Ottawa

Bitter family feud pits multimillionaire landlord against his children

Legal documents lay bare a family feud between an aging patriarch who believes he's still able to manage his own affairs and his children, who say they're acting in his best interests by trying to get his recent marriage to a 55-year-old woman annulled.

Joe Overtveld’s children are trying to have the 91-year-old’s recent marriage annulled

In their legal role under a power of attorney document, Joe Overtveld's children have filed an application to annul his recent marriage to a woman 36 years his junior. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

It was a modest wedding at Ottawa city hall. The bride wore a white lace dress and had her younger sister by her side. The groom was in a wheelchair, accompanied by two of his oldest friends.

When the short ceremony was over, the newlyweds kissed. They decided not to tell his children about the wedding until after the Christmas holidays. 

That was December 2018. Now, more than a year later, the 91-year-old groom, who's worth an estimated $27 million, is locked in an extraordinary legal dispute with his son and daughter over his decision to marry a 55-year-old woman he'd met a few months earlier — and who is now set to inherit one-third of her husband's fortune.

"I want company. I want a woman that takes care of me, somebody who has a heart," Joe Overtveld said in an interview at his Ottawa apartment. 

But his children believe their father lacks the mental capacity to make an independent decision to marry, and have filed an annulment application in family court on his behalf. 

The legal documents contain bitter accusations from both sides — none of which has been proven in court — and lay bare a tragic family feud pitting an aging patriarch who believes he's still able to manage his own affairs, against his children who believe they're acting in their father's best interests.

While the case wends its way through the courts, Overtveld is living apart from his wife in a two-bedroom apartment under a set of "house rules" laid down by his children. Among those restrictions: he can only have visitors for 90 minutes each evening. 

Overtveld currently resides in this two-bedroom apartment in Ottawa's Centretown neighbourhood. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Built company from scratch

Gilles Jozias Overtveld, known to his friends as Joe, likes to say he arrived in Canada from the Netherlands in 1953 with $5 in his pocket.

The electrical engineer started investing in property in the 1960s, and now owns more than 100 rental units across Ottawa. Their value fluctuates, but according to court documents, Overtveld's real estate empire is currently worth about $27 million.

As he tells it, there's a simple formula to amassing that kind of wealth. 

"You buy one building, you improve it, you fix the roof, you fix the furnace and so forth. You get it to go, and then you buy the next one," he said in a still-thick Dutch accent. 

But Overtveld no longer runs his own property company, Gilas Management and Maintenance. Three years ago, his children, growing concerned about their father's decision-making ability, invoked a continuing power of attorney agreement (POA) he had signed several years earlier when he was travelling and planned to be away from the business.

A POA allows signatories to make important decisions on behalf of someone who's physically or mentally incapable — for instance, by looking after their financial affairs. A continuing POA is left in place so it can be used immediately if necessary, or later on down the road. 

Overtveld and his longtime friend, Tito Jurado, pore over legal documents. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

According to Joy Overtveld's affidavit, her father had "started flying into sudden, inexplicable fits of rage" after a stroke in 2014. Her brother, Todd Overtveld, said their father became "significantly more short-tempered."

By 2017, Joy Overtveld said her father was "no longer able to understand business reports, [and the] financial statements" of his company.

'I haven't changed a bit'

Joe Overtveld disputes this. "I haven't changed a bit," he told CBC. "I find that my memory is better than most of the people I know."

He claims that in 2017, he argued with his daughter over large withdrawals of money he discovered had been made from his account while she was managing the company's daily operations. 

Asked about that allegation by CBC, Joy Overtveld didn't directly comment, but in court documents she described her efforts to address the company's financial difficulties. She also said in an affidavit that her father was becoming "confrontational" toward her, complaining that in a single workday in July 2017, he inundated her with 26 emails, calls and texts on the same topic.

The property management company Overtveld built from scratch now owns several apartment buildings in Centretown, including this one on Frank Street. (Jennifer Chevalier/CBC)

In his affidavit, Todd Overtveld agreed that his father was "uncharacteristically mean" toward his sister and tried to micromanage her, even though her work was "crucial to the real revenue gains" the company made.

In their roles under the POA, the siblings decided to have a capacity assessment performed on their father.

The assessment found Joe Overtveld was incapable of managing either his property or his personal care, and Joy Overtveld assumed control of the business.

'Might as well just be dead'

Joe Overtveld still rails against the assessment, and the ensuing loss of control over his own affairs. 

"You are a non-person, you might as well just be dead," he said. "I don't have a bank account. I can't transfer money.… If that doesn't frustrate anybody, I don't know [what] would."

From August 2018, Joe's children assumed control of his finances, transferring his money into a trust they now manage. They also removed his passport and photo ID from his home because they were concerned their aging father could fall victim to identity theft. 

I love my father and I am genuinely concerned for my father's well-being.-  Todd Overtveld, in an affidavit

Overtveld appealed to his longtime friend, Tito Jurado, whom he'd met 35 years earlier while working as an engineer. 

"He asked me, as a friend, to help him. As a matter of fact, he didn't ask — he begged me," Jurado recalled. 

Tito Jurado is helping Overtveld mount his legal challenge. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Jurado agreed to pay for a second capacity assessment that found Overtveld was "articulate" and "lucid," and capable of revoking the POA document he'd signed. Jurado also agreed to fund his friend's legal challenges. 

In several legal documents, Overtveld's children accuse Jurado of trying to take advantage of their father financially.

They arranged for a third assessment, and it reiterated what the first one had found: that their father was incapable of managing his property or personal care, and therefore couldn't revoke the POA he'd signed leaving his children in charge of his property.

The assessment also concluded Overtveld was "vulnerable to exploitation," and may not have had the capacity to understand the implications of his marriage contract. 

'He needed somebody'

Overtveld decided he would marry Rachida Youmouri as a way of challenging the POA by reassigning legal authority over his affairs to his wife. Jurado had introduced the two a few months earlier, and Overtveld decided to propose. 

"I saw this was one way I could get the POA back," he said.

But something else happened along the way: since their wedding day at city hall, Overtveld believes their relationship has blossomed into something bigger.

"Things changed," Overtveld said. "Here's an excellent woman, and I knew she would take care of me.… I love her."

Youmouri said she, too, cares deeply for Overtveld, despite the 36-year age gap.  

"I love him as a father or a grandfather, and these are genuine feelings," she said, explaining that she wants to help improve her husband's quality of life in his final years. 

According to court documents, Overtveld's company owns $27 million worth of property in Ottawa, including this building on McLeod Street. (Jennifer Chevalier/CBC)

"I think he felt very lonely," Youmouri said. "He was by himself. He needed somebody to live with, and that's fair."

Youmouri did not want to be photographed for this story.

Protecting father from 'financial predators'

Overtveld's children don't see the relationship that way. In the annulment application they filed in October, they claimed their father "lacked the mental capacity to enter into a marriage contract" and claimed Youmouri, who they suspect "may not be a Canadian citizen," is "motivated by financial gain."

Todd Overtveld's affidavit details his concern for his father's judgment, claiming Joe Overtveld had already fallen victim to a Russian email scam and had also had money stolen from his apartment. Todd Overtveld also suspects his father was allowing a woman to "stay at his residence, eat his food and collect payment from him in exchange for escort services" in 2018. Joe Overtveld denies the woman was an escort.

The children claim in court documents that even before their father's marriage to Youmouri, they had tried to protect him from "the financial predators who were victimizing" him, which is why they transferred his money out of his bank account into a trust from which they now pay for his daily expenses and care.

They claim Youmouri was just one of a handful of women to whom their father was proposing marriage at the time, and they allege she neither spoke to their father on the phone nor visited him regularly before the wedding. Based on footage captured by a surveillance camera installed outside their father's apartment, they said they "found no evidence" of Youmouri visiting "until a few days prior to her purported marriage."

I'm not a gold digger.- Rachida Youmouri

In her response to the annulment application, Youmouri admits the relationship was what she called a "marriage of convenience" with mutual benefits.

"He wanted somebody to take care of him until he dies. He said if I stayed with him and protected him until he died, then I would benefit under his will."

But Youmouri told CBC that doesn't mean it was all about the money. "I'm there to help him as a human being whom I saw suffering and neglected and isolated. So I wanted — and I still want — to improve Joe's quality of life." 

In court documents, she said her husband "expressed the particular concern that his daughter Joy not put him in a residential care facility," saying he "felt abandoned and was stressed."

Youmouri, who was born in Morocco, also dismissed allegations that she married Overtveld to obtain a Canadian passport.

"I've been a citizen for years, and I'm not there for his money. I'm not a gold digger," she said. "In my culture you don't mistreat or ignore [the] elderly, you take care of them. They took care of all the generations that's come down. So you take care of the person."

Joy and Todd Overtveld declined to be interviewed, saying in an email to CBC: "We have been trying to manage these very difficult and bizarre circumstances as best as we are able."

'Unusual' case headed to court

The courts have not yet ruled on either the annulment or the civil lawsuit Joe Overtveld launched to challenge the POA. 

Overtveld's lawyer, Miriam Vale Peters, calls the annulment case "unusual," and believes it will be difficult for the children to win. She said even if someone is found to be incapable of managing property or personal care — the court has also yet to rule on the conflicting assessments of Joe Overtveld's capacity — there's a lower bar to consent to marriage. 

"The threshold for marriage is low. So a person can marry another person without much understanding of all future financial consequences," Vale Peters said. 

"People are allowed to marry people that are 20 years their junior, and allowed to give extravagant gifts. Children may not like that. But so long as a person knows what they're doing and understands what they're doing, it is all completely above board.

"I don't blame the children for being unhappy with what has transpired, but that unhappiness doesn't translate in an ability or a right to try to change what decisions their father has made."

In Ontario, a previous will is revoked when someone marries, meaning Youmouri would split his fortune with his two children unless the annulment succeeds. Other provinces including British Columbia have amended their marriage legislation to allow an existing will to continue even after a new marriage contract is signed.  

The 'house rules' are posted on Overtveld's apartment door. (Jennifer Chevalier/CBC)

Visiting hours

For now, the newlyweds live apart, only seeing each other between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., when Youmouri brings Overtveld his dinner. If they want to visit outside those hours, Overtveld must provide his children with 48 hours written notice. Failure to abide by those house rules "will result in the police being notified," and could end the visits altogether, according to a lawyer's letter sent to Youmouri. 

The couple alleges Overtveld's children have barred Youmouri from moving into another apartment in the same three-story Centretown house as her husband, an accusation the children deny. 

Youmouri remains defiant. "I do not need anybody's authorization to visit my husband," she said. 

Overtveld also bristles at the house rules, and the CCTV cameras installed outside his apartment. 

"I have a camera sitting outside that watches who is coming in and who is coming out," he complained. "If anybody had been exposed to what I have, they'd end up in an insane asylum. Fortunately, I'm not one of those people."

'I don't blame the children for being unhappy with what has transpired, but that unhappiness doesn't translate in an ability or a right to try to change what decisions their father has made,' says Miriam Vale Peters of KMH Lawyers, who is representing Joe Overtveld. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The children said the rules were created to monitor their father's visitors so they could "promote his sleep and treatments schedule," and said the cameras had been installed years earlier at their father's request.

In his affidavit, Todd Overtveld said he only wants what's best for his father. 

"I love my father and I am genuinely concerned for my father's well-being … However, it is time he comes to terms with his physical and cognitive limitations and allows us to take care of him."

But Joe Overtveld shows no signs of coming to terms with the situation. He believes the family rift can only be healed once he's given back control over his money, and said he cannot bear to think about what would happen if he were permanently separated from his wife and his friend, Jurado. 

"It would be terrible," Overtveld said. "They are the only people who believe that I am not incapacitated … They say I'm just the same as I ever was."

About the Author

Jennifer Chevalier

Enterprise Producer

Jennifer Chevalier is the senior producer of enterprise journalism at CBC Ottawa, focusing on original stories and investigative reporting. You can contact her at jennifer.chevalier@cbc.ca