Author: Stuart Clark

30 Oct

Can a drafting lawyer be sued by the beneficiaries under a prior Will?

Stuart Clark Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

People can become upset when they find out that they have been written out of a Will. This frustration can often become multiplied when the individual in question received a significant bequest under a prior Will, believing the that the prior Will in which they received a more significant interest should govern the administration of the estate. In looking for recourse or answers, the “disappointed beneficiary” can often lash out against the drafting lawyer who was retained to prepare the new Will, believing that it was somehow improper or negligent for them to have prepared the Will, and that they have suffered damages in the form of the lost bequest. Some “disappointed beneficiaries” will even go as far as to commence a claim against the drafting lawyer for having seen to drafting the new Will. But can such claims be successful?

In order for the “disappointed beneficiary” to successfully have a claim against the drafting lawyer, the court must find that the drafting lawyer owed a “duty of care” to the beneficiaries under the prior Will. Generally speaking, the only individual to whom a drafting lawyer owes a duty of care when seeing to the preparation of a Will is the testator (and the beneficiaries listed in the new Will by extension). Although the court will sometimes in limited circumstances extend a duty of care to “disappointed beneficiaries”, such circumstances typically exist when the testator advised the drafting lawyer of an intention to benefit a certain individual, however as a result of the actions of the drafting lawyer such an individual did not end up receiving the intended bequest (see White v. Jones and Hall v. Bennett Estate). Such circumstances appear notably distinct from bequests to beneficiaries under a prior Will, for by creating a new Will the testator is in effect communicating to the drafting lawyer an intention to no longer benefit the individuals under the prior Will.

The Alberta Court of Appeal in Graham v. Bonnycastle succinctly summarizes why the court is typically not willing to extend a duty of care from the drafting lawyer to the beneficiaries listed in a prior Will, stating:

There are strong public policy reasons why the solicitors’ duty should not be extended. The imposition of a duty to beneficiaries under a previous will would create inevitable conflicts of interest. A solicitor cannot have a duty to follow the instructions of his client to prepare a new will and, at the same time, have a duty to beneficiaries under previous wills whose interests are likely to be affected by the new will. The interests of a beneficiary under a previous will are inevitably in conflict with the interests of the testator who wishes to change the will by revoking or reducing a bequest to that beneficiary…” [emphasis added]

In noting that there are other avenues available to such “disappointed beneficiaries”, including challenging the validity of the new Will, the court in Graham v. Bonnycastle goes on to state:

As noted above, several decisions have recognized the untenable situation that would be created by extending solicitors’ duty of care to include beneficiaries under a former will. Beneficiaries under a former will have other remedies available to them, and may block probate of the will where testamentary capacity is not established. The estate also has a remedy available where it suffers a loss as a result of solicitor negligence. There is no justification for imposing a duty on solicitors taking instruction from a testator for a new will to protect the interests of beneficiaries under a former will. There is not a sufficient relationship of proximity and there are strong policy reasons for refusing to recognize the existence of a duty. It is not fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty.” [emphasis added]

As cases such as Graham v. Bonnycastle suggest, the court appears unwilling to extend a duty of care from the drafting lawyer to a beneficiary listed under a prior Will. If no duty of care exists, no claim may now be advanced by the disappointed beneficiary against the drafting lawyer for any perceived “damages” they may have suffered on account of the new Will having been drafted. This appears true even if it is ultimately found that the testator lacked testamentary capacity at the time the new Will was signed.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

29 Oct

Can there be a “break” in a common law relationship?

Stuart Clark Support After Death Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

As anyone who has ever watched the show Friends can attest, “breaks” can happen in any relationship. For those attempting to claim common law spousal status however, what impact, if any, do such “breaks” have upon the length of time that the couple has to be together? Do you have to re-set the clock of the relationship after every “break”, or can the “breaks” be ignored?

Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act incorporates the definition of “spouse” from section 29 of the Family Law Act. Section 29 of the Family Law Act in turn defines “spouse” as including “two persons who are not married to each other and have cohabited continuously for a period of not less than three years“. This definition is often what is being referred to when someone says that a relationship is “common law”, with significant corresponding legal rights potentially being given to the two individuals if they are found to be “spouses”.

As the word “continuously” is included in the definition, one would be forgiven for thinking that there cannot be any “breaks” in the relationship, and that you must have a continuous three year period of “cohabitation” for two people to be considered spouses. As we will see below however, this may not necessarily be the case.

I have previously blogged about the factors that the court may look to in determining whether two people are “cohabitating”, with the Supreme Court of Canada in M. v. H. having confirmed that you look to the factors listed in Molodowich v. Penttinen to determine whether to individuals are “cohabitating” to the extent that their relationship becomes spousal. For the purpose of this blog however, the interesting question which follows is whether a couple who otherwise meets enough of the factors from Molodowich to be considered to be “cohabitating”, but had a “break” in their relationship during the three year period, could still be considered “spouses”.

In Boothe v. Gore, [1996] O.J. No. 4376, the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division) provides the following commentary regarding the effect of a “break” on a relationship:

The law in Ontario recognizes that a man and a woman are considered to have continuously cohabitated, despite that while living together, there might have been separations for varying periods of time before reconciling. Cohabitation does not terminate until either party regards it as being at an end, and, demonstrate convincingly that this is the party’s intent. A brief cooling off period does not convincingly show a settled state of mind that cohabitation has terminated…

The effects of temporary separations depends on the intention of the parties. When one party leaves the other and provides an objective basis to believe that they do not intend to resume cohabitation and the separation lasts for a meaningful period of time, the period of cohabitation could well have been interrupted.” [emphasis added]

As Boothe v. Gore suggests, a “break” in a relationship should not necessarily preclude a finding that two persons are common law spouses. Rather, the court is to attempt to ascertain the intentions of the parties at the time of the “break”, with the spousal status only coming to a close if either of the parties regards the relationship as being “at an end“, or the period of separation lasts for a “meaningful period of time“.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

23 Aug

Alterations to a Will – When are they valid?

Stuart Clark Estate & Trust Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

People change their mind all of the time. When someone changes their mind about the terms of their Will however, things can become more complicated. Going to a lawyer to formally make a change to the Will may seem daunting. If the change to the Will is relatively minor, an individual may be tempted to forgo meeting with a lawyer to draw up a new Will or Codicil, and simply make the change to the Will themselves by crossing out or inserting new language by hand on the face of the old Will. But would such handwritten changes be valid?

Although the advice to any individual thinking of changing their Will would always be to speak with a lawyer about the matter, people do not always adhere to such advice. If someone has made handwritten changes to their Will after the document was originally signed, such changes can under certain circumstances alter the terms of the Will.

Section 18(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“) provides that unless any alteration to a Will is made in accordance with the requirements of section 18(2) of the SLRA, such alterations have no effect upon the provisions of the Will itself unless such an alteration has had the effect that you can no longer read the original wording of the Will. Section 18(2) of the SLRA further provides:

An alteration that is made in a will after the will has been made is validly made when the signature of the testator and subscription of witnesses to the signature of the testator to the alteration, or, in the case of a will that was made under section 5 or 6, the signature of the testator, are or is made,
(a) in the margin or in some other part of the will opposite or near to the alteration; or
(b) at the end of or opposite to a memorandum referring to the alteration and written in some part of the will.

As a result of section 18(1) and 18(2) of the SLRA, any handwritten change to a Will does not validly alter the terms of the Will unless the testator and two witnesses sign in the margins of the Will near the alteration (subject to certain exceptions listed). If the handwritten change is not accompanied by such signatures it is not a valid alteration and has no impact upon the original terms of the Will, unless the handwritten change has had the effect of “obliterating” the original language of the Will by making it no longer readable.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

21 Aug

Henson Trust – What happens if there is no residuary gift-over?

Stuart Clark Estate & Trust Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

The Henson Trust has become fairly common estate planning tool for those looking to provide a bequest to someone who may be receiving government benefits such as ODSP without such an individual losing their qualification to the government benefits. At the core of the Henson Trust is the concept that the trust is wholly discretionary, with the assets that are placed in the trust not “vesting” in the beneficiary who is receiving the government benefits until the trustee has decided to make a distribution in their favour. This allows the trustee to ensure that the beneficiary does not receive a greater amount from the trust in a given time period than allowed under the government benefits, such that the beneficiary can continue to receive their government benefits as well as receive funds from the trust.

But what happens to any funds that may be left in the trust upon the death of the beneficiary for whom the Henson Trust was primarily established? Typically, the terms of the trust will provide for a “gift-over” of any residue to an alternate beneficiary. If the trust fails to provide for such a “gift-over” however, it could have significant repercussions to the primary beneficiary for whom the Henson Trust was established, and could result in the Henson Trust being declared void.

For a trust to exist it must have what are known as the “three certainties”. They are:

  1. Certainty of Intention – It must be clear that the settlor intended to create a trust;
  2. Certainty of Subject Matter – It must be clear what property is to form part of the trust; and
  3. Certainty of Objects – It must be clear who the potential beneficiaries of the trust are.

A trust that does not have the “three certainties” is an oxymoron, insofar as there can be no trust that offends the three certainties as the trust failed to be established. In the circumstance contemplated above, the lack of “gift-over” upon the primary beneficiary’s death would arguably equate to there being a lack of “certainty of objects”, insofar as it is not clear who all of the potential beneficiaries of the trust are. If it is found that the trust does offend the “certainty of objects” it would fail. Should the trust fail, the primary beneficiary for whom the Henson Trust was established would no longer have the funds which would have formed the Henson Trust available to top up the funds which they receive from their government benefits, with such funds likely now forming part of the residue or being distributed on a partial intestacy.

Although the historical application of the “three certainties” would result in the Henson Trust contemplated above having been declared void from the beginning, insofar as no trust that offends the three certainties can be found to exist, it should be noted that the court in Stoor v. Stoor Estate, 2014 ONSC 5684, went to great lengths to avoid such an outcome. In Stoor Estate, notwithstanding that the court found that the trust in question failed as a result of it offending the three certainties for a lack of “certainty of objects”, the court delayed the failure of the trust until after the primary beneficiary’s death believing that it was in keeping with the testator’s intentions.

There has been significant debate about whether the Stoor Estate decision was correctly decided, and what impact, if any, it should have upon the historical application of the “three certainties”. What is not in debate however is that it is important that when drafting a Henson Trust, or any trust for that matter, to ensure that you provide for a gift-over of the residue upon the primary beneficiary’s death. If you fail to provide for such a gift-over you run the risk that the trust will be declared void for offending the three certainties, thereby depriving the individual for whom you were establishing the Henson Trust the opportunity to receive such funds in addition to their government benefits.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

20 Aug

Rule Against Perpetuities – It’s not so scary

Stuart Clark Estate & Trust Tags: , , , , , , 0 Comments

No words strike fear into the hearts of most estates lawyers like the “rule against perpetuities”. Horrible memories of first year property law class, and dire warnings about how nobody truly understands how to apply the ancient and archaic principles which have developed over centuries, leave most lawyers wanting to avoid the subject at all costs. Although the cases can sometimes be hard to understand, the foundational principles and modern application of the rule against perpetuities is actually relatively simple.

The rule against perpetuities is an ancient common law doctrine which restricts the ability of an individual to control property over a prolonged period of time. At its most simple, the rule against perpetuities can be understood as not allowing an individual to control the distribution or ownership of property for longer than the “perpetuity period”, with the perpetuity period equating to a “life in being” who is alive upon the death of the testator plus twenty one years. A “life in being” is the lifetime of an individual who may receive, or is somehow associated to, the gift of the property. To this respect, an individual cannot control the ownership or distribution of property in their Will for longer than the lifetime of an individual who is alive upon the death of the testator and somehow associated with the gift, plus twenty one years after such an individual’s death. If a gift offends the rule against perpetuities, it is declared void.

In Ontario, the application of the rule against perpetuities is governed by the Perpetuities Act. Section 4(1) of the Perpetuities Act establishes a “wait and see” approach to determining if a gift offends the rule against perpetuities. What this in effect means is that simply because a bequest could offend the rule against perpetuities does not result in the gift immediately being declared void, as you must wait to see if the gift actually does offend the rule against perpetuities. Only in the event that the gift does ultimately vest outside of the perpetuity period is it declared void.

Take for example the hypothetical bequest of a property to a local charity so long as they use the property for the benefit of the charity. Should the charity cease to use the property for the purpose of the charity, the property would instead be distributed to the deceased’s issue (i.e. descendants) in equal shares per stirpes. The “perpetuity period” in this instance would be the lifetime of one of the deceased’s descendants alive on the deceased’s death who ultimately lives the longest after the deceased’s death (likely the youngest descendant alive upon the deceased’s death, although not necessarily) plus twenty one years after such a descendant’s death. Although it is conceivable that the charity could continue to use the property for longer than the lifetime of such a descendant plus twenty one years, such that the gift-over to the deceased’s issue could offend the rule against perpetuities and be declared void, you do not immediately declare such a gift void at the time of the deceased’s death. Rather, you must “wait and see” if the triggering event (i.e. the charity ceasing to use the property) occurs during the perpetuity period (i.e. the lifetime plus twenty one years of the descendant in question). Only upon the triggering event not occurring during the perpetuity period would the gift be declared void for offending the rule against perpetuities.

See, not so scary after all.

Stuart Clark

07 Jun

Resigning as Power of Attorney for Property

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Being a Power of Attorney for Property can often be a difficult and thankless job. It is not unforeseeable that, after originally accepting the job, circumstances may arise which leads the Attorney for Property to want to resign. But how do you go about actually resigning as Attorney for Property? Is it enough to simply stop acting as Attorney for Property, or to loudly scream “I quit!” to those that have caused you the frustration, or are additional steps required for the resignation to become effective?

The resignation process for an Attorney for Property is governed by section 11(1) of the Substitute Decisions Act, which provides:

An attorney under a continuing power of attorney may resign but, if the attorney has acted under the power of attorney, the resignation is not effective until the attorney delivers a copy of the resignation to,
(a) the grantor;
(b) any other attorneys under the power of attorney;
(c) the person named by the power of attorney as a substitute for the attorney who is resigning, if the power of attorney provides for the substitution of another person; and
(d) unless the power of attorney provides otherwise, the grantor’s spouse or partner and the relatives of the grantor who are known to the attorney and reside in Ontario, if,
(i) the attorney is of the opinion that the grantor is incapable of managing property, and
(ii) the power of attorney does not provide for the substitution of another person or the substitute is not able and willing to act.

As a result of section 11(1) of the Substitute Decisions Act, if an Attorney for Property wishes to resign from their position they must put such resignation in writing, which must then be delivered to the certain individuals, including the grantor, any other Attorneys for Property named in the document, as well as the grantor’s spouse and next-of-kin if the grantor is incapable and the Power of Attorney does not provide for a substitute Attorney for Property or the substitute is not willing or able to act. Once the resignation has been received by all of such individuals, the resignation is effective, and the individual is no longer the grantor’s Attorney for Property.

It should of course be noted that resigning as Attorney for Property would not release the individual of any liability for their historic administration of the grantor’s property. To do so, the resigning Attorney for Property would likely have to commence an Application to Pass Accounts regarding their management of the grantor’s property, or seek a release from the grantor if the grantor was still capable. This, however, is a topic for a further blog on a different day.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

05 Jun

Who can compel the release of a lawyer’s file after death?

Stuart Clark Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

The notes and records of the lawyer who assisted the deceased with their estate planning can play an important role in any estate litigation. As a result, it is not uncommon for a drafting lawyer to receive a request from individuals involved in estate litigation to provide them with a copy of their notes and files relating to the deceased’s estate planning. But can the lawyer comply with such a request?

The central concern involved for the lawyer is the duty of confidentiality which they owe to the deceased. This duty of confidentiality is codified by rule 3.3-1 of the Law Society of Ontario’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which provides:

“A lawyer at all times shall hold in strict confidence all information concerning the business and affairs of the client acquired in the course of the professional relationship and shall not divulge any such information unless expressly or impliedly authorized by the client or required by law to do so.

The duty of confidentiality and privilege which is owed to the deceased by the lawyer survives the deceased’s death. This was confirmed by the court in Hicks Estate v. Hicks, [1987] O.J. No. 1426, where, in citing the English authority of Bullivant v. A.G. Victoria, [1901] A.C. 196, it was confirmed that privilege and the duty of confidentiality survive death, and continues to be owed from the lawyer to the deceased. With respect to the question of who may waive privilege on behalf of the deceased following their death, Hicks Estate v. Hicks confirmed that such a power falls to the Estate Trustee under normal circumstances, stating:

“It is clear, therefore, that privilege reposes in the personal representative of the deceased client who in this case is the plaintiff, the administrator of the estate of Mildred Hicks. The plaintiff can waive the privilege and call for disclosure of any material that the client, if living, would have been entitled to from the two solicitors.”

Simply put, the Estate Trustee may step into the shoes of the deceased individual and compel the release of the lawyer’s file to the same extent that the deceased individual could have during their lifetime.

In circumstances in which the validity of the Will has been challenged, the authority of the Estate Trustee is also being challenged by implication, as their authority to act as Estate Trustee is derived from the Will itself. In such circumstances, the named Estate Trustee may arguably no longer waive privilege and/or the duty of confidentiality on behalf of the deceased individual. Should the notes and/or records of the drafting lawyer still be required, a court order is often required waiving privilege and/or the duty of confidentiality before they may be produced.

Whether or not a lawyer can release their file following the death of a client will depend on the nature of the dispute in which such a request is being made, and who is making the request. If there is a challenge to the validity of the Will or the Estate Trustee’s authority, it is likely that a court Order will be required before the lawyer may produce their file regardless of who is requesting the file. If the dispute does not question the Estate Trustee’s authority, such as an Application for support under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act, the lawyer should comply with the request to release their file so long as the requesting party is the Estate Trustee. If the requesting party is not the Estate Trustee, and the Estate Trustee should refuse to provide the lawyer with their authorization to release the file, matters become more complicated, and may require a court Order before the lawyer may release their file.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

04 Jun

Can you pursue damages against an Attorney for Property in an Application to Pass Accounts?

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When concerns are raised about the conduct of an Attorney for Property, those raising the concerns often seek an Order compelling the Attorney for Property to commence an Application to Pass Accounts pursuant to section 42 of the Substitute Decisions Act. Should such an Application to Pass Accounts be commenced, the objecting party will often make allegations against the Attorney for Property that the incapable person and/or estate has suffered damages as a result of the Attorney for Property’s conduct, often seeking monetary damages against the Attorney for Property in relation to such objections.

An interesting question was recently posed to me in the context of such an Application to Pass Accounts for an Attorney for Property. Can the objecting party pursue damages against the Attorney for Property within the actual Application to Pass Accounts itself, or do they need to commence a separate claim against the Attorney for Property for the recovery of such damages?

The ability to pursue damages against an Estate Trustee within the Application to Pass Accounts process is well established by statute, with section 49(3) of the Estates Act providing:

The judge, on passing any accounts under this section, has power to inquire into any complaint or claim by any person interested in the taking of the accounts of misconduct, neglect, or default on the part of the executor, administrator or trustee occasioning financial loss to the estate or trust fund, and the judge, on proof of such claim, may order the executor, administrator or trustee, to pay such sum by way of damages or otherwise as the judge considers proper and just to the estate or trust fund, but any order made under this subsection is subject to appeal.” [emphasis added]

Section 49(3) of the Estates Act makes it clear that a separate claim against an Estate Trustee is not necessary to pursue damages for breach of trust when an Application to Pass Accounts has been commenced, and that the Judge may order damages against the Estate Trustee within the actual Application to Pass Accounts itself. Perhaps importantly however, the Estates Act appears to suggest that section 49 only applies to a passing of accounts for an “executor, administrator or trustee under a will“, making no reference to an Attorney for Property. Sections 42(7) and 42(8) of the Substitute Decisions Act also set out the “powers of the court” in an Application to Pass Accounts for an Attorney for Property, with such provisions notably containing no reference to the ability to order damages against the Attorney for Property for any wrongdoing.

As there appears to be no statutory equivalent to section 49(3) of the Estates Act which specifically contemplates that it applies to Attorneys for Property, and the ability to pursue damages within the Application to Pass Accounts itself in other circumstances appears to be derived from statute, the question of whether there is a “legislative gap” as it relates to the ability to pursue damages against an Attorney for Property within an Application to Pass Accounts can at least appear to be raised. If such a “legislative gap” does exist, would this mean that a separate claim would have to be commenced by the objector to pursue such damages even when an Application to Pass Accounts was currently before the court?

When I have raised the question to other estate practitioners, some have suggested that while there may be no statutory authority to order such damages against the Attorney for Property within the Application to Pass Accounts, the court may have inherent jurisdiction to order such damages by way of a “surcharge order” in the Application to Pass Accounts. Some have also suggested that as section 42(6) of the Substitute Decisions Act contemplates that the procedure to be utilized on passing an Attorney’s accounts is to be the same as that as an executor’s accounts, that this should be read as evidence to show that section 49(3) of the Estates Act would apply to the passing of an Attorney for Property’s accounts. In response to this, I would suggest that it is at least questionable if section 49(3) of the Estates Act is “procedural” in nature, and, even if it is found to be procedural, whether the “powers of the court” provisions of sections 42(7) and 42(8) of the Substitute Decisions Act, which notably does not include the power to award damages against the Attorney for Property for wrongdoing, would trump section 49(3) of the Estates Act in any event.

I am aware of no decision which specifically addresses the issue of whether there is a “legislative gap” when it comes to whether damages can be sought against an Attorney for Property within the Application to Pass Accounts itself. While the issue may simply be academic at this time, it is not unforeseeable that someone could attempt to argue that an objector cannot seek damages against the Attorney for Property within the Application to Pass Accounts itself, and that a separate claim is required. If such an argument is successfully raised, and the length of time between the alleged wrong and the separate claim being commenced was such that the limitation period may have expired, it is not unforeseeable that the Attorney for Property may attempt to argue that the separate claim must now be dismissed as a result of the expiry of the limitation period.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

22 Mar

A new kind of marriage – Family law and estate claims heard together

Stuart Clark Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

It is not uncommon for dependant’s support claims to be commenced contemporaneously with family law claims after death, with the dependant’s support claim often forming a sort of safety net should the family law claim not be successful. This is likely in part on account of section 63(4) of the Succession Law Reform Act providing that an Order providing for the support of the deceased’s dependants can be made “despite any agreement or waiver to the contrary“, such that the court in certain circumstances can make an Order for dependant’s support notwithstanding that agreements such as marriage contracts may have been entered into prior to death which may otherwise have severely restricted the surviving spouse’s entitlements.

While it is not uncommon for family law and estates claims to be brought contemporaneously, this can sometimes result in an in issue in the form of a multiplicity of proceedings, with multiple proceedings being before the court at the same time, often on different court lists. In Toronto, the family law claims would likely proceed before the Family Court, which is governed by its own “Family Law Rules“, while the estate law claims would proceed before the Estates List of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, with such a process being governed by the more standard Rules of Civil Procedure. Different courts, different rules, different timelines.

It appears that such a multiplicity of proceedings became an issue in the recent Cohen v. Cohen decision, with the Applicant’s counsel eventually moving to have the family law and estate law proceedings consolidated and heard together before the Family Court. Opposing counsel objected, taking the position that a dependant’s support Application under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act could not be heard before the Family Court, and that such a proceeding must proceed before the standard Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

In ultimately rejecting the position of opposing counsel, and ordering the family law claims and the estate law claims to be heard together before the Family Court, Justice Maranger provides the following commentary:

Counsel representing the estate argued that a strict reading of section 57 (1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (“court” means the Superior Court of Justice) statutorily precludes consolidating a dependant’s relief application with a family law act application, because the SLRA does not specify Superior Court Family Branch. I reject that argument, clearly a reference to the Superior Court of Justice can in certain circumstances allow for the reading in of the Superior Court Family Branch. A family branch judge is a Superior Court judge for all purposes including hearing cases under the Succession Law Reform Act.”

Cohen v. Cohen suggests that estates law cases and family law cases can be consolidated and heard together by the same court notwithstanding that such courts may be specialized for a different purpose. What impact, if any, the use of the Family Law Rules would have upon adjudication of an Application for support under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act remains to be seen.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

20 Mar

I’m not dead yet – Having the court declare you “undead”

Stuart Clark General Interest Tags: , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

There is a famous scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where an individual tries to include his very much still alive relative on a cart carrying out plague victims to the still alive individual’s protests. Upon being presented to be taken away, the individual loudly protests “I’m not dead yet” to the annoyance of the individual trying to have them taken away, resulting in a back-and-forth about whether they will be dead soon and should still be included on the cart. Hilarity ensues.

This scene from Monty Python always plays through my mind whenever I hear stories of individuals who are incorrectly declared dead by the court. The Toronto Star recently reported on a case about a man from Romania who returned from working abroad to find that his wife had had him declared dead by the court while he was away. Despite showing up to his own hearing to reverse the Order declaring that he was dead, the court refused to reverse the Order, saying that it was too late for him to do so. Stories such as these are surprisingly common, with an Ohio man having found himself in similar circumstances in 2013.

In Ontario, the process by which an individual is declared dead in absentia when there is no body is governed by the Declarations of Death Act, 2002. Although the Declarations of Death Act does not set out a process by which an individual who is still alive could reverse an Order finding that they were deceased, it notably does not contain any provision barring the reversal of such an Order, and does contain language providing what is to occur with the “deceased” individual’s property should they later found to be alive such that it appears that such an Order is possible.

Section 6(1) of the Declarations of Death Act provides that when an Order has been made declaring an individual dead, and their estate has been distributed, such a distribution is final even should the “deceased” individual subsequently be found to be alive. While section 6(3) grants the court special powers to order specific property be returned to the deceased individual, absent a specific court order to the contrary, the “deceased” individual’s property is now the property of those to whom it was distributed.

While it appears the Ontario court can reverse an Order incorrectly finding you to be deceased, you may not be so lucky in getting your stuff back. Maybe now we know why the man was so loudly protesting “I’m not dead yet” in the Monty Python sketch.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

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