Author: Doreen So
The University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law proudly displays the will that was etched onto the fender of a tractor by a dying farmer. That happened in 1948. Decades later, the Saskatchewan Queens Bench was similarly asked to determine whether a note handwritten on a McDonald’s napkin is a valid will.
Philip Langan died in 2015. He was a widower with eight children (Earl was predeceased and Landry died after the napkin was written but before Langan’s death). Shortly after Langan’s death, two of his children came forward with a McDonald’s napkin that they claim to be their father’s last will and testament. Ronald and Sharon explained that the napkin was made when their father thought he was having a heart attack at McDonald’s. Sharon said that she was not there when her father started to write on the napkin but she was there to see him sign his name. She said he gave the napkin to her and said “This is my will. I want you to keep this in case something happens”. A third child, Philip, supported the validity of the will because he was also at the McDonald’s that day. Like Sharon, Philip did not see his father write on the napkin but he was there when the napkin was given to Sharon and he heard what his father said to Sharon.
Maryann challenged the validity of the napkin because she was skeptical of whether it was in her father’s handwriting. She also stated that Langan told her that he would not leave a will because “he wanted us to fight like he had to”. Yet, interestingly enough, an intestacy would still give rise to the same result as the napkin on the consent of the siblings.
The napkin itself was described as follows in Gust v. Langan, 2020 SKQB 42 (CanLII):
“written in pen on a very thin, brown-coloured, paper restaurant napkin reads as follows:
Philip W. Langan
Marann Langan (Gust)
Split my property evenly,
“Dad Philip Langan”
The court found that the napkin was a valid holograph will. Justice Layh was persuaded by the propounders’ explanation that the napkin was made at a time when Langan thought he was having a heart attack “a time when one’s mind would reasonably turn to the question of estate planning, especially in the absence of an existing will. Mr. Langan’s immediate delivery of the will to his daughter, Sharon, and the comment he made to her – as evidenced by both Sharon and Philip’s statements – that she keep the document in case something happened to him, shows a clear testamentary intention.” (para. 22).
While the legal analysis in this case is based on the law in Saskatchewan (unlike Ontario, Saskatchewan has curative legislation that permits substantial compliance), Gust v. Langan is a timely reminder that, in addition to the formal requirements of a holograph will, testamentary intent is crucial in determining whether a document can be given effect as a will. On the face of the napkin, there was nothing to indicate when Langan intended to divide his property. The essential characteristic of a will is the intention to dispose of property after one’s death. Here, the court had to rely on the extrinsic of evidence from Langan’s state of mind and what he said to Sharon.
Should you find yourself in a situation where an emergency holograph will is needed, you may want to refer to Ian Hull and Jordan Atin’s blog on the subject:
I would also suggest that regular paper be used, if you have some, for practical reasons or to simply avoid media coverage since this particular McDonald’s napkin has made the news in New York and Australia.
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Further to my blog on Monday, the Court of Appeal also released another interesting decision last week with respect to the tort of conspiracy in the context of a family law proceeding. Leitch v. Novack, 2020 ONCA 257, is an appeal from a summary judgement motion that was brought by the husband’s father, a family trust, and a family company. Summary judgment was brought because the wife sought damages against the moving parties for an alleged conspiracy that they were intentionally withholding payments to the husband in order to reduce his family law obligations.
The motion judge, in 2019 ONSC 794, held that the conspiracy claim was appropriate for partial summary judgment. The conspiracy claims were dismissed even though the wife could still pursue a claim to impute additional income to the husband for the purposes of determining his income at trial. Over a million dollars in costs were later awarded to the husband and the moving parties and there was a subsequent order for security for costs that effectively froze all of the wife’s assets.
The appeal was allowed. The Court found that there was a material risk of inconsistent results because the wife was allowed pursue her claims that additional income ought to be imputed to the husband despite the motion judge’s finding that there was no unlawful conspiracy.
As for the tort of conspiracy, Justice Hourigan confirms and clarifies the application of this doctrine in the context of family law matters. The tort of conspiracy is part of the judicial toolbox to ensure fairness and for deterrence. It is also there for enforcement purposes because the purpose of the conspiracy is to hide income or assets and “a judgment against a co-conspirator will often be the only means which by which a recipient will be able to satisfy judgment” (paras. 46-47).
Justice Hourigan commented that
“a transfer of funds by loan, gift, or otherwise, is not the only way that the alleged co-conspirators could have acted in furtherance of the conspiracy. If the trial judge is satisfied that [the husband] had an entitlement to funds and that a co-conspirator withheld the transfer of funds to him as part of a conspiracy with the understanding that he would receive the money at some future date, the withholding of funds may itself be an act in furtherance of the conspiracy. It is not necessary to establish more than an acted-upon conspiracy to conceal [the husband’s] entitlement.” (para. 51).
The costs awards and the preservation order were also set aside.
This decision is certainly important to keep in mind when advising trustees of discretionary trusts.
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The motions in Volk v. Volk, 2020 ONCA 256, arose from an appeal of an order to, inter alia, sell a property owned, in part, by Doris Volk, who is incapable of managing her own property, and to pay the net proceeds of sale to Doris’ husband, George. This case is instructive for how matters are currently proceeding before the Court of Appeal and in general for the scope of examinations under SDA matters.
George is not Doris’ attorney for property. The attorneys for property are Doris’ daughter, Darlene, and Doris’ sister, Lisa. George brought an application under the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 because he claimed that the property was improperly transferred by the attorneys from Doris, as the sole owner, to Doris and Darlene’s daughter, Felicia, as tenants in common. At the time of the application, the property was registered with a 1% interest in Doris’ name and the rest was registered in Felicia’s name. Furthermore, the property was occupied by Darlene but George claimed that the carrying costs of the property were paid from Doris’ money in further breach of trust.
George’s application was granted on January 7, 2020 on the consent of Lisa. Darlene, Felicia, and the Public Guardian and Trustee did not appear or file opposing materials. The house was sold with a closing date of May 16, 2020.
Darlene and Felicia appeals the order of January 7th on ground that they were not properly served or provided with adequate notice of the application. They also brought a stay motion with a supporting affidavit from Felicia. Felicia was cross-examined on her affidavit and she refused a number of questions on the advice of her counsel. This led George to bring a refusals motion and an request for an adjournment of the motion for a stay pending appeal.
Both the refusals motion and the stay motion were scheduled to be heard before Justice Paciocco on April 14, 2020. Justice Paciocco noted that the agreement for purchase and sale gave the stay motion added urgency. The matter proceed on April 14th with counsel for Darlene and Felicia appearing by phone and counsel for George appearing by videoconference. George’s refusals motion was allowed in part. Justice Paciocco clarified that the proper scope of a cross-examination on an affidavit is governed by the issues that are relevant to motion. It includes questions that are relevant to credibility so long as it within the competence of the motions judge to determine (para. 10). He then goes on to give reasons for why certain categories of questions ought to be answered and why other categories were found to be irrelevant or unfair. Of note, questions about Doris’ state of mind were properly refused because it was unfair for Felicia to speak for Doris (para. 19).
Since counsel for George acknowledged that further examinations were not feasible as a result of COVID-19, Justice Paciocco ordered a timetable for answers and follow up questions in writing. The stay motion was adjourned to May 1st.
Thanks for reading and keep well.
The testators died in 2008. The family realized there was a disagreement about the validity of their parents’ codicils that year but everything seemed to be on hold until Helen brought an application in 2015 to determine the validity of the codicil. In response, Krystyna brought a motion for summary judgment to dismiss Helen’s application on the basis it is statute barred pursuant to the Limitations Act, 2002. This motion was brought by Krystyna because she was interested in maintaining the force and effect of the codicils that gave her certain properties. Thereafter, Helen cross-motioned for summary judgment on her application.
Rule 20.04 of the Rules of Civil Procedure sets out the basis for summary judgment. Summary judgment shall be granted if: (a) the court is satisfied that there is no genuine issue requiring a trial with respect to a claim or defence; or (b) if the parties agree to have all or part of the claim determined by a summary judgment and the court is satisfied that it is appropriate to grant summary judgment. The Supreme Court of Canada in Hryniak v. Maudlin, 2014 SCC 7, determined that “a trial is not required if a summary judgment motion can achieve a fair and just adjudication, if it provides a process that allows the judge to make the necessary findings of fact, apply the law to those facts, and is a proportionate, more expeditious and less expensive means to achieve a just result than going to trial.”
With that in mind, Justice Dietrich found that Krystyna’s motion for summary judgment was appropriate for the following reasons (see para. 35):
- There were no material facts in dispute;
- No additional facts would emerge at trial;
- The application of an absolute limitation period was generally a fairly straightforward factual analysis;
- That based on the evidence before her, this matter can be resolved without a trial and that a trial of this narrow issue would be a more expensive and lengthy means of achieving a just result.
The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with Justice Dietrich’s finding on this point. The panel emphasized how both parties brought summary judgment motions and filed affidavits with exhibits of their own.
In contrast, a similar summary judgment motion was unsuccessful in Birtzu v. McCron, 2017 ONSC 1420, 2019 ONCA 777 (on the issue of costs, only). The Court in Birtzu found that summary judgment was not appropriate and ordered costs against the defendant in any event of the cause (with reasons that were unreported). That said, the defendant was ultimately successful in proving that the plaintiffs were statute barred after a full trial on all issues.
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Doreen So and Celine Dookie
Today’s blog is a continuation of yesterday’s discussion regarding the limitations analysis in Piekiut v. Romoli, 2019 ONSC 1190, 2020 ONCA 26. No limitation period was found to apply where an estate trustee was simply seeking a determination and declaration as to whether certain codicils were valid or not valid.
The testators in this case died in 2008. They had 3 children, Helen, Victor, and Krystyna. A meeting took place in 2008 between all 3 children and a lawyer to discuss the administration of the Estate. During this meeting, Krystyna revealed, for the first time, the existence of codicils and declarations of gift that provide her with an interest in certain properties. Helen refused to acknowledge the validity of these new documents.
In 2015, Helen brings a court application. Her application was later amended, on the consent of parties, in 2018 to reflect that Helen was only seeking a declaration in respect of the validity of the codicils. Thus in 2019, Justice Dietrich’s decision was made in the context of Krystyna’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss Helen’s application on the basis that it was statute barred and Helen’s cross-motion for summary judgment on her application. Justice Dietrich found that, since Helen did not ask the court to determine the ultimate beneficiaries of the properties that were subject to the Codicil or to vest such properties in any particular beneficiary or beneficiaries, her application was not barred by the Limitations Act, 2002.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Justice Dietrich. The panel was also of the view that this case is distinguishable from Leibel v. Leibel, 2014 ONSC 4516 and Birtzu v. McCron, 2017 ONSC 1420 because of the consequential relief that was pleaded in those cases. Since the Court of Appeal decision did not go into the details of the relief sought in Birtzu (unlike its description of Leibel), it is helpful to understand the breadth of the Statement of Claim in Birtzu, which sought the following:
- an Order setting aside the Will;
- an Order setting aside the Deceased’s Powers of Attorney;
- an accounting of the entire Estate, as well as all financial transactions undertaken by the Deceased, or on his behalf, or on behalf of his Estate, from the date that the Deceased’s matrimonial home was sold in 2003 to the date of trial;
- Orders for the production and release of financial and medical information;
- an Order reversing all transactions undertaken by the Defendant, either directly or indirectly, without authority or in breach of her authority, or in breach of her fiduciary duties to the Deceased and to his beneficiaries, including the Plaintiffs;
- an Order tracing the property of the Deceased into the property owned by the Defendant, including her home;
- Orders for injunctive relief, including the issuance of a certificate of pending litigation;
- a Declaration that all property held in the name of the Defendant, or part thereof, is held by her for the benefit of the Plaintiffs;
- damages against the Defendant in the amount of at least $400,000.00, for conversion of property, breach of statutory duty, and/or breach of fiduciary duty;
- pre- and post- judgment interest; and
- costs fixed on a substantial indemnity basis, plus H.S.T.
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The main issue on appeal was whether Justice Dietrich was right in finding that the applicant could still ask the court to determine whether certain codicils were valid (or invalid) seven years after death. Justice Dietrich based her limitations analysis on whether this proceeding would fall under section 16(1)(a) of the Limitations Act, 2002 where there is no limitation period in respect of “a proceeding for a declaration if no consequential relief is sought”.
In her reasons, Justice Dietrich distinguished the case before her from the other limitations cases that have applied the two-year, basic limitation period to will challenges: Leibel v. Leibel, 2014 ONSC 4516, Birtzu v. McCron, 2017 ONSC 1420, and Shannon v. Hrabovsky, 2018 ONSC 6593. The case before her was different from Liebel, Birtzu, and Shannon because nothing had been done by the respondent beneficiary to propound the codicils that she had an interest in. If the proceeding was started differently in 2015, by the very beneficiary who has an interest in the codicils, then the estate trustee would have a limitations defence against the beneficiary. Since the beneficiary had done nothing, it remained opened to the estate trustee to commence an application for declaratory relief. Such declaratory relief is “a formal statement by a court pronouncing upon the existence or non-existence of a legal state of affairs.’ It is restricted to a pronunciation on the parties’ rights” (see para. 46, 2019 ONSC 1190).
The Court of Appeal agreed that there was no limitation period in this case because the applicant did not seek consequential relief in addition to a determination of the validity or invalidity of the codicils. The Will had not been probated and nothing had been done for seven years to resolve the issue.
“In these circumstances, Helen was entitled to seek declaratory relief, simply to establish the validity, or lack of validity, of the codicils – to define the rights of the parties in order to avoid future disputes.”, Strathy C.J.O., MacPherson J.A., and Jamal J.A.
Thanks for reading and more on these limitation cases to follow later this week!
According to this CNN article, a scientific breakthrough has occurred thanks to research from the Arizona State University and Texas A&M University. These scientists have, for the very first time, identified the structure of telomerase in plants.
Telomerase is an enzyme that creates the DNA of telomeres.
>>Telomeres protects our cells from aging as our cells multiply.
>>>If our cells are protected from aging, then so will our bodies…
This breakthrough will allow scientists to study how telomerase in plants compare to the ones in animals, including humans! For example, there is a pine tree, named Methuselah, that is 4,845 years old in California. It is so inimitable that the location of this particular pine tree is kept secret for protection.
On the flip side, certain cells that have too much telomerase can be deleterious to our health, like cancer cells. The ability to stop a cancer cell from multiplying by shortening its telomeres could be revolutionary!
Fun fact: these components of life are so important that the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider, and Jack W. Szostak for their research on how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and telomerase.
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Competing applications about the ownership of a home were before the Court in Marley v. Salga, 2019 ONSC 3527. On the death, the home was jointly owned between the deceased (Salga) and his wife (Marley). Notwithstanding the registered, legal ownership of the property, Salga’s Will gave Marley a lifetime right to occupy and use Salga’s one-half interest in the property and thereafter directed that the house be sold for the benefit of the residuary beneficiaries.
This led the residuary beneficiaries to commence an Application for a declaration that the Estate is entitled to an undivided one-half interest in the home and for an order requiring the Estate Trustee (Klassen) to sell the home right away (the “Salga Application“). Thereafter, Marley commenced her own Application for a declaration that she was the sole legal and beneficial owner of the property, or, alternatively, that her interest in the property is greater than 50% (the “Marley Application“).
Ultimately, Justice Reid found that ownership of the property was severed by the deceased in the course of his dealings but denied the Salga Applicants’ request that the property be sold before the termination of Marley’s interest under the Will. The Marley Application was also denied. Our blog on this decision can be found here.
The parties were unable to agree to the issue of costs. Justice Reid, 2019 ONSC 6050, followed the traditional approach to costs in estate matters and the costs of both applications, on a partial indemnity scale, were ordered from the Estate. In reaching this conclusion, Justice Reid considered and found the following:
- The Marley Application was in essence a response to the Salga Application and the costs of both proceedings were treated as one;
- Both parties were found to be partially successful: the Salga Applicants were successful in obtaining a declaration that 50% of the home belongs to the Estate and the Marley Applicant was successful in preventing an immediate sale of the home;
- Consideration was given to the fact that an award of costs from the Estate meant that the Salga Applicants (as the residuary beneficiaries) would be effectively bearing their own costs as well as Marley’s costs. However, that was not enough to outweigh the deceased’s responsibility to act unambiguously by severing his interest on title during his lifetime.
- Costs against the Estate in this case “places the responsibility for the litigation squarely on [the deceased] where it belongs“.
This costs decision is also an informative read for the costs of an estate trustee as a respondent in both proceedings and how costs should be paid from an estate where there is no liquidity.
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A recent master motions in the Estate of Robert William Drury Sr., 2019 ONSC 6071, considered the issue of an extension of time to serve a statement of claim.
Robert Sr. owned a property where the defendant Shirley lived with her spouse Hugh Drury. When Hugh Drury died, Robert Sr. sought vacant possession of his home. Robert Sr. died on September 8, 2016. Days later there was a fire on the property on September 24th and Shirley was criminally charged with arson.
Almost two years later, the estate trustee for Robert Sr.’s Estate issued a statement of claim for malicious and intentional arson damage, or gross negligence causing loss of enjoyment of life, or damages for loss of property. That claim was issued on September 19, 2018 while Shirley’s criminal proceedings were underway. Pursuant to Rule 14.08(1), Robert Jr. had 6 months to serve the civil claim on Shirley which expired on March 19, 2019. Shirley was not served until June 14, 2019 when Robert Jr. brought a motion for an extension of time.
In applying the test that was set out by the Court of Appeal in Chiarelli v Wiens, 2000 CanLii 3904, the extension of time was ultimately allowed by Master Sugunasiri.
The delay was only three months and the prejudice to Shirley was minor. Robert Jr. explained that he acted on the advice of counsel when the decision was made to serve Shirley after the conclusion of the criminal proceeding. This decision was not personal or contemptuous. As for Shirley, while memories fade over time, the criminal proceeding was found to be an ameliorating factor that preserved her evidence for the civil proceeding.
In reaching this decision, Master Sugunasiri also considered an instance where an extension of time was denied because the delay was caused by the Plaintiff’s decision not to serve the claim until he had enough money to fund the proceeding. In that case, the Court found that the Plaintiff ought to bear the consequences of the risk that he took under the Rules.
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Thanks to the New York Times, I found out about where most of Bob Ross’s paintings have been kept all these years. Bob Ross was the iconic host of the television show, The Joy of Painting. The PBS show ran from 1983 to 1994 and these old episodes continue to be watched on television, YouTube, and Netflix today.
In each episode, Bob taught his audience how to paint landscapes from his own imagination and memories. According to this NYT video, Bob would paint three versions of the same painting for each episode. Given the amount of episodes, Bob is estimated to have painted over a thousand paintings for the show alone.
Bob’s paintings are owned by a company known as Bob Ross, Inc. Bob Ross, Inc. was originally owned by Bob, his wife, Jane, and Annette and Walt Kowalski. The Kowalskis are credited with discovering Bob and financing his early career. When Bob died in 1995, predeceased by his wife Jane, the Ross’s shares of the company were left to the Kowalskis.
To date, Bob Ross, Inc. does not sell Bob’s paintings. It is a company that sells painting supplies, books and dvds, and other fun items like t-shirts and coffee mugs.
As a privately held corporation, Bob Ross Inc. can continue to hold onto Bob’s paintings for the foreseeable future. Only time will tell if the shareholders of Bob Ross Inc. might change their minds about Bob’s paintings. For now, the company has donated a collection of Bob’s paintings to the Smithsonian and the rest of us will just have to paint our own paintings by learning from Bob.
Just for fun, and to finish off my theme for the week, here is a video for happy little Bob Ross waffles.
Golden Fall Foliage Autumn Yellow Maple Tree Season