Author: Stuart Clark
I have previously blogged about the need to have any settlement which affects the interests of a party under a “legal disability”, whether on account of them being a minor or otherwise, to be approved by the court in accordance with rule 7.08 of the Rules of Civil Procedure before the settlement is binding upon the party under a disability. Although rule 7.08 is clear what materials need to be included in any Motion to approve a settlement, with affidavits being required both from the incapable person’s litigation guardian as well as the litigation guardian’s lawyer outlining why they believe the settlement should be approved, what is less clear is the actual procedure by which such a Motion is brought before the court.
There has been some debate recently about whether in Toronto a Motion to approve a settlement should be brought in writing or if they should be brought before a Judge in person. The apparent confusion appears to be caused by what appear to be competing instructions that are contained in the practice direction for the Toronto Region as well as the practice direction for the Estates List, with one appearing to tell you to bring the Motion in writing and the other appearing to tell you to do the opposite.
The general practice direction for the Toronto Region provides the following regarding an approval Motion under rule 7.08:
“A motion under Rule 7.08 must be brought in accordance with the Best Practice’s Guidelines and Checklist for rule 7.08 matters.”
The Best Practice’s Guidelines and Checklist in turn provides:
“Rule 7.08 requires the approval of a judge for any proposed settlement on behalf of a party under a disability. This is done by way of a motion made in writing or if no action has been commenced, then the approval of a judge is obtained by way of an application. In Toronto, Rule 7 motions and applications are to be filed as in-writing motions through the civil intake office, in the motions department.” [emphasis added]
The checklist appears clear that if you are bringing a motion to approve a settlement in Toronto that it is to be done in writing. As a result, if your matter is subject to the general Toronto practice direction, it would appear fairly clear that your approval Motion must be brought in writing.
Although the general Toronto practice direction appears clear that approval Motions are to be brought in writing, many, if not most, estates matters in Toronto are adjudicated on the specialized Estates List. The general Toronto practice direction notes that it does not apply to matters on the Estates List unless it is specifically mentioned, stating:
“This Practice Direction does not apply to motions or applications heard on the Commercial and Bankruptcy Lists, Estates List, or under the Class Proceedings Act, 1992, unless specifically mentioned.” [emphasis added]
There appears to be no reference in the general Toronto practice direction that the “in writing” rule for approval Motions is to apply to matters on the Estates List. As a result, it would appear that such a rule does not apply to matters on the Estates List, and that we are to revert to any direction provided in the Estates List practice direction regarding approval Motions.
The Estates List practice direction provides the following regarding how approval motions are to be brought before the court:
“Where the settlement of a proceeding on the Estates List requires court approval, the motion for approval of the settlement and the application for the appointment of a guardian of property should be brought before a judge on the Estates List.” [emphasis added]
There is no reference in the Estates List practice direction to the approval motion having to be brought in writing, with the practice direction simply stating that it has to be brought “before a judge”. Although a technical reading of such a direction may suggest that a matter could be brought “before a judge” in writing, in the absence of any specific bar to bringing the approval Motion before a Judge in person, and as Judges often have questions about a settlement before granting their approval, it would appear that absent any additional direction from the court that approval motions on the Estates List can (and probably should) still be brought before a Judge in person.
The result of all of this appears to suggest that if you are seeking the approval of a settlement in Toronto and your matter is on the general civil list that you have to bring the approval motion in writing. If you matter is on the Estates List however it would appear likely that you can continue to bring your approval Motions in person before a Judge. Matters in jurisdictions outside of Toronto should consult with your local practice direction for any direction regarding how they may want you to bring any approval Motions.
Thank you for reading.
When most people reference a “limitation period” in Ontario, chances are that they are referencing the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act, 2002, which generally provides an individual with two years from the date on which a claim is “discovered” to commence a claim before it is statute barred. Although an individual is presumed under the Limitations Act to have “discovered” the claim on the date that the loss or injury occurred, if it can be shown that the individual did not “discover” the claim until some later date the limitation period will not begin to run until that later date, potentially extending the limitation period for the claim to be brought for many years beyond the second anniversary of the actual loss or damage.
Although the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act must be considered for situations in which an individual intends to commence a claim against someone who has died, individuals in such situations must also consider the much stricter limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act.
Section 38 of the Trustee Act imposes a hard two year limitation period from the date of death for any individual to commence a claim against a deceased individual in tort. Unlike the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act, the limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act is not subject to the “discoverability” principle, but is rather a hard limitation period that expires two years from death regardless of whether the individual has actually yet to “discover” the claim. If an individual starts a claim against a deceased individual in tort more than two years after the deceased’s individual’s death it is statute barred by section 38 of the Trustee Act regardless of when the claim was “discovered”.
The non-applicability of the “discoverability” principle to the two year limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act is confirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Waschkowski v. Hopkinson Estate, (2000) 47 O.R. (3d) 370, wherein the court states:
“As indicated earlier in these reasons, based on the language of the limitation provision, the discoverability principle does not apply to s. 38(3) of the Trustee Act. The effect of s. 38(3) is, in my view, that the state of actual or attributed knowledge of an injured person in a tort claim is not germane when a death has occurred. The only applicable limitation period is the two-year period found in s. 38(3) of the Trustee Act.” [emphasis added]
Although the Court of Appeal in Waschkowski v. Hopkinson Estate appears firm in their position that the court should not take when the claim was “discovered” into consideration when applying the limitation period from section 38 of the Trustee Act, it should be noted that in the recent decision of Estate of John Edward Graham v. Southlake Regional Health Centre, 2019 ONSC 392 (“Graham Estate“), the court allowed a claim to brought after the second anniversary of the deceased’s death citing “special circumstances”. Although the Graham Estate decision is from the lower court while the Waschkowski v. Hopkinson Estate decision is from the Court of Appeal, such that it is at least questionable whether it has established a new line of thinking or was correctly decided, the Graham Estate decision may suggest that the application of the limitation period from section 38 of the Trustee Act is not as harsh as it was once considered. More can be read about the Graham Estate decision in Garrett Horrocks’ previous blog found here.
Thank you for reading.
ODSP – How long do you have to put an inheritance into a trust before it counts against your asset limit?
Yesterday I blogged about the potential for an individual who receives benefits from the Ontario Disability Support Program (“ODSP”) to place up to $100,000.00 from an inheritance they receive into a trust for their benefit without such funds counting against the maximum asset limit they are allowed to have to continue to qualify for ODSP. Although the use of such a trust can work as an effective tool to help insulate an ODSP recipient from the risk that an inheritance they receive could disqualify them from ODSP, as there is a deadline by which such a trust can be established it is important that ODSP recipient acts quickly to create the trust.
As noted in my blog yesterday, the ability for an ODSP recipient to establish a trust so that any inheritance would not count against their asset limit is governed by the Ontario Disability Support Program Act (the “Act“) as well as O.Reg. 222/98 (the “Regulation”). Although neither the Act nor the Regulation establish a deadline by which such a trust needs to be established, the Government of Ontario has released Policy Directive 4.7 which states that ODSP recipients may be given up to six months from receiving their inheritance to establish the trust. From the perspective of the Government of Ontario, if the ODSP recipient does not put the funds into the trust within six months of receiving the inheritance, the funds will begin to count against their maximum asset limit. As a result, if after the six month deadline the trust has not been created and the inherited funds push the ODSP recipient over the maximum asset limit they will lose their benefits.
Although the Government of Ontario appears firm in their position that an ODSP recipient has a maximum of six months to place any inheritance into a trust before the funds will count against their asset limit, it should be noted that as neither the Act nor the Regulation provide for any deadline by which the trust must be established that some people have argued that the six month deadline proposed by the Ministry should not be considered law and can be extended. Such an argument was raised before the Ontario Social Benefits Tribunal in 1711-09594 (Re), 2018 ONSBT 5888, wherein the Tribunal ultimately agreed to extend the deadline for a trust to be established to ten months after an ODSP recipient’s benefits had initially been terminated for going over the asset limit for not creating the trust within six months. In coming to such a decision the Tribunal states:
“(8) Section 28(1) does not specify a time period within which an inheritance must be converted into a trust in order for it to qualify as an exempt asset.
(9) The Tribunal finds that in the absence of specific guidance in the legislation, it is to be inferred that an ODSP recipient should be given a “reasonable” amount of time to establish a trust and thereby exempt inheritance funds from his or her asset calculation. What is “reasonable” will in turn be determined by the circumstances present in each individual case. Such an interpretation allows effect to be given to section 28(1)19 and is in keeping with the purposes of the Act.” [emphasis added]
Although decisions such as 1711-09594 (Re) show that the six month deadline to establish the trust can be extended by the Tribunal to allow an ODSP recipient a “reasonable” amount of time to establish the trust before the inherited funds will count against the asset limit, as the Government of Ontario continues to reference the six month deadline in Policy Directive 4.7 for the trust to be established it is likely wise to continue to consider the deadline for the trust to be established to be six months.
Thank you for reading.
The use of planning tools such as a “Henson Trust” is an often discussed topic in the estate law world for what can be done to allow an individual who receives benefits from the Ontario Disability Support Property (“ODSP”) to receive an inheritance from an estate without losing their benefits. Although the Henson Trust can be an effective tool to allow an individual to receive an inheritance from an estate while not losing their benefits, as a central tenant of the Henson Trust is that the inherited funds do not “vest” in the beneficiary until the trustee makes a distribution in their favour (thereby allowing funds in the trust not to count against the asset limit provided for by ODSP before they are distributed), a beneficiary and/or Estate Trustee cannot create a Henson Trust after the testator has died as the inherited funds have typically already “vested” in the beneficiary and therefore would count against the asset limits for ODSP. As a result, if a beneficiary who receives an interest in an estate is also an ODSP recipient (and the Will did not use a tool such as a Henson Trust to ensure the inherited funds do not count against the ODSP qualification criteria), there is the risk that the beneficiary could lose their ODSP benefits as a result of the inherited funds putting them offside the ODSP qualification criteria.
Although advance planning is always preferable when dealing with a situation in which a potential beneficiary receives ODSP, sometimes for whatever reason a testator does not take steps prior to their death to ensure that their estate plan includes tools such as a Henson Trust that would allow the beneficiary to receive the inheritance as well as continue to receive their benefits from ODSP. Should this occur, although the options available after the testator’s death are more limited to the beneficiary, there remain certain remedial steps that could be taken by the beneficiary to help to insulate them against the risk that their newly inherited funds would disqualify them from ODSP.
The general parameters for who is entitled to ODSP and how it is to be administered is governed by the Ontario Disability Support Program Act (the “Act“), section 5(1) of which provides that the government through regulation is to establish a maximum “asset limit” for an individual who receives ODSP. The regulation that establishes the asset limit is O.Reg. 222/98 (the “Regulation”), section 27(1) of which sets $40,000.00 as the current maximum “asset limit” for an individual who receives ODSP (although such an asset limit is potentially higher if the individual has a spouse or dependants).
As a result of section 5(1) of the Act in collaboration with section 27(1) of the Regulation, if an ODSP recipient’s total assets exceed the $40,000.00 maximum asset limit after receiving their inheritance they would likely lose their ODSP benefits. To this respect, if the potential inheritance the beneficiary/ODSP recipient is to receive is significant, there is the very real risk that if no steps are taken to help to insulate the inheritance from counting against the asset limit the beneficiary would lose their ODSP benefits.
Although section 27(1) of the Regulation provides that the ODSP recipient’s assets may not exceed the maximum threshold, section 28(1) of the Regulation lists certain assets and/or interests which are deemed not to be included in the calculation of an ODSP recipient’s assets. These “non-counting” assets potentially include a trust that is established by a beneficiary with funds that they inherit from an estate. Specifically, item 19 of section 28(1) of the Regulation provides that the following would not count against the asset limit:
“Subject to subsection (3), the person’s beneficial interest in assets held in one or more trusts and available to be used for maintenance if the capital of the trusts is derived from an inheritance or from the proceeds of a life insurance policy.”
Section 28(3) of the Regulation then further provides:
“The total amount allowed under paragraphs 19 and 20 of subsection (1) shall not exceed $100,000.”
As a result of section 28(1)19 of the Regulation in conjunction with section 28(3), if an ODSP recipient receives an inheritance or the proceeds of a life insurance policy they are allowed to put up to $100,000.00 of such funds into a trust to be held for their benefit without such funds counting against their asset limit for ODSP. As a result, if the inheritance that the ODSP recipient is to receive is $100,000.00 or less (or close to $100,000.00 such that any excess over $100,000.00 would not put them offside the asset limit), the potential option of putting the inheritance into a trust for the benefit of the ODSP recipient may be available to help insulate the inherited funds from counting against the asset limit.
If a beneficiary/ODSP recipient would like to explore the possibility of establishing such a trust after death they should speak with a lawyer to ensure that the trust is drafted in compliance with ODSP requirements.
Thank you for reading.
It is not uncommon for the lawyer who drafted a testator’s will or codicil to subsequently be retained by the Estate Trustees after the testator’s death to assist with the administration of the estate. The rationale behind the drafting lawyer being retained to assist with the administration of the estate appears fairly self-evident, for as the drafting lawyer likely has an intimate knowledge of the testator’s estate plan and assets they may be in a better position than most to assist with the administration of the estate.
While retaining the drafting lawyer to assist with the administration of the estate is fairly uncontroversial in most situations, circumstances could become more complicated if there has been a challenge to the validity of the testamentary document prepared by the drafting lawyer. If a proceeding has been commenced challenging the validity of the testamentary document, there is an extremely high likelihood that the drafting lawyer’s notes and records will be produced as evidence, and that the drafting lawyer will be called as a non-party witness as part of the discovery process. If the matter should proceed all the way to trial, there is also an extremely high likelihood that the drafting lawyer would be called as a witness at trial. As the drafting lawyer would personally have a role to play in any court process challenging the validity of the will, questions emerge regarding whether it would be proper for the drafting lawyer to continue to represent any party in the will challenge, or would doing so place the drafting lawyer in a conflict of interest?
Rule 3.4-1 of the Law Society of Ontario’s Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer shall not act or continue to act where there is a conflict of interest. In the case of a drafting lawyer representing a party in a will challenge for a will that they prepared, an argument could be raised that the drafting lawyer is in an inherent position of conflict, as the drafting lawyer may be unable to look out for the best interests of their client while at the same time looking out for their own interests when being called as a witness or producing their file. There is also the potentially awkward situation of the drafting lawyer having to call themselves as a witness, and the associated logistical quagmire of how the lawyer would put questions to themselves.
The issue of whether a drafting lawyer would be in a conflict of interest in representing a party in a will challenge was dealt with in Dale v. Prentice, 2015 ONSC 1611. In such a decision, the party challenging the validity of the will brought a motion to remove the drafting lawyer as the lawyer of record for the propounder of the will, alleging they were in a conflict of interest. The court ultimately agreed that the drafting lawyer was in a conflict of interest, and ordered that the drafting lawyer be removed as the lawyer of record. In coming to such a conclusion, the court states:
“There is a significant likelihood of a real conflict arising. Counsel for the estate is propounding a Will prepared by his office. The preparation and execution of Wills are legal services, reserved to those who are properly licensed to practise law. Counsel’s ability to objectively and independently assess the evidence will necessarily be affected by his interest in having his firm’s legal services found to have been properly provided.” [emphasis added]
Decisions such as Dale v. Prentice suggest that a lawyer may be unable to represent any party in a will challenge for a will that was prepared by their office as they may be in a conflict of interest. Should the circumstance arise where the drafting lawyer is retained to assist with the administration of the estate, and subsequent to being retained someone challenges the validity of the Will, it may be in the best interest of all parties for the drafting lawyer to indicate that they are no longer able to act in the matter due to the potential conflict, and suggest to their clients that they retain a new lawyer to represent them in the will challenge.
Thank you for reading.
Estate litigation can be costly both financially and emotionally. As a result, there is often a strong incentive for parties to try to reach a negotiated settlement. Although entering into a settlement which resolves the estate litigation may appear straightforward from the outside, it may become more complicated if all potential financially interested parties are not signatories to the settlement. It is not uncommon in estate litigation for all beneficiaries of the estate to not actively participate in the litigation, leaving it to people such as the Estate Trustee or the other beneficiaries to defend a claim. As a settlement is in effect a contract between parties, if a settlement is reached which affects the interests of a non-signatory to the settlement can such a settlement bind the interests of the non-signatory?
I have previously blogged about section 48(2) of the Trustee Act, and an Estate Trustee’s ability to settle claims on behalf of the estate which can bind the interests of the beneficiaries. While section 48(2) would allow the Estate Trustee to bind the interests of all beneficiaries to the settlement, the Estate Trustee does so at their own potential liability, as it is possible that one or more of the beneficiaries may later challenge the decision of the Estate Trustee to enter into the settlement, potentially seeking damages against the Estate Trustee if they are of the position that the settlement was not reasonable or in the best interest of the estate. As a result of such a risk, it is not uncommon for an Estate Trustee to be hesitant to enter into a settlement on behalf of the estate in contentious situations, not wanting to potentially expose themselves to personal liability if one or more of the beneficiaries should later object to the terms of the settlement. If an Estate Trustee is hesitant to enter into a settlement on behalf of all beneficiaries, but all actively participating parties are otherwise in agreement with the settlement, is there a way to bind the interests of non-participating parties to the settlement?
The Rules of Civil Procedure provide the court with the ability to “approve” a settlement on behalf of parties who are not signatories under certain limited circumstances. This is done in accordance with rule 7.08 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows the court to approve a settlement on behalf of a party who themselves cannot consent to the settlement on account of being under a legal disability (i.e. a minor). Perhaps importantly however, the court only has the authority under rule 7.08 to “approve” a settlement on behalf of a party under a legal disability, and rule 7.08 is not available in circumstances where the non-signatory is fully capable.
The Rules of Civil Procedure do not otherwise appear to provide any mechanism by which a settlement can be approved on behalf of a party who is not under a legal disability. As a result, if the non-signatory who you are you attempting to bind to the settlement is not under a legal disability, the court likely does not have the authority to “approve” the settlement on their behalf under the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Although the court likely does not have the ability to “approve” a settlement on behalf of an individual who is not under a legal disability in accordance with the Rules of Civil Procedure, this does not necessarily mean that there are no other ways to potentially bind the individual to a settlement. One potential solution may be to seek an Order “in accordance” with the terms of the settlement on notice to all interested parties. Should the court issue such an Order, which in effect repeats the terms of the settlement but as an Order of the court, the non-signatories would arguably then be bound to the terms of the settlement as it would now be in the form of an Order of the court.
Thank you for reading.
It is often said that an Attorney for Property can do anything on behalf of the grantor’s behalf except make a will. This is on account of section 7(2) of the Substitute Decisions Act (the “SDA“), which provides:
“The continuing power of attorney may authorize the person named as attorney to do on the grantor’s behalf anything in respect of property that the grantor could do if capable, except make a will.” [emphasis added]
Although at first glance it would appear that the potential tasks that an Attorney for Property could complete on behalf of a grantor are almost absolute, with the Attorney for Property being able to do anything on behalf of the grantor except sign a new will, in reality the tasks that an Attorney for Property may complete relative to the grantor’s estate planning is more restrictive than this would suggest at first glance. This is because the definition of “will” in the SDA is defined as being the same as that contained in the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“), with the SLRA in turn defining “will” as including not only typical testamentary documents such as a Last Will and Testament or Codicil, but also “any other testamentary disposition“. As a result, the stipulation that an Attorney for Property can do anything on behalf of the grantor “except make a will” would include not only a restriction on the Attorney for Property’s ability to sign a new Last Will and Testament or Codicil on behalf of the grantor, but also a restriction on the Attorney for Property’s ability to make “any other testamentary disposition” on behalf of the grantor.
It is fairly common for individuals such as spouses to own real property as joint-tenants with the right of survivorship. When one joint-owner dies ownership of the property automatically passes to the surviving joint-owner by right of survivorship, with no portion of the property forming part of the deceased joint-owner’s estate. Although such an ownership structure may make sense when the property is originally purchased, it is not uncommon for circumstances to arise after the property was registered (i.e. a divorce or separation) which may make one of the joint-owners no longer want the property to carry the right of survivorship. Should such circumstances arise, one of the joint-owners will often “sever” title to the property so that the property is now held as tenants-in-common without the right of survivorship, making efforts to attempt to ensure that at least 50% of the property would form part of their estate should they predecease the other joint-owner.
Although severing title to a property is fairly straight forward while the owner is still capable, circumstances could become more complicated should the owner become incapable as questions may emerge regarding whether their Attorney for Property has the authority to sever title to the property on behalf of the grantor, or whether such an action is a “testamentary disposition” and therefor barred by section 7(2) of the SDA.
The issue of whether an Attorney for Property severing title to a property is a “testamentary disposition” was in part dealt with by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Champion v. Guibord, 2007 ONCA 161, where the court states:
“The appellants argue that the severing of the joint tenancies here constituted a change in testamentary designation or disposition and is therefore prohibited by s. 31(1) of the Substitute Decisions Act because it is the making of a will.
While we are inclined to the view that the severance of a joint tenancy is not a testamentary disposition, we need not decide that question in this case. Even if it were, we see no error in the disposition made by the application judge, because of s. 35.1(3)(a) of the Substitute Decisions Act.” [emphasis added]
Although the Court of Appeal does not conclusively settle the issue in Champion v. Guibord, the court appears to strongly suggest that they are of the position that an Attorney for Property severing a joint-tenancy is not a “testamentary disposition” within the confines of the SDA.
Thank you for reading.
I recently blogged about the growing use of home DNA tests and what impact an unexpected result could have upon your rights as a beneficiary of an estate. While such a blog was from the perspective of an individual who discovered through a home DNA test that their biological father was not in fact the individual they previously believed it to be, and the potential impact such a finding could have upon their status as a beneficiary of their “father’s” estate if their interest was based on their status as a “child”, questions would also emerge in such a scenario if you were the Estate Trustee of such an estate regarding what you should do.
If you are the Estate Trustee of an estate in which a bequest is based on parentage (i.e. an intestacy or a bequest to a testator’s “issue” or “children”), and you discover that one of the beneficiaries has voluntarily taken a home DNA test which revealed that they were not in fact related to the deceased, could you still make a distribution to such a beneficiary? If you have already made a distribution to such a beneficiary, is there a risk that the other beneficiaries could now make a claim against you as Estate Trustee, alleging that you distributed the estate to the incorrect individuals and that they have suffered damages as a result?
In response to whether an Estate Trustee could potentially be liable to the other beneficiaries for historically paying out amounts to a beneficiary who it is later discovered was not actually related to the deceased, it would appear that the Estate Trustee likely would not be liable under such a scenario. In my previous blog I discussed the provisions of the Children’s Law Reform Act (the “CLRA“) which establish a person’s legal parentage in Ontario, and the various presumptions establishing an individual’s father. While sections 13(1) and 14(1) of the CLRA allow the court to make a subsequent different declaration as to a person’s parentage, section 14(2) of the CLRA provides that such an Order “does not affect rights and duties that were exercised or performed, or interests in property that were distributed, before the order was set aside“. As a result, it would appear, arguably, that if an Estate Trustee historically made a payment to an individual based off of parentage, and a subsequent declaration is made by the court that the individual in question was not actually the parent of the beneficiary, the historic payment to the beneficiary could not be put in issue or reclaimed provided that at the time the payment was made the beneficiary was still presumed and/or declared to be the child of the deceased.
The issue of what an Estate Trustee is to do if a payment has not yet been made and they discover that an individual who they previously believed to be a beneficiary is not in fact related to the deceased could be more complicated. In the event that the other beneficiaries who could be affected by the distribution do not unanimously consent to continue to allow the distribution to the individual notwithstanding the results of the DNA test, it is possible that one or all of the other beneficiaries may later bring a claim against the Estate Trustee for negligence, alleging that the Estate Trustee knew about the results of the DNA test before making the distribution and that they have suffered damages as a result of the distribution. To offset such a risk, it may be wise for the Estate Trustee in such a scenario to bring an Application for the opinion, advice and direction of the court pursuant to section 60(1) of the Trustee Act and/or rule 14.05, asking the court to determine whether the distribution may still be made to the potential beneficiary in light of the results of the home DNA test.
Thank you for reading.
One of the most gifted items this past holiday season were apparently the home DNA tests which can reveal your genetic ancestry or even if you are predisposed to certain health conditions. As anyone who has taken one of these tests (myself included) can tell you, the test results also contain a long list of other individuals who have also taken the test who you are related to, allowing you to reconnect with long lost relatives.
While my own test results did not reveal any family secrets, the same cannot be said for other individuals who have taken the test, as there have been a growing number of articles recently about how home DNA tests have revealed family secrets which otherwise may never have come to light. Although not all of these secrets are necessarily negative, such as finding a long-lost sibling, others, such as finding out that the individual who you believed to be your father was not in fact your biological father, could be life changing. For the latter, the phenomena is apparently common enough that the Atlantic has reported that self-help groups have formed around the issue, such as the Facebook group “DNA NPE Friends”, with “NPE” standing for “Not Parent Expected”.
In reading through these stories I couldn’t help but wonder if having such a result could impact your potential entitlements as a beneficiary of an estate. What happens if, for example, the individual who you previously believed to be your biological father but the test reveals was not in fact your father should die intestate, or should leave a class gift to his “children” in his Will without specifically naming the children. Could finding out that you were not actually biologically related to your “father” result in you no longer being entitled to receive a benefit as a beneficiary? Could you potentially be disinherited as a beneficiary of an estate by voluntarily taking a home DNA test if your right to the gift is founded upon you being related to the deceased individual?
Who is legally considered an individual’s “parent” in Ontario is established by the Children’s Law Reform Act (the “CLRA“). Section 7(1) of the CLRA provides that, subject to certain exceptions, the person “whose sperm resulted in the conception of a child” is the parent of a child. Section 7(2) of the CLRA further provides for a series of presumptions regarding the identity of the individual’s “whose sperm resulted in the conception of a child“, including, for example, that there is a presumption that such an individual is the birth parent’s spouse at the time the child is born, or the individual in question certified the child’s birth as a parent of the child in accordance with the Vital Statistics Act (i.e. signed the birth certificate). To the extent that there are any questions about parentage, section 13(1) of the CLRA provides that any interested individual may apply to the court at any time after a child is born for a declaration that a person is or is not the legal parent of the child.
In applying these presumptions to our previous questions about the home DNA test, if, for example, the individual who you previously believed was your biological father was your birth mother’s “spouse” at the time you were born, or signed the birth certificate, it would appear that, subject to there being a declaration under section 13(1) of the CLRA to the contrary, there would continue to be a presumption at law that the individual who you previously believed to be your biological father would continue to be your legal “parent” in accordance with the CLRA. To this respect, in the absence of a formal declaration under section 13(1) of the CLRA that the individual was no longer your legal “parent”, there would appear to be an argument in favour of the position that the individual who you previously believed to be your biological father would continue to be your legal “parent”, and that you should continue to receive any benefits which may come to you as a “child” on the death of your “father”, whether on an intestacy or a class bequest to his “children” in his Will.
This presumption, of course, is subject to the ability of any interested person (i.e. the Estate Trustee or one of the other beneficiaries) to seek a formal declaration under section 13(1) of the CLRA that you were not in fact a “child” of the individual you believed to be your biological father. If such a formal declaration is ultimately made by the court, you would cease to be the legal “child” of the individual who you previously believed to be your biological father, and would likely lose any corresponding bequests which may have been made to you on an intestacy or as a member of the class “children” in the Will.
The use of DNA tests to establish the potential beneficiaries of an estate is not a new phenomenon (see: Proulx v. Kelly). What is new, however, are people voluntarily taking such tests en masse in a public forum, potentially voluntarily raising questions about their rights to receive an interest in an estate when such questions would not have existed otherwise.
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If you are anything like me you have previously struggled with how you are to refer to Masters in court. Referring to them as “Master” always felt a little bit awkward, while at the same time you were always not sure if the more formal “Your Honour” was reserved solely for Judges.
If you have ever experienced similar uncertainty wonder no more, as the Consolidated Practice Direction for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice was recently amended to clarify how you are to refer to Masters in court. In accordance with the revised item 114 of the Practice Direction, it is confirmed that you are to refer to Masters as “Your Honour” in English and “Votre Honneur” in French.
Now that the potential embarrassment of using the incorrect honorific in referring to Masters has been resolved, now may also be an opportune time to provide a reminder that in accordance with item 58 of the same Consolidated Practice Direction lawyers are not required to gown when appearing before a Master.
So in summary, in accordance with the updated Consolidated Practice Direction you are to refer to Masters as “Your Honour” when appearing before them, while at the same time you are not required to gown. Consider yourself properly prepared for you next appearance before a Master.
Thank you for reading.