Author: Ian Hull
Estate planning lawyers have both the privilege and the responsibility of providing guidance and advice to clients while they are at key stages in their lives. A good lawyer’s role involves turning a client’s mind to the future and planning for turbulent times before they arise. As one grows old and the risk of serious illness increases, it is important to consider difficult medical decisions that will need to be made, and the impact those decisions might have on your loved ones. Lawyers can help in this preparation, for example with naming a substitute decision-maker who can help direct doctors when the patient becomes incapable, as well as by drafting advanced care directives that lay out the wishes of the patient regarding treatment of serious illness and the extent that life-prolonging measures should be used. While such “advanced care directives” have no legal standing in Ontario, they are still important in that they can provide crucial guidance to decision-makers and medical practitioners when drafted correctly. On the other hand, they could be confusing to decision-makers and hinder medical professionals when drafted in an inflexible manner.
The Lawyer’s Role
Firstly, the language of these directives should be directed to the patient’s decision-maker, and not to the medical practitioner. They should be drafted as advice and guidance to the decision-maker, and not as rigid rules that a medical professional might feel obligated (but not legally compelled) to follow. This is crucial as any lawyer drafting such a document should appreciate the “shared decision-making” model between patient and doctor. Important medical decisions are not made in a vacuum and the availability of different treatment options as well as the weight of their risks and benefits can vary with changing circumstances. It is difficult for a rigid legal document to accommodate the nuances of such a complex situation, but one that supports and guides a decision-maker in their conversations with medical professionals can be extremely valuable. With skilful drafting, the two-way decision-making process between doctor and substitute decision-maker can be facilitated, instead of hindered.
The drafting of advanced care directives should be centered around the values and preferences of the patient as opposed to specific treatment options. The American Bar Association advises that there should not be a focus on specific clinical intervention for “distant hypothetical situation” but rather on the patient’s “values, goals, and priorities in the event of worsening health”.
Finally, the planning process for important medical decisions regarding serious illness requires input from both doctors and lawyers to ensure treatment directions can be drafted with the nuance required for complex medical situations. The ABA suggests that “lawyers and health professionals should aim for greater coordination of advance care planning efforts”, and such collaboration will help clients and decision-makers be as prepared as possible to make informed decisions.
The Client’s Role
When it comes to what clients can do, while preparing a legal document is an important step, it should be reinforced by candid conversations with decision-makers, family, and friends. This significantly eases the burden on decision-makers, as they can carry out their role in stressful situations with the peace of mind that they are not second-guessing their loved one’s wishes when it comes to treatment.
Another way clients and their decision-makers can prepare for the future is by consulting resources that facilitate the planning process. An example of such a resource is planwellguide.com, which provides guidance on important issues from choosing a substitute decision-maker, to elaborating on the pros and cons of different care options, to specific factors to consider when making an advanced care plan.
A Gift of Great Value
While the lawyer’s skill in drafting is important to making an effective plan, a lawyer’s role can extend past legal documents and into transmitting a forward-thinking approach to clients. This approach requires careful consideration and reflection on the part of the client regarding their values and priorities when faced with serious illness, as well as having frank conversations with loved ones. While having these types of conversations may not be the most merry activity over the holiday period, giving a loved one that peace of mind is a gift of immeasurable value.
Thank you for reading!
Ian Hull and Sean Hess
A frivolous will challenge can be frustrating for any respondent. It is not only time consuming but costly as well. A motion for security for costs is an option a respondent facing a frivolous will challenge can pursue in hopes of putting an end to it. While these motions may not be used as frequently in the estate litigation context as they are used in general civil litigation, they are nonetheless valuable.
An order for security for costs requires an applicant to pay a sum of money into court that will cover the respondent’s legal costs, should they be successful in the action or application. It helps to ensure that a successful respondent is not left with an unenforceable costs order. In doing so, it acts as a deterrent to frivolous proceedings.
Rule 56.01(1) of the Rules of Civil Procedure lists several categories in which a respondent may bring a motion for security for costs. These categories include the applicant not ordinarily residing in Ontario, a frivolous or vexatious action or application or if good reason exists to believe that the applicant has insufficient assets in Ontario.
Once the respondent has shown that the action or application fits into one of the categories listed in rule 56.0(1), the applicant then has the opportunity to prove that ordering security for costs would be unjust because the applicant is impecunious and the claim has merit.
It is imperative that the motion is made without undue delay. However, if the motion involves assessing the action’s merits, Park Street Plaza Ltd. v. Standard Optical Inc. and Shuter v. Toronto Dominion Bank suggests that it should not be made until after examinations for discovery are completed.
In the context of estate litigation, Re Bisyk notes that security for costs will rarely be awarded in a will challenge case where the next of kin have been excluded from the will. This is because the estate trustee has an obligation to propound the will. However, where the next of kin acts on their own and without the support of their family members or against family members, the will challenge may be viewed as “frivolous”, thus providing the possibility for security for costs to be awarded (Boutzios Estate, Re).
Overall, a motion for security for costs is a powerful tool an estate litigator can employ. Forcing an applicant to pay money into court will make them think twice about proceeding with a frivolous will challenge. It may even stop the lawsuit all together, saving both sides costs, time and resources.
Thanks for reading!
Ian M. Hull and Celine Dookie
To learn more about motions for security for costs, check out these podcasts:
One of the ways a Will can be declared invalid is if the court finds that there were suspicious circumstances surrounding the preparation of it. In Graham v. Graham, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found that significant involvement from the testator/grantor’s child was indicative of suspicious circumstances regarding the preparation of a Will and Power of Attorney (POA).
The testator, Jackie, had four children: Tim, Robert, Christine and Steven.
Jackie suffered from terminal cancer. She was hospitalized from November 22, 2015 to December 7, 2015, and again from December 22, 2015 to December 24, 2015, to receive treatment for severe pain.
In mid-December 2015, Robert’s wife, Tammy, searched for and contacted a lawyer to prepare a Will and POA for Jackie. Tammy obtained a Client Information Sheet (CIS) from the lawyer’s office and completed it herself. The lawyer prepared the documents based on this CIS. At Robert’s request, the lawyer went to the hospital to meet Jackie and have her sign the Will and POA. This was the first time Jackie met the lawyer and saw the Will and POA.
Jackie’s Will named Robert as estate trustee and sole beneficiary of her estate. The POA named Robert as Jackie’s sole attorney for property. Robert’s wife, Tammy, was named as the alternate estate trustee and attorney.
On January 4, 2018, Robert used the POA to transfer Jackie’s house to himself as sole owner. Four days later, Jackie died of cancer.
Tim challenged the validity of Jackie’s Will and POA claiming that they were prepared under suspicious circumstances and that Jackie was subject to undue influence by Robert and Tammy.
- Jackie had been in ill health for a long time prior to her death, so it was reasonable to infer she had chosen to die without a will, until Robert’s involvement.
- Jackie was treated with heavy painkillers on the night and morning of the day she signed the will and POA.
- Robert and Tammy “orchestrated virtually every aspect of the Will and the POA”, which included searching for a lawyer, providing instructions, arranging for the lawyer to meet Jackie, remaining in Jackie’s room for part of the meeting, and taking part in the discussions concerning the Will and POA.
- The drafting lawyer relied entirely on Robert and Tammy to provide him with all of the information concerning the Will and POA.
After finding that suspicious circumstances existed, the burden then shifted to Robert to prove that Jackie had testamentary capacity and that she knew and approved of the contents of the Will and POA. Using the test for testamentary capacity as outlined in Banks v. Goodfellow (1870), the court found that Robert could not establish that Jackie had testamentary capacity. In coming to this conclusion, the court considered the following:
- There was no evidence that Jackie was given the Will or the POA to read or that it was read to her.
- Although Jackie knew where she was living, there was no evidence to indicate that she had any knowledge or understanding of the monetary value of her house.
- It was unclear whether Jackie could do more than repeat what she was told.
- Jackie was confused and/or mistaken in certain beliefs about her son, Tim.
- The medications that Jackie was taking for her pain left her confused and drowsy.
As a result, the Will and the POA were declared invalid.
Graham v. Graham serves as a cautionary tale for adult children who become too involved in the drafting of their parents Wills and POAs. It warns us that the courts view this type of involvement as suspicious. Moreover, Graham v. Graham suggests that physical impairment can impact a testator’s mental state, thus making them vulnerable.
Thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Celine Dookie
Last month, in the case of McKitty v Hayani, 2019 ONCA 805, the Ontario Court of Appeal had to consider a challenge to the medical and common law definition of death on the grounds of freedom of religion. The Court also considered whether someone’s religious beliefs should be a factor when deciding whether they are legally deceased. In the end, the Court unanimously declined to rule on whether religious beliefs should be taken into account, but there were some key takeaways from the decision, and a framework was made that invites future challenges. This issue could have an important application in estates law, as it examines the standard for when someone is considered legally deceased.
Taquisha McKitty was declared dead in September 2017 following a drug overdose. The medical staff attending to her declared her dead due to “neurological criteria”; however her relatives were granted an injunction to keep her on life support, arguing their Christian faith only considers someone deceased upon cessation of cardiovascular, instead of neurological, activity. They made the argument that according to the freedom of religion in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they have the right to have their religious views taken into account when it comes to determination of death and removal of life support. The point is now somewhat moot because McKitty has since died from both neurological and cardiovascular criteria; however important groundwork was laid for a potential future challenge.
The Court of Appeal unanimously concluded that it did not have enough information to rule on the matter. To be able to appropriately rule on the Charter issues, the Court held it would need more evidence on the duties and legal obligations of doctors, McKitty’s religious beliefs, and the religious beliefs of her community. The Court did accept the common law definition of death as being cessation of neurological activity, but left this definition open to future challenges based on freedom of religion. While not providing a definitive answer, the Court did craft a legal framework for how this issue should be addressed in future. This framework includes acknowledging that death is not just a medical determination but also an “evaluative” legal concept. The Court also ruled that the Charter still applied to McKitty as a legal “person” even though she was clinically dead, and a lack of neurological activity does not remove her right to challenge the criteria used to declare her death. With this framework in place, it remains very possible that we might see a further challenge within this framework in the near future.
In this case, the current definition of death as cessation of neurological activity was confirmed, but it remains very possible that this could be challenged on freedom of religion grounds. This has very interesting implications for estates law. For example, in families of mixed faiths, some members of the family might consider a relative to be deceased, while other members might consider them to be alive. This would cause a tricky situation when it comes to dividing up the estate. Watch this space!
Thanks for reading,
Ian Hull and Sean Hess
For those who are about to enter, or are in the very midst of, a long and arduous legal dispute, beware the ineffaceable nature of social media activity. The sands of time might erode Rome and the Pyramids, but they will bounce off the public record of your impassioned posts and hyperbolic tweets. Keeping in mind that such evidence lasts forever, and is also readily accessible, devoid of context, and cheap to procure, litigants may be wise to keep their online communication to a minimum – lest they spoon-feed their opponents material that could later prove hamstringing and self-defeating.
In recent years there have been stories about criminals sharing their crimes with the world via Facebook Live. In family law, we have seen a support claimant attain more support by citing a payor’s lavish life on Instagram, and a father’s custody compromised by his errant Youtube video. In estates law, where there is often mystery and ambiguity involved with testamentary intention, and much of the evidence is “he-said-she-said” – in other words, uncorroborated parole evidence tainted by self-interest – parties scramble for whatever concrete material they can find, such as a screenshot of a social media tirade.
In one recent Ontario decision (Lyons v. Todd,  O.N.S.C. 2269), a man not only dragged out litigation against his sister, who was the estate trustee, but engaged in a campaign of harassment, menaces, and defamation – all of which the court was able to scrutinize with ease:
“The transcription of voice messages, copies of emails and other social media posts, establish that Bob threatened to make what he described as Victoria’s ‘perverted’ sex life public. He threatened to expose her to the clients of the Park and bankrupt her with the costs of litigation if she did not settle. With some of the Facebook posts, he posted the location of the Park.”
The court did not accept the man’s argument that the posts were unrelated to the proceedings, finding instead that the “gratuitous humiliation and embarrassment” the estate trustee suffered was a further reason for which she should receive the $60,000 in costs that she requested.
In Nova Scotia (Public Safety) v. Lee,  N.S.S.C. 71, a man came under the fire of CyberSCAN and the Director of Public Safety, which are government bodies mandated with the policing, punishment and prevention of cyberbullying. The man was purportedly vexed with his sister, who was the sole beneficiary of the mother’s will. The rambling posts were addressed to “anybody out there in Facebook land” and the “cowards in my family”, but in fact the speech was tantamount to a naked admission before a stern court.
The frustrated litigant or potential litigant who needs to vent would be safer, and likely more satisfied, by confiding his or her troubles to a friend in a private setting rather than airing from a veritable rooftop grievances which will echo for the end of time.
Thank you for reading,
Ian Hull and Devin McMurtry
Business Insider recently reported that 2.1 billion people access at least one of the Facebook, Messenger, Whatsapp or Instagram apps every day. That’s a little less than a third of the world’s population.
These platforms allow us to share various aspects of our lives. Some of us use them to document everything. But what happens to these accounts when a user passes away? Do their accounts remain on these platforms forever or can they be removed? Let’s take a look at four of the biggest social network platforms to see what their policies say.
Facebook users have the option of having their account permanently deleted or appointing a legacy contact to look after their “memorialized account.” A legacy contact is someone who is chosen to oversee an account if it is memorialized. The legacy contact must be 19 years or older. They can accept friend requests on the deceased’s behalf, pin tribute posts and change the account’s profile picture and cover photo.
Key features of memorialized accounts include the following:
- The word “Remembering” will appear next to the person’s name on their profile
- No one can log into the account
- The account will not appear in public spaces such as friend suggestions
- Content that was shared on Facebook while the deceased was alive will remain visible to the audience it was initially shared with
- Depending of the deceased’s privacy settings, friends of the deceased can share memories on the account’s timeline
Similarly to Facebook, Instagram accounts can also be permanently deleted or memorialized upon request. To remove the account, the user must provide proof that they are an immediate family member of the deceased. Proof may include the deceased’s birth or death certificate or proof of authority that the individual is the lawful representative of the deceased person or their estate. In order to memorialize an account, proof of death such as a link to an obituary or news article is required. A memorialized Instagram account will not appear differently from an account that has not been memorialized.
Instagram’s memorialized accounts have the following key features:
- No one can log into the account
- Posts shared on the account stay on Instagram and will remain visible to the audience they were initially shared with
- Changes will not be able to be made to any of the account’s existing posts or information
Unlike Facebook, a legacy contact cannot be appointed for a memorialized Instagram account.
A colleague, classmate or loved one can request the removal of the deceased’s profile by filling out this form. The form requires several pieces of information such as the applicant’s relationship to the deceased, the link to the deceased’s obituary and the company the deceased most recently worked at.
A verified immediate family member or someone who is authorized to act on behalf of the estate can request the removal of the deceased’s account. A request requires information about the deceased, a copy of ID from the individual making the request and a copy of the deceased’s death certificate.
Thanks for reading!
Ian M. Hull and Celine Dookie
Recently, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that even where a gift is not validly executed, the intention of the parties can still be fulfilled through a bare trust.
A father made a profitable investment that was held by his wife in trust for their three children in equal shares. One brother sold his share of the investment, so that the remaining portion of the investment was to be divided 50/50 between his brother and sister. The sister subsequently disclaimed her share of the investment for tax reasons, with the result that her share reverted back to the mother. It was understood and orally communicated that the mother would hold the investment and gift the income from the investment to the sister, with the principal coming back to the sister as part of the mother’s inheritance. When the mother was eventually declared incapable and the brothers became their mother’s Attorneys for Property, they were suspicious of this arrangement between their mother and their sister, and brought an action against the sister and her husband.
The main issue was whether the past and future proceeds of the investment had been validly gifted by the mother to the sister, and whether the sister’s husband, who had assumed responsibility for using the proceeds, was liable as trustee de son tort.
In the initial ruling, the application judge rejected the sister’s claim to the funds and held that the gift from the mother was invalid. Funds had been transferred by the mother to the sister through signed blank cheques. A valid gift requires delivery from the donor to the recipient (Bruce Ziff, Principles of Property Law, 6th ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2014); Teixeira v. Markgraf Estate, 2017 ONCA 819, 137 O.R. (3d) 641, at paras. 38, 40-44), and the gift was not considered delivered until the cheque had been cashed. In this case, by the time the cheques were cashed by the sister, the mother had been declared incapable and lacked the capacity to gift. The judge ruled that the money belonged to the mother, and that the sister and her husband had to account for it, and the husband was liable as trustee de son tort.
This result was overturned recently in the Court of Appeal. The court found that the applicable legal mechanism here was not a gift, which was invalid, but instead was a valid bare trust. A bare trust is where the trustee has no obligations other than to convey the trust property to the beneficiaries on their demand (Donovan W. M. Waters, Mark R. Gillen & Lionel D. Smith, Waters’ Law of Trusts in Canada, 4th ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2012) at pp. 33-34).
The decision turned on whether there had been sufficient certainty of intention from the mother to create a bare trust, and the court found that there had been. The trust did not have to be formally evidenced in writing because the trust property was funds in a bank account and not land or an interest in land (Statute of Frauds, R. S. O. 1990, c. S.19, ss. 4, 9-11; see also In the Estate of Jean Elliott (2008), 4 E. T. R. (3d) 84 (Ont. S. C.) at para. 42.). There was sufficient evidence in the conduct of the parties to show an intention for the funds to be held for the sister as well as one of her brothers in equal shares, and the certainty of intention for the mother to hold the money as bare trustee was satisfied. As there was a valid trust, the husband was not liable as trustee de son tort because he had not acted inconsistently with the terms of the trust. While the proceeds that had already come from the investment were held on bare trust by the mother, the future distributions from the investment were not, as future property cannot be the subject matter of a trust (para. 58 and 84 of the judgment).
Moral of the story
This is a great indicator of how, when a gift is invalid, the court will use the legal mechanism of a bare trust to give effect to the intention of the parties, so long as their intention is sufficiently certain.
Thanks for reading,
Ian M. Hull and Sean Hess
The English High Court laid out the benchmark test for assessing testamentary capacity and subsequent cases have served to focus and clarify aspects of it — the recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Kay v Kay Sr. is such a case.