Obtaining Releases from Beneficiaries
One final note of caution arises from the Rooney (2007), CarswellOnt 6560 decision – a decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that I have referred to in my blogs earlier this week. This caution refers to the release that the Estate Trustee seeks from the beneficiaries.
In Rooney, the beneficiary was provided with a form of accounts, and was told that if she signed a release, she could receive a distribution from the estate. (The court was critical of this practice.) The beneficiary did so.
Later, the beneficiary sought to compel a passing of accounts. The court allowed the Application.
The trustee had asserted that because of the release, the beneficiary could not compel a passing. The court stated “It is not an answer to say that the beneficiary approved of the accounts and gave a release. One of the obligations of the solicitor acting for the trustee is to ensure that all beneficiaries have competent, independent advice in reviewing the accounts. There is no suggestion by the solicitor that he advised the [beneficiary] to obtain independent legal advice when reviewing the trustee’s accounts which he had prepared.”
Additionally, the court noted that the account rendered by the solicitor to the estate was a blended account, and included both solicitor’s work and trustee work. “The solicitor was in the best position to know what charges related to which services. He was also in the best position to know what portions of his fee account should be paid by the trustee out of her compensation or by the estate. There is no evidence that he gave any advice about these distinctions to the beneficiary so that she could consider them.”
The court concluded by stating that “There is no evidence that the beneficiary executed the release knowing that double charges for the trustee’s work had been made against the estate. There is no evidence that the beneficiary knew the solicitor charged the estate more for legal and trustee’s services than would arguably be allowed on quantum meruit basis. In these circumstances, the release was not a fully informed one; it cannot be enforced against the beneficiary.”
What is an Estate Trustee to do to protect himself or herself? The Estate Trustee might send out accounts that are as complete and informative as possible, so that the release can truly said to be an informed one. Solicitor’s accounts might be included, and these accounts could specify the nature of the services provided. Beneficiaries should be advised to obtain independent legal advice.
In many cases, an Estate Trustee may wish to obtain a court passing in any event.
Thanks for reading.