The Formal Passing of Accounts – Hull on Estate and Succession Planning Podcast #113
Listen to The Formal Passing of Accounts.
This week on Hull on Estate and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana talk about the specifics of what happens when you have to go to court to formally pass accounts.
The Formal Passing of Accounts – Hull on Estate and Succession Planning Podcast #113
Posted on May 20, 2008 by Hull & Hull LLP
Suzana Popovic-Montag: Hi, and welcome to Hull on Estate and Succession Planning. You’re listening to Episode #113 of our podcast on Tuesday, May 20th, 2008.
Welcome to Hull on Estate and Succession Planning, a series of podcasts hosted by Ian Hull and Suzana Popovic-Montag, that will provide information and insights into estate planning in Canada. From the offices of Hull Estate Mediation in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, here are Ian and Suzana.
Ian Hull: Hi, Suzana.
Suzana Popovic-Montag: Hi there, Ian. How are you today?
Ian Hull: I am fantastic. Looking forward to lucky 113 on our podcast efforts. And we finished off last week reminding our listeners to please feel free to contact us. And the best way is to jump on our webpage at hullandhull.com and we have an easy navigation to our podcasts and our other sources we have on the webpage.
Suzana Popovic-Montag: And we had a couple of comments this week, Ian. People were looking for the article that we had referred to during our last podcast from The New York Times and I just want to remind people that they can actually find that link on our webpage under the News and Links icon at the very bottom of the page. We have started what we call sort of our recommended reading list, and it’s what I kind of call behind the doors, you know “the Oprah’s Book Club”. So there’s actually a link to the article there and so for anyone who’s interested, please feel free to go there.
Ian Hull: That’s great. And we’re going to try to build that link up a little bit. I had a great meeting the other day with one of Canada’s leading social media new members, and a great guy, Bob Berman, who is a lawyer up in Yorkville who does family law. But he and I were talking about that and developing our own reading lists on our own webpages and he and I were sharing some books. Right now, I know, I’ve just finished “Blink” and “Tipping Point”, which were both excellent books and we’re going to put those on the link page. And we’re also, I know, Suzana you and I are just starting through “Ground Swell”, which really now seems to be one of the “must reads” in the social media world in terms of getting a handle on marketing and working through the social media network. So that’s another great book.
Alright, we left off last week talking about accounting issues and I was speaking to a great friend of mine up in northern Ontario the other day, about this very topic. And she’s a lawyer there and she said to me, “You know, Ian, one of the things that amazes me is that I’ve been doing this practice of law for many, many years, and I have never had to formally pass my accounts”. And we talked about yesterday, the last podcast, how we had talked a little bit about the informal expectations and the way you can resolve the question of your ongoing obligations to account as a trustee informally. We’ll give some more ideas on that as we work through, but the point sort of struck me that here’s a lawyer that’s been practicing for 20 years in a busy estates practice. And most people just don’t force their hand of going to Court and having what is called essentially a Court audit, where the judge essentially has to go through line by line. Now having said that, in our practice, we see a lot of it, and it’s one of those things that this lawyer pointed out to me was that she wished that she had more or had seen a bit more of it because it is becoming more and more prevalent. One is, is that people are expecting this standard of good record keeping and if you don’t have it, they’re pushing you on to Court. And number 2 is, is that we can’t forget that where there are minor children’s interests or interests beyond the scope of able-bodied adults, we have to pass our accounts in any event.
So we thought, Suzana and I thought it would be a good exercise to go through some of the details and specifics of what happens when one passes their accounts, when they have to actually draw that short straw and go to Court.
Suzana Popovic-Montag: And as we were discussing during our last podcast too, Ian, and I think that with the increasing size of estates that are out there now and this huge transfer of tremendous wealth, we are dealing with bigger estates and more at-risk, so to speak, when you are the executor of an estate, and different kinds of beneficiaries. And so it’s not surprising that we will probably see more and more of the formal passing when a trustee ultimately says, “Well what’s the downside, why wouldn’t I get the Court, you know, seal of approval on my administration, why would I forego that opportunity if I don’t have to?”
Ian Hull: Well that’s for sure and so let’s talk a little bit about what the process is. Now, we’re going to talk a bit about some of the Ontario centric steps, but I know certainly across Canada and in most of the jurisdictions in the United States, the process is almost identical, in that you go to Court and you file what is called a Notice of Application to pass your accounts. It’s a formal bound copy of a couple of very important things. One are the accounts themselves that you want the Court to audit; the other is a copy of the Will or the trust that is involved, the kind of core document. And number 3 is you file what you hope to be the final Order, the final result you look to achieve. So you give everybody sort of the information, you give them the basics of the documents that you need to work from and then you say this is where I want to land, I look forward to your comments, so to speak.
Suzana Popovic-Montag: And as part and parcel of that Notice of Application, it’s going to certainly quantify the period of time during which the accounts are being passed and it’s also going to refer to the compensation, specifically that the trustee is looking for, as well as the legal fees to which he or she is seeking, on basically on an unopposed basis. And then there is, certainly in Ontario, there is provision for the costs and what that amount would be for anyone who has actually reviewed the accounts. It’s usually either half or three-quarters of the amount that the executor would otherwise be entitled to.
Ian Hull: So we have this application and the form of it is basically we’re going to the Court to say, “We want our accounts passed” and we say it in a more legalistic way, but that’s the long and the short of it. The second part of it, though, is in the Application material, is in the Affidavit of Verification. And this Affidavit, you have to, as the executor, swear to the truth and accuracy of the accounts attached. So that someone, basically the information you’re putting to the Court, sticks to you from an evidentiary standpoint. The form of that Affidavit is, there’s sort of two approaches: One is a very straightforward, one sentence long that says, “I attach the accounts and I swear them to be true and accurate”; and the other is one where, if you’re looking and you’re seeing a fight on any of the issues, you may want to flush out your position a little bit in some of the facts.
Suzana Popovic-Montag: And that’s, I think, more the unusual circumstance but one that we certainly see and I think it ultimately helps a Court who is dealing with the situation know the facts up front and know what’s sort of coming down the pipes before the parties actually show up in Court to argue those issues.
Ian Hull: So this expanded Affidavit of Verification, the form of the first one is obviously simple enough to do. Obviously you hope that the accounts are accurate and true, prepared typically by a third party, someone who has a specialty in estate format accounts, but the comprehensive Affidavit in support will typically tell the story. So, for example, say you have an estate that has a large amount of assets in it and you are looking for significant compensation. You may want to, in the Affidavit of Verification, set out some of the detail of your work. Sometimes, for example, the Court likes to see copies of your dockets that you kept track of your efforts over the years in administering the estate, so that they have a sense of the time. They also may want to put a sense of the complexity and the background in it. This is just one example of what you can do to expand your Affidavit to help tell a better story to the Court, and also, quite frankly, to sell it to the other side.
Suzana Popovic-Montag: And that’s particularly so, I think, when you’ve got beneficiaries of an estate who are not familial members. So when you have, you know, third parties who wouldn’t know necessarily the extent of the work that the executor is doing, like a charity for instance, or another beneficiary who is far removed from the process, and it can only help to have all that information put to them sooner rather than later.
Ian Hull: So if you’ve got your package ready, another thing that you want to keep in mind is, I think, I always tell my clients, is that watch your timing. This process takes a lot of time. In the grand scheme of things, it may not be a lot of time if you’ve administered an estate for many years, but in Ontario and in most other jurisdictions, there is a substantial amount of time that people have to respond. For example, when you send out your Notice of Application in Ontario, and you serve everyone who has an interest in these accounts, what we call a financial interest, they have at least 45 days to respond. So you’re looking out, you prepare the materials, take some time, then once you serve it you’re still looking at another 45 days minimum to have the accounts audited by the Court.
Suzana Popovic-Montag: And if the beneficiaries actually reside outside of Ontario, you’re looking at 60 days as the minimum service requirement. And that basically gives the parties hopefully enough time to review the accounts, to seek advice if they need to do so, and at the end of the day, ultimately the expectation or the hope being by the trustee, that they will consent to the accounts.
Ian Hull: So we’ve got it out there, we know it’s going to take some time. In our next podcast, we’re really going to flush out what our, I mean, you can never say typical in our world, but what are traditionally the areas of objection. But the procedural step is once you serve the account on those with a financial interest is you will then…they have an opportunity to file what is called a Notice of Objection, so a complaint, formally with the Court. And this is done either typically not in Affidavit form, but it is filed through the form of the Court and there they set out the nature and extent of the objections. So in our next podcast, I think it would be helpful for us to just take a little bit of time drilling down on some of the, what we call the low-hanging fruit issues, the issues that are often criticized in a passing of accounts so that we can help get better prepared for that inevitable day and hopefully have done our work before, to sell the Volkswagen to the beneficiaries.
Suzana Popovic-Montag: Well, thanks very much, Ian. I look forward to our next podcast, and I remind our listeners who are interested in providing us with some feedback on this or any other podcast, to feel free to visit our webpage at hullandhull.com and leave us a message.
Ian Hull: Thanks very much, Suzana.
You’ve been listening to Hull on Estate and Succession Planning with Ian Hull and Suzana Popovic-Montag. The podcast you have been listening to has been provided as an information service. It is a summary of current legal issues in estates and estate planning. It is not legal advice and you are reminded to always talk with a legal professional regarding your specific circumstances.
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