The Supreme Court of the NWT has ruled that the estate of a dying Elder from Fort Resolution was inappropriately signed over to a non-blood relative with the help of Hay River health officials.

Henri Calumet, the father of Tu Nedhe-Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon, died at the Hay River Health Centre on March 26, 2021.

Yellowknifer has learned that a Dec. 10 court order from the NWT’s highest court declared the will and last testament invalid, even though it was signed by Calumet to have adopted niece Priscilla Lafferty act as executor and beneficiary of his estate.

“The purported will of Henri Calumet dated the 23rd day of March 2021 and witnessed by Priscilla Lafferty and (Hay River Health and Social Services Authority French language coordinator) Jacky Kruger is declared invalid,” states the order by Justice Karan Shaner.

The order grants Edjericon the role of executor of Calumet’s estate and ordered Lafferty to provide Edjericon details of all accounts as well as monies, possessions and properties concerning Calumet.

In recent weeks, Edjericon, the NWT’s newest MLA, has been under attack from media reports for not having paid off a mortgage to the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation on a Dettah home he owned with his late ex-wife.

However, he has said that part of the stress of dealing with that payment has been due to the unique circumstances surrounding his father’s estate.

The court order followed complaints by Edjericon’s lawyer, Andrew Rice, to NWT integrity commissioner David Jones last July 6, which stated that Lafferty not only shouldn’t have had access to the estate, but that Hay River Health and Social Services Authority senior employees should have known better than to assist Lafferty.

“Mrs. Lafferty presented herself as next of kin and only surviving heir to Mr. Calumet (although this fact was never properly vetted by staff),” Rice wrote. “Mrs. Lafferty then proceeded to inquire in regards to assistance for the drafting of estate documents, including a power of attorney last will and testament for Mr. Calumet.”

Rice said Calumet had a family, including biological son Edjericon, who were denied access to grieve and say goodbye.

According to the letter, Calumet “lacked capacity” to sign documents presented to him because he was on heavy medication, was unable to fully comprehend the English language and did not have access to an interpreter as an Indigenous speaker.

The documents weren’t filled out properly, either, Rice added. He noted that Lafferty didn’t witness the signing, there were no initials on any pages and he said she is indicated as operating as a witness while also being a sole beneficiary and representative of Calumet.

The correspondence also states that Calumet’s family wishes for a proper burial under Chipewyan Dene customs.

Lafferty’s response

Lafferty said last week that she would consult with her lawyer before responding to questions from the Hub. However, in a May 3, 2021 email she sent to Rice, she said she felt she had grounds to oversee the estate and was responding to Calumet’s wishes.

“As his niece who has resided near him in Fort Resolution, Northwest Territories for 53 years, I helped him with whatever he needed — as is the custom of our people for our elderly relatives and especially those without any other family close,” Lafferty wrote. “My understanding, from my late uncle, is that the relationship with (Edjericon) was practically non-existent and they had not seen each other in years.”

Lafferty said she helped Calumet get health assistance in Fort Resolution and Hay River when he was in pain and stayed at the hospital with him “at his request.”

“He requested power of attorney and last will and testament documents,” she said. “Hospital staff assisted with both documents and I was not present in the room when those documents were signed and sworn to by my uncle.”

Erin Griffiths, CEO of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, stated that she cannot address the issue for reasons relating to confidentiality.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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