What jurisdiction governs the administration of an estate?
In Tyrell v. Tyrell, 2017 ONSC 4063, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice was faced with a situation in which the testator died domiciled in Nevis, having drafted a Last Will and Testament which was executed in Nevis, which itself dealt with estate assets the vast majority of which were located in Nevis. The Will named the testator’s sister, who normally resided in Ontario, as Estate Trustee. Letters probate were issued to the Estate Trustee from the Nevis court following the testator’s death.
When concerns arose surrounding the Estate Trustee’s conduct following the testator’s death, certain of the beneficiaries brought an Application before the Ontario court seeking, amongst other things, the removal and replacement of the Estate Trustee, as well as an accounting from the Estate Trustee regarding the administration of the estate to date. The beneficiaries who brought such an Application were themselves located across several jurisdictions; being located in Nevis, Ontario, and New York.
In response to being served with the Application, the Estate Trustee took the position that the Ontario court was not the proper jurisdiction to seek such relief as against the Estate Trustee, maintaining that Nevis, being the jurisdiction in which the testator died domiciled, was the proper jurisdiction in which to adjudicate such disputes. The beneficiaries disagreed, arguing that the jurisdiction in which the Estate Trustee was normally resident was the proper jurisdiction in which such disputes should be adjudicated.
In ultimately agreeing with the beneficiaries, and ordering the Estate Trustee to complete certain steps regarding the administration of the estate within 60 days, the Ontario court provides the following commentary regarding Ontario’s jurisdiction over the matter:
“For the purpose of administering the Will, the most significant connecting factor is the residence of the estate trustee. Therefore, the Will is most substantially connected to the province of Ontario and the applicable law on matters relating to the administration of the Will is the law of Ontario. Thus, the Courts of Ontario have jurisdiction over matters relating to the administration of the Will.” [emphasis added]
The court’s rationale in Tyrell v. Tyrell appears to be in contrast to the Alberta Court of Appeal’s previous decision in Re: Foote Estate, 2011 ABCA 1. Although Re: Foote Estate dealt with a determination of domicile for the purpose of deciding which jurisdiction’s laws would apply in the context of a dependant’s support case, the court provided general commentary regarding what jurisdiction’s laws governed the administration of an estate. Indeed, in the opening paragraph of the Court of Appeal’s decision in Re: Foote Estate, the following comment is made:
“This appeal arises from a trial finding that the late Eldon Douglas Foote was domiciled on his death in Norfolk Island. The domicile of the deceased determines the applicable law for estate administration purposes.” [emphasis added]
Re: Foote Estate appears to suggest that it is testator’s domicile that determines which jurisdiction’s laws are to govern the administration of an estate, making no reference to the location of the Estate Trustee. Tyrell v. Tyrell appears to suggest the opposite, with the court concluding that, notwithstanding that the testator died domiciled in Nevis, the laws of Ontario governed the administration of the estate on account of the Estate Trustee being located in Ontario.
The contrasting decisions of Tyrell v. Tyrell and Re: Foote Estate likely leave more questions than answers. Whether the fact that Tyrell v. Tyrell is a decision of the Ontario court, while Re: Foote Estate is from Alberta (although from the Court of Appeal), could also potentially play a role. An interesting hypothetical would be what would happen if a testator died domiciled in Ontario with an Estate Trustee located in Alberta. In accordance with Tyrell v. Tyrell, notwithstanding that the testator died domiciled in Ontario, the laws of Alberta would apply to the administration of the estate on account of the location of the Estate Trustee. In accordance with Re: Foote Estate however, Alberta law dictates that it is the law of the jurisdiction in which the testator died domiciled which governs the administration of the estate, which could have Alberta send the matter back to Ontario. Confusion abounds.
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