Author: Ian Hull
The case of Gefen v Gaertner 2019 ONSC 6015 revived the doctrine of unconscionable procurement, which had been dormant since the early 1900s, as an equitable principle capable of setting aside an inter vivos gift. The principle behind the doctrine is that it is unconscionable for someone to be instrumental in procuring a gift to themselves from a donor who does not fully appreciate his or her actions.
Facts of the Case
Henia Gefen, along with her late husband, Elias, had accumulated significant wealth through investing in real estate. The couple were married for 65 years and had three children: Harvey, Harry, and Yehuda. Unfortunately, relationships deteriorated in the family after Elias’s death, with Henia and Harvey becoming at odds with Harry and Yehuda.
In a series of inter vivos gifts, more than $25M in assets was transferred from Henia to Harvey after Elias’s passing. This was contested by Harry and Yehuda, who relied on the doctrine of unconscionable procurement. The court determined that the onus was on the party attacking the transfer (Harry and Yehuda) to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that a presumption of unconscionable procurement applies. This can be done by satisfying the following two requirements:
(1) A significant benefit has been obtained by the procurer; and
(2) There was active involvement on the part of that person in procuring or arranging the transfer from the maker of the transfer.
If these two requirements are satisfied on the balance of probabilities, the court then presumes that the transfers were prima facie unconscionable, and the onus shifts onto the other party in receipt of the gift to prove that the transfers were not unconscionable.
Specifically, the other party must prove the 3rd element, which is that:
(3) The gift was a voluntary, deliberate, well-understood act of the donor, and that the donor did appreciate its effect, nature, and consequence.
(See John E.S. Poyser, Capacity and Undue Influence, 2nd ed (Toronto: Thomson Reuters Canada, 2019)
This case has much wider significance in Ontario law. It continues to be the law that a significant benefit procured by the active involvement of the recipient may be set aside if the recipient fails to prove that the donor fully appreciated the nature, effect, and consequence of their gift. If this cannot be proved, the gift is deemed to have been unconscionably procured. The dormant doctrine of unconscionable procurement was awakened in Gefen v Gaertner, and an additional tool to challenge inter vivos gifts has been now revamped and reintroduced into the legal system.
Thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Sean Hess
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the legal profession to alter the ways in which we practice. The need to keep litigation moving forward has brought to the forefront alternative processes and the importance of technology. Files are continuing to move forward during the pandemic via virtual proceedings, such as virtual courtrooms and virtual mediations. While some are embracing these platforms, others are more wary. In Arctoni v. Smith, 2020 ONSC 2782, Justice Myers considered whether an examination for discovery should proceed by videoconference, or if the plaintiffs were allowed to wait until the physical distancing restrictions are lifted and conduct the examination in-person.
The plaintiffs objected to a videoconference examination because they maintained that:
- They needed to be with their counsel to assist with documents and facts during the examination;
- It is more difficult to assess a witness’s demeanour remotely;
- The lack of physical presence in a neutral setting deprives the occasion of solemnity and a morally persuasive environment; and
- They did not trust the defendants not to engage in sleight of hand to abuse the process.
Justice Myers noted that the simplest answer to this issue is that “It’s 2020”. He went on to say that “we now have the technological ability to communicate remotely effectively. Using these technological methods is more efficient and less costly than personal attendance and we should not be going back.”
While the court endorsed the use of technology, it acknowledged that legitimate concerns exist. One of which is that technology can be abused. It was noted, however, that the possibility of abuse may still exist even if parties are in the same room. While it is important to remain vigilant against the risk of fraud and abuse, a vague risk of abuse is not a good basis to decline the use of technology.
Furthermore, the suggestion that the use of videoconferencing creates “due process” concerns was rejected as the court noted that all parties have the same opportunity to participate and to be heard. All parties also have the same ability to put all of the relevant evidence before the court and to challenge the evidence adduced by the other side.
With regards to the plaintiffs concern that they needed to be with counsel to assist with the documents and facts, Justice Myers stated that there are other ways in which counsel can convey information to their colleagues during an examination. For instance, Zoom offers “breakout rooms” in which counsel can privately meet with their colleagues and clients.
Case law depicts that there are many fears associated with assessing the credibility of a witness via video technology but these fears, by those who have never actually used the technology stated Justice Myers, may not be as significant as they seem. While solemnity and personal chemistry may be lost in remote proceedings, it is not yet known whether, over time, solutions to these shortcomings will be developed as familiarity with these processes grows.
Justice Myers emphasized that, in 2020, the use of readily available technology is “part of the basic skillset required of civil litigators and courts.” He went on to say that those who are uncomfortable with technology should obtain necessary training and education.
The court concluded that proceeding remotely does have its shortcomings; however, in this case, the benefits of doing so outweighed the risks. The plaintiffs main concerns could be resolved by creative alternatives or by increased familiarity with technology. By proceeding remotely, the litigation, which had been going on for years, would not have to be delayed. Consequently, Justice Myers ordered that, unless the plaintiffs chose to waive their opportunity to conduct the examination for discovery, the examination should proceed by videoconference.
Thank you for reading!
Ian Hull and Celine Dookie
Under Rules 75.01 and 75.06 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, any person who has a financial interest in an estate may commence an application to have a will “proved in such manner as the court directs.” In Neuberger Estate v York, 2016 ONCA 191, the Ontario Court of Appeal clarified that the court has a discretion whether to order that a testamentary instrument be proved. The Court went on to state that Rule 75.06 requires a moving party to “adduce, or point to, some evidence which if accepted, would call into question the validity of the testamentary instrument that is being propounded.”
In Joma v Jaunkalns, 2019 ONSC 6788, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice considered the principles mentioned in Neuberger Estate v York. In doing so, the case provides a helpful review regarding the minimum evidentiary threshold to permit a will challenge.
In Joma v Jaunkalns, the deceased, Zenta Palma, died in September of 2018. She was a widow and did not have any children. Zenta’s siblings and only niece, Brigita, predeceased her.
The Deceased was survived by Brigita’s brother, Ronald. She was also survived by Brigita’s husband, Robert, and their children, Michael and Emily.
In 2012, the Deceased executed a Will naming Robert as her estate trustee and Michael and Emily as the residual beneficiaries. Robert’s brother, Viktor, was named as the alternate estate trustee and his children were named as legatees.
Ronald claimed that he was named as a residual beneficiary under an earlier Will but the Will could not be located.
Ronald asserted that, at the time the Deceased executed the 2012 Will, she lacked testamentary capacity and was unduly influenced by Robert. The question before the court was whether Ronald met the required threshold to be granted his request for the 2012 Will to be proven.
Upon considering the evidence of Ronald and Robert, Justice Dietrich found that Ronald did meet the threshold. She arrived at this conclusion based on the following:
- The Deceased was an 84-year old widow who was reliant on her two sisters and her niece and nephew for support and assistance;
- In 2011, the Deceased was taking prescribed medication that would “tranquilize” her;
- The Deceased was taking anti–anxiety medication approximately one month before she executed the 2012 Will;
- Robert’s evidence that the Deceased never had any cognitive impairment was found to be a broad conclusory statement;
- Robert was a physician with experience assessing capacity but he did not offer any evidence of having examined the Deceased or knowing exactly what medication she was taking and in what dosage;
- Ronald’s evidence of Robert’s involvement in the Deceased’s finances raised the spectre of Robert’s potential undue influence over the Deceased;
- For example, Robert undertook a banking transaction on behalf of the Deceased which had upset her so she asked Robert to reverse it.
Based on the evidence above, Justice Dietrich found that Ronald’s evidence amounted to more than suspicion. If accepted, it would call the validity of the Deceased’s Will into question.
Furthermore, a review of the Deceased’s financial records, medical records and the drafting solicitor’s file would be beneficial. Quoting from Seepa v. Seepa, 2017 ONSC 5368, Justice Dietrich went on to state that Ronald “ought to be given the tools such as documentary discovery, that are ordinarily available to a litigant before he or she is subjected to a requirement to put a best foot forward on the merits.”
In summary, Joma v Jaunkalns demonstrates that the evidentiary burden on a party who wishes to challenge a will is not fairly high. Evidence that amounts to more than a suspicion should suffice.
Thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Celine Dookie
For further reading on this topic, check out these other blogs:
Thanks to the swift response of the Attorney General, Wills and Powers of Attorney can now be witnessed in counterpart.
The new emergency Order now confirms that a Will and Power of Attorney can be signed and subscribed by witnesses on separate documents in counterpart.
By using video conferencing and counterpart, wills and powers of attorney can be fully executed remotely, giving immediate validity to the documents. Previously, all three signatures (the testator/grantor and two witnesses) had to be on the same document. That required the couriering of the document around for up to three separate signing ceremonies.
You can find more details, our thoughts for the process for executing in counterpart and an updated execution checklist on the Hull e-State Planner Blog (click here)
The updated checklists and resources for your consideration can also be downloaded here:
- WILL EXECUTION IN COUNTERPART CHECKLIST (LINK TO CHECKLIST)
- POA EXECUTION IN COUNTERPART CHECKLIST (LINK TO CHECKLIST)
- AFFIDAVIT OF EXECUTION (LINK HERE)
- ATTESTATION CLAUSE (LINK HERE)
As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.
Does a testator have to sign his or her own Will to be valid? A little used provision of the Succession Law Reform Act permits a Will to be signed by some other person (an “amanuensis”) in testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction.
Our managing partner, Suzana Popovic-Montag, wrote several on this very topic.
With the logistical issues associated with execution of wills by video-conference, it may be that this manner of execution may become more widely used.
If this is to be done using presence by video conference, we have come up with some suggestions in our Hull e-State Planner Blog. (click here)
Note that the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 does not specifically permit execution by an amanuensis for Powers of Attorney.
We continue in unchartered waters and we welcome any suggestions or comments.
As of April 7, Wills can be witnessed by video conference.
This will likely require a different affidavit of execution. The typical affidavit of execution is a Court Form – Form 74.8- may not be sufficient if the Will is witnessed by video conference.
Likely, two separate affidavits of execution will be necessary.
In light of these changes, we have created a set of sample Affidavits of Execution for your consideration. Of course, we do not know what the Courts will ultimately require as evidence of execution, so for now it’s just a best guess.
Click here to access sample Affidavits of Execution and further information about Affidavits of Execution for video witnessing.
Feel free to reach out with any questions,
As of April 7, Wills can be witnessed by video conference.
As you are aware, two witnesses must be “in the presence of” the testator when a typed Will is signed. This has historically required physical presence.
The new Emergency Order now confirms that the “presence” may be by “audio-visual communication technology”.
Importantly, at least 1 of the 2 witnesses must be a licensee of the Law Society of Ontario.
In light of these changes, we, together with Hull e-State Planner, have created a suggested Video Execution Checklist to use for execution of wills in these circumstances.
Click here to access the Checklist and further information about the Emergency Order.
Feel free to reach out with any questions,
Most of us are used to meeting our clients in person. With that option on hold for now, we are having to adopt new practices, like “virtual” meetings. How can we make virtual meetings work for estate planning where communication is so important?
Like many of you, we are turning to technology.
Remote meeting software, like Skype and Zoom, allow us to communicate, see and hear our clients and vice versa. And yet, there can still be a disconnect in trying to ensure that both parties understand one another.
There is now software that can help with that communication. Hull e-State Planner, which we created, is cloud based software that can be accessed from home and shared with your client via Zoom or Skype. It’s a visual platform so you and your client can literally be on the same page – even in different locations.
The client’s family tree and list of assets are displayed on the screen.
You can drag and drop assets, creating legacies and bequests, while the client watches their plan being developed.
While discussing their instructions, you can show the client the different implications of their decisions.
At the meeting, you can give the client a graphic summary of their Will.
Once the meeting is over, you can automatically generate the Will and Powers of Attorney in Word format.
We have found that virtual meeting software, when coupled with Hull e-State Planner, can help make those estate planning meetings much more efficient and effective.
As well, we also understand there has been a financial impact to your practice during this time. In what we hope may help a little, we have decided to waive all Hull e-State Planner fees, for the foreseeable future until things settle down.
We’d be happy to have you join us for a Free Webinar where we will show you how we are using virtual meeting software and Hull e-State Planner together and our thoughts on getting Wills signed up.
The Webinars are:
Click on the date to sign up for the Webinar.
Wishing you and your loved ones good health,
Over the past few blogs, we discussed alternates for having Clients sign Wills when we can’t meet with them in person.
One of the options was to have client sign holograph Wills. While that may work with more straightforward instructions, it won’t be practical where testamentary trusts are necessary.
In today’s blog, we will focus on an alternate option – “incorporation by reference” of an unsigned “Will” into a holograph Will.
The terms of one document (“the Incorporated Document”) can be included in another document without repeating all of it provisions. This is known as “incorporation by reference”. In order to incorporate the terms of the Incorporated Document into a Will, there are four well established requirements:
- The Incorporated Document must be referred to in the Will;
- The reference in the Will to the Incorporated Document must be sufficient to identify the Incorporated Document; and
- The Incorporated Document must be in existence at the time the Will is signed. It cannot come into existence at a future date.
- The Incorporated Document must be “entirely separate and apart” from the Will.
The most common examples of incorporation by reference in a Will are a binding memorandum regarding the disposition of Personal Effects and a trust company’s compensation agreement.
Rather than just a list of personal effects or compensation agreement, can the Client incorporate an entire unsigned Will by reference?
Where a testator in a duly executed will or codicil refers to an unattested written paper (whether of a testamentary form or character or not), as a written paper then in existence in such terms that it may be ascertained, the paper so referred to becomes part of his will, in other words, is incorporated therein; provided always that the paper referred to is actually in existence at the time of the execution of the will or codicil. Probate Practice and Re Warren (1930), 38 O.W.N. 358 (Ont. H.C.),
This concept was not disputed in Re Coate Estate, (1987) 26 E.T.R. 161, although the facts in that case did not lead to a finding of incorporation by reference.
Similarly, in Re Dixon-Marsden Estate (1985), 21 E.T.R. 216 (Ont. Surr. Ct.), the Court found that the particular handwriting did not qualify as a holograph document. Nevertheless, Judge Misener seemed to endorse the use of a holograph document incorporating the terms of a formal, but unexecuted Will. In that case, a typed Will on a single piece of paper was not properly signed with two witnesses. However, at the bottom of the page the testator wrote, in his own hand, “The above-mentioned are in short those to whom my estate is left” and below that he signed his name.
“I have always understood that the doctrine of incorporation by reference contemplates the existence of a testamentary document that qualifies for probate, independent of the document sought to be incorporated. If that is so, the condition precedent to the argument that a typewritten document is incorporated is the tendering of a document wholly in the handwriting of the testator and bearing his signature that can be admitted to probate all by itself. Therefore, on the facts of this case, the handwritten words ‘the above-mentioned are in short those to whom my estate is left’ must be capable of admission to probate.”
In that case, the handwritten portion could not be separated from the typed portion and so did not satisfy the requirement that the two documents be “entirely separate”.
In Re Chamberlain Estate, the deceased enclosed two documents in an envelope:
- A printed Will form, which the deceased signed but was not witnessed.
- A single sheet of paper wholly in the handwriting of the deceased which listed several of the deceased’s assets. The deceased wrote his name at the bottom of the sheet.
The issue before the court was whether the documents could be read together as a valid Will.
Justice Maher emphasized that although documents referred to in a testator’s Will or codicil may not be duly executed in accordance with The Wills Act, they may nonetheless be incorporated in the Will.
Justice Maher found that the document written wholly in the handwriting of the testator was a valid holograph Will and it met the conditions outlined above. Although the documents were not completed at the same time, the incorporation by reference doctrine still applied as they were testamentary in nature and wholly in the handwriting of the deceased.
The second document being testamentary in character and wholly in the handwriting of the deceased is a valid holograph will and it has been held that the doctrine of incorporation by reference applies to holograph wills: Re Long Estate,  1 All E.R. 435.
Based on these authorities, it appears that a holograph Will could incorporate the terms of a non-executed formal Will as long as the 4 conditions were properly met.
However, there is an outlier Ontario case that is problematic- Facey v. Smith (1997), 17 E.T.R. (2d) 72 (Ont. Gen. Div.).
In Facey, the court was faced with an unseemly fact scenario. The deceased was murdered by her husband who later, on the same day, committed suicide. The issue was whether certain writings made by the deceased were holograph Wills and if so, did thy properly incorporate the terms of a formal Will by reference.
The court found that a holograph documents did not qualify as a Will because it did “not show a fixed final intention as to disposition on death”. However, in obiter, the Court said the following:
“I have no difficulty with the doctrine of incorporation by reference applying when the Will into which type written words are to be incorporated is itself a witnessed Will. When those type written words are declared incorporated, the statutory requirement of the testator’s signature duly witnessed is wholly satisfied. In the case of a holograph Will, however, incorporation of typewritten words does not meet the statutory requirement. That requirement is that the holograph Will, to be valid, must be “wholly by his own handwriting and signature” and patently the incorporated typewritten words are not in the testator’s handwriting. The doctrine of incorporation by reference was developed to relieve against the harshness of the Wills Act and to give effect to the intentions of a testator. I am not satisfied that the law in Ontario is or should be that typewritten documents can be incorporated into a holograph Will. The purpose of requiring certain formalities in the making of Wills is to prevent fraud and no fraud is here alleged. Although not formally required, my answer to question two is “no”.
If you decide to recommend this strategy, here are a few suggestions:
- Have the formal Will identified as “Schedule A”;
- Ensure that the Holograph document qualifies as a valid Will, both in terms of execution and in terms of testamentary intent.
- Have the Client initial each page of “Schedule A” and sign it.
- Properly incorporate by reference Schedule A in the Holograph Will.
Here is a link to a sample Client Instruction Sheet for your consideration. Use with caution!
Hoping you are safe and healthy,
In our blog on March 18th, we gave some ideas for getting formal wills executed when the lawyer couldn’t be present to witness. In today’s blog, we have a few more options for our clients to consider if getting a Will executed immediately is necessary.
As we all know, holograph Wills are valid in Ontario. To qualify as a valid holograph Will, the document must be in the handwriting of the Will-maker and signed. The Succession Law Reform Act speaks to being “wholly” in the Will-maker’s handwriting. However, case-law supports the validity of a handwritten portion of a document, even if the entire document is not in the Will-maker’s handwriting. To the extent any part of the document is not in the Will-maker’s handwriting, that part will be excluded from the otherwise valid holograph document.
We have several clients who are in isolation making it impossible to have two witnesses execute our drafted Will. For a simple but, emergency situation, we are recommending that a holograph Will be done. We have a few key provisions to be included as a bare minimum:
- Identifying the document as a Will;
- Revoking prior Will;
- Appointing an executor;
- Simple dispositive provisions;
- Executor’s power to sell; and
The key instructions are:
- The entire document must be handwritten by the Will-maker; and
- The Will-maker must sign the document at the end.
Proof of handwriting will be necessary if the holograph Will must be probated. One option that may come in handy is to have the Will-maker video the writing and signing of the document.
We also strongly recommend that the client come in to sign a formal Will as soon as possible.
Click on the link to see a sample Client Holograph Will Instruction sheet for use in these kinds of situations.
In Monday’s blog, we’ll discuss the novel idea that our colleague, Mary Stokes raised. Can a client use a simple holograph Will to incorporate the terms of a comprehensive formal Will which can’t be properly signed because of a lack of witnesses?
Hope you are all safe and healthy,