Author: Suzana Popovic-Montag
As we head towards the holiday season, it is a good time to think about the past. The weather is drab and the days are short, too, so we have ample opportunity to curl up in cozy chairs – rum and eggnog in hand, perhaps – to read old books, watch history documentaries, or otherwise reminisce of that which came before us. In line with this, in today’s blog we examine a case from 1919, Muirhead Estate, Re, which includes a decision that is both intriguing and continuously relevant for estate planning.
The deceased had left a widowhood clause in his will, by which he sought to discourage his widow from marrying another. Remarry, however, she did, in the event of which the executors of the Muirhead Estate applied to the court for directions as to the construction of the following clause:
“If my wife shall remarry the share hereby bequeathed to her shall revert to my estate and be divided among my said children.”
The court had to determine if the clause violated public policy, for even in 1919, conditional gifts “in general restraint of marriage” had long been against public policy. It found that there was a distinction between a restraint of marriage and a restraint of remarriage. The former was clearly grounds for voiding a clause, but the latter was legally valid. In particular, restraining the “second marriage of a woman” was an established exception to the public policy rule. As for the second marriages of men, the court found that these may have still fallen under the umbrella of public policy, but it did not explain or elaborate why.
One hundred years hence, we see from cases such as Goodwin and Brown Estate that the decision in Muirhead Estate, Re, is still good law – though the distinction of second marriages of men and women is in all likelihood obsolete. According to the public policy rule, you cannot, through conditions in your will, prevent a beneficiary from marrying; nor can you promote marital breakdown through such conditions. If, however, you think that your widow looks best in perpetual black finery, or you have a distaste for suitors characteristic of Odysseus, the law likely allows for you to include a widowhood clause in your last will.
Happy planning – and thank you for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
Estate litigation involves risk and reward, heartbreak and vindication. Costs and other consequences often flow from the strength of litigants’ positions. Delay, however, is shared equally. In a protracted legal battle, the symptoms of delay – stress, distraction, gloomy foreboding – linger around like a shadow or a bad cold. Wary of these tribulations, the courts are increasingly focused upon smoothing and straightening, and thereby shortening, the road to decisions.
In today’s blog we explore how this shift has affected the granting of adjournments in estate litigation.
Judicial economy is not always served by the refusal of an adjournment. For example, if two proceedings are interrelated, the preliminary matter should be heard first. If an appeal is scheduled before an associated lower court motion, the appeal should be adjourned until the other has been settled, lest the courts “waste limited judicial resources and increase expense for all of the parties” (Mancinelli v. Royal Bank of Canada,  O.N.S.C. 1526 at para. 5).
Reasons for granting adjournments include the ill health of a party, the emergence of new issues, and “to permit the appellants to file fresh evidence” (Morin v. Canada,  F.C.T. 1420 at para. 11). Courts are also more inclined to adjourn when the other party is not prejudiced by such a request. If there is an urgent need for resolution of the dispute – in the estates context, for instance, when an estate has been tied up for years, to the detriment of the beneficiaries – an adjournment could be denied. Other factors which may lead to the denial of a request for an adjournment consist of “a lack of compliance with prior court orders, previous adjournments … the desirability of having the matter decided and a finding that the applicant is seeking to manipulate the system by orchestrating delay” (The Law Society of Upper Canada v. Igbinosun,  O.N.C.A. 484 at para. 37).
Long waits and swollen court bookings have influenced today’s judicial decision-making. Judges are more inclined, progressively, to punish vexatious litigants, encourage parties to settle, and employ other strategies that are conducive to easing the strain on the courts. Much as the courts have emphasized the need to expedite decisions, however, the adjournment is still a mainstay in the judicial tool belt:
Perhaps to the chagrin of those opposing adjournments and indulgences, courts should tend to be generous rather than overly strict in granting indulgences, particularly where the request would promote a decision on the merits. (Ariston Realty Corp. v. Elcarim Inc.,  CanLII 13360 (O.N.S.C.) at para. 38).
In other words, fast adjudication should not compromise fair adjudication.
Enjoy the rest of your day, and thanks for reading.
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
Lewis v. Lewis is a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in which the Appellants challenged the dismissal of their Application from the Superior Court of Justice. At issue was whether the Appellants’ mother, Marie Lewis, had the requisite capacity to execute new powers of attorney for property and personal care. The Appellants sought to invalidate the new powers of attorney and bring back into effect prior powers of attorney which Mrs. Lewis executed in 1995.
The Appellants raised several issues on appeal. In essence, they took issue with the application judge’s assessment of the evidence and exercise of his case management discretion.
In dismissing the appeal, the Ontario Court of Appeal emphasized the following principles regarding capacity:
- Since capacity is presumed, those objecting to the document(s) have the onus to rebut that presumption, with clear evidence, on a balance of probabilities.
- Similarly, those raising the issue of suspicious circumstances and undue influence bear the onus of establishing it, on a balance of probabilities.
- The fact that someone had various chronic medical conditions throughout their life does not automatically mean that they lacked capacity. It is open to the application judge to consider the evidence. In doing so, the application judge may reject any evidence that they find to be unreliable.
- Without evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable for an application judge to take “solace” from the fact that the individual executed their new powers of attorney before their solicitor of many years.
- It is reasonable for an application judge to refer to the statements of section 3 counsel, appointed by the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, concerning an individual’s expressed wishes.
Good things to keep in mind when dealing with capacity issues.
Thanks for reading … Have a great day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Celine Dookie
In the spirit of the season, we take this opportunity to explore potential estates issues with respect to age-old Halloween stories, supposing they occurred in Ontario.
Spawned from historical and mythic accounts of Vlad the Impaler and reimagined in Bram Stoker’s classic, Dracula is the prototypical vampire – debonair and inconspicuous gentleman by day, bloodthirsty and puissant ghoul by night – a personification of evil. With such notoriety, it is unsurprising that his estate is fabulous. Once Dracula is deceased (from a silver bullet), his estate trustee could liquefy all the treasures he has accumulated through the ages. And there is no doubt that his castle, with its grand halls, ornate architecture, and scenic view of the Transylvanian mountains, would be worth a fortune. But what of the beneficiaries? If Dracula has a will, surely it would have some foul purpose that would be voided on public policy grounds. Applying the laws of intestacy, then, we would look for Dracula’s spouse and next of kin, but being as his life goals were far from romantic and familial, it is most probable “that the property becomes the property of the Crown, and the Escheats Act, 2015 applies” (Succession Law Reform Act, s. 47(7)).
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein illustrates how social alienation can lead to monstrosity (a subject explored more subtly than in Joker), but in film and popular culture it is best remembered as a warning against science going too far (i.e., the wakening of an uncontrollable force, akin to the Jewish golem and symbolic of nuclear warfare). Now we must imagine that Dr. Frankenstein’s estate would be less than the Mummy’s (what with all the riches in an Egyptian crypt), but much as Dr. Frankenstein might port the shabby dress of a man in his station, we should not doubt that a mad scientist can accumulate valuable assets. Since the wretch probably does not have legal personhood, however, any bequest from Dr. Frankenstein to his creation would probably have to be in the form of a charitable donation (similar to the woman who gave everything to dogs, as we blogged about here). But then we must wonder if the wretch were exercising undue influence on Dr. Frankenstein … There is also the question of claimants against the estate, for the wretch’s many victims would be expected to sue.
Hansel and Gretel
The Brothers Grimm memorialized this cautionary tale about two children who get lost in the woods and end up the captives of an evil witch. In the aftermath of the children outsmarting and destroying their captor, the question arises: what will happen to her gingerbread house and other candy assets? We may infer that her will would be invalid, for a cannibalistic witch cannot be said to be operating with a sound enough mind to meet the threshold for testamentary capacity. In any case, the children could claim dependant support according to section 58(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act, for they were being fed (especially Hansel) large quantities of candy and were provided with shelter. And if estate litigation were to ensue, the Ontario Children’s Lawyer would likely have to get involved: Hansel and Gretel, precocious as they may be, are still children.
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
Disinheritance has long been a subject replete with interest. Is it a doleful mishap, a strange whim rooted in spite, a tragedy, or is it just desserts and a shield by which elderly persons can impose good behaviour on their successors? Charles Dickens was fascinated with the subject. From Great Expectations to Martin Chuzzlewit, many of his tales include fabulously wealthy testators, parasitical and destitute minor relatives, wronged rightful heirs, family bonds eroded by greed, artifice and deception – and often, in the end, a just outcome. Similar to how the poignancy of this theme stirred Dickens’ readers, aggrieved disinherited parties are often so stirred, to put it mildly, that they commence all-out legal warfare – quenching their scorn with the costly and sometimes blackened bread of estate litigation.
From the testator’s point of view, there is no foolproof method of disinheriting a child. It certainly helps if the child is not dependent, is an adult, has no basis for expecting anything, and there is a forceful, probative reason for the disinheritance (i.e. “so-and-so didn’t let me see my grandchildren”). It might be a good idea for a testator to explicitly state that he or she is disinheriting a child, lest the child later make the argument that the omission was a slip-of-the-mind rather than deliberate disinheritance. The testator may also include a clause explaining the rationale, though this can be dangerous – disinheriting someone out of racism (Spence v. B.M.O. Trust Company,  O.N.S.C. 615 at paras. 49-50).
Some drafting solicitors may suggest giving a small, nominal amount to the otherwise disinherited child – to partially appease the child, appear more moderate to a judge, or otherwise “save face”. The problem with this, however, is that as soon as someone is a beneficiary, he or she may be able to invoke beneficiary rights, such as objecting to the passing of accounts.
As for disinherited children, they may have legal recourse, such as section 58(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act, which gives the court discretion to determine if “adequate provision” has been made for a testator’s “dependants”. In Tataryn v. Tataryn Estate,  2 S.C.R. 807, the Supreme Court overturned the explicit disinheritance of a son and wife because it found that the testator failed his “moral obligation” to provide for them. If a dependant support claim leads nowhere, a disinherited child can always challenge the will, for the wellspring of arbitrary disinheritance is often incapacity or undue influence.
It is hard to lose a parent. Hard, too, is the loss of an inheritance. Keeping this in mind, testators who wish to prevent a conflagration of litigation might opt not to light the spark of disinheritance. If they feel the circumstances demand it, however, they should work with their estate planners to fortify their legal positions against the storms which might otherwise gather.
Thank you for reading,
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
Avoiding Common Errors in an Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will
Commencing an Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will is the first step in having a court formally declare a will as valid. This process was formerly known in Ontario as “probate”.
While these Certificates are not mandatory, some banks and financial institutions may require an Estate Trustee to obtain a Certificate in order to deal with estate assets. Aside from this, a Certificate is usually required in instances where:
- the estate is large;
- the assets cannot be easily transferred; and
- real property forms part of the estate.
Avoiding Common Errors
Although the Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will is fairly short in length and seems straightforward, it is rare for these Applications to be approved upon their first submission. In the majority of cases, they are returned for corrections.
In order to assist applicants in completing their forms, the Ministry of the Attorney General released the following guidelines that highlight some common errors in these Applications:
- An Affidavit of Execution of Will or Codicil (Formed 74.8) signed by one of the witnesses to the will must be filed together with the original will, which will be marked as “Exhibit A” to the affidavit.
- If there is no affidavit of execution and both witnesses cannot be found or have died, an affidavit attesting to the signature of the testator must be filed. Ideally, the affidavit should be made by someone who is familiar with the testator’s signature.
- On Form 74.4 “Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will (Individual Applicant)”, the question under section 5 regarding an election of the Family Law Act should only be answered if the applicant is the spouse of the deceased.
- If the will states that someone other than the applicant has the right to apply for the Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee (or succeeding estate trustee), that person must give up their right by completing Form 74.11 “Renunciation of Right to a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee (or Succeeding Estate Trustee) With a Will.”
- This must be indicated on the Application (Form 74.4) and on Form 74.13 “Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will.”
4. If the applicant is not named as Estate Trustee in the will, they must obtain consent to their appointment from the beneficiaries who make up a majority share of the assets of the estate.
5. If an Estate Trustee who is named in the will or codicil is not the applicant due to death or renunciation, this should be indicated on the Application (Form 74.4) and on Form 74.13.
- If a will and/or codicil refers to a memorandum, the memorandum must be filed with the court.
- If the memorandum cannot be found, an affidavit indicating this must be filed, along with the efforts made to locate it.
- All beneficiaries named in the will must be served with Form 74.7 “Notice of an Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will.”
- If a beneficiary has not been served, an explanation must be given in Form 74.6 “Affidavit of Service of Notice” as to why.
- Form 74.7 must be marked as “Exhibit A” to Form 74.6 “Affidavit of Service of Notice.”
- The original will should be marked as “Exhibit A” to the affidavit in the Application (Form 74.4).
- If Form 74.8 “Affidavit of Execution of Will or Codicil” is not submitted, an affidavit must be filed with the Application that explains this and sets out the efforts made to find the people who witnessed the testator sign their will.
- On Form 74.13 “Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will”, the address of the court should be typed under the Registrar’s signature line.
- The date should not be filled in on this Form;
- A plain, unmarked copy of the will should be filed; and
- The court will impress a seal upon the Certificate of Appointment and the copy of the will attached.
To read the full article from the Ministry of the Attorney General about how to avoid common errors in applying for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee, visit this link.
Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Celine Dookie
One steady source of estate litigation is the uncertainty around estate trustee compensation. There is no statutory formula for determining the appropriate quantum. Instead, estate trustees come up with a percentage that is supposed to reflect their contributions, and the beneficiaries are left with the options of accepting, objecting, and everything in between. If matters proceed to court, judges apply an age-old customary analysis in order to find a number that suits the unique circumstances of the estate administration. One of the five factors the courts look at is the size of the estate. Whereas traditionally bigger estates have led to bigger compensation, we have seen a potential turning point out in New Brunswick in the case of Atlantic Jewish Foundation v. Leventhal Estate,  N.S.S.C. 297.
Section 61 of the Trustee Act directs that estate trustees be paid “fair and reasonable allowance[s]” for their “care, pains and trouble”. Over time, courts have set the “tariff guideline” or customary rate at “2.5% of each of the capital receipts, capital disbursements, revenue receipts, and revenue disbursements” (Freeman Estate, Re,  O.J. 3402 at para. 30). This rate must be cross-checked, however, against the five factors, which look at the actual work done, before a final quantum is reached.
Size and Complexity
Historically, estate trustees have earned more in administering bountiful estates, and vice versa. The administration of a small yet convoluted estate has typically been far less lucrative than the administration of a large estate comprised of a handful of simple assets. Courts have, however, been ready to reduce compensation when an estate, despite its net value, involves little complexity – for instance, when the assets are easy to liquefy and distribute (see Forrest Estate v. O’Donohue,  O.J. 1898 (Gen. Div.) at para. 14).
A Deviation in New Brunswick
What is unique with the compensation reduction in Atlantic Jewish Foundation is that the estate trustee’s duties were not particularly simple. He managed the deceased’s hotel, sold it at a good price, oversaw numerous agents, and generally displayed skill and sophistication. Yet the court slashed his proposed compensation in half – a pronounced reduction – and did so not on the basis that the estate was simple, but that he should not receive remuneration that was tantamount to a “windfall or a bequest”. Certainly his case was not helped by the fact that the objector, and residuary beneficiary, was a charity, and that he was seeking $900,000 for 77 hours of work …
In the wake of this case, it will be interesting to see if other courts lessen compensation because the figure is merely too high, rather than applying percentages that coincide with the work done.
Thanks for reading,
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
The Substitute Decisions Act (the “SDA”) was passed in 1992. It governs what happens when a person becomes incapable of managing their own property or personal care. Under section 3 of the SDA, if the capacity of a person in a legal proceeding is in issue, the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”) may arrange for the legal representation of that person. Section 3 also provides that the person shall be deemed to have the capacity to retain and instruct counsel.
Although section 3 seems to be fairly straightforward, the details surrounding the appointment and position of section 3 counsel are somewhat obscure. Cases such as Sylvester v Britton and Banton v Banton have added some clarity to the role of section 3 counsel. The recent case of Kwok v Kwok provides a further illustration as to when section 3 counsel is to be appointed.
In Kwok v Kwok, Jiefu Kwok was involved in two motor vehicle accidents in 2011. He suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result and commenced two legal actions in relation to the accidents. A capacity assessment was conducted in 2014, which revealed that Jiefu was incapable of taking care of himself and managing his own property. In 2015, Jiefu’s son, Derek, was appointed as his guardian for property and personal care. Derek later filed an application to be released from these roles as he stated that it was putting a strain on his relationship with his father. Derek’s mother, Ellie, brought an application to take Derek’s place and be appointed as Jiefu’s guardian of property and personal care.
The PGT took the position that section 3 counsel should be appointed to represent Jiefu and obtain his wishes before Ellie was appointed as Jiefu’s guardian of property and personal care. The PGT was of the view that Jiefu’s capacity assessment conducted in 2014 was outdated and that a more limited guardianship might be appropriate for him.
Counsel for Derek and Ellie (the “Applicants”) argued that section 3 counsel is to be used in cases where a capacity assessment has not already been conducted. They added that, since a capacity assessment was already conducted in this case, the appointment of section 3 counsel was inappropriate. Moreover, a primary concern for the Applicants was the high costs associated with the appointment of section 3 counsel.
The Court considered the arguments of the PGT and the Applicants and noted the following about the role of section 3 counsel:
- The appointment of section 3 counsel is a safeguard that protects the dignity, privacy and legal rights of a person who is alleged to be incapable
- Section 3 of the SDA does not make the appointment of legal representation mandatory
- In deciding whether to appoint section 3 counsel, the Court must consider the specific facts and issues in each case
- The Court can appoint section 3 counsel even in cases where a capacity assessment has already been conducted or where there is an existing Court order declaring that a person is incapable
The Court concluded that the appointment of section 3 counsel would not be in Jiefu’s best interests and would be a waste of resources. The Court made this finding based on the following reasons:
- There were no completing claims amongst Jiefu’s closest relatives as to who should be his legal representative. Both Derek and Ellie supported the appointment of Ellie as Jiefu’s guardian of property and personal care
- There was no evidentiary basis to question the validity of the 2014 capacity assessment
- A letter from Jiefu’s primary care physician regarding his current condition did not suggest that Jiefu’s condition had improved
- Jiefu attended Court and expressed that he supported the appointment of Ellie as his guardian of property and personal care
As a result, Derek was released from his role as Jiefu’s guardian for property and of the person and Ellie was appointed in his place.
Kwok v Kwok adds to a growing body of cases examining the role of section 3 counsel. It provides that the Court can appoint section 3 counsel even in cases where a capacity assessment has already been conducted or where there is an existing Court order declaring that a person is incapable. Furthermore, it indicates that the wishes of the incapable person are to be given a considerable amount of weight in assessing whether section 3 counsel is appropriate.
For further reading on section 3 counsel, check out these other blogs:
Thanks for reading – have a great day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Celine Dookie
The mysterious death of Jeffrey Epstein is generating a hubbub across the world. It reads like the beginning of an Agatha Christie detective novel and has a central figure who is reminiscent of a James Bond villain: a wealthy financier who is accused of operating a pedophilic sex trafficking ring. He has connections with scores of famous people: politicians, celebrities, royalty … In the early stages of his prosecution, he attempts to commit suicide; then, shortly afterwards, he is taken off suicide watch, the guards purportedly sleep through their checkups on him, and he is found dead.
In the aftermath, there have been conspiracy theories and much controversy, including an FBI investigation. The case has also prompted some questions regarding succession law, for it has just been reported that Epstein signed a new Will two days prior to his death. For the purposes of this post, we shall posit what would happen to the Will and the estate if this had all occurred in Ontario.
Validity of the Will
If Epstein indeed committed suicide, his suicidal mind would be considered in determining whether he had testamentary capacity, but it would not be conclusive (Topp Estate, 1983 CanLII 2329 (SKSU)). The applicable test is still the contextual factors set out in Banks v. Goodfellow.
If it comes to light that Epstein was murdered, then the Will could be attacked on the basis of undue influence. To achieve this, the objector would have to meet a fairly high evidentiary threshold, establishing “that what appears to be the testator’s will is not his or her will” (Kozak Estate (Re), 2018 ABQB 185).
As Epstein’s brother is named the sole beneficiary of the estate, if he is found to have murdered his brother, then public policy would likely bar him from benefiting from the estate (Papasotiriou, 2012 ONSC 6473).
It has been reported that the alleged victims’ lawyers are seeking to continue their action against the Epstein estate. One of these lawyers, Lisa Bloom, is demanding a freeze of the assets in the meantime. In Ontario, if the deceased dies during the time in which he or she is a defendant in litigation, Rule 11.02 of the Rules of Civil Procedure may allow for an action to be continued against the deceased’s estate.
If the alleged victims win their lawsuit against the Epstein estate, it is uncertain whether they will obtain their damages awards, for Epstein likely sheltered many of his assets. In Ontario, the claimants could launch claims of unjust enrichment and constructive trust in order to gain access to funds which have been sheltered amongst Epstein’s friends, family, and offshore accounts. Sadly for the accusers, the same dark cunning which enabled Epstein to evade justice was likely employed in securing his assets in inaccessible vaults. Just a little something to think about.
Thank you for reading … Have a great day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
Comedian Steve Martin’s 1977 “Let’s Get Small” album foreshadows a lot of what’s been happening in our world recently.
While Martin used the phrase “let’s get small” literally (you take a drug and shrink, rather than “get high”), our world is getting smaller in other ways, only with technology, not drugs.
Our shrinking footprint
Think of the ways that technology has shrunk our world. How many paper files do we need today? How many books? A friend toured the “new look” U of T law school recently and couldn’t believe how small and sparse the offices were for professors. The reason? You don’t need space for shelves full of books and papers anymore.
Look at the trend in condominiums – smaller, smarter, more efficient. We simply don’t need (or value) as much “stuff” – china plates, workrooms, desk space, huge freezers. I cleaned out a small office in our home recently, and took to recycling a satellite receiver, a printer, an old laptop, a DVD player and more cords than you could imagine. I hadn’t used most of it in years, and seeing the clean empty space in the office was extremely satisfying. Less is more sometimes.
A timely trend
With all of the concerns about environment footprints, the fact that we can “get small” much easier today than in the past is a huge positive. We can build laneway housing, take Ubers or use auto shares instead of owning a car – and we don’t need to print mountains of paper when electronic files are faster, simpler and far more desirable. Much of our life truly “lives” on the phone in our front or back pocket. And that doesn’t take up much space.
I’m not recommending a “get small” theme for environmental reasons though (that’s an added bonus). I’m recommending it because it can lead to a simpler and more satisfying life. Instead of thinking “what can I get”, the focus becomes “what can I get rid of.” It doesn’t have to be extreme. Every so often, you eliminate one thing you plug in, or gas up, or store away. Bigger steps might include downsizing a home or going from two cars to one.
This article in Forbes.com – Ten Hacks for Simplifying Your Life – suggests going beyond the downsizing of possessions to include downsizing toxic people in your life, onerous debt, and personal grudges, amongst other things.
Give the article a read – and consider what getting small could mean for your life.
Have a great day, and thanks for reading.