Author: Jenna Bontorin
In uncertain times, it can be helpful to remember what we can do to plan for our own health, security, and well-being. In the past, we have blogged about “longevity planning” (i.e. advice for longer life expectancy) and the resemblances it has to executing powers of attorney for personal care (“POA PC”).
In Ontario, powers of attorney for personal care are generally governed by the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 (the “SDA”). The Health Care Consent Act, 1996 also applies to certain decisions made by attorneys for personal care.
Personal care decisions are about health care, medical treatment, diet, housing, hygiene, and safety. An attorney for personal care will be able to make almost any decision of this nature that the grantor would normally make for him/herself when they were capable.
According to the SDA, an attorney for personal care must follow the known wishes of the grantor or make decisions in the best interest of that person. In doing so, the attorney must choose the least restrictive and intrusive course of action that is available and is appropriate in the circumstances.
If you are appointed as an attorney for personal care, below is a non-exhaustive list of steps you should take or obligations you may have:
- Obtain a copy of the POA PC and determine whether it is in effect. The POA PC only comes into effect once the grantor is incapable of making his or her personal care decisions.
- Determine whether there are any specific instructions/restrictions in the POA PC.
- Encourage the grantor’s participation in decision-making and try to foster the grantor’s independence as much as possible.
- Encourage and facilitate communication between the grantor and his/her family and friends.
- Consider developing a guardianship plan. While this is not mandatory for an attorney whose powers stem from a POA PC, it may help provide a roadmap for future decisions.
The above checklist is non-exhaustive list of some of the obligations an attorney for personal care have. Section 66(4) of the SDA also sets out a number of factors to consider when determining what personal care decisions are in the incapable person’s best interest. Most importantly, an attorney for personal care must not lose sight of the fact that he/she is a fiduciary and held to a higher standard.
Making decisions as an attorney can be difficult, particularly in uncertain circumstances. It is important to be prepared. The Ministry of the Attorney General also provides some useful information about an attorney’s obligations here. A lawyer should be consulted so the attorney understands their duties.
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Many of us are familiar with the expression: “Time waits for no one.” We also previously blogged about the impact time has on all parties in litigation: “No one likes to see a limitation period applied to dismiss a claim.” (So says Justice Nakatsuru in the opening line of his decision in Sinclair v. Harris.)
In general, claims must be commenced in a timely fashion. If too much time passes–depending on the circumstances and nature of the claim–parties may be prohibited from commencing a lawsuit, or have their lawsuit dismissed, by what is known as a ‘limitation period’.
With the recent developments of COVID-19, however, the Lieutenant Governor in Council made an Order under s. 7.1 of Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act suspending limitation periods in Ontario. This suspension is retroactive to March 16, 2020. A copy of the Order can be found here.
What happens when the suspension is lifted? It will be interesting to see if limitation periods go back to existing the day this suspension is lifted, or if further legislation may be needed to deal with this issue. For now, it appears that “time” is waiting for everyone.
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Recent developments with COVID-19 mean a number of procedural changes have been put in place at the Toronto Estates List. The following operations are effective as of March 23, 2020:
1. All regular matters which have been scheduled and are not urgent, or time sensitive, are adjourned to after June 1, 2020 and are not currently being rescheduled, subject to any further direction from the Court (in accordance with the Notice to the Profession issued by Chief Justice Morawetz, March 15, 2020).
2. The judges of the Toronto Estates List will continue to hear and decide urgent and time-sensitive matters. The procedure for urgent matters on the Estates List is the same as the procedure for urgent matters on the Commercial List and will be in accordance with the procedure set out in the Changes to Commercial List Operations in light of the COVID-19 March 16, 2020 advisory, with necessary changes. For greater certainty, all urgent requests and materials on the Estates List should be sent to the Commercial List trial coordinator at Toronto.firstname.lastname@example.org
3. There is no change to the usual procedure for filing materials in matters that are to be considered by the Court in writing, including motions for consent orders and ex parte orders. Materials for matters to be heard in writing may still be filed at the Estates Office, subject to any further direction of the Court.
4. Applications for Certificates of Appointment (i.e. probate) are still be accepted and processed by the Estate Office.
5. Notices of Application (Forms 14E, 74.44, and 75.5) will continue to be issued by the Estates Office but instead of fixing a return date the Notice of Application shall indicate that the matter will be heard: “on a date to be fixed by the Registrar.”
6. Notices of Objections (Form 75.1) may be filed in the Estates Office as usual.
The PDF copy of the above notice can be found here.
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In the past, we have written about whether an Estate must first obtain a Certificate of Appointment before issuing a statement of claim.
But what about an Estate that may be entitled to claim a portion of a court-approved settlement?
Over the past year, a number of court-approved class action settlement agreements involving deceased class members appear to have taken into account the cost and complexity of appointing an Estate Trustee.
The settlement agreement approved by the Federal Court in McLean v. Canada is the culmination of litigation concerning tragic, historic events in the lives of those who attended Indian Day Schools. These events include allegations of systemic abuse and mistreatment of children. The “class period” runs from January 1, 1920 until the date of closure or relinquishment of control by Canada of any particular day school or, that date on which the written offer of transfer by Canada was not accepted by the respective First Nation or Indigenous government.
The settlement approval noted that if a class member dies on or after July 31, 2007, their “Estate Executor” is still eligible to be paid the compensation to which the class member would have been entitled.
Similarly, the more recent settlement agreement approved by the Federal Court in Toth v. Canada addresses the claims of veterans who were in receipt of various benefits, including disability pension benefits, and had the disability pension amounts deducted from the other benefits which they received or were entitled to receive. The decision reads:
“Under the proposed settlement, which totals $100 million, every Class Member and the estates of Class Members who have passed away since the Certification Notice was published will receive a payment. Payments will be calculated and made promptly as the majority of Class Members are known and every effort will be made to ensure that all Class Members, or their estates, receive their payment, which will not be subject to income tax.”
If a proceeding has been commenced by an estate before probate has been issued, Rule 9.03 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure offers some relief in stating that the proceeding shall be deemed to have been properly constituted from its commencement.
It is not always necessary for an estate trustee to obtain a Certificate of Appointment in order to administer an estate; however, in certain matters, an estate trustee may be required to obtain probate before being able to represent the estate, whether or not there is a valid Will. The Ontario Superior Court in Carmichael et al. v. Sharpley et al. has set out three circumstances in which probate is required:
- Third parties dealing with the executor may refuse to accept the authority of the Will and demand production of letters probate as authentication of that power…
- Proceedings involving the executor representing the estate as plaintiff or as defendant. It would seem that in such circumstances the court requires probate as an evidentiary matter…
- Where a foreign executor wishes to establish title to estate assets in Ontario he must have his letters probate resealed in Ontario or obtain ancillary grant letters probate. This requires that he first obtain probate in the primary jurisdiction.
Moreover, the Estates Act ensures that estate trustees named in a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee have sole authority in respect of the estate:
“30. After a grant of administration, no person, other than the administrator or executor, has power to sue or prosecute any action or otherwise act as executor of the deceased as to the property comprised in or affected by such grant of administration until such administration has been recalled or revoked”
It will be interesting to see if the Courts will continue to take into consideration the necessity and of appointing an Estate Trustee in light of historic claims, and how third parties making efforts to award a portion of the settlement to the Estate will deal with the requirement for probate.
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It appears that the Ontario government is taking action to make it easier and more affordable for executors of modest estates to access the courts.
Where the value of an estate is relatively small, the cost of obtaining a Certificate of Appointment (otherwise known as “probate”) can be perceived as too expensive. As a result, an executor (“estate trustee”) of a small estate often administers the estate without the protection of probate. In some cases, people choose not to administer a small estate at all and abandon the assets altogether.
Foregoing probate may lead to roadblocks when administering an estate. Third parties (like banks and persons buying the deceased’s real or personal property) will often require that the estate trustee obtain a Certificate. Probate reassures these third parties of the estate trustee’s authority and protects third parties from liability, as it verifies that the person they are dealing with is authorized to deal with the estate’s assets.
In the past, we have blogged about the Law Commission of Ontario’s efforts on this issue, including the release of a questionnaire to Ontarians who have administered what they consider small estates.
It now looks like the provincial government is looking to address the issue as well. Attorney General Doug Downey recently introduced the Bill 161, Smarter and Stronger Justice Act. If passed, the Act is intended to improve how court processes are administered to make life easier for Ontarians.
Notably, one of the proposed amendments includes allowing for a simplified procedure to make it less costly to administer estates of a modest value.
Right now, the probate process for all estates in Ontario is the same, no matter the size of the estate.
The Smarter and Stronger Justice Act would make amendments to Ontario’s Estates Act to exempt probate applicants from the requirement to post a bond for small estates in certain cases.
Other proposed changes to the Estates Act include safeguards to protect minors and vulnerable people who have an interest in an estate, and to increase efficiency by allowing local court registrars to perform the required estate court records searches, rather than a central court registrar.
It will be interesting to see if the proposed changes will be passed, and how they may encourage more people to apply for probate and administer an estate of lower value.
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