Author: Suzana Popovic-Montag
The presence of COVID-19 in Canada has been felt through all communities, but those living in long-term care facilities have been most significantly affected. The virus’s exponential infection rate, coupled with the pre-existing medical conditions of many of those who reside in these care facilities, has resulted in high death rates and little insight on how best to protect the elderly community going forward.
On May 19, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced the Ontario Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission (the “Commission”) in response to the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on residents and staff of long-term care homes.
The Commission has a mandate to investigate the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, the adequacy of efforts taken by the facilities to prevent transmission during the first wave of the pandemic, and how various elements of the existing system may impact the spread of COVID-19 within long-term care homes. The commission aims to provide recommendations to the government regarding the health and safety of residents and staff of these facilities and how to better protect them from potential outbreaks in the coming months.
The establishment of the Commission emphasizes the need for quick and decisive action in response to the virus’s overwhelming effect on Ontario’s elderly population. Though the virus’s impact remains prominent at this time, a second wave of COVID-19 is anticipated in the coming months. Consequently, the Commission will work diligently to provide the government with a final report by April 30, 2021.
Three commissioners will lead the investigation. The Honourable Justice Frank N. Marrocco was appointed as Chair of the Commission. Associate Chief Justice Marrocco has been involved in high-profile matters in the past, including as the lead counsel for the Province of Ontario in the Walkerton inquiry. Justice Marrocco was appointed to the Superior Court of Justice in 2005. Angela Coke and Dr. Jack Kitts will accompany Associate Chief Justice Marrocco on the Commission.
Angela Coke is a former senior executive of the Ontario Public Service (OPS), where she spent 27 years committed to the transformation of government operations. Ms. Coke retired in 2017, having previously served as the Deputy Minister, Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, where she played a leadership role on a range of government and public service priorities.
Dr. Jack Kitts completed a three-year tour of duty as a medical officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. He later returned to school for specialty training in anesthesia. In 1995, he was appointed Chief of Anesthesia and Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa. Within three years, he was appointed Vice-president of Medical Affairs and led the medical staff through a large restructuring, in which three hospitals and five large programs merged into the Ottawa Hospital.
Given the qualifications of the members of the Commission and the importance of taking any possible steps to protect the lives of residents of Ontario’s long-term care facilities, the creation of the Commission appears to be a promising first step in implementing necessary measures to enhance the ability of long-term care facilities to adequately respond to the pandemic and to protect their residents and staff once the current health care crisis has passed.
Thank you for reading!
According to TheFreeDictionary.com, the idiom, “there’s no time like the present” dates back to 1562, and with the state of the world as it is, many people it seems, are scrambling to create Wills as soon as the present allows it.
Will planning requires honesty and is often regarded as an emotionally draining chore. While the drafting of a Will is, as the Romans would say, a Memento mori (a reminder of our mortality), it need not be a sad or troubling task. Planning for one’s estate can be much like the ultimate holiday shopping list. A Will allows us to make sure a treasured possession goes to the right person, and it ensures that our loved ones are provided for, in line with our wishes. Much like insurance, a Will can be thought of as preparing for the worst-case scenario. It can be thought of, particularly in times of strife, as a way to be of service to those people and organizations that we hold dear. “Yet,” as my grandmother would say, “there can always be a little room for whimsy.”
“To my nephew Phillip who wanted to be in the Will, “hello you’re in the Will.”
In a 2015 collection of the “Strangest Wills of All Time,” The Guardian UK compiled 10 Will provisions where, they said, “the temptation to cause mischief or raise a smile from beyond the grave was too much to resist.” Here are but two examples.
After legendary comedian Jack Benny died in 1974, his widow, Mary Livingstone had a single red rose delivered to her every day. She would later learn that Jack had provided for flowers in his will. “A single red rose, delivered to Ms. Livingstone, for the rest of her life.”
When Roger Brown of Whales died in 2013, he left his seven closest friends, friends of 40 years, a bequest of £3,500 with the proviso that they go on a European holiday, and raise a glass together.
While a Last Will and Testament is a serious document that ought to be treated as such, it does not have to be a dreary and dark affair, where all we think about is death and endings.
It is, after all, but one more way to look out for each other.
Thanks for reading,
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Daniel Enright
After our recent blog about estate matters in Ancient Rome, I was reminded that to the Ancient Greeks, the “dog days” happened when the star ‘Sirius‘ appeared to rise just before the sun in late July and August. The Greeks referred to these days, the hottest days of the year, and a period that could bring fever or even catastrophe, as The Dog Days of Summer.
Cottages, if not carefully considered in estate planning, can often bring fever and catastrophe, to families when their transfer is not properly planned in estate plans. Be it an unexpected tax liability, or unhappiness amongst siblings, cottages can cause great pains.
Today, we look at two scenarios of cottage transfer, specifically the living gift (inter vivos) and the testamentary gift (after death).
Emotion and attachment to the family cottage can run deep and go well beyond the financial value of the property. As we discussed here in 2013, proper planning is essential to avoid the kind of strife that was examined in our blog post, “Perils in the Succession of the Family Cottage.”
One way to clearly establish your wishes and see them carried out is to gift the cottage while still alive. A “gift inter vivos” is Latin for a gift among the living and is a common way of transferring ownership, particularly if you no longer use or visit the cottage. A tax advisor is an important and necessary resource when considering such a gift, as the gift of a cottage can give rise to a tax burden on the giftor.
It’s important to remember that once the cottage gift is complete, it is, technically, no longer yours and the receiver of the gift, be it a child or sibling, would be free to do as they wished…. even sell it. So it’s not necessarily the right vehicle for transfer, as it were, for every family.
Another very common means of transfer is by Will.
You are free to name your heirs to the cottage as you so choose, but often when there is more than one child inheriting, for example, a trust becomes a very good way to address possible conflicts that might otherwise arise. It also insulates the property from potential legal disputes like bankruptcy or divorce.
A trust also becomes a good way to establish responsibility for the cottage and its expenses. The Will can stipulate that funds are set aside for maintenance or yearly upkeep and those funds can ease the burden on a beneficiary who may not be in the best financial position to inherit such a gift.
As the Dog Days of Summer roll on and another cottage season soon comes to a close, proper planning for that beloved family cottage can prevent the fever and catastrophe that the Greeks were so alive to each time that Dog Star came bounding across the sky.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the sun!
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Daniel Enright
Few histories are as rich and riveting as the history of Ancient Rome, from the uncertain rise of the Roman Republic to the terrible civil wars that brought its ruin, and from the mad reigns of all-powerful Caesars to the eventual collapse of the Roman Empire, owing, generally, to invasions from without and corruption from within. Its history also shows us many of the roots of our legal traditions, including – as will be the focus of this blog – some precursors to modern-day estates law.
“It was customary with the Romans of that age, when they were moving into battle array, and were on the point of taking up their bucklers, and girding their coats about them, to make at the same time an unwritten will, or verbal testament, and to name who should be their heirs, in the hearing of three or four witnesses.”
Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act only requires two witnesses for proper execution of a will (section 4), although soldiers on active service may proceed by writing their wills without witnesses (section 5).
In Ontario, we have instruments at our disposal to prevent or reverse dispositions tainted by incapacity. One may challenge an incapable testator’s will, or one may pre-empt abuse or needless loss with a guardianship application. In Ancient Rome, similarly, those individuals who attempted to give away everything they possessed (what we might call a “spendthrift” the Romans called a “prodigus”) were dealt with as though they suffered from a distemper of the mind.
Under Augustus – of whom it was justly said that he “made a desert and called it peace” – an inheritance tax of 5% was introduced (with some restrictions, such as that it applied only to well-off individuals). A little over a century later, the Emperor Severus increased this inheritance imposition to 10%. While these figures may seem high (or not high enough, depending on where you stand), they may be much lower than inheritance taxes elsewhere, such as in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan and South Korea. In Ontario we do not have an inheritance tax, but there are inheritance-like taxes, like capital gains taxes and probate taxes.
There is a marked difference between Ancient Rome and our common law system with respect to gifting between spouses. Unlike modern Ontario, wherein couples often use joint tenancy as a tax-saving estates planning strategy, Roman spouses were prohibited from gifting to one another. While the rationale for this law is moot, it was likely intended to keep apart the property of each spouse’s bloodline.
The Romans, as well as their civil-law descendants of today, operated under what has become known as “forced heirship”, whereby testators are legally required to give to their children. As a previous blog notes, in modern France, a parent with one child must give that child one-half of his or her property. In Rome, the historian Gibbon says that “if the father bequeathed to his son the fourth part of his estate, he removed all ground of legal complaint”. This is in stark contrast to the common law, in which testators may plan their estates with near-total freedom.
Thank you for reading and enjoy the rest of your day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Devin McMurtry
A cottage is usually the setting for family bonding and happy childhood memories; however, when it comes to estate planning, ambiguous drafting can lead to family divisions and litigation that is both unnecessary and costly. This is exactly what transpired in the Ontario Court of Appeal decision of Donaldson v Braybrook 2020 ONCA 66, discussed in the Hull on Estates podcast (https://hullandhull.com/2020/02/hull-on-estates-589-cottage-planning/).
A cottage was owned by the mother of a family, who allowed all four of her adult children, Wendy, Susan, Thomas, and Barry, to use the cottage on allocated weeks. In 1995, the mother transferred the ownership of the cottage to herself, Susan, and Thomas, “as joint tenants as to the remainder in fee”, while Wendy and Barry were listed as “additional transferees”, having a “life estate” in the cottage. This language seems perilously vague, and indeed gave rise to disputes within the family after the mother passed away. At this point, Susan and Thomas severed the joint tenancy and wanted to sell the cottage as tenants in common. Barry agreed to renounce his life interest to facilitate the sale, while Wendy refused and alleged that she was also an equal owner. On summary judgment, the motion judge held that Wendy had a life interest in the cottage with a right to exclusive use. This was reversed in the judgment by the Ontario Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal held that Wendy’s life interest in the property was not exclusive. The Court first looked to the wording of the registered transfer on title. This was deemed to be too ambiguous to be relied upon. Susan and Thomas were listed as transferees “without limiting their interest in any way”, which could not be reconciled with Wendy and Barry’s “life interest”. The Court then looked at evidence of the actual intention of the mother in making the transfer. The Court decided that the mother’s intention was to have her four children continue to enjoy shared use of the cottage as they had done previously, as well as intending for Susan and Thomas “to enjoy ownership interests beyond the shared right to use during their lifetimes”. As such, the Court concluded the mother’s intention was to give title of the cottage to Susan and Thomas, while maintaining a non-exclusive life-time licence to occupy for Barry and Wendy that allowed all four children to continue sharing the cottage throughout their lives. As the mother’s intention was able to be deduced by the Court, there was no need to consider the presumption of resulting trust in this case.
Much of this litigation and family strife could have been avoided by more clear and concise legal drafting, or by the mother communicating her estate planning intentions to the children during her lifetime, instead of keeping it a secret. The transfer failed to explicitly state how the life interests of Wendy and Barry would coexist with the ownership of Susan and Thomas. It appears the mother intended Wendy and Barry to have life-time licences, and a properly drafted transfer would have reflected this. This case also demonstrates how, in the absence of a reliable and unambiguous legal document, the court will first look to evidence of the intention of the transferor. Such a situation highlights the perils of succession planning for cottages, where use is often split amongst family members.
Thanks for reading – and enjoy the rest of your day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Sean Hess
A new Saskatchewan Court of Appeal case sheds more light on the law of standing with respect to will challenges. In Adams Estate v. Wilson, the Appellant executor appealed an earlier decision in which it was held that the Respondent, Mr. Wilson, had legal standing to bring an application to have the deceased’s will proved in solemn form. Mr. Wilson purported to be the deceased’s long-time friend and employee, and he submitted that the deceased had promised to leave him her “ranching operation”; despite this claim, the deceased did not name Mr. Wilson in her will. Instead, she imbued her executor with the discretionary power to distribute the estate to deserving parties, including “certain persons who have been trustworthy and loyal”.
The Chambers judge reasoned that since the statute, Rule 16-46, allows an application by a person who “may be interested in the estate”, Mr. Wilson, as potentially both a creditor and beneficiary, may have been an interested party and therefore had standing. Mr. Wilson succeeded in qualifying himself as a potential creditor because of a related action against the estate. His claim to be a potential beneficiary, though murkier, also succeeded; the claim was that since Mr. Wilson had been “trustworthy and loyal”, the executor could choose to give him a part of the estate in adherence with the will – making him a potential beneficiary.
The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, finding that Mr. Wilson was a mere “stranger to the will” and, as such, did not have standing. Rather, only the following classes of persons, with specific financial or legal interests in the estate, have standing to challenge a will: (1) Those named as beneficiaries or otherwise designated in the will or other testamentary documents; (2) those to whom the estate would devolve under an intestacy; and (3) those with claims pursuant to The Dependants’ Relief Act, The Family Property Act, and The Fatal Accidents Act. The Court explained that creditors, as Mr. Wilson claimed to be, do not have standing because they have no gain in “interfering with the devolution of property”.
The Court also found fault with Mr. Wilson’s claim to be a potential beneficiary, which was described as disingenuous, circular, and disconnected:
“He ignores that his purpose in requesting standing is to challenge the validity of the Will and the very bequest upon which he based his claim of standing. This is perverse logic because, if successful, Mr. Wilson will have eliminated any chance that he would take under the Will.”
Mr. Wilson was trying to derive rights from a will he was repudiating and suggesting that he might receive a gift from an executor whose legitimacy he denied and against whom he was litigating. He was attempting to win on a legal technicality – on form in spite of substance. In addition to reiterating the parties who may challenge a will, the Court in Adams Estate v. Wilson has put another brick in the wall between those seeking to exploit legal technicalities and the successful results they seek.
Thank you for reading – have a wonderful day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Devin McMurtry.
As the 21st century progresses, societies across the world have moved towards legalization and decriminalization of drugs and, in general, a narrower definition of what constitutes a “vice”. At the same time, there have been increasing efforts, both legally and culturally, to safeguard people from falling into dependence. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission prohibits alcohol advertising that depicts the consumption of alcohol. In contrast to decades wherein Santa Claus and doctors were advertised smoking, cigarette packaging is decidedly less festive – indeed, its gore is more characteristic of a horror film than a consumer product. So wary have some of us become that there have been studies published in Australia and Britain that have analyzed James Bond’s drinking habits and stated that he would be “at high risk of multiple alcohol-related diseases and an early death” (as though Bond blanches at risk!).
In previous centuries, there was far less legal regulation (except under Prohibition, a marked exception) of the aforementioned indulgences, but there was no less apprehension with respect to their widespread usage. In the 1887 case of Jordan v. Dunn,  W.L. 9876 (Ont. Q.B.), a testator devised his lands to his son on the condition, in part, that he abstain from intoxicants and card-playing. The Court decided that the gift did not vest until the beneficiary adhered to the testator’s rules:
“If a devise be only on the performance of some particular duty or upon some particular event; that is, if it be a condition precedent, there is no gift unless the condition is fulfilled; and it makes no difference that the event is impossible, impolitic or illegal.”
In Quay, Re,  CarswellOnt 706, a testator’s gift to his son came with the condition that he was not “engaged in malt or spirituous liquor traffic or in any form of gambling or games of chance”. The son, perhaps a little piqued at the testator’s implication, sought a determination of the condition’s validity. The Court upheld the condition, not construing it as an in terrorem clause but as a “competent direction in furtherance of public interests”. A distinction was also drawn between “playing games by way of diversion or amusement” and gambling as a daily occupation.
The testatrix in Kennedy Estate, Re,  CarswellMan 72, was yet more prohibitive, giving her daughter farmland rental proceeds only as long as her daughter did not “smoke or drink intoxicating liquor”. The Court approved of this provision:
“Conditions that a person must not drink intoxicating liquor, or play cards, or must ‘continue steady’ are valid conditions and although there is no specific authority I hold that a condition against smoking comes within the same category and is a valid condition.”
Ostensibly, these “continue steady” conditions are still legally valid, but we cannot say with great certainty, for it seems that these days testators are less inclined to make such conditions for their testamentary gifts. This is unfortunate for students of the law eager for test cases, although it is fortunate for fun loving beneficiaries, whose smiles might otherwise dampen from the constant accompaniment of a sober-faced condition precedent.
Thank you for reading … Have a great day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Devin McMurtry.
An oft-repeated maxim of equity is that “equity regards substance rather than form”. Just outcomes, it is thought, should not be frustrated by mere technical shortcomings or other superficial flaws. However, in applying this principle, courts are mindful not to neglect form in every case or to too great an extent, lest legal drafting becomes slipshod and legal results unpredictable.
A recent British Columbia decision dealt with, in part, the dichotomy of form and substance in the context of will drafting errors. In Conner Estate v. Worthing, there were three patent errors on the face of the deceased’s will: (1) the will provided for 150% of the sale proceeds of the deceased’s house, owing to, seemingly, a mathematical error (50% given to the husband, 20% to five others); (2) the residue was gifted twice, once to the husband and once to the children; and (3) several lines appeared to have been missing. While the court acknowledged that it was generally barred from adding words to erroneous wills (though it had the power to delete words), it found that this case was an exception to the rule, for the deceased’s intentions could be clearly ascertained from the extrinsic evidence – the solicitor’s notes and the deceased’s letter of instructions – and the solicitor was responsible for the errors:
“While the exception to the prohibition against adding words on an application to rectify a will at the court of probate stage in Moiny Estate is extremely narrow, I conclude that the facts in this case fit within that narrow exception. Ms. Conner’s stated intentions should not fail simply because her solicitor failed to draft her will in a manner that gave effect to her wishes.”
A similar result likely would have been reached in Ontario, where it has long been held that in matters of “equivocation” – when the words in a will apply to two or more persons – courts can look to extrinsic evidence to infer a testator’s actual intention. If a will is not equivocal, and the testamentary intention can be discerned in the will, the courts cannot examine extrinsic evidence – and whatever the substance, the form will prevail.
As we have previously written, the courts may be hindered from rectifying drafting errors in scenarios where the errors are subtle and there is little extrinsic evidence of true testamentary intention. It is important, therefore, for both drafting solicitors and testators to carefully review their wills before executing them, and to watch out, in particular, for those minor errors which may burn while emitting no smoke.
Thank you for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry.
Amidst this terrible COVID-19 pandemic, as with past crises and other contentious affairs, we see the steady emergence of dichotomies in the policy debate – public health versus the economy, liberty versus protection, individual versus group interests … In some cases, however, we see disputes arise wherein two sides share the same source of inspiration but disagree upon how best to do justice to their ostensibly common cause. Many of history’s religious wars demonstrate this phenomenon – two factions purportedly fighting for the same god, but interpreting the god rather differently. In the context of estates law, this phenomenon is discernible in the commentary surrounding statutory wills in Canada: proponents of statutory wills want to incorporate them in our law out of concern for incapable people’s equality rights, while critics of statutory wills oppose their introduction out of concern for incapable people’s equality rights.
A statutory will, in essence, allows for a judge to execute, revoke or amend a testamentary instrument on behalf of an incapable person. They are often praised for their tax advantages, as they may include testamentary trusts and other tax-avoiding instruments (avoid not evade, an important distinction for the C.R.A.) that are not available to incapable people if their estates devolve under intestacies. The drafter of a statutory will may also arrange a statutory will in a manner that will tend to preserve the affection of an incapable person’s relatives – no spurned children or blindsided spouses, in other words.
There is more controversy with respect to whether statutory wills should be used to “protect”. In one prominent English case, Re Davey,  3 AII E.R. 342, a 92-year-old incapable woman, who was residing in a nursing home, married one the nursing home’s employees, a man 45 years her junior. The woman’s relatives, alarmed at the prospect of the man gaining everything on an intestacy, applied to the court for a statutory will, and won.
Critics of statutory wills observe that since courts cannot interfere with the testamentary freedom of the capable, they should not have the power to commandeer and transform the estate plans of the incapable. Perhaps, as well, skeptics are wary of variable outcomes (i.e. how judges will devise statutory wills), which may flow from what they may perceive as an excess of judicial discretion – unlike an intestacy, the terms of which are definite and predictable; a similar debate is often had with respect to minimum sentences in criminal law, which boils down to, as with statutory wills, how one balances trust for legislators with trust for judicial discretion, to achieve the best results.
In Canada, only New Brunswick has a statutory will. Section 11.1 of the New Brunswick Infirm Persons Act emphasises that courts must act in concert with what incapable people would want, if competent to make a will themselves. In somewhat of a legal bombshell, however, the Manitoba Law Reform Commission has favoured the adoption of a statutory will in Manitoba’s Wills Act.
Thank you for reading … have a wonderful Wednesday!
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Devin McMurtry
We have previously written about the Estate Arbitration and Litigation Management (“EALM”) initiative, which has been spearheaded in an effort to keep estate litigation matters moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our previous blogs on the EALM initiative can be found here and here.
In its Notice to the Profession dated May 5, 2020, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice announced that it will not resume in-person hearings until July 6, 2020, at the earliest. The notice further states that the scope of matters being heard by courts virtually will be expanded in the near future, but the particulars regarding such an expansion have not yet been released.
While access to the courts remains limited, EALM is available as a means of obtaining assistance in the determination of procedural and/or interim (and certain substantive) matters that are not necessarily urgent in nature and not currently eligible for a virtual court hearing. The matters set out in an EALM agreement can be arbitrated by senior estates practitioners in a timely and cost-efficient manner. EALM arbitrations can take place via teleconference or video conference, depending on the preferences of the parties and the arbitrator.
As previously indicated, EALM is not intended to in any way circumvent the role of the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”) or the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (the “OCL”) where the estate matter involves unprotected charitable interests or the rights of persons under legal disability. Since our last blog post regarding EALM was posted, the initiative has received the support of the PGT and the OCL and our precedent EALM agreement has been further updated to recognize the potential role that the PGT and/or the OCL may have in EALM process. Best EALM practices include ensuring that the PGT and/or the OCL are provided with the opportunity to participate, and further include the following:
- Where any substantive issue to be submitted to arbitration affects the rights of persons under legal disability, or an unprotected charitable interest, the parties must provide notice of their intention to enter into an EALM agreement to the PGT and/or the OCL;
- The PGT and/or the OCL should be served at the early stages of a matter, particularly when the issues will have a significant effect upon the interests that they represent;
- Where the PGT and/or the OCL are participating in a proceeding, their consent to proceed to EALM is required;
- Where it is necessary for a court to appoint the PGT or the OCL as litigation guardian, each office may consider requests to engage in the EALM process after they have been appointed as litigation guardian (rather than prior to their formal appointment); and
- An arbitrator’s decision to resolve substantive issues involving the rights of persons under legal disability will be considered to be a final settlement, which requires court approval under Rule 7.08 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
A revised copy of our precedent EALM agreement, which has been updated in consultation with the PGT and the OCL in consideration of the comments set out above, can be found here. An updated list of senior estates practitioners who are prepared to assist as EALM arbitrators is available here. I again thank all of those who have demonstrated an interest in assisting other members of the Estates Bar as arbitrators.
EALM is a cost-effective measure to move matters forward and provides the parties to litigation with more control than the traditional court process. Once the courts resume full operations, we can only anticipate that they will be at full capacity and hearing dates will be in high demand. In light of this, we are hopeful that EALM will continue to assist parties to estate litigation and their counsel as a suitable and efficient alternative to in-court hearings.
If you are interested in introducing EALM into your own practice, or if you are interested in being added to our roster of EALM arbitrators, please contact me at email@example.com.
Thank you for reading and stay safe.