After being embroiled in a lengthy legal dispute, Audrey Hepburn’s sons appear to have settled the division of their late mother’s personal property.
By way of background, Audrey Hepburn left her estate in equal shares to her two sons. Her will, however, did not provide any directions as to how her personal belongings were to be distributed. Many of the items in dispute are famous memorabilia acquired throughout her lengthy acting career.
In Ontario, all property belonging to a deceased person who dies with a will immediately vests in his or her estate trustee. However, it is not entirely clear as to whether an estate trustee has the authority, absent specific direction from the testator, to distribute the personal effects of the deceased.
In Re Bucovetsky Estate,  O.J. No. 303 it was held that in specie distributions are not permitted in the absence of a specific direction in the will or unanimous consent of all beneficiaries. Accordingly, without specific authority or unanimous consent of all beneficiaries, an estate trustee should take care to avoid distributing personal items.
Some options that may be available to an estate trustee who is confronted with the difficulty of determining how to deal with the distribution of personal effects of a deceased person include:
- seeking directions from the court pursuant to section 60 of the Trustee Act, R.S.O. 1990 c T. 23; or
- selling and converting the personal items into cash in accordance with the testator’s will or by section 17 of the Estate Administration Act, S.O. 1990, c. E.22
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It is not uncommon to encounter situations where an individual dies without a will, having never been married, widowed, separated or divorced and without children. It can, however, be uncommon to come across situations where an individual dies under these circumstance but also leaves behind no known close relatives or next of kin. When this occurs, the question that immediately arises is: who will inherit the deceased person’s estate?
In Ontario, the distribution of the estate of an unmarried, childless person who has died without a will is governed by Part II of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “Act”). The Act provides a statutory scheme that sets out classes of individuals who will inherit on such a persons’ intestacy. The order of entitlement is as follows:
- Nieces and Nephews; and finally,
- Next of Kin.
When none of the above individuals can be identified or located, section 47(7) of the Act states that the property of the deceased person becomes the property of the Crown, and the Escheats Act, 2015 applies.
Depending on the circumstances, individuals without a family may wish to consider if there is a charitable organization or community activity that they belong to that they would prefer to benefit from their estate under a will. In the alterative they may wish to take proactive steps to locate their distant relatives during their lifetime.
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In a recent case, Ilott v. The Blue Corss & Ors,  UKSC 17 (15 March 2017), the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has affirmed that a testator has testamentary freedom to disinherit his or her child.
As outlined in a recent National Post article, the Court rejected a daughter’s proceeding to set aside her late mother’s will, which left the majority of the mother’s estate to several animal charities. In the will, the mother also directed the executors of her estate to resist any efforts her daughter may make to challenge the will.
The disappointed daughter exercised her rights pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the “1975 Act”), which allows certain individuals such as spouses and children to make a claim for reasonable financial provision from an estate.
Unlike Part V of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, the 1975 Act does not require the deceased testator to have provided his or her dependant with support or to have been under a legal obligation to provide support immediately before his or her death. Rather, the 1975 Act requires the surviving child to prove that the deceased’s will did not include reasonable financial provision for his or her child in light of the child’s own financial resources and needs.
Interestingly, the daughter appealed the District Judge’s award of £50,000.00 to her and the Court of Appeal’s decision awarding her £143,000.00 to buy the house she lived in and an additional £20,000.00. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision and restored the District Judge’s decision on the basis that the District Judge’s decision struck an appropriate balance between the mother’s testamentary wishes and the daughter’s claim for reasonable financial provision from the estate. In doing so, the Supreme Court upheld the long standing principal that people remain at liberty to dispose of their assets and property subject to provisions of the 1975 Act.
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