Tilley v Herley and the Interim Distribution of Estate Funds
The recent case of Tilley v Herley 2019 ONSC 5405 serves as a reminder that courts will not approve an interim distribution of the funds in an estate if there is the possibility of new testamentary documents coming to light.
In this case, the deceased had been estranged from her four children for much of their lives; however, she reconciled with one of her children, Roxanne, before her death in 2019. Roxanne was appointed as sole executrix and trustee and was named as the only beneficiary of the entire estate in the most recent will which was executed in 2008. Prior to her death, the deceased transferred the main asset of the estate, a residence in Mississauga, to herself and Roxanne as joint tenants. When she died, the residence passed to Roxanne by right of survivorship.
Two of the other children brought a challenge to the will on the basis that their mother lacked testamentary capacity, that she was unduly influenced by the Respondent Roxanne, and that the will was executed under suspicious circumstances. They also sought a declaration that the residence should be subject to the presumption of resulting trust and should not pass to Roxanne by right of survivorship. Roxanne had already sold the residence and both parties agreed that the proceeds of the sale would be held in trust pending litigation. Roxanne then brought a motion seeking an interim distribution of 25% of the funds held in trust. The rationale behind this was that even if the other siblings’ will challenge was successful and Roxanne lost at trial, she would still receive 25% of the estate as it would be divided up in equal parts amongst the four children.
The case turned on the fact that even though no will prior to 2008 had been located, there was evidence that an earlier will may have existed. This made it impossible to determine that the Respondent’s interest in the estate would be a minimum of 25% and the court found that making an interim distribution of the proceeds would be “premature and inappropriate”. Another relevant factor was that at this early stage in the litigation, there had not been an accounting with respect to the entire estate, including debts and liabilities, as well as future expenses including litigation costs, making it impossible to determine the value of 25% of the estate.
The court dismissed the motion, as there was a possibility that the deceased may have made an earlier will and until this will could be located or its existence could be discounted, it was impossible to know the extent of Roxanne’s entitlement should the will challenge be successful. The court also noted that it was conceivable that none of the deceased’s children would be beneficiaries under a previous will if the 2008 will were to be declared invalid by the court. This case demonstrates that applying for an interim distribution of estate funds can be ill-advised and will likely fail if there is evidence indicating the potential existence of an undiscovered prior will. This would make it impossible for the court to determine the minimum amount that either party may receive if the contested will is declared invalid.
Thanks for reading,
Ian Hull and Sean Hess