Estates law doesn’t typically make the news, so my attention is always piqued when I see a headline about a Will. A recent criminal case featuring a fraudulent Will made front-page news, and serves as a reminder of what a powerful document a Will is, the need to carefully plan and safeguard against fraudsters, and the risks inherent in estates law.
Last month, Robert Konashewych, a Toronto police officer, and his former romantic partner, Adellene Balgobin, once an employee of the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (“OPGT”), were convicted of fraud. A jury found that Konashewych, aided by Balgobin, falsified a Will to claim the $834,000 estate of Heinz Siegfried Sommerfeld, an elderly man who was estranged from his family and who died alone in 2017 without a Will. Balgobin was also convicted of breach of trust for abusing her position at the OPGT to provide Konashewych with information about Mr. Sommerfeld.
The OPGT was administering Mr. Sommerfeld’s assets during a period of incapacity at the end of his life. Following Mr. Sommerfeld’s death, Konashewych called Balgobin in her role at the OPGT to advise that he had found a Will of the deceased from 2006, which appointed him as sole executor and beneficiary of Mr. Sommerfeld’s estate. The purported Will was witnessed by two people who were later found not to exist.
Konashewych was initially successful in his ruse, having the full value of Mr. Sommerfeld’s estate transferred into his account before his fraud was discovered. Following his arrest, the funds were seized by the Toronto police. Prosecutors successfully argued that rather than an incredible coincidence that Konashewych happened to be the sole beneficiary of a Will of an individual whose assets were under the management of the OPGT, it was evidence that Balgobin was feeding Konashewych information about Mr. Sommerfeld’s assets.
Mr. Sommerfeld’s half-brother is the rightful heir of the estate under the intestacy provisions of the Succession Law Reform Act and will receive the assets that were seized from Konashewych.
Balgobin is no longer employed by the OPGT, and Konashewych has been under paid suspension since his arrest in 2020. The convicted fraudsters will be sentenced in October, and each face a maximum of 14 years in prison.