Author: Garrett Horrocks
A recent study published by the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California at San Francisco represents a promising breakthrough in research relating to early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. At the core of the study, however, is a familiar yet unlikely trend: artificial intelligence.
The research team developed an algorithm to read and interpret PET scan images with a particular emphasis on monitoring and detecting changes in glucose uptake over extended periods of time. Glucose monitoring has historically been an important predictive factor in formulating a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Healthy cells generally display high levels of glucose uptake, indicative of robust cell activity. Conversely, lower glucose uptake suggests cell inactivity or death, for example, as a result of Alzheimer’s.
The slow, progressive nature of Alzheimer’s has historically rendered it difficult for radiologists to observe the subtle changes in glucose levels until symptoms had reached a stage at which they were no longer meaningfully reversible. The team at UCSF tailored the algorithm to detect subtle features that were imperceptible to the human eye.
To achieve this, the algorithm was fed thousands of PET scan images from thousands of patients at all stages of cognitive impairment, from no impairment through to late-stage Alzheimer’s. Over time, the algorithm learned to discern between the particular features of a given scan which were of assistance in predicting the eventual onset of Alzheimer’s and those which were not. At the conclusion of the study, the algorithm had correctly predicted the onset of Alzheimer’s in more than 92% of cases. Importantly, the algorithm was able to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s, on average, more than six years before the symptoms constituting a typical diagnosis had manifested.
Leaving aside the obvious benefits relating to treatment and reversibility, early detection of Alzheimer’s could stand to have numerous applications in the context of succession and estate planning. For example, a predictive diagnosis could spur a testator to take steps to implement a proper estate plan well before his or her capacity to do so could become a concern. In turn, the testator would have the security that their plan of succession would be carried out according to his or her instructions, reducing the risk of contentious post-death litigation.
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Applications to pass accounts are unique as civil proceedings go. The nature of the inquiries being made by the Court, the relief that a judge is empowered to grant, and the procedural considerations that apply are all features that distinguish applications to pass accounts from other civil applications. Procedural considerations in particular have garnered some notoriety recently as a result of several notable decisions released in the past few years. The recent decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario (then sitting as the Divisional Court) in Wall v Shaw, 2018 ONCA 929, provides some clarity to a few of the loose ends.
In Wall, the Deceased died leaving a Will naming the appellant as estate trustee and which created two testamentary trusts for the benefit of her two children. The Deceased’s nieces and nephews were also named as contingent beneficiaries in the event that both children died before vesting in the trust property.
The estate trustee acted for more than 10 years, but never formally passed his accounts. Instead, the estate trustee held frequent informal meetings with the Deceased’s children to review the administration of the estate and to discuss the estate trustee’s compensation.
A dispute between the Deceased’s daughter and the estate trustee relating to the latter’s compensation eventually led the daughter to bring an application seeking an order compelling the estate trustee to pass his accounts.
The estate trustee subsequently commenced an application to pass accounts in March 2015. In June 2015, the Deceased’s daughter filed a notice of objection to the accounts, followed in January 2016 by a notice of objection delivered by two of the Deceased’s nieces.
In response, the estate trustee brought a motion seeking to strike out the objections of the daughter on several grounds. Notably, the estate trustee took the position that the daughter’s approval of the accounts at the informal meetings constituted acquiescence of the estate trustee’s conduct. In the alternative, the estate trustee argued that the daughter’s objections were now statute-barred pursuant to sections 4 and 5 of Ontario’s Limitations Act or barred by the doctrine of laches.
The estate trustee was unsuccessful at first instance on all three grounds, but only chose to appeal the first ground. Specifically, the estate trustee argued on appeal that the judge at first instance had erred in refusing to apply the two-year limitation period under section 4 of the Limitations Act. The appeal was dismissed, and the reasons on appeal provide some procedural clarity in respect of the interplay between limitation periods and passings of accounts.
Section 4 of the Limitations Act generally provides that a “proceeding” cannot be commenced in respect of a “claim” if more than two years have elapsed since the date the claim was discovered. The Court of Appeal took issue with each of the quoted terms.
Notably, the held that a notice of objection does not commence a “proceeding” for the purposes of section 4 of the Limitations Act. Rather, a notice of objection ought to be viewed as a response to a proceeding that has already been commenced, being the application to pass accounts. The Court also pointed to its prior ruling in Armitage v The Salvation Army, in which it was held that an application to pass accounts was not a “claim” pursuant to section 4 of the Limitations Act. Accordingly, it followed that a responding objection raised in that application could also not constitute a claim.
Finally, the Court highlighted an important distinction between applications to pass accounts and other civil applications. Unlike a traditional civil claim, the Court in an application to pass accounts is not tasked with awarding judgment in favour of one party or the other. The purpose of an application to pass accounts to is initiate a “judicial inquiry” into the management of an estate and, if appropriate, provide redress to the estate, rather than to the beneficiaries personally.
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One of the major facets underpinning the principles of fundamental justice in Canada is ensuring all parties to a litigation have a voice. The ability of the judicial system to satisfy this burden is often rendered more challenging when the capacity of one of the parties is a central issue in a given proceeding. The recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Sylvester v Britton, 2018 ONSC 6620, provides clarity in respect of the duties and obligations of counsel who are appointed to navigate these issues.
In Sylvester, the Applicant brought an application seeking to be appointed as guardian of property and personal care for her mother, Marjorie. Marjorie had previously appointed two of her sons as her attorneys for property and personal care pursuant to validly-executed powers of attorney.
On consent of all parties, the Public Guardian and Trustee arranged to have a lawyer, Clarke Melville, act for Marjorie on the application in accordance with section 3 of Ontario’s Substitute Decisions Act. Section 3 of the SDA provides that, where the capacity of a person is at issue in a proceeding, that person will be deemed to have the capacity to instruct counsel for the purposes of that proceeding. Accordingly, the Court deemed Marjorie to have the capacity to give instructions to Mr. Melville on the application.
The Applicant disputed this presumption of capacity. She brought a motion seeking, amongst other relief, Mr. Melville’s removal as Marjorie’s section 3 counsel and a declaration that Marjorie was not capable of instructing counsel.
The Applicant’s position on the motion was largely premised on earlier findings of Marjorie’s incapacity. Capacity assessments performed several years earlier had revealed that Marjorie was not capable of managing her property or her personal care. At common law, the test for capacity to manage property and personal care is generally more onerous than the test for capacity to instruct counsel. The Applicant took the position that a finding of incapacity to manage property and personal care was sufficient to establish a lack of capacity to instruct counsel.
The Court disagreed and, in its reasons, highlighted several key points that clarify the role of section 3 counsel in the court process. The purpose of the SDA and of section 3 in particular is to protect vulnerable individuals and to allow them to provide input, to the extent possible, on matters that impact their interests.
However, the Court also stressed that the Rules of Professional Conduct govern all solicitor-client relationships, including relations arising under section 3. Section 3 counsel must carry out all of the duties and obligations to the Court and to the client that other counsel must observe, regardless of the particular vulnerabilities of their client. All counsel have an obligation to canvas the wishes or instructions of their client and to advance the client’s interests. The role of section 3 counsel differs only insofar as it is potentially more likely that he or she will be required to advise the Court if, at any point, counsel no longer believes the client has the capacity to give instructions.
This final point is the salient point that governed the Court’s decision to deny the Applicant’s motion. The Court ultimately held that significant deference ought to be granted to section 3 counsel in assessing a client’s capacity to give instructions. The Rules of Professional Conduct properly govern a lawyer’s duty to all clients and to the Court. As such, no individual will be better positioned to judge an incapable person’s capacity to give instructions than the person to whom the instructions would ordinarily be given.
Accordingly, the Court will only interfere if it is apparent that the client is not able to give instructions and where it is clear that counsel has “strayed from his or her obligations to the client and to the Court.” In all other circumstances, the Court will presume that counsel is acting with the integrity of the court process in mind.
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November 11, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day. A century earlier, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, hostilities in the First World War came to an end. Commonly observed in Canada and across the Commonwealth as Remembrance Day, memorial services are held to honour and commemorate those who served and those who died in service of their country.
Some symbols and acts of remembrance used to mark this solemn day, and their significance, are universal across all of the Commonwealth. The poppy, for example, is a familiar emblem of remembrance in Canada and abroad. Those of us who recall the poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian physician John McCrae may also credit it with the adoption of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
Fewer of us are likely aware that the custom of wearing a poppy should instead be credited to Moina Michael, a professor at the University of Georgia. After the end of the First World War, Michael took inspiration from the well-known opening verse of McCrae’s poem and conceived the idea of selling silk poppies to raise funds to assist disabled veterans. The practice was subsequently adopted by veterans’ groups in other nations including in Canada. The Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Fund continues to provide financial assistance and support for Canadian veterans.
Canada also retains certain traditions that are unique to its celebration of remembrance. The selection of a Silver Cross Mother is one such tradition. This tradition is named for the Silver Cross, a medal historically awarded to the mother or next-of-kin of any member of the Canadian Forces who lost their life in the line of duty. Each year dating back to 1936, the Royal Canadian Legion has chosen one such mother as the National Silver Cross Mother. As part of the Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, the Silver Cross Mother lays a wreath on behalf of all mothers who have lost a child or loved one in service of their country.
The selection of this year’s recipient, Anita Cenerini, is a watershed moment in dispelling the stigma surrounding mental illness and post-traumatic stress in veterans. It is the first time in the history of the custom that the honour has been bestowed on a mother whose child’s life was taken not in active duty, but personally, after a battle with the effects of post-traumatic stress. The Royal Canadian Legion is optimistic that this year’s ceremony will encourage veterans battling the effects of PTSD and mental illness, as well as their loved ones, to reach out for assistance and counselling.
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With the NFL season underway as of this past weekend, I thought this week would be an appropriate time to revisit a notion that is maybe as rare in sports as it is in contested estate matters: succeeding on a technicality.
Pursuant to section 15 of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform, a will may be revoked by, among other actions, the execution of a subsequent validly executed will or the destruction of that will by the testator, or by another individual in the presence of the testator acting on the testator’s instructions.
Consider the following scenario: a testator executes a subsequent will with the intention of revoking a prior will and, in the process, destroys the prior will. To the dismay of the testator or his loved ones, the new will is held to be invalid. In the ordinary course, this would lead to an intestacy, as no will would appear to govern – the prior will was expressly revoked and destroyed by the testator, and the subsequent will is not valid.
Rather than leave the testator or his loved ones in limbo, the doctrine of dependent relative revocation steps in to allow the revival of a prior will on a technicality. This concept provides that the revocation of a prior will, as is a common term in many wills, is ultimately conditional on the validity of the subsequent will executed by the testator. If, in the above scenario, the testator revoked and destroyed the prior will with the express intention of replacing it with a subsequent will, such revocation will be conditional on the subsequent will being valid.
Dependent relative revocation is a rare but critical technicality that prevents the absurd result of an intestacy, notwithstanding that a valid will would otherwise have governed but for subsequent execution of an invalid will.
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We are a society of “stuff.” Furniture, electronics, collectibles and other memorabilia. You name it; chances are, something along those lines is gathering dust in your home or that of a close family member. This poses an inevitable question for those inching towards retirement age and who are considering downsizing their living arrangements – what are they to do with all of their “stuff”?
A recent article in Forbes magazine suggests that, despite the ostensibly good intentions of prospective retirees, their children will only tolerate so many personal effects being pawned off on them. For many millennials, the reality is that living space is a premium, especially for condo dwellers in the city. Absorbing an enormous credenza or an old television into already cramped quarters is simply not feasible for most. Those looking to downsize in advance of retirement may therefore have to look outside their immediate family for relief.
Prospective retirees have several options at their disposal to alleviate the stress and anxiety that accompany the moving process. A number of well-known charitable organizations, including the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity, among a slew of others, assist in receiving and repurposing donated furniture, electronics, and other personal effects. Contributing to these organizations ensures that less fortunate individuals and families will be able to enjoy these effects for years to come, while simultaneously providing a solution to the retiree’s downsizing conundrum.
Junk removal services are another alternative that have exploded in popularity in the last decade or so. These companies will typically provide the labour to arrive at your doorstep with a truck in tow, removing unwanted personal items for a small fee. Many of these companies will, in turn, donate collected items to charitable organizations or other entities to reduce waste and ensure peace of mind the prospective retiree.
If downsizing is on your mind in the near future, consider these options to ensure your household items are given a second life. Your children will be most appreciative!
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The death of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, on August 16 sent reverberations through Motown and the music industry as a whole. However, equally as shocking to estates law practitioners is the fact that Franklin died intestate, that is, without having executed a valid Last Will and Testament.
Reports have emerged that Franklin died leaving an estate valued at approximately US$80 million. Notwithstanding the insistence of her longtime lawyer to take proper estate planning steps, Franklin’s estate will now likely be distributed in accordance with Michigan intestacy laws rather than in accordance with her wishes. As Franklin died leaving four children and no surviving spouse, a cursory review of applicable authorities in Michigan suggests her estate will be distributed equally amongst her children, as would be the case under Ontario intestate succession laws.
With that said, the fact that Franklin died intestate means that the courts will now be tasked with the appointment of a personal representative to consolidate and distribute the assets of her estate and attend to the payment of any liabilities. In Ontario, where an individual dies intestate, the court is empowered to appoint an Estate Trustee without a Will pursuant to section 29(1) of the Estates Act. While the appointee is entitled to seek professional assistance from lawyers, accountants, and certain other professionals to provide assistance, the administration of an estate, particularly one as large as Franklin’s, can be burdensome especially if the trustee is unsophisticated.
The size of Franklin’s estate will also likely lead to all manner of creditors coming out of the woodwork to stake their claim and create further headaches for the eventual executor. As was the case with other celebrities who died intestate, the chaos that will presumably result is likely to be well-publicized in the media, notwithstanding the wishes of Franklin’s close family. A well-crafted estate plan, including the selection of a willing and competent executor to administer the estate, may very well have allowed the administration of Franklin’s estate to remain largely private. If recent history is any indication, that is no longer likely to be the case.
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Capacity is a fundamental consideration in many aspects of estate, trust, and attorneyship litigation. The capacity of an individual to take a particular legal step, for example, to effect a distribution of property or to make a valid testamentary document, will often form the basis of a claim or court application. However, as set out in today’s blog, capacity is specific as to task, time, and situation. Context is a key factor in assessing capacity or lack thereof.
Whether an individual will be found to be capable of taking a particular legal step depends on the nature of the step being taken and when this step was taken. By way of example, the threshold for the capacity required by a testator to execute a valid Last Will and Testament differs from, and is considerably higher than, the threshold of an individual seeking to grant a power of attorney for property or personal care.
The capacity to make a valid will requires an individual to have a clear understanding of the nature and extent of their assets, and to understand the effects of the dispositions being made including any claims that might arise as a result. The capacity to grant a power of attorney for property, while similar to testamentary capacity, is a lower threshold. An individual will be capable of granting a power of attorney for property provided that,
- they have a general understanding of the nature and value of their property;
- are aware of the obligations owed to any of their dependants; and
- understand the nature of the rights being given to the attorney as well as the rights that they retain as the grantor of the power of attorney, for example, the right to revoke the power of attorney if capable.
While the capacity to grant a power of attorney for property only requires the grantor to have a general understanding of their property or their obligations, testamentary capacity requires specific knowledge and appreciation of potential legal ramifications. Accordingly, an assessment of an individual’s capacity in each respect will impart different requirements.
Capacity is also specific as to time, particularly as an individual’s capacity may fluctuate depending on illness or circumstance. While somewhat uncommon in practice, an individual who was previously assessed as incapable may subsequently regain the capacity to take a particular legal step. Accordingly, when acting on behalf of an individual challenging the validity of a testamentary document or disposition of property, it is important to consider not only the grantor’s historical capacity or lack thereof, but also whether capacity may have been regained at some point prior to the disposition being challenged.
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Testamentary freedom is a core tenet of estate planning in Ontario. In general, testators are at liberty to set up their estate plan to include or exclude whomever they wish. Where part or all of a testator’s estate plan fails as a result of an intestacy, Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) steps in to provide the parties who will benefit as a result. Occasionally, the principles of testamentary freedom and intention and the laws of intestacy intersect in peculiar ways. This intersection came to a head in the Eissmann v Kunz (2018 ONSC 3650) decision.
In Kunz, the testator, Siegfried Kunz, died leaving no fewer than four testamentary documents purporting to be wills, briefly summarized as follows:
- A will drawn in 1967, which divided Mr. Kunz’s estate between his wife and their daughter, Petra;
- A will drawn in 1982 in Mr. Kunz’s handwriting, which stated that the “beneficiary after [his] death is Petra”;
- A will drawn in 2000, again in Mr. Kunz’s handwriting, which purported to modify the 1967 will and listed a number of specific legacies to various beneficiaries. Mr. Kunz appears to have later written over the original bequests to increase the amount of each. Petra was once again listed as the sole residuary beneficiary; and
- A will drawn in 2009, also in Mr. Kunz’s handwriting, which provided that Petra would “not receive a single Euro of out [the] Estate.” In the margin of the 2009 will, Mr. Kunz expressly indicated that the 2009 will was to be an “amendment” to the 2000 will.
The Court was first tasked with determining which will was to govern. The Court concluded that the 2000 will was a valid holograph will, though noted that the subsequent handwritten amendments were of no force and effect as they did not comply with the formal requirements for valid alterations under the SLRA. The Court concluded that the 2009 will operated instead as a codicil to the 2000 will as it did not dispose of any property on its face and, therefore, could not function as a standalone will.
The interplay between the 2000 will and the 2009 codicil is such that a conflict arose with respect to the disposition of the residue of Mr. Kunz’s estate. The 2000 will names Petra as the sole residuary beneficiary. The 2009 will revokes Petra’s interest entirely. The 2009 codicil therefore created a partial intestacy with respect to the residue of Mr. Kunz’s estate, and the Court looked to the SLRA to determine who would inherit.
The hierarchy of beneficiaries on an intestacy is set out in Part II of the SLRA. Mr. Kunz died leaving no surviving spouse, and so the next intestate beneficiaries were to be his children, that is, Petra. In an ironic twist of fate, the Court concluded that Petra was solely entitled to all of the residue of Mr. Kunz’s estate, notwithstanding that he had intended to expressly disinherit her under the 2009 codicil. The Court declined to give effect to Mr. Kunz’s apparent intention to exclude Petra.
Simple estate planning steps, such as the appointment of an alternate beneficiary under the 2009 will, could have prevented this great irony. Ensure the effects of your testamentary dispositions are properly understood by taking time to review your will with a lawyer.
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On a recent trip to Rochester, New York, my fiancée and I had the pleasure of touring the George Eastman Museum and came across an interesting piece of estates lore.
George Eastman, the founder of Kodak and a pioneer of bringing photography to the mainstream, died leaving a Will drawn in 1925. As his wife had predeceased him and they had no children, Mr. Eastman devised all of his real property and left a substantial cash legacy to his closest family member, his niece, Ellen Dryden. Mr. Eastman’s estate held significant assets, and the value of liquid assets alone was estimated as exceeding the equivalent of USD$35 million today.
However, on March 9, 1932, only five days before his death, Mr. Eastman had a change of heart with respect to the distribution of his estate. Rather than leave the bulk of his estate to an individual, Mr. Eastman wished to ensure that his legacy would be one of service to the community that had fostered his photography empire. True to form as a philanthropist and benefactor of local enterprise, Mr. Eastman executed a Codicil to his Will, changing the primary beneficiary of his estate from his niece to the University of Rochester.
The testamentary dispositions under the Codicil represented a significant deviation from those under his Will. Typically, where a testator’s dispositions vary substantially from one instrument to another, concerns may arise with respect to the their testamentary capacity or the presence of undue influence.
A shrewd entrepreneur in his own right, Mr. Eastman recognized the risk that the Codicil might later be the subject of scrutiny or litigation. On the date the Codicil was to be executed, Mr. Eastman hosted a gathering at his residence and invited many guests and acquaintances. He devoted time to speaking to each individual guest about topical, personal subjects so that they could attest to Mr. Eastman’s soundness of mind in the event that a certain disgruntled niece chose to commence a Will challenge.
In a way, Mr. Eastman’s goal is not too dissimilar from some of the criteria that are relied on even today to assess a testator’s capacity. Third-party evidence that a testator appeared to be of sound mind immediately prior to the execution of a testamentary document may help a trier of fact draw a favourable conclusion with respect to capacity. While the formal criteria to assess capacity primarily consider a testator’s appreciation and understanding of his or her assets, Mr. Eastman’s clever scheme demonstrates that he turned his mind to questions about his own capacity and took steps to mitigate the risks.
Mr. Eastman’s Codicil was not later subject to any litigation, and the University of Rochester received a handsome distribution out of his estate.
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