteringham wrote.
“I find her conduct after (the boyfriend’s) death, spending all of his money without account and without any effort to meet the needs of the children, to be egregious.”
Warriner will have to repay $350,000 to the estate in addition to $50,000 in punitive damages. The court also declared that Warriner is not her boyfriend’s spouse.