Alleging Fraud and Breach of Trust: Need for Particulars
Billionaire and recently deceased American shopping mall developer Melvin Simon’s heirs are fighting over his last will. Mr. Simon’s children from his first marriage are challenging a will that changed the distribution of his estate in favour of his second wife. Aside from the glamour factor, the case is interesting in that an allegation of fraud was recently dismissed on the grounds that "[t]he complaints fail to allege affirmative misrepresentations that can support a claim of actual fraud".
This illustrates an important point in estate and trust litigation. Ontario’s Rules of Civil Procedure similarly requires pleadings that contain allegations of fraud or breach of trust to contain full particulars:
"Rule 25.06(8) Where fraud, misrepresentation, breach of trust, malice or intent is alleged, the pleading shall contain full particulars, but knowledge may be alleged as a fact without pleading the circumstances from which it is to be inferred."
This could theoretically present beneficiaries challenging the actions of a trustee, since the trustee frequently has the particulars and the beneficiaries do not. In practice, this problem rarely arises because most litigation occurs in the context of a passing of accounts, where it is unnecessary to make allegations against the estate trustee. Instead, under the procedure in Rule 74, the beneficiaries can simply file and serve a Notice of Objection to Accounts challenging transactions or omissions in the trustee’s accounts.
After filing their Notice of Objection to Accounts, the beneficiaries can then bring a motion for an order giving directions (or an order for assistance) that will provide for the disclosure of the particulars they think exist. After receiving full disclosure, the beneficiaries should in a position to make a better-informed decision on whether to add such allegations to their pleadings.
Where this process is anticipated, the order should specifically authorize the parties to return to court for further directions. Of course, it would rarely even be necessary to allege fraud at all, since the facts that support the allegation of fraud can form the basis of an objection to the accounts without using the words "fraud" or "breach of trust", and this can achieve the same practical result without the risks associated with alleging fraud. Beneficiaries can also avoid the risk of having their pleadings struck at an early stage.
Have a great day,
Christopher M.B. Graham – Click here to learn more about Chris Graham.