Author: Nick Esterbauer

28 Nov

A Step Toward Equal Inheritance Rights

Nick Esterbauer Estate & Trust, In the News, Public Policy, Wills Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

A recent decision by an Egyptian court saw the reversal of the trend in following Islamic Sharia inheritance law under which female beneficiaries are entitled to half the interest of their male counterparts.

The claimant, a human rights lawyer, applied to obtain the same rights as her brothers on the death of her father.  Her case was previously dismissed by two courts.

In Egypt, Sharia principles are typically applied unless the parties agree that Christian inheritance laws, which do not favour male beneficiaries over females, instead be followed.  In this case, the claimant and her brothers agreed that the administration of their father’s estate would not be subject to Sharia inheritance rules.

Last year, a proposed law in Tunisia designed to promote equality in respect of inheritances sparked discussion regarding unequal inheritances in a number of jurisdictions including Egypt.  A 2017 survey suggests that over half of Tunisia’s population remains opposed to equal inheritance rights.

It is anticipated that this decision may result in significant change in jurisdictions where Sharia law has historically been applied in respect of personal property, regardless of religion.

Canadian courts have also considered the issue of cultures that may support an estate plan favouring sons over daughters simply on the basis of their gender.  In Grewal v Litt, 2019 BCSC 1154, the daughters of the deceased challenged the Wills left by their parents, who both died in 2016, on the basis that they discriminated against them in favour of their brothers on the basis of their sex.  The four daughters applied under Section 60 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, SBC 2009, c 13 (the “WESA“), for the variation of the Wills that directed the payment of $150,000 to each daughter, while the residue of the estates valued at greater than $9 million was left to the two sons.

Justice Adair noted that there was no dispute that the parents owed a moral obligation to their daughters under BC law, and, as the Wills made inadequate provision for them, they should be varied under the WESA.  The Court attempted to resolve the matter by balancing the adequate, just, and equitable provision for the daughters with their parents’ testamentary autonomy and varied the division of estate assets from approximately 93% in favour of the sons with only a combined 7% for the daughters, to the more equitable division of 15% of the value of the estates for each daughter and 20% for each son.  Notwithstanding the granting of the variation of the Wills, the Court stopped short of finding that the parents’ testamentary intentions were motivated solely by unacceptable discrimination against the daughters.

While many provinces do not recognize a parental obligation to benefit a non-dependant adult child after death, coming years may nevertheless see an increase in the number of challenges to a will on the basis that its terms are discriminatory.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

 

Other blog posts that may be of interest:

26 Nov

Upcoming Changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Nick Esterbauer In the News Tags: , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Recent amendments to Canada’s Divorce Act will come into effect on July 1, 2020.  While many of these changes may not be directly relevant to estate law, estate practitioners may nevertheless wish to familiarize themselves with these developments before July.

The amendments introduced under Bill C-78 serve a number of objectives, including the advancement of the best interests of the child and increased access to justice.  They can be briefly summarized as follows:

  • New criteria, independent of the Children’s Law Reform Act, in respect of the best interests of the child, taking into account the child’s views and preferences;
  • Updates to terminology designed to enhance access to justice and focus on the responsibilities of parents owed to their children: for example, custody orders will soon be referred to as “parenting orders”, and access will instead be known as “contact”;
  • The removal of presumptions as to equal parenting time and maximum contact being in the best interests of the child.

The new Divorce Act also imposes a duty upon counsel to encourage family dispute resolution unless clearly inappropriate in the circumstances, in a manner consistent with Rule 3.2-4 of the Law Society of Ontario’s Rules of Professional Conduct.  Some provinces are expected as a result to introduce legislation providing judges with the discretion to direct parties to family mediation and/or parenting coordination (as has already happened in British Columbia).

Bill C-78 has also resulted in updates to the Family Orders and Agreements Enforcement Assistance Act.  This act, which already facilitates access to information held by financial institutions with respect to the assets of debtors, will soon permit access to income information from Canada Revenue Agency for the purposes of recalculating support.  The enhanced act is expected to reduce costs to parties and to courts of obtaining necessary disclosure.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

 

Other blog entries that may be of interest:

25 Nov

A resource when addressing international issues

Nick Esterbauer Elder Law, Estate & Trust, Estate Litigation, Estate Planning, Executors and Trustees, General Interest Tags: , , , , , , 0 Comments

Earlier this year, Ian M. Hull, Suzana Popovic-Montag, and I were pleased to co-author the Canada Chapter of the 2019 Chambers & Partners Global Private Wealth Guide for the third consecutive year.

The guide provides an overview of the law as it relates to a number of issues relevant to financial planning and estate planning in jurisdictions throughout the world.  Specifically, the following topics are covered (among others):

  • tax regimes;
  • succession laws;
  • laws relating to the transfer of digital assets and other assets;
  • family business planning;
  • wealth disputes;
  • elder law; and
  • obligations of fiduciaries.

With chapters summarizing the state of the law and related trends in 34 countries, including the United Kingdom, United States, Switzerland, France, and Israel, the guide can be a great resource to be used as a starting point when assisting clients who have assets (or are beneficiaries of assets) in other jurisdictions.

A complete electronic copy of the 2019 Chambers & Partners Global Private Wealth Guide is available here: https://practiceguides.chambers.com/practice-guides/private-wealth-2019.  The online version includes a “compare locations” feature, which allows readers to quickly review differences between two or more jurisdictions.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

29 Aug

How can we slow down aging?

Nick Esterbauer Elder Law, Health / Medical, In the News Tags: , , , , , , 0 Comments

There are constantly new studies suggesting different ways to slow both physical and mental aging.  This month alone, the news has featured research suggesting the following:

  • Aging with pets in place can increase life satisfaction overall, and research suggests that pets may be associated not only with less loneliness, stronger social support systems, and increased participation in the community, but also better cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.
  • A study from the University of Leeds suggests that tickling may slow down aging.  The study involved the use of electrodes on the participants’ ears to simulate a tickle-like tingling sensation.  Two weeks of 15-minute daily tickling therapy were believed to improve the balance of the autonomic nervous system.
  • People who are optimistic may live longer.  For groups of both women and men, those who were optimistic long-term had a better chance of living to age 85 (and beyond).  Optimism has been linked with goal-setting and healthier habits and, accordingly, fewer optimistic people are believe to die prematurely from stroke, heart disease, or cancer.
  • Consistent with previous research, a new study by the University of Iowa has linked exercise to a healthy aging brain.  Even a single bout of exercise was considered to improve cognitive function and working memory in older participants.

While there may be nothing to prevent aging altogether and/or to totally eliminate the risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other age-related cognitive decline (absent any major scientific breakthrough), in general, taking health and wellness more seriously from an earlier age may improve quality of life and independence down the road.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

 

Other blog posts that may be of interest:

27 Aug

Are Oral and/or Videotaped Wills Valid?

Nick Esterbauer Estate Planning, In the News, Wills Tags: , , , , , , 0 Comments

A recent news article refers to the struggle of father of accused killer Bryer Schmegelsky to obtain video footage from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The father’s lawyer has referred to the video as the accused’s “last will and testament.”  It was apparently recorded very shortly before death and expresses funeral and burial preferences.

Oral wills (also known as nuncupative wills) are recognized in select jurisdictions, including some American states:

  • New York law provides that an oral will, heard by at least two witnesses and made by a member of the active military or a mariner while at sea can be valid and will expire one year after discharge from the armed forces or three years after a sailor, if the testator survives the situation of peril;
  • In North Carolina, an oral will made while the testator’s death is imminent and in circumstances where the testator does not survive in the presence of two or more witnesses may be valid;
  • In Texas, oral wills made in the presence of three or more witnesses on the testator’s deathbed before September 2007 are valid in respect of personal property of limited value.

As most state legislation is silent on the issue of videotaped wills, if the testator’s oral wishes are videotaped, they must generally meet the criteria for a valid oral will to be effective.

However, in Canada, a will must be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two people.  Alternatively, a will that is entirely in the testator’s handwriting and unwitnessed may be valid.  Because Ontario is a strict compliance jurisdiction, any inconsistency with the formal requirements, as set out in the Succession Law Reform Act, renders a will invalid.

While a videotaped statement intended to be viewed posthumously may not be a valid will in Ontario and other Canadian provinces, it can nevertheless be used to express the deceased’s final wishes, for example with respect to the disposition of his or her remains (which are typically precatory rather than enforceable, even if appearing within a written document), and may assist a family in finding closure following an unexpected loss.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

26 Aug

Judicial discretion to order passings of accounts

Nick Esterbauer Capacity, Estate & Trust, Passing of Accounts Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

We often encounter situations where the administration of an estate is complicated by the fact that the deceased was married multiple times, and there is a clash between children from a prior relationship and a subsequent spouse (and/or his or her children).  Sometimes, a couple will be closer with one set of children, which may lead to disputes following both of their deaths.  Estate of Ronald Alfred Craymer v Hayward et al, 2019 ONSC 4600, was one such case, in which Joan and Ronald had been closer for much of their 32-year marriage with Joan’s children from a prior marriage.  After Joan and Ronald died in 2016 and 2017, respectively, a dispute arose between their adult children.

While Ronald’s will named his own children as beneficiaries of his estate, his Continuing Power of Attorney or Property (like Joan’s), named Joan’s daughter as alternate attorney for property, should his spouse be unable to act.   Joan had acted as Ronald’s attorney for property from 2006, during which he had suffered a stroke, until her death.  In 2011, Joan had transferred the couple’s matrimonial home, previously held jointly, to herself alone.  During this period, however, there had been no request by Ronald’s children for an accounting.  Joan’s daughter had subsequently acted as Ronald’s attorney for property and as estate trustee for Joan’s estate over the period of approximately eight months between the deaths of Joan and Ronald.

Ronald’s children sought a passing of accounts with respect to the management of their father’s property by Jane and her daughter and, specifically, challenged the change in title to the matrimonial home.  The Court referred to Wall v Shaw, 2018 ONCA 929, in stating that there is no limitation period to compel an accounting.  Accordingly, it considered the only bar to this relief to be laches and acquiescence.  Justice C.F. de Sa commented that the there was nothing improper in the manner in which the plaintiff had sought the accounting and, furthermore, that the delay was not unreasonable in the circumstances.  The Court permitted the claim regarding the matrimonial home to continue, but nevertheless declined to order a passing of  accounts:

…[O]rdering the passing of accounts is discretionary. And in my view, to require an accounting at this point would result in a clear injustice as between the parties.

[Joan’s daughter,] Linda, as Estate Trustee, is hardly in a position to account for Joan’s spending while she was alive. Yet, to require a passing of accounts at this point would subject every line of Joan’s spending (as Attorney for Property) to the court’s scrutiny.  Moreover, as the Estate Trustee, the Defendant would be liable to account for any unexplained expenditures.

Indeed, it is unclear that the spending was spurious given the nature of the relationship between Joan and Ronald. Joan would have been spending the money as his wife as much as his Attorney for Property.  The failure to keep detailed accounts is hardly suspicious given the circumstances here.

…In the circumstances, I will not order a passing of accounts.

This decision is interesting in that it clearly considers the practicality of a passing of accounts and the inability of the deceased attorney’s estate trustee to properly account in the absence of relevant records in determining that it would be unjust to order a passing of accounts, despite there being no other apparent legal reason not to do so.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

 

Other blog entries that may be of interest:

10 Jun

Just how common is elder abuse?

Nick Esterbauer Elder Law, General Interest Tags: , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Our readers will all be familiar of the issue of elder abuse, and the various forms that it can take.  It is also well-known that elder abuse if underreported, giving rise to challenges in determining just how common it is and how incidence rates may be fluctuating within the context of our aging population.

A new study by Comparitech explores the issue of the underreporting of elder abuse and extrapolates reported incidents and studies regarding underreporting to gain an appreciation of how commonly it is actually occurring in the United States.  Comparitech estimates that at least 5 million cases of financial elder abuse occur every year in the United States alone.  While damages of $1.17 billion are reported, it is believed that the actual losses to seniors total $27.4 billion.

Technology also appears to be playing a role in increasing rates of elder abuse.  Comparitech found that 1 in 10 seniors were victims of elder abuse and that the use of debit cards have become the most common tool in defrauding them of their funds.  With phone and email scams on the rise in recent years, underreporting is anticipated to become a growing problem while incidence rates continue to increase without any way to determine exactly how many seniors are affected.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

 

Other blog posts that you may enjoy reading:

30 May

Instagram evidence key to claim against French rock star’s estate

Nick Esterbauer Estate & Trust, Estate Litigation, In the News, Litigation, Wills Tags: , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

A recent decision dealing with the estate of a French rock star highlights the potential relevance of social media evidence in estates matters.

Johnny Halliday, known as the “French Elvis”, died in 2017, leaving a Last Will and Testament that left his entire estate to his fourth wife, disinheriting his adult children from a previous marriage.  The New York Times reports that French law does not permit a testator to disinherit his or her children in such a manner, and the adult children made a claim against the estate on that basis.  The issue became whether the deceased singer had lived primarily in the United States or in France.

Halliday was active on Instagram, using the service to promote his albums and tours, as well as to share details of his personal life with fans.  The adult children were, accordingly, able to track where their father had been located in the years leading up to his death, establishing that he had lived in France for 151 days in 2015 and 168 in 2016, before spending 7 months immediately preceding his death in France.  Their position based on the social media evidence was preferred over that of Halliday’s widow and their claims against the estate were permitted.

Decisions like this raise the issue of whether parties to estate litigation can be required to produce the contents of their social media profiles as relevant evidence to the issues in dispute.  Arguably, within the context of estates, social media evidence may be particularly relevant to dependant’s support applications, where the nature of an alleged dependant’s relationship with the deceased, along with the lifestyle enjoyed prior to death, may be well-documented.

The law regarding the discoverability of social media posts in estate and family law in Canada is still developing.  While the prevalence of social media like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook is undeniable, services like these have not become popular only in the last fifteen years or so and it seems that users continue to share increasingly intimate parts of their lives online.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

28 May

Legal Aid Funding and Access to Justice

Nick Esterbauer Elder Law, Estate & Trust, General Interest, In the News, Litigation, Support After Death Tags: , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Sydney Osmar‘s blog from yesterday covered the issue of the recent cuts to legal aid funding, which can only be expected to result in increased barriers to Ontario residents in accessing the court system.

Within the context of estates, high legal fees may contribute to the inability of (would-be) litigants to obtain able assistance in accessing the court system.  Some meritorious estate and capacity-related litigation may not be commenced simply because of a lack of funds required to hire a lawyer to assist in doing so.

While successful parties may be awarded some portion of the legal fees that they have incurred, payable by the unsuccessful party to the litigation (or out of the assets of the estate), recovery of all legal fees incurred in pursuing litigation is rare.  The balance of legal fees that a party can be expected to pay out of whatever benefit they may ultimately receive dependent on the outcome of the litigation may eliminate some or all of the financial benefit of the funds that they may stand to receive.

For example, a dependant’s support application brought by a surviving spouse who lacks the financial means to support him or herself may result in protracted litigation.  Even if the application for dependant’s support is successful, the court may not always make an order that adequately reflects the entitlements of the dependant and the total fees that he or she has incurred to bring the application, limiting the funds available for the dependant’s expenses going forward.  While interim support orders or orders directing payments toward professional fees related to bringing the application may be available during litigation in some circumstances, the related motions will serve to further increase the legal fees incurred by the applicant if such relief is not obtained on consent.  In the absence of contribution from the assets of the estate to fund the litigation or an alternative arrangement for the payment of legal fees, it may not be possible for a surviving spouse in need to make a dependant’s support claim in the first place or he or she may need to do so without a lawyer’s assistance.

In 2016, it was reported that the numbers of self-represented litigants in Canada have increased over the last two decades and more significantly in recent years.  The inability to afford a lawyer and ineligibility for legal aid assistance were cited as the primary reasons why a party is self-represented.  Research suggests that parties who are self-represented are less likely to be successful in litigation (with success rates of only 4% in responding to motions for summary judgment, 12.5% for motions and applications, and 14% at trial) than represented parties.

While assistance with estate-related matters may be available to some from the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, the Queen’s University Elder Law Clinic, or other clinics (which are funded by Legal Aid Ontario and will be impacted by the recent budget cuts) in some circumstances, many individuals simply do not qualify for assistance or require assistance that is not provided by these clinics.

Our colleague, The Honourable R. Roy McMurtry, is a strong advocate for access to justice and has expressed the following sentiment: “[O]ur freedoms are at best fragile…they depend on the ability of every citizen to assert in a court or tribunal their rights under law as well as receiving sound legal advice as to their obligations.  Indeed, our laws and freedoms will only be as strong as the protection that they afford to the most vulnerable members of society.”

Unfortunately, greater numbers of individuals than previously may struggle to access just resolutions of estates and other matters as a result of the recent changes to legal aid funding in Ontario.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

21 Mar

Admissibility of Medical Records

Nick Esterbauer Capacity, Estate & Trust, Health / Medical, Litigation, Wills Tags: , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Medical records are frequently key evidence in estate disputes.  Often, a testamentary document or inter vivos transaction is challenged on the basis that the deceased lacked testamentary capacity or the mental capacity to make a valid gift.

The British Columbia Supreme Court recently reviewed the issue of admissibility of medical records within the context of a will challenge.  The parties propounding the last will asserted that the deceased’s medical records were inadmissible on the basis that (1) the parties challenging the will were attempting to admit the records for the truth of their contents, (2) the records included third party statements from family members, which was suggested to constitute double hearsay evidence, and (3) the records were entirely inadmissible because they were not relevant, none of them being within weeks of the date of execution of the challenged will.

In Re Singh Estate, 2019 BCSC 272, the estate trustees named in the deceased’s will executed in 2013 only learned of the existence of a subsequent will executed in 2016 after they provided notice to the beneficiaries of the estate that they intended to apply for probate in respect of the 2013 will.  The 2016 will disinherited two of the deceased’s eight children (including one of the two adult children named as estate trustee in the 2013 will) on the basis that they had received “their share” in their mother’s estate from the predeceasing husband’s estate.  Between the dates of execution of the 2013 and 2016 wills, the deceased had suffered a bad fall and allegedly experienced delusions and had otherwise become forgetful and confused.

At trial, medical records are typically admitted under the business records exemption of the Evidence Act (in Ontario, section 35).  Justice MacDonald acknowledged this general treatment of medical evidence, citing the Supreme Court of Canada (at para 48):

While clinical records are hearsay, they are admissible under the business records exception both at common law and under s. 42 of the Evidence Act. The requirements for the admission of medical records as business records are set out in Ares[ v Venner, [1970] SCR 608]. The Supreme Court of Canada held at 626:

Hospital records, including nurses’ notes, made contemporaneously by someone having a personal knowledge of the matters then being recorded and under a duty to make the entry or record should be received in evidence as prima facie proof of the facts stated therein.

Subsequent case law cited by the Court addressed the second objection of the parties propounding the will, which provided that the observations that a medical practitioner has a duty to record in the ordinary course of business (including those involving third parties) are generally admissible (Cambie Surgeries Corporation v British Columbia (Attorney General), 2016 BCSC 1896).  Lastly, the Court considered the issue of relevance of the medical records and found that evidence relating to the mental health before and after the making of a will can be relevant in supporting an inference of capacity at the actual time of execution of the will (Laszlo v Lawton, 2013 BCSC 305).

After finding the medical records to be admissible as evidence of the deceased’s mental capacity (and in consideration of all of the available evidence), the Court declared the 2016 will to be invalid on the basis of lack of testamentary capacity.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

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