Author: Nick Esterbauer
A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice revisits the issue of whether a presumption of resulting trust should be imposed in the case of a beneficiary designation.
As our readers will know, the leading case on presumptions of resulting trust remains Pecore v Pecore, 2007 SCC 17, in which the Supreme Court summarized the state of the law relating to property that had been gratuitously transferred into joint tenancy with a non-dependent adult child: the asset becomes subject to a presumption that it is impressed with a resulting trust in favour of the parent’s estate. The presumption may be rebutted by evidence that it was, in fact, the parent’s intention to gift the jointly-held property to the adult child by right of survivorship.
Last year, we saw a couple of decisions apply the principles of Pecore to novel situations, potentially expanding the applicability of presumptions of resulting trust. For example, in Calmusky v Calmusky, 2020 ONSC 1506, the doctrine of resulting trust was applied to a RIF for which an adult child had been designated as beneficiary.
In Mak Estate v Mak, 2021 ONSC 4415, Justice McKelvey reviewed the issue of whether an asset for which a beneficiary designation was in place should be subject to the presumption of resulting trust. The plaintiff residuary beneficiaries of their mother’s estate sought an order setting aside the 2007 beneficiary designation for the mother’s RRIF, under which the defendant, their brother and another residuary beneficiary of the estate, was named. The evidence suggested that the deceased had relied upon the defendant, who lived with her and drove her to appointments after the death of the parties’ father in 2002.
After addressing the issue of whether a presumption of undue influence applied to the RRIF beneficiary designation (and finding that it did not because a beneficiary designation is not an inter vivos gift), Justice McKelvey turned to the issue of the principle of resulting trust, writing (at paras 44, 46):
In my view…there is good reason to doubt the conclusion that the doctrine of resulting trust applies to a beneficiary designation. First, the presumption in Pecore applies to inter vivos gifts. This was a significant factor for the Court of Appeal in Seguin, and similarly is a significant difference in the context of a resulting trust. Further, the decision of this Court in Calmusky has been the subject of some critical comment. As noted by Demetre Vasilounis in an article entitled ‘A Presumptive Peril: The Law of Beneficiary Designations is Now in Flux’, the decision in Calmusky is, ‘ruffling some features among banks, financial advisors and estate planning lawyers in Ontario’. In his article, the author comments that there is usually no need to determine ‘intent’ behind this designation, as this kind of beneficiary designation is supported by legislation including in Part III of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”). Subsection 51(1) of the SLRA states that an individual may designate a beneficiary of a ‘plan’ (including a RIF, pursuant to subsection 54.1(1) of the SLRA.)
It is also important that the presumption of resulting trust with respect to adult children evolved from the formerly recognized presumption of advancement, a sometimes erroneous assumption for a parent that arranges for joint ownership of an asset with their child is merely ‘advancing’ the asset to such adult child as such adult child will eventually be entitled to such asset upon such parent’s death. The whole point of a beneficiary designation, however, is to specifically state what is to happen to an asset upon death.
As a result, the defendant was entitled to retain the proceeds of his mother’s RRIF, as the plaintiffs unable to establish any intention of their mother to benefit her estate with the asset without the benefit of a presumption of resulting trust.
In light of the conflicting applications of Pecore under the Calmusky and Mak Estate decisions, it will be interesting to see how this issue may be further developed in the case law. For the time being, however, it may be prudent to take care in documenting a client’s wishes to benefit an adult child by way of beneficiary designation in the same manner as we typically would in situations of jointly-held property.
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Our readers will already know about the recent approval of legislation providing for will validation in Ontario under Bill 245, the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021. The act received Royal Assent in April 2021. The changes under Schedule 9, which addresses amendments of the Succession Law Reform Act, RSO 1990, c S.26 (the “SLRA”), come into effect on January 1, 2022 (other than the update to virtual will witnessing in counterpart, which has already been made permanent under the revised Section 4 of the SLRA).
As of January 1, 2022, a new Section 21.1 of the SLRA will read as follows:
(1) If the Superior Court of Justice is satisfied that a document or writing that was not properly executed or made under this Act sets out the testamentary intentions of a deceased or an intention of a deceased to revoke, alter or revive a will of the deceased, the Court may, on application, order that the document or writing is as valid and fully effective as the will of the deceased, or as the revocation, alteration or revival of the will of the deceased, as if it had been properly executed or made.
No electronic wills
(2) Subsection (1) is subject to section 31 of the Electronic Commerce Act, 2000.
(3)Subsection (1) applies if the deceased died on or after the day section 5 of Schedule 9 to the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021 came into force.
We have seen Section 21.1 referred to as both a will-validation provision and as a “substantial compliance” provision. In fact, Section 21.1 does not specify that substantial compliance with the formal requirements for a valid will under the SLRA is required and it may, accordingly be more accurately referred to as a will-validation provision. Either way, this is a significant change to the law of validity of wills in Ontario and our province, as of January 1, 2022, will no longer be a strict compliance jurisdiction where some documents clearly intended to function as a valid will are rejected and deemed ineffective for technical reasons.
Notably, the legislation carves out the use of electronic signatures. Some estate practitioners had been hopeful that electronic signatures would be accepted under the proposed estate legislative reform, given the recent increased acceptance of electronic signatures in the swearing/commissioning of affidavits and other legal documents and options available to verify their authenticity. Section 31 of the Electronic Commerce Act, 2000, SO 2000, c 17, excludes the application of that act to wills, codicils, testamentary trusts, and powers of attorney.
Accordingly, it appears that a will signed by the testator or witnesses using electronic means cannot be validated by the Court, even after the new Section 21.1 is introduced to the SLRA. For now (including after January 1 of next year), all wills still require actual, “wet” signatures in order to be valid. Furthermore, even if a will may be validated by the Court under Section 21.1, the uncertainty, delay, and expense relating to applying for court-ordered validation of a will may still be best avoided by seeking an experienced estate planning lawyer’s assistance in the preparation of a Last Will and Testament.
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Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of hosting the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario’s webinar on “Special Considerations When Valuing a Family-Owned Business” featuring Tom Strezos, Adam Guyatt, and Claudio Martellacci of Grewal Guyatt LLP. A link to their article on this topic is available here.
In the estates context, we often encounter situations where a family business needs to be valued after death. While we will often defer to experts for assistance in this regard, it can be helpful to keep in mind some considerations unique to family businesses that might affect valuation. These may include the following:
- Payroll considerations: including whether any family members are on the business payroll and paid compensation greater or less than standard market rates;
- Related party transactions: for example, whether a family member owns a supply company and that relationship may increase or decrease business expenses and impact its value upon any change in that relationship;
- Non-operating assets or liabilities: whether there are investments in assets that do not impact cash flow directly or liabilities payable to family members;
- Internal controls and governance: such as whether additional staffing costs would need to be considered as part of the valuation to reflect the situation if certain family members were no longer involved in the operations of the business;
- Transferability of goodwill and discounts for reliance on certain individuals: some family businesses may have limited assets beyond goodwill and it can be worthwhile to consider how a departing family members (such as a divorced spouse or incapable or deceased family member) may impact value going forward.
These considerations may be relevant to probate applications, estate administration, and certainly where there are claims against an estate or specifically against a family business.
Also discussed during yesterday’s webinar was the idea of business valuation expert hot-tubbing, whether formally at trial or otherwise working together in a similar manner to try and determine a reasonable value of a company for the purposes of settlement discussions. This is an Interesting concept that may work well for some estate matters where valuation issues are at play.
A recording of this week’s FDRIO webinar is available to FDRIO members free of charge and will be replayed at a fee for non-members later this month. More information is available at fdrio.ca.
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Recent discussion of proposed amendments to the Succession Law Reform Act under Bill 245 has raised questions of whether corresponding changes will be made to the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992. In particular, some estate lawyers are wondering whether a new validation section may be added to the Substitute Decisions Act to address the issue of court validation of powers of attorney (like the new section 21.1 of the Succession Law Reform Act has been proposed to allow courts to validate improperly-executed wills) and/or whether remote execution options may soon be made permanent for powers of attorney as well as wills.
The Substitute Decisions Act already contains curative provisions that allow the court to validate incapacity planning documents in circumstances where the documents are not executed in strict compliance with formal requirements.
Subsection 10(4) of the Substitute Decisions Act reads as follows with respect to the validation of Continuing Powers of Attorney for Property:
(4) A continuing power of attorney that does not comply with subsections (1) and (2) is not effective, but the court may, on any person’s application, declare the continuing power of attorney to be effective if the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of the grantor or his or her dependants to do so.
Subsection 48(4) of the Substitute Decisions Act reads as follows with respect to the validation of Powers of Attorney for Personal Care:
(4) A power of attorney for personal care that does not comply with subsections (1) and (2) is not effective, but the court may, on any person’s application, declare the power of attorney for personal care to be effective if the court is satisfied that it is in the grantor’s interests to do so.
Remote Execution of Documents in Counterpart
While the focus of discussions among estate lawyers regarding Bill 245 may be the proposed updates to the Succession Law Reform Act and, in terms of formal will execution, the amendment of section 4 as it relates to the requirements for the witnessing of wills, Bill 245 also includes proposed changes to the Substitute Decisions Act under Schedule 8.
A new section 3.1 of the Substitute Decisions Act is being proposed to add specific references to the use of audio-visual communication technology and counterpart signing options in the execution and witnessing of Continuing Powers of Attorney for Property and Powers of Attorney for Personal Care. Accordingly, if Bill 245 is passed, the remote and counterpart execution options made available during the pandemic will be made permanent for wills and powers of attorney alike.
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As many of our readers know, Ontario may be well on its way to becoming a jurisdiction in which wills may be validated notwithstanding that they are not strictly compliant with the formal requirements set out under the Succession Law Reform Act. However a recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice reminds us that Ontario, for now at least, remains a strict compliance jurisdiction where all formalities must be followed in the execution and witnessing of wills and codicils.
During the pandemic, many lawyers have taken advantage of the ability to assist clients in the remote execution and witnessing of their wills, as well as the execution and witnessing of wills in counterpart. In order to validly do so, the will must be witnessed using audio-visual communication technologies. In Re Swidde Estate, 2021 ONSC 1434, however, the drafting solicitor and other witness were neither in the physical presence of the testator nor in her presence by way of audio-visual communication technology, at the time that a codicil was signed. Instead, the witnesses were in communication with the testator over the phone (without video) at the time that she signed the codicil. The codicil was later couriered to the witnesses who then each signed the same document. The Court found that this did not meet the requirements set out under the Emergency Order in Council permitting remote execution and witnessing of wills, and the codicil could not be admitted to probate. This case may serve as a reminder to drafting solicitors to ensure that all requirements are strictly adhered to. In that regard, readers may find it helpful to use a checklist, such as that available through our website (linked here), when assisting clients in the remote execution of wills or other estate planning documents.
Bill 245 is currently in its third reading. Section 5 of Schedule 9 to the Bill provides for the Court validation of wills where a document sets out testamentary intentions but has not been properly executed or made. Such a provision would enable a judge in circumstances such as those in Re Swiddle Estate to validate a will or codicil that was not properly executed. This provision will come into effect no earlier than January 1, 2022 and will apply only to wills left by persons who have died following that date, subject to further changes before the legislation may be finalized and may ultimately take effect. Accordingly, especially while Ontario remains a strict compliance jurisdiction, it is important to exercise caution in ensuring that all wills we prepare are properly executed and witnessed.
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In recent months, an Ontario Superior Court of Justice province-wide Notice to the Profession has permitted the filing of applications for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee with a Will or a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee Without a Will (“probate applications”) by email. Since then, the Rules of Civil Procedure were updated, effective January 1, 2021 to permit for the service of most court materials by email (among other updates).
Most recently, as of January 8, 2021, the Rules of Civil Procedure were further updated to provide for the options of serving notice of probate applications by email, courier, or personal service. Amended sub-rules 74.04(7) and 74.05(5) now read as follows:
Notice under this rule shall be served on all persons, including charities, the Children’s Lawyer and the Public Guardian and Trustee, and, unless the court specifies another method of service, may be served by,
(a) personal service;
(b) e-mail, to the last e-mail address for service provided by the person or, if no such e-mail address has been provided, to the person’s last known e-mail address; or
(c) mail or courier, to the person’s last known address.
Previously, the Rules of Civil Procedure required the Notice of Application in respect of a probate application to be served by regular lettermail.
Forms 74.06 and 74.16 (Affidavits of Service in respect of probate applications) have also now been updated to refer to these new manners of service of the Notice of Application in respect of a probate application. The revised forms are available here.
This further development in the modernization of estates law procedures is welcome and can be expected to better enable lawyers to assist clients in serving and filing probate applications more efficiently while working remotely during the pandemic and beyond.
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Technology is often considered as a tool more common among younger generations, with older individuals less likely to have embraced the internet and smartphones that, for many of us, have become important parts of our lives.
As lawyers know, the court system and legal profession have embraced technology in a number of new ways over the past year. From Zoom hearings to probate applications filed by email, we have had to adapt to better use technology in the practice of law. Recent news articles also suggest that the pandemic appears to be increasing the use of technology among older adults. In particular, the last ten months are noted to have seen:
- Acceptance of applications typically used primarily by millennials seeking convenience by other groups;
- For many, home delivery has become a “necessity”;
- Video chat has become a “lifeline for older adults”, who may otherwise be totally isolated;
- Increased accessibility to telemedicine and virtual caregiving support; and
- Online education for individuals of all ages, whether geared to enhance career potential or otherwise.
Many of these trends have the potential to assist seniors in aging in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which no doubt has become an increasingly attractive option in light of the tragic situation at many long-term care facilities. Increased technology use by seniors is noted to be a positive that has emerged as a result of COVID to make independent living more comfortable and safer. There are also a number of online resources available with recommendations for seniors wishing to safely age in place, including this review of possible Home Modifications available through Family Assets, a resource for senior care.
It will be interesting to see how our use of technology continues to evolve to assist individuals at all stages of life during the pandemic and beyond.
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As estates practitioners know well, the medication that an individual takes could reflect underlying conditions that affect mental capacity. High doses of pain medications or other medication prescribed to treat serious physical ailments may also impact a person’s cognition.
A recent article on Considerable highlights the impact that certain common medications may have on mental capacity. An estimated 25% of seniors take “anticholinergic” drugs to treat a variety of common issues, including allergies, insomnia, and asthma. These medications are known to target acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that plays an important role in concentration, cognition, and memory. Some drugs (including over-the-counter medications as well as those for which a prescription is required) impact acetylcholine levels more than others and, when they are taken together, can have a cumulative effect. As a result, high doses of anticholinergic drugs, which are often believed to have only inconsequential side effects, can interfere with brain messaging and result in symptoms consistent with dementia.
The article refers to a patient whose score on a Mini-Mental Status Examination increasing from 11 to 28 out of 30 after a readjustment of her medication, which included common antihistamines and medication for mood and gastrointestinal issues. Further research is being conducted on the short-term and long-term effects of anticholinergic use, as there is concern that prolonged use may cause irreversible cognitive decline.
As our readers know, due to the nature of capacity standards and importance of reviewing capacity on a case-by-case basis at the time of the relevant decision or instructions, it may be worthwhile to consider whether medication, even that commonly prescribed to seniors, may be a contributing factor.
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Other blog entries that may be of interest:
We have previously blogged extensively on the issue of inaccessibility of digital assets and the absence of legislation in Canadian provinces, including Ontario, to clarify the rights of a fiduciary to access and administer digital assets on behalf of a deceased or incapable rights holder.
While the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, and Estates Administration Act provide that attorneys or guardians of properties and estate trustees, respectively, are authorized to manage the property of an incapable person or an estate, Ontario does not currently have any legislation that clarifies these rights by explicit reference to digital assets. While continuing powers of attorney for property and wills can be crafted to explicitly refer to digital assets and the authority of an attorney for property or estate trustee to access accounts and information in the same manner in which the user him or herself was able, access issues can still arise during incapacity or after death.
A recent CBC article highlights the inadequacy of legislation facilitating access to digital assets. A surviving wife of over forty years was the estate trustee and sole residuary beneficiary of her late husband’s estate. In seeking access to an Apple account that she shared with her husband, she was told that she would require a court order, even after providing Apple with a copy of her husband’s death certificate and will. Apple cited the United States’ Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which predates the prominence of computers and the internet in our daily lives, as prohibiting them from distributing personal electronic information. Four years after her husband’s death in 2016, the Ontario woman is now obtaining pro bono assistance in seeking a court order granting access to the shared account in the absence of any other options.
It is anticipated that the adoption of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada’s Uniform Access to Digital Assets by Fiduciaries Act would resolve some or all of the issues currently faced by Ontario residents in accessing and administering digital assets. However, now over four years since its release, only Saskatchewan has implemented provincial legislation mirroring the language of the uniform act.
It will be interesting to see in coming years whether legislative updates will address continued barriers to the access and administration of digital assets and the corresponding access to justice issue.
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Other blog entries that may be of interest:
Recent reports suggest that divorce and separation rates are on the rise during the pandemic (with rates of separation cited as having increased as much as 20% to 57% from last year, depending on the jurisdiction). This has been in part attributed to the stresses of lockdown and worsening financial situations.
Many Canadians may not be fully aware of the legal impact that separation and divorce have upon an estate plan, mistakenly believing that there is no real difference between marriage and a common-law partnership. However, the distinction in Ontario remains important from an estate planning perspective – for example:
- A common-law or divorced spouse does not have any automatic rights upon the death of a spouse who does not leave a will, whereas married spouses take a preferential share and additional percentage of a predeceasing married spouse’s estate on an intestacy;
- A married spouse has the right to elect for an equalization of net family property pursuant to the Family Law Act on death, whereas common-law spouses have no equalization rights on death;
- Marriage automatically revokes a will (unless executed in contemplation of the marriage), whereas entering into a common-law relationship has no such impact; and
- Separation (in the absence of a Separation Agreement dealing with such issues) does not revoke a will or any gifts made to a separated spouse, whereas gifts under a will to a divorced spouse are typically revoked and the divorced spouse treated as having predeceased the testator.
While top of mind for estate lawyers, lawyers practising in other areas of law and their clients may not necessarily turn their minds to the implications that separation and divorce may have on an estate plan, particularly soon after separation and prior to a formal divorce. With the potential for family law proceedings to be delayed while courts may not yet be operating at full capacity, combined with elevated mortality rates among certain parts of the population during the pandemic, it may be especially worthwhile in the current circumstances to remind our clients of the importance of updating an estate plan following any material change in family circumstances, including a separation or divorce.
Thank you for reading and stay safe,