Author: Umair

04 Aug

Allegations of Murder and Disinheritance in Ontario

Umair Estate & Trust, Executors and Trustees, In the News, Litigation, News & Events, Public Policy, Trustees, Wills Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

Earlier this week, the controversy surrounding the estate of American real estate developer and multi-millionaire John Chakalos dominated the headlines.

Issues Surrounding Mr. Chakalos’s Estate

Mr. Chakalos, who left a sizeable estate, was found dead at his home in 2013. Pursuant to the terms of Mr. Chakalos’s Will, his daughter Linda was one of the beneficiaries of his estate. Linda went missing and is presumed dead after a boat carrying her and her son, Nathan, sank during a fishing trip.

According to media reports, Linda’s son Nathan was also a suspect in the death of his grandfather, but was never charged. Nathan has denied the allegations regarding his involvement in his grandfather’s death and his mother’s disappearance.

According to an article by TIME, Mr. Chakalos’s three other daughters have now commenced a lawsuit in New Hampshire wherein they have accused Nathan of killing his grandfather and potentially his mother. The plaintiff daughters have asked the Court to bar Nathan from receiving his inheritance from Mr. Chakalos’s estate.

Public Policy and the Law in Ontario

It is important to note that Mr. Chakalos’s grandson has not been charged in the death of Mr. Chakalos, and the allegations against him have yet to be proven. However, there have been similar cases in Ontario where the accused beneficiary has ultimately been found to have caused the death of the testator.

Generally speaking, in Ontario, a beneficiary who is found to have caused the death of the testator is not entitled to benefit from their criminal act. This common law doctrine, often referred to as the “slayer rule,” stands for the proposition that it would be offensive to public policy for a person to benefit from the estate of a testator if the Court concludes that they have caused the death of the testator.

You can read more about the “slayer rule” on our blog here and here.

Thank you for reading,

Umair Abdul Qadir

03 Aug

Dependant Support Claims, Limitation Periods and Life Interest Beneficiaries

Umair Estate Planning, Executors and Trustees, Litigation, Support After Death, Trustees Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

We have previously blogged about the limitation period that applies to applications for dependant’s relief under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act, and the circumstances in which the Court will extend the limitation period.

In the recent decision of Habberfield v Sciamonte, 2017 ONSC 4332, the Court was asked to consider whether an application for support by a beneficiary with a life interest in a testamentary trust was statute-barred.

The Law Regarding Limitation Periods and Dependant Support Claims

Section 61(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) provides that an application for dependant’s support must be made within six months from the issuance of probate.

An application may be made beyond the six-month limitation period, with leave. Section 61(2) of the SLRA provides the Court with discretion, if it considers it proper, to allow an application to be made by a dependant “at any time with respect to any portion of the estate remaining undistributed at the date of the application”.

Generally, case law has interpreted s. 61(2) to limit any claim made after six months to the remaining, undistributed portion of the estate, and to bar any claim made after the assets have been fully distributed. Paul Trudelle previously blogged on this application of s. 61(2).

The Facts

In Habberfield, the Applicant (“Joan”) claimed that she was the long-time common law spouse of the Deceased. The Deceased died on April 11, 2012. Probate was granted on October 30, 2012. Joan’s application was heard on June 30, 2017, more than five years after the Deceased’s death.

At the time of the application, the assets of the Deceased’s Estate had an approximate value of $2,000,000.00. The assets primarily consisted of the Deceased’s home and an adjacent rental property.

Under the Deceased’s Will, the home and the rental property were to be held in trust for Joan until she died, no longer desired the properties, entered into a new relationship or moved to a seniors’ or nursing home. Upon such an event, the Will directed for the properties to be sold and for $100,000.00 to be held in a discretionary trust to meet Joan’s needs. The balance of the net proceeds of sale were to be divided amongst the Deceased’s issue. Joan was responsible for the carrying and repair costs for the properties during her life tenancy.

On the application, Joan argued that she had not considered the adequacy of the support she received under the Will prior to the expiration of the limitation period. At the time of the application, Joan was 78 years old, had limited resources to continue to pay the carrying costs of the properties and was considering moving into a care home. The latter option would only provide her with an interest in a discretionary trust of $100,000.00.

The respondent Estate Trustees argued that Joan’s claim was statute-barred, and also argued that Joan’s claim for support was weak on its merits.

Justice Lofchik’s Decision

As in prior cases that have considered the Court’s discretion under s. 61(2) of the SLRA, Justice Lofchik concluded that the discretion should be “exercised judicially in a broad and liberal manner.”

Justice Lofchik noted that the bulk of the Deceased’s Estate remained undistributed, and in fact could not be distributed until Joan’s life interest was extinguished. As a result, Justice Lofchik held that there would be no prejudice to the Estate or to the residuary beneficiaries in allowing Joan’s claim to proceed.

Justice Lofchik’s decision is consistent with prior decisions that have considered s. 61(2), where the Courts have held that the discretion to allow an application to proceed can be exercised at any time as to the assets that are undistributed as of the date of the application.

However, the discretion ultimately rests with the Court. The message to take from this case is that it is generally advisable for potential dependants to consider their present and future needs for support prior to the expiry of the statutory limitation period in order to minimize the additional risk and cost of seeking the leave of the Court.

Thank you for reading,

Umair Abdul Qadir

 

01 Aug

“Special Parties” and Litigation Guardians in Family Law Proceedings

Umair Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, Guardianship, Litigation, Power of Attorney Tags: , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Where an incapable person is named as a party in a legal proceeding, the appointment of a representative is necessary to ensure that the person’s interests are adequately represented in the litigation.

Litigation Guardians in Civil Proceedings

Rule 7.01(1) of the Rules of Civil Procedure states that, unless the Court orders or a statute provides otherwise, a litigation guardian shall commence, continue or defend a proceeding on behalf of a “party under disability.” The Rules define “disability” to include a person who is mentally incapable within the meaning of sections 6 or 45 of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992.

Rule 7 of the Rules of Civil Procedure provides additional guidance regarding litigation guardians in civil proceedings, including the powers and duties of a litigation guardian.

But what about parties who are under an incapacity and who are named as parties in a family law proceeding in Ontario?

“Special Parties” Under the Family Law Rules

In Ontario, the Family Law Rules apply to family law cases in the Superior Court of Justice’s Family Court, the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice. The Family Law Rules provide guidance on the appointment of representatives for incapable persons in family law matters.

Rule 2 of the Family Law Rules defines a “special party” as a party who is a child or who is or appears to be mentally incapable for the purposes of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 in respect of an issue in the proceeding.

Pursuant to Rule 4(2), the Court may authorize a person to represent a special party if the person is appropriate for the task and willing to act as representative. If there is no appropriate person willing to act, the Court may authorize the Children’s Lawyer or the Public Guardian and Trustee to act as the representative.

Mancino v Killoran – More Than One Potential Representative

A recent decision illustrates the conflicts that may arise when more than one person believes that they are the most appropriate person to act as an incapable person’s representative in a family law proceeding.

In Mancino v Killoran, 2017 ONSC 4515, the Applicant asserted a claim for spousal support and for an interest in a property against the Respondent (“Michael”). Michael had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and was a resident at a long-term care home. Michael’s sister (“Colleen”) and his son (“Allan”) both sought to represent Michael’s interests in the litigation, and filed affidavits in support of their positions.

Justice Gareau considered Michael’s power of attorneys and testamentary documents, which were executed at a time when Michael was still capable. Allan was named as Michael’s attorney for property and co-attorney for personal care. Allan was also named as the sole Estate Trustee of Michael’s Estate.

Justice Gareau held that “[t]he fact that Michael…, at a time when he had capacity, placed Allan… in a position of trust over his personal property and the administration of his estate indicates that he had confidence in Allan…to represent his best interests.” Michael’s sister Colleen was not named in any of Michael’s testamentary documents, which Justice Gareau found to be a “powerful and persuasive fact.”

The Court concluded that there was nothing in the evidence that would persuade the Court to depart from Michael’s express wishes regarding the management of his property. In the result, Allan was appointed to represent Michael as a special party in the family law litigation.

Thank you for reading,

Umair Abdul Qadir

23 Jun

Dependant Support Claims, Limitation Periods and the Vesting of Real Property

Umair Common Law Spouses, Estate & Trust, Executors and Trustees, In the News, Litigation, Support After Death, Trustees Tags: , , , , , 0 Comments

We have previously blogged about the limitation period that applies to claims for dependant support under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”), and the circumstances in which the Court will exercise its discretion to extend the period.

In the recent decision of MacDonald v Estate of James Pouliot, 2017 ONSC 3629, the Honourable Justice Nightingale considered whether the limitation period could be extended for a dependant’s support claim where the real property owned by the deceased had already vested in a beneficiary, by operation of section 9 of the Estates Administration Act.

Limitation period for dependant support claims

Under subsection 61(1) of the SLRA, no application for  dependant support can be made more than six months after probate has been granted.

However, subsection 61(2) provides the Court with the discretion to allow an application to be made at any time “as to any portion of the estate remaining undistributed at the date of the application.”

As we have previously blogged, the Court has generally interpreted section 61(2) to allow claims that are made more than six months after probate as against the assets that remain undistributed as of the date of the application.  In one recent decision, the Court granted leave even though the assets of the estate had been distributed due to the conduct of the estate trustee.

The issue in Pouliot

In Pouliot, the Applicant (“Mary”) was in a common-law relationship with the Deceased for 22 years. The Deceased died intestate on September 10, 2013.

The primary asset of the Estate was a house (the “Home”) that Mary and the Deceased purchased together in 1999. Although each contributed to half of the cost of the Home, title to the Home was in the name of the Deceased. The Court found that Mary and the Deceased shared the expenses of the Home during their relationship. Following the Deceased’s death, Mary continued to live at the Home and made all of the monthly mortgage payments on the Home.

As the Deceased died intestate, and given that common-law spouses do not inherit on an intestacy, the Deceased’s son was the sole beneficiary of the Deceased’s Estate. The Deceased’s son (the “Estate Trustee”) obtained probate on June 8, 2015. Mary commenced her Application on November 10, 2016, seventeen months after probate was granted.

Mary’s Application sought a declaration that she had an equal interest in the Home by way of a constructive or resulting trust. Mary also sought support as a dependant pursuant to Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act. The Estate Trustee opposed Mary’s Application, arguing that it was statute-barred due to section 61 of the SLRA and section 9 of the Estates Administration Act.

Under section 9(1) of the Estates Administration Act, real property that has not been disposed of, conveyed to, divided or distributed amongst the persons who are beneficially entitled to it within three years after the death of the deceased owner automatically vests in such persons. Mary’s Application was commenced more than three years after the Deceased’s death.

In the circumstances, although Mary was successful in her claim that she held an equal interest in the Home, Justice Nightingale held that “the applicant’s SLRA claim in this proceeding is barred as it relates to the only property of the estate that has already vested in the respondent….”

The Court concluded that there were no assets in the Estate against which an order for support could be made in Mary’s favour.

Thank you for reading,

Umair Abdul Qadir

Other blogs you may enjoy:

22 Jun

Who Can Compel a Passing of Accounts From an Attorney for Property?

Umair Capacity, Elder Law, Estate & Trust, Executors and Trustees, Litigation, Passing of Accounts, Power of Attorney, Trustees Tags: , , , , , , , 0 Comments

 

As is often the case, a person who is concerned about a fiduciary’s management of property may wish to compel an accounting. However, it is important to remember that a person’s ability to compel such an accounting may vary depending on whether an accounting is being sought from an estate trustee of a deceased’s estate or, in the alternative, from an attorney for property during the lifetime of an incapable grantor.

The legal framework in Ontario

In Ontario, pursuant to section 50 of the Estates Act, an executor or administrator shall not be required to account by the Court “…unless at the instance or on behalf of some person interested in such property or of a creditor of the deceased….” Further, Rule 74.15(1)(h) of the Rules of Civil Procedure provides for any person who appears to have a financial interest in an estate to move for an order for assistance requiring an estate trustee to pass his or her accounts.

Conversely, the right to compel an accounting from an attorney for property or guardian of property is set out under section 42 of the Substitute Decisions Act. Pursuant to section 42, in addition to the attorney, the guardian and the incapable person, the following persons may apply for the fiduciary’s accounts to be passed:

  1. The grantor’s or incapable persons’ guardian of the person or attorney for personal care;
  2. A dependant of the grantor or incapable person;
  3. The Public Guardian and Trustee;
  4. The Children’s Lawyer;
  5. A judgment creditor of the grantor or incapable person; and
  6. Any other person, with leave of the Court.

This is an important distinction to keep in mind: although a person with a financial interest in the estate may be able to compel an accounting from an estate trustee, such a financial interest on the death of an incapable grantor may not in and of itself be sufficient to compel an accounting from an attorney for property during the lifetime of the incapable.

What is the criteria for obtaining the leave of the Court?

The recent decision of the Honourable Justice LeMay in Groh v Steele, 2017 ONSC 3625, is an important reminder of the high threshold for obtaining the leave of the Court to compel an accounting from an attorney for property under section 42.

In Groh, the Applicant, Ernest, sought a capacity assessment of his mother Gabriella under the Substitute Decisions Act. Ernest also sought an order for the suspension of Gabriella’s attorneys for property ability to act and an order for the attorneys for property to pass their accounts. Ernest’s Application was opposed by Gabriella and her attorneys for property.

On the issue of Ernest’s request that the attorneys pass their accounts, Justice LeMay reviewed section 42 of the SDA and concluded that “it is clear that the only circumstances in which Ernest could ask for a passing of accounts is if he can obtain leave of the Court.”

Justice LeMay went on to make the following statement regarding the circumstances in which leave should be granted by the Court:

In my view, such leave should be granted sparingly. The passing of accounts is a detailed review of the financial affairs of the grantor. As such, it is something that is intrusive, and will reveal private financial information about the grantor. In order to obtain leave, the party applying would have to establish both that he or she had some interest (at least indirectly) in the affairs of the grantor, and that there was at least some evidence that the Attorneys were not properly conducting the affairs of the donor. The Court should also consider the role that the Attorneys are playing in the Grantor’s affairs.

After reviewing the facts before the Court, Justice LeMay concluded that a formal passing of accounts should not be ordered, and Ernest’s Application was dismissed.

Thank you for reading,

Umair Abdul Qadir

12 May

Prince’s Estate: Intestate Heirs and Fights Over Intellectual Property

Umair Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, General Interest, In the News, Litigation, News & Events, Trustees Tags: , , , , , , , 0 Comments

April 21, 2017 marked one year since the death of the beloved recording artist, Prince. We have previously blogged about the legal issues surrounding Prince’s Estate that have emerged since his death. Although more than a year has now passed, the Estate continues to be engaged in litigation.

According to media reports, producer George Ian Boxill tried to release an EP containing previously unreleased songs by Prince to coincide with the first anniversary of his death. Boxill asserted that he had the right to release the music. In a lawsuit commenced by Paisley Park Enterprises, Prince’s Estate disagreed and alleged that Boxill was in breach of the recording agreement that he had signed with Prince.

The Estate was initially successful in blocking Boxill’s attempts to release the EP of new music. However, according to a new report in TMZ, Boxill has now filed additional legal documents that state that the unreleased music was not the subject of a nondisclosure agreement.

Separately, as we have previously blogged, Prince died without a Will and any known children, resulting in claims from a number of possible heirs.

According to a recent news report, the Minnesota judge presiding over the proceedings had indicated that he would not make a declaration regarding the heirs of Prince’s Estate until appeals by other potential heirs whose claims had been rejected were allowed to run their course. Lawyers for Prince’s sister and half-siblings have now argued that this delay will unnecessarily increase costs and hinder the proper administration of the Estate.

We have previously blogged about the importance of carefully addressing issues regarding intellectual property and any possible rights the estate may have after the testator’s death in a testator’s estate plan. Deceased writers, musicians and other artists may be parties to agreements that bind their estates and affect the rights and control over their intellectual property.

It is generally advisable for drafting solicitors to ensure that such legal documents are reviewed as part of a creative professional’s estate planning. It may also be prudent to obtain the advice of a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property law, to ensure that the estate plan adequately addresses any possible rights the estate may have after the testator’s death. Disputes over the beneficial ownership and control of a testator’s intellectual property can result in protracted and expensive litigation.

The legal issues surrounding Prince’s Estate reiterate the importance of careful estate planning while the testator is still alive. Lack of certainty regarding the beneficiaries of the estate, the deceased’s intentions and the property/rights of the estate can significantly increase the risk that the estate will become embroiled in protracted litigation.

Other Articles You Might Be Interested In

Intellectual Property in the Estates Context

A Cautionary Tale: Prince Dies Intestate?

Prince’s Possible Heirs: An Update

Intellectual Property – Why it’s Fashionable to Consider when Estate Planning

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11 May

When Does the Presumption of Undue Influence Arise?

Umair Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, Litigation, Wills Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

The equitable doctrine of undue influence is one way in which inter vivos transfers or the terms of a testator’s Will can be challenged. The Court has the ability to set aside a gift or transfer if it concludes that influence was being exerted on the grantor. Undue influence can be difficult to prove, and the onus is on the challenger of the transaction to prove that the grantor or testator was unduly influenced.

However, in certain circumstances, the Court may conclude that a presumption of undue influence arises. In the recent decision of Morreale v Romanino, 2017 ONCA 359, the Ontario Court of Appeal further clarified the test to be met in order to trigger the presumption of undue influence.

But First, Some Background

Mr. and Mrs. Ruccia had two children, Giustina (the “Appellant”) and Elisabeth (the “Respondent”). The Appellant’s husband had a falling out with Mr. Ruccia, and they remained estranged until Mr. Ruccia’s death. In contrast, the Respondent lived with her parents for her entire life and contributed to their care as they became older.

Upon their deaths in 2009, the Appellant discovered that her parents had made an inter vivos gift of their most significant capital asset to the Respondent, being the equity in the home that they had lived in with the Respondent and her husband. The evidence showed that the same solicitor acted on the sale of the parents’ property and subsequently acted for the Respondent and her husband with respect to the purchase of a new home.

The Appellant commenced a legal proceeding, alleging that the parents were unduly influenced into gifting their equity in the home to the Respondent. At trial, the Appellant’s action was dismissed.

After reviewing the relevant legal principles, the trial judge concluded that the Respondent’s relationship with her parents did have the capacity to create undue influence, but found that the presumption of undue influence did not arise because it was impossible to find “any specific act of coercion or domination.” In any event, the trial judge concluded that if the presumption did arise, the presumption was rebutted.

The Presumption of Undue Influence

In Geffen v Goodman, the Supreme Court of Canada set out the test to be met in order for a plaintiff to establish a presumption of undue influence. The first enquiry is “whether the potential for domination inheres in the nature of the relationship itself.” If such a relationship exists, the next enquiry is an examination of the nature of the transaction.

On appeal, the Appellant submitted that the trial judge erred in law by concluding that the presumption did not arise because there was no “specific act of domination or coercion.” Justice Gillese, writing for a unanimous Court of Appeal, agreed with this submission and distinguished between the presumption of undue influence and actual undue influence.

Justice Gillese held that the test “requires the trial judge to consider the whole of the relationship between the parties to see if there is the potential for domination, rather than looking for a specific act of coercion or domination.”

However, the Court of Appeal concluded that the trial judge had carefully examined the family dynamic, including Mr. Ruccia’s strong-willed personality, his relationship with the Appellant and her husband, and his control over financial decisions.

In the circumstances, although the Ruccias and the Respondent were in a relationship of dependence, the Court of Appeal held that the trial judge had not erred in concluding the presumption of undue influence did not arise.

Thank you for reading,

Umair Abdul Qadir

Other Articles You Might Be Interested In

The High Hurdle of Undue Influence

Inter Vivos Transfers, Undue Influence and Independent Legal Advice

The Validity of an Inter Vivos Gift

10 Mar

What Happens When a Missing Person Comes Back From the “Dead”?

Umair Estate & Trust, Executors and Trustees, General Interest, In the News Tags: , , , , , 0 Comments

This week, I have been blogging about the case of Anna and Kym Hakze, two sisters from Alberta who were found more than thirty years after they last made contact with their families.

I blogged about the Ontario Absentees Act, which allows for a missing person’s affairs to be put under the management of a committee if the Court is satisfied that a “due and satisfactory inquiry” has been made into their whereabouts. Yesterday’s blog talked about the Declarations of Death Act, 2002, which gives the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario the power to declare that a missing person is dead if the Court is satisfied that they disappeared in circumstances of peril or that they have been absent for at least seven years.

But the case of the Hakze sisters raises another interesting legal question: what happens in Ontario when a missing person, who has been declared an absentee under the Absentees Act or dead under the Declarations of Death Act, 2002, is later found to be alive?

When an absentee is no longer an absentee

As previously discussed, section 4 of the Absentees Act empowers the Court to make an order for the appointment of a committee for the custody, due care and management of the property of the missing person. The committee has the same duties and powers as a guardian of property under the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992.

However, section 3 of the Absentees Act states that a Court can make an order declaring and superseding, vacating and setting aside an order declaring a person as an absentee on an application, if it is satisfied that the person has ceased to be an absentee.

It is important to note that any acts or things done in respect of the estate of the absentee while the original order was in force are excepted from section 3 of the Absentees Act. Thus, the Act does not purport to undo any steps that were taken by the committee to manage the person’s property while the person was an absentee.

The legal effect of coming back from the “dead”

Once a missing person has been declared dead pursuant to the Declarations of Death Act, the assets of their estate may be administered and distributed. But what happens if the missing person is later discovered to be alive?

Pursuant to subsection 6(1) of the Act, if an order has been made that applies for the purposes of dealing with the missing person’s estate and all or part of the estate has been distributed in accordance with the order, the distribution is final and the missing person is not entitled to recover the distributed property.

It should be noted subsection 6(1) does not apply if the personal representative had reasonable grounds to believe that the missing person was not, in fact, dead. If this is the case, the personal representative should not take any steps to administer the missing person’s estate until the order is confirmed by the Court.

The Act does provide the Court with discretion, if it is of the opinion that it would be just to do so, to make an order requiring a person who was in receipt of the missing person’s property to reconvey the property or pay a specified amount to the missing person. In making such an order, the Court considers all the circumstances, including any inconvenience or hardship to the person subject to the order. However, absent such an order, any property that has been properly distributed is deemed to belong to the recipient.

Any undistributed property that has not been distributed when the missing person is discovered to be alive remains their property and is deemed to be held in trust pursuant to the Trustee Act.

Thank you for reading,

Umair Abdul Qadir

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:

 

09 Mar

Missing Persons and Declarations of Death

Umair Estate & Trust, Executors and Trustees, General Interest, In the News, Litigation, News & Events, Power of Attorney, Trustees Tags: , , , , , 0 Comments

Earlier this week, I blogged about the astonishing case of Anna and Kym Hakze, two Alberta sisters whose whereabouts were discovered more than thirty years after they had been missing. I also discussed the Absentees Act, which creates a legal mechanism in Ontario for a missing person’s affairs to be put under the management of a committee.

In today’s blog, I will be discussing the Declarations of Death Act, 2002, which provides the Court with the authority to declare a missing person as dead.

Declarations of Death Act, 2002: an overview

Pursuant to section 2 of the Declarations of Death Act, 2002, an “interested person” can apply to the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, on notice to any other interested persons of whom the applicant is aware, for an Order declaring that an individual is dead.

The Court will grant such relief if it is satisfied that the missing person has disappeared in circumstances of peril (pursuant to subsection 2(4) of the Act) or if they have been absent for at least seven years (pursuant to subsection 2(5) of the Act).

Who is an “interested person”?

An application for a declaration of death can be commenced by an “interested person,” a term that is defined at section 1 of the Act.

In addition to next of kin and married and common-law spouses, the Act defines “interested person” to include:

  • a person named as an executor of the individual’s Estate under a Will or a person who may be entitled to be appointed as an administrator of the Estate on an intestacy;
  • a guardian or attorney for personal care or property under the Substitute Decisions Act;
  • a person who is in possession of property owned by the missing individual;
  • if there is a contract of life insurance or group insurance insuring the missing individual’s life, the insurer and any potential claimant under the contract; and
  • if the missing individual has been declared an absentee under the Absentees Act, the absentee’s committee.

The test for a declaration of death

An applicant must satisfy the Court, on a balance of probabilities, that:

  • the individual has disappeared in circumstances of peril or been absent for at least seven years;
  • the applicant has not heard of or from the individual since the disappearance or during the seven-year period;
  • to the applicant’s knowledge (after making reasonable inquiries), no other person has heard of or from the individual during the seven-year period;
  • the applicant has no reason to believe that the individual is alive; and
  • there is sufficient evidence to find that the individual is dead.

In the event that the Court is not satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to declare the person dead, section 3 of the Act provides the Court with the ability to provide the alternative relief of making an Order under the Absentees Act.

What are “circumstances of peril”?

In considering whether to bring an application under subsection 2(4) of the Act, an applicant must consider if the circumstances in which the individual disappeared would constitute “circumstances of peril.”

Although such circumstances are not defined under the Act, the Court has held that “peril” means a “situation of serious and immediate danger.” The Court will undertake a fact-specific inquiry, and the applicant should ensure that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the missing individual was in serious and immediate danger prior to their disappearance.

Thank you for reading,

Umair Abdul Qadir

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07 Mar

The Absentees Act: Administering the Assets of Missing Persons

Umair Estate & Trust, General Interest, In the News, News & Events, Power of Attorney Tags: , , , 0 Comments

Last week, the news of the location of two Alberta sisters who had been missing for more than thirty years made headlines across the country.

Anna and Kym Hakze, originally from Lethbridge, Alberta, were last seen in the mid-1980s and last heard from in 1993. The sisters were formally reported as missing in 2003.

The case for the search for the sisters went cold, and local police went as far as submitting the family’s DNA to detectives during the investigation of convicted serial killer Robert Pickton in British Columbia. As reported on CBC News, a 1984 newspaper clipping and a tip from the public ultimately provided a breakthrough and helped police locate the sisters’ whereabouts.

Who administers a missing person’s property?

The story of the Hakze sisters is particularly newsworthy because of how uncommon it is for a missing person to be found after such a significant length of time. In a press release issued by the Lethbridge Police Service, Staff Sergeant Scott Woods noted, “After so many years it’s very unusual for a case like this to end with good news.”

Unfortunately, many families of missing persons are only left with unanswered questions. In addition, the missing person’s assets may be left unmanaged and unadministered, which can be particularly problematic if the person has creditors or dependants who require immediate access to these funds.

In Ontario, the Absentees Act creates a legal mechanism for a missing person’s affairs to be put under the management of a committee.

The “due and satisfactory inquiry” requirement

The Act provides the Superior Court of Justice to declare a person to be an absentee, if it is shown that “due and satisfactory inquiry” has been made regarding their whereabouts. The Court also has the power to direct such further inquiries to be made and proceedings to be taken as the Court considers expedient before an order is made.

It should be noted that a simple missing person report prepared by the police may be insufficient to justify a declaration under the Absentees Act. Applicants must be prepared to demonstrate that they have conducted reasonable, independent inquiries into the missing person’s whereabouts.

An application under the Absentees Act can be made by the Attorney General; any one or more of the missing person’s next of kin; the missing person’s married or common law spouse; a creditor; or any other person.

Appointment of a committee

If the Court is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to declare the missing person to be an absentee, section 4 of the Act also empowers the Court to appoint a committee for the custody, due care and management of the absentee’s property. A trust corporation may be appointed as such a committee, with or without other persons.

Where such a committee is appointed, section 6 of the Act states that the powers and duties of the Court and the committee are the same as the powers and duties of the Court and of a guardian of property under the Substitute Decisions Act, with necessary modifications. Thus, the Absentees Act imports the requirements that apply to the management of the property of incapable persons in Ontario.

The Absentees Act provides a useful remedy for families of missing persons and other interested parties. Later this week, I will be blogging about the Declarations of Death Act, 2002, and the circumstances in which a Court will declare a person to be dead.

Thank you for reading,

Umair Abdul Qadir

Other Articles You May Be Interested In:

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