Author: Ian Hull
If you are asked to be someone’s estate trustee/executor, you may wonder what liability you are assuming. That is on top of the regular workload, as settling the testator’s financial affairs and distributing the remaining assets to their beneficiaries usually takes a year, involving visits to banks, lawyers and other relevant parties. Much can happen in that time, and beneficiaries may be pressuring you to quickly pass along their share of the estate.
Here are some important points to keep in mind with personal liability.
Many Last Wills and Testaments contain phrasing meant to protect loved ones as they carry out their executor duties, usually along the lines of: “No trustee acting in good faith shall be held liable for any loss, except for loss caused by his or her own dishonesty, gross negligence or a wilful breach of trust.”
That type of clause is important, but there is still some liability that comes with the position.
First, let’s make it clear that an executor does not incur personal liability for the debts and liabilities of the deceased. However, it is the executor’s duty to ensure that financial obligations are paid from the estate before any money goes to beneficiaries.
The potential liability here is particularly significant with respect to taxes. Most estates will have taxes owing, so it is the executor’s duty to ensure that all outstanding tax matters are resolved. Section 159 of the Income Tax Act requires executors to obtain a clearance certificate. This document confirms that the taxes of the deceased have been paid in full. If the executor does not obtain this certificate and the funds from the estate have already been distributed, they will be personally liable for taxes owed.
There is always a chance that an executor could discover the testator was not meeting their tax obligations to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). There are a number of reasons this may arise, ranging from simple carelessness to deliberate tax evasion. No matter the situation, the executor is responsible for rectifying that shortcoming using the estate’s funds, before money is given out to beneficiaries.
The CRA has created a Voluntary Disclosure Program that allows executors to come forward and voluntarily correct any errors or omissions without being subject to penalties or prosecution.
Personal liability for executors also arises if they spend money on professionals to help with the administration of the estate. That could include such people as lawyers, accountants, investment advisors, real estate agents, or art appraisers. Estates can be complex, so it is well within the scope of diligent executors to seek professional guidance. Accordingly, the cost for these services will be borne by the estate, not by the executor.
Detailed records must be kept of any money spent, as executors have a duty to account to the beneficiaries. These records must show all expenses paid by the estate and what money the estate received, from insurance benefits, banks or other sources.
In most cases, beneficiaries of an estate will approve, or consent to, the accounts as kept by the estate trustee. But if they feel finances were not properly managed, they can ask for court approval of the records, known as a “passing of accounts.”
Since executors have a duty to maximize the recovery, and value, of estate assets, they are personally liable for any losses they cause. That could include being reckless with the assets, which causes a loss in monetary value. Examples of this would be if an estate has to pay penalties on a tax return that the executor filed extremely late for no good reason, or if a home was sold for much less than market value.
The good news is that if an executor performs their duty diligently and honestly, any financial liability they assume will be paid by the estate.
Be safe, and have a great day.
When parents consider who should be the guardian of their minor-age children in the event they both were to die, they are probably thinking in terms of who will assume parenting responsibilities. In Ontario, however, there is an important distinction between the custodial guardian and the guardian of property, the latter being the person who will make financial decisions for those children until they reach the age of majority. One person can fulfill both roles or parents can break the responsibilities apart and assign guardians for each.
Let’s explore the second form of guardianship first.
In Ontario, subsection 47 (2) of the Children’s Law Reform Act describes a guardian of the property as someone “responsible for the care and management of the property of the child.”
Their duties include making trustee investments and investing the child’s money as required by the management plan approved by the court. If there is a large amount of money involved, the guardian may be required to pass the accounts before the court at fixed intervals, usually from one to five years.
Detailed records, or accounts, must be kept of all transactions carried out on behalf of the children.
Guardians of property may be paid for their work, following the fee scale set out in Ontario Regulation 159/00. It states they are entitled to three per cent on capital and income receipts, three per cent on capital and income disbursements and three–fifths of one per cent on the annual average value of the assets as a care and management fee.
The court can review the accounts and adjust the amount of compensation given, and, if required, demand that some or all of these funds be repaid.
With the financial responsibilities involved in being a guardian of property, it is easy to see why parents should select someone comfortable with handling money for this role.
When selecting a custodial guardian to assume day-to-day parenting duties, most people look to family members. That often works well, especially if the person lives close by and has children of their own. But don’t be afraid to look beyond your circle of relatives. In some circumstances, a family friend might be the better choice. Just as there are no perfect parents, there are no perfect guardians, but your children will have to live with the choice you have made in the event of your untimely death.
There are a number of factors to consider with any guardian choice, such as geography. School-age children may not appreciate being uprooted from friends and schoolmates if the custodial parent lives in another community or province.
The age and health of the custodial guardian are important as well, as you want someone who has the energy to take on the myriad of tasks involved in child-rearing. For that reason, someone who is nearing retirement might not be a wise choice as a custodial guardian.
Parents also have to think about the attitudes and values they are trying to instill in their children. You want to find a custodial guardian who lives by similar standards as yours, to ensure your children are brought up in a manner in which you approve.
Finances should be a factor in your decision-making. Even if a will provides funding for the children’s needs, the custodial guardian’s expenses will go up, so you won’t want to select someone who is already financially strained.
For both guardian roles, you will want to be sure to discuss the issue thoroughly with the people in question before appointing them in your will. It is a statistical long-shot that their services will be required, but make sure they are comfortable taking on those duties if they are ever required to fulfill those roles.
One final point: review your guardianship appointments on a regular basis. Everyone’s personal circumstances change, and the person who agreed to be guardian 10 years ago may be unfit or unwilling to assume that role now.
Stay safe – and have a great day,
A person’s Last Will and Testament allows them to not only determine how their estate is distributed upon their death, but can also set out their expectations on how to care for their minor-aged children. To ensure that the needs of the child can be met, here are some of the elements that should be part of this important document.
One key issue is to decide who to appoint as guardian – the person who will assume the responsibility of raising the children upon the death of their parents. A person entitled to custody of a child may appoint one or more persons to fill that role after the death of the parent, as per section 61 of the Children’s Law Reform Act. It’s also possible to choose a different guardian for each child if that works in a particular situation.
Keep in mind that such an appointment is typically only in force for 90 days, during which time the custodian must bring a court application seeking permanent status. The testator’s appointment can be overturned by a judge, however, especially if circumstances have changed between the writing of the will and the guardianship appointment being made. Perhaps your appointed guardian is having personal struggles of their own and is no longer fit to care for your children. In most cases, though, the court will typically respect the choice of the testator and assign great weight to their final wishes.
When it comes to minor-age children, an equally important designation is the appointment of a trustee. This can be the same person as the guardian, though it doesn’t have to be. A trustee makes decisions about how your assets are managed and when funds are allocated to your children. For example, parents may decide it would not be in their children’s best interests to receive a large inheritance at the age of 18. Those funds can be controlled by the trustee until the children reach a higher level of maturity.
When parents prepare their wills, they do not know what the future needs of their children will be. Maybe a child will be injured and will require therapy not covered by provincial health plans, for example, or they could develop a keen interest in music or some other pursuit requiring expensive equipment.
These needs could be paid for by the trust if the trustee is convinced they are in the best interests of the child. The trustee can also release funds for the general maintenance of the child, with all withdrawals recorded for later reference.
Specialized trusts can be established for a number of different scenarios. For example, the Henson Trust is used in estate planning where there is a disabled beneficiary who is entitled to receive support payments from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
Under the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, if a recipient of ODSP has assets or receives income over a prescribed limit, they will be ineligible to receive support payments. One way to address this issue is through the establishment of the Henson Trust.
Those in a second marriage or any sort of blended family definitely need a will. There needs to be direction on who inherits what. Court challenges are sure to arise if the direction is unclear or if it is seen as patently unfair to one party.
That is reinforced by a TD Wealth survey that found that family conflict was identified as the leading threat to estate planning. The survey cited the designation of beneficiaries (30 percent) as the most common cause of conflict, with other leading factors including not communicating the plan with family members (25 percent) and working with blended families (21 percent).
Some parents may want to include information about their parenting philosophy or provide advice about how to handle their children in the will. A Last Will and Testament is not the place for that. This is a legal document that contains specific instructions about the distribution of your estate. After your will is probated, it becomes a public document that anybody can read. However, instructions or encouragement about parenting can be included in a letter or other separate document that accompanies the will.
A will is the last gift you will give your children, so you’ll want to work with a lawyer to make sure it leaves the legacy you intended.
Thanks for reading – and be safe.
There are some important milestones in life when it is imperative for a person to update their will. A later-in-life second marriage certainly is one of them.
If your first marriage ended in divorce, the provisions in your will that refer to your spouse are automatically revoked, as provided by s. 17(2) of the Succession Law Reform Act. Your former spouse will no longer be your executor or trustee or even a beneficiary of your estate unless there is an explicit reference in your will to this.
Keep in mind the same is not true for beneficiary designations relating to assets, such as RRSPs, RRIFs, life insurance policies and pensions. Those will still flow to the individual named in those plans unless you take steps to name new beneficiaries.
If you are separated but not divorced, your will remains entirely valid upon death, in the absence of a separation agreement delineating a married spouse’s entitlement. Therefore, any bequests previously made by a spouse to a surviving spouse remain valid. This situation is not ideal either, since you want to avoid having assets flowing to a person when you are no longer involved with them.
A complicating factor with later-in-life marriages is that they can bring together children from previous relationships. From an estate-planning perspective, this can create complexities.
Perhaps the children from a first relationship resent a step-parent and feel that their step-siblings are now unfairly in line for the estate. Conversely, a step-parent may welcome a spouse’s child as their own or the couple may have a child of their own or adopt one. Where does that leave the other children from previous marriages from an estate distribution perspective?
Aside from the financial implications of having your family members squabble over your estate, there is an emotional component to consider. Children may feel slighted if they do not inherit what they consider to be their fair portion of the estate, even if the intention is that the surviving spouse, in turn, leaves assets to the children upon their death. This approach leaves room for uncertainty, which is the last thing you want to create when drawing up an estate plan.
A common practice for estate planning when it comes to second marriages is to provide a “life estate” to the surviving spouse and a “gift over” to the testator’s children. If the father were to die in this scenario, the matrimonial home and all of his money would be held in trust for his widow for life. She could then make use of these assets but would not have the right to gift them to beneficiaries of her own estate, as the assets would be given to his children upon her death.
Almost any blended-family situation creates tension that can explode into estate litigation if the will is not carefully drafted to address the family’s circumstances. It is important to be clear about your wishes with the lawyer revising your estate plan, taking into account how everyone in your blended family will react to the arrangement.
To sum up, it is crucial to seek the advice of legal counsel about wills before entering into a late-life marriage. Those that do will discover estate planning will be much different than with a first marriage when they had fewer assets and beneficiaries.
Thanks for reading … have a great day,
Amazon Films has recently released a very dark new film called “I Care A Lot”, starring Rosamund Pike and Peter Dinklage. It’s the story of a crooked legal guardian who drains the savings of her elderly wards and meets her match when a woman she tries to swindle turns out to be more than she first appears.
It’s not an instant classic and it’s total fiction, but it got us thinking about real-life scenarios where a manipulative guardian may be taking advantage of someone and what can be done. We were instantly reminded of the saga of Beach Boys legend, and “Inventor of California,” Brian Wilson.
In May of this year, it will be 55 years since the release of the solid gold classic, Pet Sounds. A testament to the genius of Brian Wilson, Pet Sounds paved the way for other classic records like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But a grueling creative and recording process and an abundance of recreational drugs saw Wilson suffer a nervous breakdown in 1965 and he wouldn’t tour with the band again until 1983. Wilson began suffering auditory hallucinations in mid-1965 which persisted throughout his life; he also became increasingly paranoid and anti-social, leading to a disintegration of relations between him and his bandmates, culminating in the famous episode where he refused to get out of bed for two years.
In an effort to assist Wilson with his myriad of physical and psychological issues, Wilson’s family enlisted the services of California psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy – And a dark story took a darker turn. For the next nine or ten years, Landy exploited and manipulated Wilson – entering into business contracts worth 25% of future record earnings, while also administering psychotropic drugs, moving into Wilson’s Bel Air estate, supervising his every move, and limiting any contact with the outside world. According to this Diane Sawyer interview from October 10, 1991, Landy was billing Wilson up to one million dollars a year, including $25,000 a month for “vitamins.”
It took nine lawsuits and several years for Wilson to be released from Landy’s “care,” and Wilson has been doing much better over the last few decades, but we still wondered: What if Wilson lived in Ontario and didn’t have any family, or Diane Sawyers, trying to fight for his freedom? What if Landy or the unscrupulous guardian in I Care A Lot were operating in Ontario?
Enter the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”).
While any concerns of physical or mental abuse should immediately be brought to the attention of local authorities as soon as possible, the PGT also has significant investigative and enforcement powers under the Substitute Decisions Act. Where financial concerns are present, the PGT has investigative powers under section 27 and where the integrity of the person is at issue, section 62.
Both sections recognize that “serious illness or injury, or deprivation of liberty or personal security, are serious adverse effects” and the PGT shall investigate. The PGT is provided extensive powers that include entry without a warrant, assistance of the police, as well as bringing emergency applications before the court to intervene as a temporary guardian.
So while Brian Wilson (and more recently Britney Spears) made headlines, there are strong police and government mechanisms in place to protect vulnerable people from abuse and exploitation. But the one thing that Wilson (and Ms. Spears) had, was some kind of connection to people. Isolation from family, friends, or community, is one of the most dangerous risks to vulnerable people.
Thanks for reading,
Ian Hull and Daniel Enright
Last Friday, February 12, 2021, the Attorney General for Ontario announced changes to the Estates Act that raise the limit of a “small estate” to $150,000.
“Right now, the process to apply to manage an estate in Ontario is the same, whether the estate is worth $10,000 or $10,000,000. The process can be time-consuming and costly, deterring people from claiming smaller estates – and that isn’t right,” said a press release.
The new regulation, introduced in the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act, does not come into effect until April 1, 2021, but will make it easier to file a probate application for small estates and removes the requirement for a security bond in many small estate probate applications.
Among the changes to simplify the probate process for small estates are allowing for the completion and filing of a new simpler application form; removing requirements for certain supporting documents to be filed (for example, a commissioned affidavit of service); and more guidance for applicants on the process to file a probate application for a small estate.
Estate administration tax is still applicable to the portion of the small estate that is larger than $50,000, but these changes to procedure represent a positive step for grieving families who might otherwise leave a small estate unclaimed.
It’s worth noting that banks and other financial institutions often can’t take instructions from an estate trustee unless probate has been granted. By raising the limit for small estates, and simplifying the probate procedure, many estates will be settled sooner and with fewer burdens or costly hurdles for grieving families.
Thanks for reading
Ian Hull and Daniel Enright
Earlier this year, our colleague Doreen So, blogged in two parts (here and here) on the matter of PGT v Cherneyko. It is a blog that discusses a litany of failures by an attorney for property. While Doreen covered the facts in full, they are worth repeating here in part:
“Jean Cherneyko is a 90-year-old woman. Jean did not have any children of her own. Her closest known relative was a niece in the US. By the time of the PGT application, Jean was in a long-term care home. Prior to that, Jean lived alone in the same home that she had lived in since 1969. Jean had a friend named Tina who she had known for about five years. On August 15, 2019, Jean and Tina went to a lawyer’s office. Jean named Tina as her attorney for property and personal care. Jean also made a new Will which named Tina as the estate trustee and sole beneficiary of her estate. A week or so later on August 27th, Jean and Tina went to Jean’s bank where $250,000.00 was transferred to Tina […]”
The PGT applied to take over as guardian for property and, among other things, to set aside the gift to Tina. The court agreed and ordered the $250,000 returned to Jean on the basis of resulting trust.
In a novel approach to the law of gifts, the court in Cherneyko relied on Pecore to establish that the gift ought to be returned, saying: “The leading Canadian case on the law of gifts, the Supreme Court of Canada in Pecore v Pecore, 2007 SCC 17 (CanLII) at paras. 24-26 established that where a gratuitous transfer of property is found, there is a presumption of a resulting trust. The onus falls to the recipient to rebut the presumption.” In the court’s view, Tina failed to rebut the presumption.
But this represents a new application of the Supreme Court’s analysis and it’s worth revisiting Pecore.
In 2007, Justice Rothstein, writing for a unanimous court (Justice Abella concurring) looked closely at gratuitous gifts of joint bank accounts, between parents and children, and whether the presumption of resulting trust and advancement applied in modern times:
“The presumption of resulting trust is a rebuttable presumption of law and general rule that applies to gratuitous transfers. When a transfer is challenged, the presumption allocates the legal burden of proof. Thus, where a transfer is made for no consideration, the onus is placed on the transferee to demonstrate that a gift was intended: see Waters’ Law of Trusts, at p. 375, and E. E. Gillese and M. Milczynski, The Law of Trusts (2nd ed. 2005), at p. 110. This is so because equity presumes bargains, not gifts.”
The decision in Cherneyko represents a significant expansion of the principles of Pecore by applying them to inter vivos gifts between unrelated adults. Traditionally, if the courts determine that a transferor lacked the requisite capacity, the gift is void as the transferor lacked the capacity to form the proper intention to gift. Ball v. Mannin, an almost 200-year-old UK case established the original test for granting a gift and held that a person had capacity if the person was “capable of understanding what he did by executing the deed in question, when its general purport was fully explained to him.” The Supreme Court has previously outlined a separate test in Geffen v Goodman Estate in 1991, examining the nature of the relationship itself, and applying a presumption of undue influence where there is the presence of a dominant relationship. While the failed gift in Cherneyko was ultimately returned under a resulting trust, it will be fascinating to see if other courts also continue this expansion of Pecore. We’ll keep you posted.
Thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Daniel Enright
It’s often referred to as the largest transfer of wealth in human history. “Baby boomers,” the post-war generation born between 1944 and 1964, are expected to transfer what Forbes has called “jaw-dropping amounts” to younger generations. Over the next 20 years, the United States alone will see a transfer of $30 trillion dollars. A 2020 Bloomberg opinion article points out that the top 1% of US households will receive 35% of all inheritances. In Canada, however, half of all Canadians expect to receive an inheritance, and 63% expect to leave one.
So how do these numbers breakdown?
- Canadians who are married, own property, and have an income of $80,000 or more are most likely to leave an inheritance.
- Only 69% of those planning to leave a legacy use a financial professional for their testamentary strategy.
- The average inheritance in Canada, according to a 2014 BMO survey, is just under $100,000.
It’s not all good news. The Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (“OSFI”) is an independent agency of the Government of Canada that supervises and regulates federally regulated banks, insurers, trust and loan companies. In July of 2020, the OSFI released data showing that Canadian seniors are achieving record debt levels through reverse mortgages: $4.5 billion. An increase of $4 billion in 10 years. Reverse mortgage interest can be high. The December 2020, 5-year interest rate on a traditional mortgage was 1.69%, while the 5-year reverse mortgage rate was closer to 5%. Reverse mortgage rates compound and balloon and it’s easy to see how the collected debt could skyrocket. This is particularly so older Canadians are able to stay in their homes for longer.
So while so many younger Canadians are expecting an inheritance, and indeed that expectation is forming part of their long-term financial plans, caution and careful planning should be encouraged if that inheritance is already saddled with debt. While this blog has encouraged estate discussions between family members in the past, it’s important to make your heirs aware of any responsibilities and options for settling your reverse mortgage debt when the time comes.
Thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Daniel Enright.
 Ian Hull also discusses the subject of the family conference in his book, Advising Families on Succession Planning – The High Price of Not Talking
Ah, January. A new year, a new start. This year, more than any other, people are putting 2020 behind them with ‘extreme prejudice’, and planning for a much different and much better year ahead.
Some will be giving up sugar, others will take up running, or tackling that Spanish language textbook that’s been sitting in the corner since the first season of Narcos. Some of us will even get our estate affairs in order.
With that in mind, we present a few considerations for 2021 when making sure our affairs are all set.
A Power of Attorney: Nobody expects to lose the ability to make financial decisions. But it does happen, and as we age, the risks increase. Giving someone you trust the power to make decisions for you in the event you’re no longer able to do so, can save a lot of time down the road, and a lot of money in legal expenses.
A Will: Without one, your assets will be divided according to provincial law. If you have children, and no Will, your kids may be placed in the care of a guardian who is maybe not your first choice. It is your “last word” and the single most important document in your estate files. Our colleague, Kira Domratchev, blogged about the importance of a Will in November of 2020.
Banking Information: According to the Bank of Canada at the end of 2019, there were approximately 2.1 million unclaimed balances, worth $888 million, sitting in unclaimed bank accounts across the country. Have a list of your banks and accounts, including safety deposit boxes, and ensure that your family knows where it is.
Insurance Policies: Many insurance plans provide benefits for funeral plans or list a chosen beneficiary who is entitled to the policy. Make sure that your insurance plan is up to date, and keep copies close to your Will. This also applies to any RRSPs or pension plans that may include a benefit to someone in the event that something were to happen.
Proof of Ownership: Whether it’s the family cottage, that 1965 Mustang GT 390 Fastback, or your condo in Kitsilano: Without proof of ownership, your family may not know what you have or where it is.
Passwords: As we have blogged in the past, your online presence needs proper safeguards, but also creates important considerations for your executor or trustee who will need access to your online information and/or assets. Whether you use an online password manager, such as these, or keep an old-fashioned paper list, make sure it can be found by your family if needed.
Finally, these documents are important and need to be kept safe. Thankfully, in January of 2020, the New York Times undertook an investigation to determine the best fireproof documents safe. You can read about the results here.
We wish you all the very best in 2021, and thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Daniel Enright
In the 1944 film-noir classic Double Indemnity, Fred MacMurray plays Walter Neff, a successful salesman at Pacific All Risk Insurance. He has an affair with Phyllis Dietrichson, the wife of a client, played by Barbara Stanwyck, and the two concoct a classic caper: To kill her husband, make it look like an accident, and collect the insurance money.
The title takes its name from a clause in some life insurance policies that would double a benefit in the case of accidental death, like falling off a train, the fate that allegedly befell Mr. Dietrichson and energizes a very suspicious Edward G. Robinson to find out the truth.
While Billy Wilder’s classic film trips up the protagonists’ best-laid plans at several turns, the aim of the insurance company is to uncover a fraud (it would be up to the courts to determine the killer). At law, such a concept is caught by what’s known as the Slayer Rule.
Cleaver et al. v Mutual Reserve Fund Life Association established a general rule of public policy that forbids a criminal from profiting from his or her own wrongdoing. The facts were these: A husband had taken out an insurance policy for the benefit of his wife. The policy was to pay out in the event of his death to the wife, should she be alive, otherwise to his estate. The husband died leaving a Will, the wife was convicted and imprisoned for poisoning him, and Cleaver was appointed administrator of her assets. The insurance benefit was denied to the wife on public policy grounds, and was instead paid out to the estate. In Latin, it’s known as ex turpi causa (“from a dishonourable cause an action does not arise”) and it has been Canadian law since Cleaver was decided in 1892.
One of the most important developments over the last century has been the critical element of moral culpability under section 16 of the Criminal Code of Canada as it relates to the Slayer Rule and insurance entitlements. In the 2012 decision Dhingra v. Dhingra Estate, the Ontario Court of Appeal reversed a lower court’s decision that applied the Rule to a person found not criminally responsible (NCR), holding,
“It seems to me that if a person found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder is not “morally responsible” for his or her act, there is no rationale for applying the rule of public policy. That rule is founded in the theory that people should not profit from their crimes or, more broadly, by their own wrongs. […] It was an error for the application judge to describe the appellant as having “committed second degree murder.”
So, while an NCR designation may permit the courts to clear a path for the release of the insurance benefit, the following scenarios are still treated as black letter law when a killer strikes, is in their right mind, and:
1) Where insurance proceeds are in question;
2) Where the slayer is a beneficiary under a will;
3) Where the slayer is an heir of his intestate victim;
4) Where the slayer and the deceased were joint tenants.
Thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Daniel Enright