Author: Stuart Clark
Corporations and Estates – What happens when a Will gifts an asset that is actually corporately owned?
The use of privately held corporations to manage an individual’s assets or business interests seems to be an increasingly common strategy and tool. Although the use of privately held corporations offer a number of potential advantages to the individual both during their lifetime and as part of their estate planning, it does raise a number of novel issues for the administration of the estate which may not exist if these assets had been directly owned by the individual. Such potential issues manifested themselves before the Ontario Court of Appeal in the relatively recent decision of Trezzi v. Trezzi, 2019 ONCA 978, where the court was asked to determine the potential validity of a bequest in a Will of property that was not directly owned by the testator personally but rather owned by them through a wholly owned private corporation.
As privately held corporations are often wholly owned by a single individual owner the individual in question would be forgiven for thinking that any assets that are actually owned by the corporation are their own. Such a misconception could carry with it some significant legal issues however, as it ignores the important fact that at law the corporation and the individual owner are two distinctly separate legal entities, and that although the individual owner of the corporation can exercise almost absolute control over the corporation as the sole shareholder, and could through such control likely direct the corporation to take any action regarding any asset the corporation may own (subject to any obligations of the corporation), they do not personally “own” any asset that is in fact owned by the corporation. Such a distinction is potentially important to keep in mind when a person who owns assets through a private corporation is creating their estate plan, as they should be mindful of whether any specific asset which they wish to bequest is owned by them personally or through the corporation.
In Trezzi the testator left a bequest in their Will to one his children of all equipment and chattels that were owned by a construction company that was wholly owned by the testator. This bequest was challenged by certain of the residuary beneficiaries, who argued that as the equipment and chattels in question were not actually directly owned by the testator, but rather the corporation, the testator’s bequest of such items had failed and that the items in question should instead continue to form part of the corporation and be distributed in accordance with the residue clause to their potential benefit.
The Court of Appeal in Trezzi ultimately upheld the bequest in question; however, in doing so, noted that the language was potentially problematic and encouraged counsel to be more careful when drafting in similar circumstances (even including potential precedent language to follow from the Annotated Will program). In upholding the bequest the Court of Appeal was in effect required to do an interpretation application for the Will, noting that they placed themselves in the position of the testator and considered what his intention would have been when including the provision in question. The court ultimately concluded that it would have been the testator’s intention with such a provision that the executor was to wind up the corporation in question, with the assets being distributed to the beneficiary in question as part of such a process. In coming to such a conclusion the court states:
“While it is true that Peter, as the sole shareholder of Trezzi Construction, did not directly own the corporation’s assets, that does not complete the analysis. In substance, Peter’s shares in Trezzi Construction became part of the estate, and Peter effectively directed his executors to wind-up the company and to distribute its assets in accordance with his will, even though he did not own those assets directly. As already noted, the key question thus boils down to whether this was indeed Peter’s subjective intention in his will…” [emphasis added]
Although cases like Trezzi show that under certain circumstances a bequest of assets which are not directly owned by the testator but rather through a corporation can be upheld such a result cannot be guaranteed, as the Court of Appeal in Trezzi was required to resort to the rules of construction and place themselves in the position of the testator to uphold the bequest in question. As a result, a testator would be wise to take extra care when dealing with an estate plan that includes the potential bequest of assets that are corporately owned to ensure that the ownership of such assets is properly described and the executor is provided with any necessary authority and direction to deal with the corporately held assets on behalf of the estate.
Thank you for reading.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the entire process for an Application to Pass Accounts is set out in rule 74.18 of the Rules of Civil Procedure as the rule appears to provide a comprehensive step by step guide to how an Application to Pass Accounts is to proceed before the court. Although rule 74.18 likely contains the most cited to and fundamental steps and principles for how an Application to Pass Accounts is to proceed, you would be wise to remember and consider the applicable provisions of section 49 of the Estates Act as they may offer additional insights and tools for a passing of accounts beyond those found in the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Yesterday I blogged in part about section 49(4) of the Estates Act, and the general availability to convert more complex objections that are raised in the Notice of Objection into a separate triable issue thereby potentially opening up more typical litigation processes such as discovery and the calling of witnesses at the eventual hearing of the matter. Although the ability to direct certain complex objections to a separate trial is an important tool under section 49(4) of the Estates Act, it is not the only potential tool or thing to consider under section 49 of the Estates Act when involved in an Application to Pass Accounts.
These additional tools and considerations for an Application to Pass Accounts as found in section 49 of the Estates Act include section 49(3), which provides the court with the ability to consider any “misconduct, neglect, or default” on the part of the executor or trustee in administering the estate or trust within the Application to Pass Accounts itself, and may make any damages award against the executor or trustee for such misconduct within the Application to Pass Accounts itself without a separate proceeding being required. As a result, if, for example, a beneficiary should raise an allegation of negligence in the Notice of Objection against the executor for something such as a complaint that certain real property that was owned by the estate was sold undervalue, the court under section 49(3) of the Estates Act has the power to consider such an allegation and, if ultimately proven true, may order damages against the executor for any loss to the estate within the Application to Pass Accounts process itself. Without section 49(3) the beneficiary may otherwise have been required to commence a new and separate Action against the executor to advance these claims and/or be awarded damages.
Section 49 also contains answers to numerous procedural questions which may come up in an Application to Pass Accounts which otherwise are not mentioned in the Rules of Civil Procedure, including section 49(9) which provides what the executor is to do when an individual has died intestate and you are unable to locate any next of kin to serve, and section 49(10) which provides the court with the ability to appoint an expert to review and opine on the accounts on behalf of the court when the accounts are particularly complex.
Thank you for reading.
The Application to Pass Accounts serves an important function in the administration of estates and trusts, providing the beneficiaries with the ability to audit the administration of the estate or trust and raise any concerns through their Notice of Objection.
The procedure that is followed for the Application to Pass Accounts is somewhat distinct from any other court process, with the process being governed by rule 74.18 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. These procedural steps include the filing of the “Notice of Objection” and the “Reply” to the Notice of Objection, processes and documents which are distinct to the Application to Pass Accounts. Although the Application to Pass Accounts process differs in certain ways from a more traditional Application, at its core the Application to Pass Accounts is still an “Application” and not an “Action”, with the process designed to be more summary in process as compared to the typical Action.
I have previously blogged about the procedural differences between an “Application” and an “Action”, and how things like Discovery and Affidavits of Documents, as well as calling witnesses to give oral evidence, are generally not available in an Application. The same generally holds true for an Application to Pass Accounts, with there generally being no Discovery process or witnesses called at the eventual hearing for the passing of accounts, with the summary process designed to be adjudicated on the paper record of the documents contemplated under rule 74.18.
Although the simplified and summary process intended for the Application to Pass Accounts may present many benefits to the parties, including allowing the beneficiaries to pose questions and objections to the trustee without having to resort to potentially prolonged and expensive litigation as provided in a typical Action, it could present some challenges if the claims that are being advanced are complex or seek significant damages as the process may not allow for the full record to be adequately explored.
If the claims or issues which are being advanced in an Application to Pass Accounts are complex, such as for example claims that the trustee was negligent or committed a breach of trust, the summary process designed for the typical Application to Pass Accounts may not provide the depth of procedural process that the claims may deserve. Under such circumstances the parties may seek to direct and/or convert the complex objections into a separate triable issue, thereby potentially opening up the procedural processes more typically reserved for an “Action” such as Discovery or the calling of witnesses to the issue.
The process by which certain objections are directed and/or converted into a separate “triable issue” is governed by section 49(4) of the Estates Act, which provides:
“The judge may order the trial of an issue of any complaint or claim under subsection (3), and in such case the judge shall make all necessary directions as to pleadings, production of documents, discovery and otherwise in connection with the issue.”
Under section 49(4) of the Estates Act the court may direct any objection which fits under section 48(3) of the Estates Act, which includes allegations of breach of trust, to be separately tried before the court, with section 49(4) noting that the judge shall make necessary directions regarding pleadings, Discovery, and the production of documents for the objection.
If an individual wishes to direct an objection to be tried under section 49(4) of the Estates Act such an intention should be raised at the early stages of the Application to Pass Accounts, with an Order being sought which would specifically direct the objection(s) in question to be tried by way of Action. To the extent that such an Order cannot be obtained on consent a Motion may be brought regarding the issue, with the court also being asked to provide direction regarding the procedures to be followed for the triable issue.
Thank you for reading.
Estate litigation exists in a somewhat unique corner of the litigation world for as a Will can potentially have numerous beneficiaries, each of whom could receive differing amounts from the estate, the potential individuals who could be impacted by any court decision can often extend beyond the parties actively participating in the litigation. As estate litigation can be both emotionally and financially expensive, if you are a beneficiary who only was to receive a relatively modest bequest of say $5,000, you may question whether it can be financially justified for you to retain a lawyer to actively participate in the litigation or whether you should just throw your hands up and not participate. Although the final decision of whether to participate will be case specific to the beneficiary in question, there may be a third option other than actively participating or simply not responding, being that you can formally “submit” your rights to the court.
The concept of “submitting” your rights to the court is in effect a formal declaration to the court that you will not be actively participating in the litigation but that you would still like to be provided with notice of certain steps. By formally submitting your rights to the court the plaintiff is required to provide you with written notice of the time and place of the trial, as well as a copy of the eventual Judgment. You are also personally insulated from any costs award that may be made in the proceeding (other than incidentally as a beneficiary of the estate should costs be awarded out of the estate).
The potentially most attractive incentive to formally submitting your rights to the court however may be that in the event any settlement is reached amongst the other parties that no Judgment may be issued implementing the settlement unless the court is provided with your consent to the settlement or an affidavit confirming that you had been provided with a copy of settlement and had not served and filed a “Rejection of Settlement“. Such a requirement could provide you with the opportunity to object to any settlement before it is implemented, potentially sidelining any settlement that you believe unfairly impacted your interest in the estate.
The process by which an individual can “submit” their rights to the court is governed by rule 75.07.1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, with the individual submitting their rights to the court being required to serve and file a “Statement of Submission of Rights to the Court“.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
Yesterday I blogged about the recent Deleon v. Estate of Raymond DeRanney (“Deleon“) decision wherein an individual who was not the Deceased’s biological or adopted child was declared to be a dependant “child” of the Deceased in accordance with Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“) due to the Deceased having shown a “settled intention” to treat the Applicant as their child during their lifetime. Although my blog from yesterday went into some of the detail of what the court considered when determining that the Applicant was in fact a “child” of the Deceased who was entitled to support, it did not get into the quantum of support that the Applicant was entitled to receive as a “dependant child”.
The factors that the court is to consider in determining the quantum of support for a dependant are established by section 62 of the SLRA, and include:
- the dependant’s current assets and means;
- the assets and means that the dependant is likely to have in the future;
- the dependant’s capacity to contribute to his or her support;
- the proximity and duration of the dependant’s relationship with the deceased; and
- the dependant’s needs, in determining which the court shall have regard to the dependant’s accustomed standard of living.
In Deleon the Deceased died intestate with one biological child leaving an estate valued at approximately $1.5 million, which under normal circumstances would be distributed solely to the biological child on an intestacy. Upon being declared a dependant “child” of the Deceased in accordance with Part V of the SLRA, the Applicant attempted to argue that she should equally share the Deceased’s estate with the biological child akin to if she was a biological child of the Deceased on an intestacy, an argument which, if accepted, would result in the Applicant receiving approximately $750,000 from the Deceased’s estate.
In support of her position that she should be entitled to receive 50% of the Deceased’s estate in support, the Applicant cites to Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Tataryn v. Tataryn Estate, in which the court confirms that it can consider “moral” obligations and what is “adequate, just and equitable” under the circumstances when determining the quantum of support, and that the court is not necessarily limited to the factors delineated in section 62 of the SLRA. The Applicant also pointed to the accustomed standard of living which she had enjoyed while previously living with the Deceased.
Upon reviewing the jurisprudence in reference to the Applicant’s circumstances, Madam Justice Dietrich ultimately determines that the appropriate sum of support to be paid to the Applicant is the lump sum of $40,955, with such an amount being justified as being enough to get the Applicant through the remainder of her University degree, with the Applicant being required to be independent thereafter. Such an amount is of course notably less than the approximate $750,000 sought by the Applicant in the Application.
The Deleon case provides an excellent reminder that just because you are a “dependant” of the Deceased it does not necessarily follow that you will receive a significant sum in any support payment, as the court will consider your specific circumstances when setting the quantum of support.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
The average “family unit” (if such a thing ever truly existed) is becoming harder to define in 2020. With the rise of concepts such as “co-parenting“, as well as the growing ubiquity of step-parents from second (or third, or fourth) marriages, the expectations and reality associated with the parent/child relationship is evolving. Although such an evolution is almost certainly predominantly for the better, it can create some unique complications should one of the “parents” die unexpectedly, particularly should they die without a Will. Such a scenario is exactly what was recently before the court in Deleon v. Estate of Raymond DeRanney (“Deleon“).
In Deleon, the Deceased died intestate with no married spouse and one biological child, such that the entirety of their estate would under normal circumstances be distributed to their biological child. The Applicant, who was not the Deceased’s biological child but was rather the child of the Deceased’s ex-girlfriend from approximately 20 years prior, commenced an Application for support under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“) alleging that the Deceased had treated her as his “child” and had provided her with support during his lifetime. In support of such a claim, the Applicant cited to the fact that the Deceased had allowed her and her mother to reside with him for several years prior to his death even though the Deceased and her mother were no longer romantically involved, and that, although she was not residing with him at the time of his death, the Deceased was subsidizing her rent to the tune of approximately $500 per month. She also cited to the fact that the Deceased had historically paid for things such as the Applicant’s extra-curricular activities, summer school, groceries and vacations throughout the Applicant’s childhood, and had encouraged her to attend University which she was in the process of attending.
The definition of “child” within Part V of the SLRA includes someone who the deceased individual had a “settled intention” to treat as their child. As a result, if an individual can show that a deceased individual had a “settled intention” to treat them as their child, and the individual otherwise meets the remainder of the factors required to be a “dependant” of the deceased, the individual can receive support as a dependant child notwithstanding that they are not biologically related to or legally adopted by the deceased.
In considering whether the Applicant met such a “settled intention” definition in Deleon, Madam Justice Dietrich considers the factors delineated in Hyatt v. Ralph, which include:
- did the “parents” pool their income into a joint account?
- did the “parents” pay the expenses for all children out of this same account?
- did the child in question refer to the man as “daddy” or the woman as “mommy”?
- did the “parents” refer to themselves as “mommy” and “daddy”?
- did the “parents” share the task of disciplining the child?
- did the child participate in the extended family in the same was as a biological child?
- was there a change in surname?
- did the “parent” express to the child, the family and the world, either implicitly or explicitly, that he or she is responsible as a parent to the child?
Perhaps interestingly in the Deleon decision, although Madam Justice Dietrich found that the relationship between the Deceased and the Applicant did not generally meet any of the factors to be considered from Hyatt v. Ralph (the Applicant referred to the Deceased as “Uncle Raymond” who undoubtedly spoiled her but did not necessarily fulfill the “typical” parental role), Madam Justice Dietrich nonetheless found that the Deceased’s conduct in relation to the Applicant demonstrated a “settled intention” on the part of the Deceased to treat the Applicant as a “child”, and that as the Applicant otherwise would receive nothing from the Deceased’s estate on an intestacy she was entitled to support from the Deceased’s estate as the Deceased’s dependant “child”. In coming to such a conclusion Madam Justice Dietrich states:
“In my view, [the Deceased’s] support of [the Applicant] in these ways rises above affection and generosity. Despite the atypical family relationships between [the Deceased, the Applicant’s mother, the Deceased’s biological child, and the Applicant], [the Deceased’s] support of [the Applicant] demonstrates his settled intention to treat her as a member of his unconventional family. I find that [the Applicant] is therefore a dependant for the purposes of the SLRA.”
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
The way that we practice law has shifted rapidly over these past couple of weeks as we social distance ourselves. This includes the adoption of electronic means of communication such as video conferencing for things that would have seemed impossible only a couple of weeks ago such as the witnessing of Wills or the commissioning of affidavits. There has also been a significant expansion of the courts hearing matters virtually, with the court currently hearing urgent matters virtually through the use of video conferencing or conference calls with the scope of what is being heard appearing to be expanded.
Although, generally speaking, I believe that most legal practitioners would likely be in agreement that the court and/or the various administrative bodies have responded fairly quickly to implementing new electronic methods and means of practicing law under trying times, this does not necessarily mean that the shift to the more virtual form of practicing law is not without its hiccups or concerns.
One of the areas that may need further consideration is the application of the “open court” principle if hearings are to shift to being heard virtually. It is generally accepted that a fundamental principle of our justice system is that the courts are open to being attended by anyone in the general public, with the court only restricting the general public’s access to attend and/or review a matter under very limited circumstances. As matters shift to being heard virtually, with a potential attendee to a video and/or telephone conference likely needing an access code to attend the matter, is there the risk that the “open court” principle could be impacted?
The Toronto Star recently reported about the steps and efforts that they were having to take to still be provided with electronic access to matters before the court during the pandemic. Although the article notes that they were having difficulty being provided with access for certain matters, it noted that they had been successful in obtaining electronic access to matters in others. Hopefully as time progresses any issues are able to be worked out.
One unknown element is whether any of these changes will become permanent after the pandemic has subsided. If elements such as virtual hearings should become more permanent steps will likely need to be taken to ensure that as part of the more permanent shift to virtual and electronic hearings that the “open court” principle is not lost.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
We have blogged over these past couple of weeks about the novel issues which have arisen with the drafting and execution of Wills during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we remain hopeful that there will be guidance and/or legislative changes from the government soon regarding how to address issues such as the witnessing of Wills for individuals who are in quarantine or self-isolation, a recent article from Dale Barrett in Lawyers Daily notes that it may not all be doom and gloom surrounding estate planning during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the recent significant drop in the stock market could make it an ideal time for certain individuals to complete an “estate freeze”.
An estate freeze at its most basic accomplishes exactly what the name implies, insofar as it “freezes” the value of an individual’s assets at a particular date and time prior to their death, with any “future growth” on the assets being attributed to someone else (often the individual’s children). The use of an estate freeze is often done as a tax planning tool, with the underlying rationale being an attempt to reduce the potential taxes associated with the deemed disposition of their assets upon their death, which is accomplished by “freezing” the value of the assets at their current value such that the growth is not as great as it otherwise may have been (assuming the asset would continue to grow in the future). Although the structure that is required to accomplish this is somewhat complicated and will require the involvement of professionals, in a very basic overview it is typically accomplished by having the individual create a new company that will ultimately hold the assets being “frozen”, with two classes of shares being created the first which is retained by the individual implementing the freeze and fixed at the value of the assets on the day the of the freeze, with the second class of shares being attributed any “gain” in value of the assets after the freeze attributed to someone or something else other than the individual carrying out the freeze (often ultimately benefiting their children). The implementation and steps required is more complicated and nuanced than the description above suggests, and will almost certainty require the involvement of professionals to ensure that the individual does not go offside complex tax rules, but you get the basic idea.
Although the availability and potential use of an estate freeze is not for everyone, the recent drop in the stock market associated with COVID-19 could create a potential advantage and incentive for people considering an estate freeze to do so now as they could potentially “freeze” the value of their assets at a lower value than they otherwise may have been able to. If you are considering an estate freeze you may wish to speak with a professional now about whether it may be an opportune time to do so and to ensure that it is properly implemented.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
The reduced hours and filing capabilities of the court during the COVID-19 pandemic have raised some interesting questions surrounding the filing of probate applications. Although the court’s direction to file court materials by mail is likely of no concern for a majority of matters, as a probate application could contain the original executed copy of a Will as well as a potentially significant bank draft for any estate administration tax, you would likely be rightly hesitant to place such documents in the mail under the current circumstances for fear that they may be lost.
The potentially good news for those needing to file probate applications with the Toronto court is that it is our current understanding that the Toronto court is allowing probate applications to be filed in person at the court office daily between the hours of 10:00 am and 12:00 noon, and again from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Although these filing capabilities and times are of course subject to change, at least for the time being those in Toronto appear to be able to file probate applications in person without having to concern themselves with the possibility of the application being lost in the mail. Those needing to file probate applications in jurisdictions outside of Toronto should check to see if they too are making an exception to allow probate applications to be filed in person and not by mail.
In the event that it does not appear that it will be possible to file the probate application in person, such that the probate application would likely need to be filed by mail, the individual wishing to file the probate application should seriously consider whether there is an urgent need to file the probate application or whether it could wait until the courts have fully re-opened. If you are advising a client in such a situation, you should clearly explain what would happen in the event that the original Will was lost, and that an application to prove a copy of the lost will would be necessary (together with the added time and expense). Although the presumption that the lost will was destroyed by the testator with an intention of revoking it could likely easily be overcome by the fact that the possession of the Will could be traced to after the testator’s death, there would still be added time and expense of needing to bring the lost will application.
In the event that the client does still decide to proceed with filing the probate application by mail, one way to potentially reduce some of the risk may be to have any probate fees paid by trust cheque from the law firm and not by bank draft. Although in the event that the application materials were lost in the mail the lost will application would likely still be required, at least the concern associated with losing an original bank draft (and potentially the associated funds) is lessened as a trust cheque should more easily be cancelled. Multiple notarial copies of the original Will should also likely be made prior to placing it in the mail.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
This past weekend I had the great pleasure of seeing the movie Knives Out by Rian Johnson. For those of you who have not yet seen it I would highly recommend it, especially for those interested in estate law. Although I will try my best to avoid any significant spoilers for those who have not yet seen it, if you don’t want to know anything about the movie before seeing it you should stop reading this blog now.
The plot of Knives Out offers some interesting considerations for those interested in estate law, as it centers around the possible murder of the patriarch of an affluent family, with the alleged motive for many of those accused being that he was going to cut them off and write them out of his Will. While I was watching the movie I couldn’t help but analyze the cases of some of those accused, and whether there were estate law related options that would have been available to them that would not require them to commit murder (I promise that I am fun at parties and that this job has not ruined me).
Knives Out gets into a surprising amount of detail regarding certain estate law concepts, discussing such concepts as “undue influence” in relation to those who would have benefited from the new Will, as well as the “slayer rule” which would result in any individual who was involved in the murder not being entitled to receive a benefit from the estate for public policy reasons. The movie also gets into the concept of “testamentary capacity“, and whether the deceased would have had the capacity to draft the new Will which would have cut the various individuals off.
While watching the movie the one thing that kept running through my mind was that most of the accused family members would appear to have fairly strong arguments that they were dependants of the deceased even if they were cut out of his Will. The movie makes it fairly clear that the deceased was financially supporting a majority of his family members, with his threats to cut them off financially forming the foundation of the motivation for why they may or may not have killed him.
If the deceased had indeed cut these family members out of his Will, and this matter took place in Ontario, there would appear to be a fairly strong argument that those family members that were cut out of the Will were dependants of the deceased under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act, insofar as the deceased was providing support to them immediately prior to his death and he did not make adequate provision for them in his Will. If these family members were found to be dependants of the deceased, the court could make an order providing for their support from the deceased’s estate regardless of whether they were left anything in his Will. Although I will concede that a long and drawn out court case where various family members assert they are dependants of the deceased is probably a less interesting film than an Agatha Christie style murder-mystery, if Knives Out were real life it is unlikely that many of the family members would ultimately receive nothing from his estate (assuming, of course, they were not involved in his death).
Thank you for reading.