Request for Production or a Fishing Expedition?
When a deceased’s capacity is called into question, medical and legal records are generally a key source of evidence. Having said that, courts will not allow parties to go on a “fishing expedition” with respect to production orders. This issue was recently considered in the case of Young v. Prychitko, 2021 ONSC 3150.
In this decision, the deceased executed his last Will on September 2, 2020 (the “2020 Will“), which provided for the majority of his estate, totalling approximately $500,000, to be distributed to his son, the applicant in the proceeding. The deceased’s daughter, the respondent, filed a Notice of Objection to the 2020 Will, alleging that the deceased lacked capacity and was subject to undue influence at the time of execution. Accordingly, the respondent sought an order for the production of the deceased’s testamentary documents, including his medical, financial and legal records. The applicant argued that the respondent failed to meet the evidentiary threshold to require the production of the aforementioned documents and, as a result, his position was that the order would be premature. Having said that, the applicant’s proposed timetable afforded the respondent with the opportunity to file further evidence in support of her objection at a later time.
In its decision, the court held that, prior to compelling the production of certain documents, it must be satisfied that the evidentiary threshold has been met. This minimal evidentiary threshold, as discussed in Neuberger Estate v. York, 2016 ONCA 191, protects against needless expense and litigation. This is particularly important in the case of small estates, as the costs involved in seeking productions may be disproportionate to the size of the estate. In its analysis, the court considered the following questions:
1) When can someone with an interest in an estate compel the propounder of the Will to prove it in solemn form?
2) How does someone satisfy the above test?
3) If the test is not yet met, what procedure should be followed moving forward?
The court stressed that simply alleging incapacity or undue influence is not enough. Even if there is some evidence to support this point, the court must assess whether the propounder can sufficiently answer the evidence.
In the end, the court held that the respondent’s evidentiary record was insufficient. As such, compelling the production of medical, legal, and financial records at this early stage was determined to be premature and would ultimately be “countenancing a fishing expedition.” The course proposed by the applicant was held to be the most prudent.
Thanks for reading! Have a wonderful day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph