When sick, elderly or injured patients are hospitalized, the hospital usually has a discussion with the patient or their substitute decision-maker about end-of-life decisions. In particular, there usually is a difficult discussion about the extent to which the patient is to be resuscitated in the event of heart stoppage. Often, the patient wants to be allowed a natural death, with no heroic measures to prolong life, such as intubation or other artificial life supports. Such decisions can be made for a number of reasons, such as the person’s religious beliefs, a desire to avoid the pain and possibly harmful effects of resuscitation efforts, or a concern about quality-of-life post-resuscitation.
(It has been argued that calling the decision a “DNR” is stigmatizing, and should be called an “Allow Natural Death” order instead.)
If a decision to forego resuscitation is made, a “Do Not Resuscitate” (“DNR”) order is completed. The decision is noted on the patient’s file, and often on the whiteboard by the hospital bed.
Difficulties can arise, however, when the person is not hospitalized at the time. If the person is at home and suffers an incident, the attending paramedics may have no way of knowing about any DNR decision. Ontario does not have any form of registry for DNR decisions, so paramedics have no way of searching on-line for DNR decisions.
In an interview with CBC Judy Nairn, Executive Director of Hospice Waterloo Region, suggested that people at home with concerns about their DNR order being honoured should put it on their fridge door: paramedics always look their first.
The news report referred to a 67-year-old woman who was so concerned that her DNR wishes be respected that she wears her DNR request around her neck.
It is not enough just to make the decision about resuscitation efforts. It is important to take steps to ensure that the decision, once made, is respected and acted upon.
Thank you for reading.
 For this reason, the frail and elderly should also always keep contact information and details of any medical conditions and medications on their fridge.
It has not always been easy to keep up with the rapid technological changes to court processes and court hearings that have been happening over the last several months. We have all needed to adapt, and adapt we have! Although, to me, in person hearings remain the ideal way in which to interact with counsel, clients and judges, I admit the Zoom court hearings have been a welcome respite from the added time and stress of the early morning drive to far-away court houses in different cities to argue one case or another. Clients may also appreciate the cost-savings that result from less paper and less travel and waiting times.
Streamlining of court processes has recently been solidified by way of several changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure, and a couple of my colleagues have podcasted about it here. This trend has now also expanded to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the leave application process is reported to be changing effective January 27, 2021. The changes can be found here, and facilitate the electronic filing of material.
Should there be more changes to come, we will keep you posted.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
Natalia R. Angelini
In British Columbia (“BC”), there is a process known as wills variation, whereby a spouse or child of a testator can challenge the distribution set out in the will upon the death of the testator. In these will variation cases, the Court must balance the autonomy of the testator – to decide how to distribute his/her estate – with certain moral obligations that might be present. The BC legislation that allows for this equitable claim is unique.
The BC Supreme Court’s decision in the 2015 Kong v Kong (“Kong”) case confirmed that, although difficult given the ability to bring a wills variation claim, it is possible to disinherit your children in BC. Mr. Kong was survived by seven children, all of whom were adults, at the time of his death. Mr. Kong’s Will provided for the overwhelming majority of his estate to be left to his youngest son, thus disinheriting his remaining children. Four of Mr. Kong’s disinherited children initiated a wills variation claim in an effort to vary the Will in their favour. In order for the Court to consider variation, it must determine whether the reasons for an adult child’s disentitlement meet the criteria of “valid and rational.” The onus lies on those challenging a will to establish that there were no valid or rational reasons to justify the testator’s decision.
In BC, a testator’s moral obligation to his/her children does not necessarily require the testator to provide for an adult child where there has been estrangement, misconduct, or sufficient provision to the child in the testator’s lifetime. Satisfying one’s moral obligation does not require an equal distribution to all surviving children. In the Kong decision, Justice Sharma found inconsistent claims regarding the nature of the relationship between Mr. Kong and his children who brought the variation claim. Justice Sharma held that some of the disinherited children had been estranged from their father prior to his death. On an evidentiary note, Justice Sharma refused to limit the Court’s analysis solely to discussions between Mr. Kong and his lawyer when the Will was prepared. Instead, the Court engaged in an objective investigation into the relationship between each of the Kong children and their father. Upon reviewing the reasons found for the estrangement, Justice Sharma concluded that Mr. Kong had no moral obligation to provide for the children who had been estranged (and were at fault for this estrangement). As such, Justice Sharma upheld the father’s decision to disinherit two out of the four applicants. A five percent share of the estate was awarded to the remaining applicants.
The Kong case demonstrates that, even where a variation is justified, the Court will still give strong deference to the testator’s intentions as expressed in his/her will.
Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph
I previously blogged about the Calmusky v. Calmusky decision here, in which decision the court concluded that resulting trust presumptions apply to the beneficiary designation under a Registered Income Fund (RIF). As such, the onus was put on the named beneficiary of the RIF to rebut the presumption that he was holding the RIF in trust for his late father’s estate. The decision was not appealed.
The Ontario Bar Association (OBA), and primarily the OBA’s Trusts and Estates section, has considered the impacts of the case and has delivered a Submission to the Attorney General of Ontario and Minister of Finance with proposed remedies.
The potential effects cited by the OBA are worrying, and include that (i) it may compel financial advisors to provide what amounts to legal advice when such designations are being made, (ii) it may increase litigation where the named beneficiaries of plans, funds and policies are not the same residuary beneficiaries of an estate, (iii) it may create uncertainty in contracts (e.g. cohabitation and/or separation agreements) that use beneficiary designations as a way to secure support payments, and (iv) it may defeat the testamentary intentions of Ontarians who previously made their beneficiary designations and cannot make new ones.
The OBA Submission proposes legislative amendments with retroactive effect to remedy the issue. Such proposed amendments are to add a subsection to each of the Succession Law Reform Act (s. 51) and Insurance Act (s. 190) clarifying that when a designation is made, no presumption of resulting trust in favour of the estate is created.
We will provide an update once we know more.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
Natalia R. Angelini
An aging population brings with it more older Canadians involved in the court system. Some challenges with having older witnesses testify at trial may include:
- memory impairments (almost 40% of people over age 65),
- a decline in hearing (47% of people age 60-79),
- irreversible vision loss (25% of people by age 75),
- mobility issues (more than 25% of people by age 75), and
- dementia (at least 90% of people with dementia are over age 65).
Add to this the method in which evidence at trial is elicited – through the adversarial process of examination and cross-examination, with the witness sitting alone, apart and elevated in the courtroom, which conditions make witnesses feel uncomfortable and intimidated – and the result is less accurate testimony.
Some solutions for our older witnesses include various ways to minimize court appearances, including examining witnesses for discovery at their homes, allowing them to attend pre-trial or trial by telephone or videoconference, and allowing hearsay statements made out of court to be admitted at trial. Another very helpful option for the elderly and/or infirm is to avoid delay by taking trial testimony in advance of the trial. In Ontario, Rule 36 of the Rules of Civil Procedure allows the parties to examine a witness before trial (often video-taped), which examination can be used at trial in the place of in-person oral testimony. If the parties don’t agree on the issue, the party that wants to proceed with the Rule 36 examination would need to bring a motion seeking a court order to this effect. When deciding whether or not to allow a Rule 36 examination, the court must take into account various considerations, including:
- the convenience of the person whom the party seeks to examine;
- the possibility that the person will be unavailable to testify at the trial by reason of death, infirmity or sickness;
- the possibility that the person will be beyond the jurisdiction of the court at the time of the trial;
- the expense of bringing the person to the trial; and
- whether the witness ought to give evidence in person at the trial.
Rule 36 examinations certainly seem to be in keeping with the times. With the long-overdue technological strides made in our court system as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually every litigation step is now being conducted virtually (including examinations, mediations, pre-trials and trials). With this trend expected to continue after the pandemic has ended, I would imagine that we will see fewer disputes over the issue of whether or not a Rule 36 examination should proceed.
For a more comprehensive commentary on the issue of accommodating older witnesses, I refer you to the paper in the footnote below, from which I have taken just a sampling of high points in this blog.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
 Obtained from Helene Love’s paper, Seniors on the stand: accommodating older witnesses in adversarial trials, The Canadian Bar Review (Vol. 97, 2019, No. 2)
This week marked the airing of the final episodes of Jeopardy! featuring Alex Trebek as host.
Alex Trebek died on November 8, 2020 at the age of 80. Alex announced in March 2019 that he had stage IV pancreatic cancer. Despite this, he continued his hosting duties. He taped his final episode on October 29, 2020, which is being aired on January 8, 2021.
Alex’s openness and honesty about his diagnosis had a significant impact on awareness of pancreatic cancer and the need for early screening. Alex has spoken publicly about the need for more attention and awareness of the disease. He regrets not recognizing sooner the symptoms of persistent stomach pain, mid-back pain, unexplained weight loss and yellowing of the skin and eyes. See his public service announcement, here.
Alex was born in Canada. He received the Order of Canada in 2017. He also received many other awards and recognitions honouring his contributions to television and geographic education.
To me, Alex Trebek is and always will be Jeopardy! My father loved the program, which he called, in his French accent, “G-O pardy!”. My mother, at 94, is still an avid fan. We know better than to try to call her between 7:30 and 8 pm.
Thank you for reading.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision released on December 8, 2020, in the Estate of Klaczkowski, deals with a number of issues including when the court should remove an Estate Trustee and appoint a litigation Trustee. Two brothers disagreed on matters related to their mother’s estate, including division of proceeds of a TD Trading Account, a commercial property, and a safety deposit box (with $32,000 in $1,000 dollar bills). They were named in the will as Estate Trustees and beneficiaries. Justice Leiper reviewed the following points in regard to the court appointment of an Estate Trustee During Litigation:
- Ordering the removal of an estate trustee is a decision not to be taken lightly and only where it is clearly necessary: Re Weil, 1961 CanLII 157 (ON CA),  O.R. 888 at 889 (C.A.)
- Friction between co-estate trustees may be a basis for a removal of both estate trustees where it impacts the decision-making process: Radford v. Wilkins (2008), 43 ETR (3d) 74, 2008 CanLII 45548 (S.C.J.) at paras 111-113;
- A failure to properly keep records resulting in the need to make corrective disclosure is an aggravating factor in considering whether a trustee ought to be removed. Similarly, failure to consult with co-trustees is significant. Graham v. Benton, 2020 ONSC 6985 at paras. 156-157;
- A testator’s choice of estate trustee should not be lightly interfered with, but the appointment of an ETDL is a “much less intrusive” remedy that exists where “parties’ duties as fiduciaries can be inconsistent with their ongoing litigation interests.” A court should consider the balance of convenience and, since the appointment of an ETDL is not an extraordinary remedy, “the court will favour appointment in the vast majority of cases unless the administration of the estate involved is particularly straightforward or simple”: Mayer v. Rubin, 2017 ONSC 3498 at paras. 24-36.
The Court ordered that –
- An Estate Trustee During Litigation will be appointed for the estate, and
- If the parties are unable to agree to the naming of the Estate Trustee During Litigation by February 1, 2021, they are to appear before March 1, 2021, to make submissions on an appropriate Estate Trustee During Litigation.
For more on Estate Trustees During Litigation please see the blog by Sydney Osmar: Appointing an Estate Trustee During Litigation.
Thanks for reading!
Ah, January. A new year, a new start. This year, more than any other, people are putting 2020 behind them with ‘extreme prejudice’, and planning for a much different and much better year ahead.
Some will be giving up sugar, others will take up running, or tackling that Spanish language textbook that’s been sitting in the corner since the first season of Narcos. Some of us will even get our estate affairs in order.
With that in mind, we present a few considerations for 2021 when making sure our affairs are all set.
A Power of Attorney: Nobody expects to lose the ability to make financial decisions. But it does happen, and as we age, the risks increase. Giving someone you trust the power to make decisions for you in the event you’re no longer able to do so, can save a lot of time down the road, and a lot of money in legal expenses.
A Will: Without one, your assets will be divided according to provincial law. If you have children, and no Will, your kids may be placed in the care of a guardian who is maybe not your first choice. It is your “last word” and the single most important document in your estate files. Our colleague, Kira Domratchev, blogged about the importance of a Will in November of 2020.
Banking Information: According to the Bank of Canada at the end of 2019, there were approximately 2.1 million unclaimed balances, worth $888 million, sitting in unclaimed bank accounts across the country. Have a list of your banks and accounts, including safety deposit boxes, and ensure that your family knows where it is.
Insurance Policies: Many insurance plans provide benefits for funeral plans or list a chosen beneficiary who is entitled to the policy. Make sure that your insurance plan is up to date, and keep copies close to your Will. This also applies to any RRSPs or pension plans that may include a benefit to someone in the event that something were to happen.
Proof of Ownership: Whether it’s the family cottage, that 1965 Mustang GT 390 Fastback, or your condo in Kitsilano: Without proof of ownership, your family may not know what you have or where it is.
Passwords: As we have blogged in the past, your online presence needs proper safeguards, but also creates important considerations for your executor or trustee who will need access to your online information and/or assets. Whether you use an online password manager, such as these, or keep an old-fashioned paper list, make sure it can be found by your family if needed.
Finally, these documents are important and need to be kept safe. Thankfully, in January of 2020, the New York Times undertook an investigation to determine the best fireproof documents safe. You can read about the results here.
We wish you all the very best in 2021, and thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Daniel Enright
On December 7, 2020, the court decision in the Estate of Rezaee was released where a holograph will was later found in the winter coat of a friend and beneficiary. Facts from the decision include that the deceased, Kamran Rezaee was born on March 15, 1962, in Iran. He moved to Canada in 1983. Mr. Rezaee was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died on August 10, 2018. He had no family in Canada. His estate was valued at approximately $3.5 million at the time of the application.
On March 20, 2018, Kamran Rezaee attended a dinner party hosted by his friend, Mr. Naftchi to celebrate the Persian New Year. The dinner was attended by four other friends. At some point during the party, Mr. Naftchi testified that Mr. Rezaee wrote and signed in his own handwriting in Farsi a holograph will on a piece of paper. The writing has been translated as follows: “ I, Kamran Rezaee, hereby give all my wealth and property to my close friend Mr. Siamak Naftchi. (signed) Kamran Rezaee, March 20, 2018.” This paper was written and signed in front of all of the dinner guests. Mr. Naftchi testified that Mr. Rezaee wrote this holograph will knowing that he had terminal cancer. Mr. Rezaee had no family living in Canada, and his family in Iran were all deceased. After signing the will, Mr. Rezaee put the will in his pocket and went into Mr. Naftchi’s bedroom to take a nap, which he did every one or two hours due to his health. In November 2018, Mr. Naftchi found the holograph will in one of his own winter jackets. He believes that Mr. Rezaee put the will in the jacket pocket when he went to sleep in the bedroom on March 20, 2018. When Mr. Rezaee died, Mr. Naftchi made the necessary funeral arrangements and paid for the funeral. After obtaining a professional translation of the holograph will, Mr. Naftchi applied to the court for a Certificate of Appointment of an Estate Trustee with a Will.
It is interesting to note the steps that were required to be taken in this case by the Court. On June 18, 2019, the Court issued an endorsement requiring Mr. Naftchi to prove the holograph will “in solemn form in an open court” and that the court will require independent witnesses as to Mr. Rezaee’s handwriting and signature, and that the Public Guardian and Trustee shall be served with the application. The endorsement required Mr. Naftchi to notify Mr. Rezaee’s next of kin and serve them with all court documents. Mr. Naftchi was required to publish in a local newspaper and national newspaper, in Canada and Iran, as the next of kin may have rights. The Public Guardian and Trustee was served with all of the relevant material, and counsel appeared to advise that their office took no position on the relief sought.
Mr. Naftchi published advertisements in Canada and in order to have the notice published in a national newspaper in Iran, Mr. Naftchi retained a lawyer in Iran to file an application there, for issuance of an inheritance restriction certificate for the deceased. They certified that Mr. Rezaee did not have any legal heirs in Iran. The Court in Canada was also provided with: the affidavit of Arian Nida confirming that he was present when the holograph will was written and signed by Mr. Rezaee; the affidavit of Nahid Lebasi confirming that he was well acquainted with the deceased’s handwriting and believes that the holograph will and signature were in the handwriting of the deceased; and Mr. Naftchi was sworn as a witness and provided oral evidence in support of his application. Given that the proceeding was uncontested the Court also followed up with additional questions. It was then ordered that the holograph will of Kamran Rezaee, dated March 20, 2018, was a valid holograph will and was probated.
Thanks for reading!
As 2020 has come to a close, we all fervently hope that the coming year will be better than the last.
In that spirit of optimism, I have reflected on some resolutions as a lawyer.
- Improve Health – But, make it specific in some way. Like resolving to run in a 10k race later in the year.
- Sharpen Communication – Work to better client and colleague communication and consultation.
- Provide Recognition – It takes little effort to recognize the efforts of those around you, and to provide praise, and celebrate achievements.
- Finish CPD – Do those Continuing Professional Development hours early and before it becomes a worry.
- Get Organized – Attend to that one matter that you routinely avoid. Admit it. You have one.
- Manage Time – Make it specific in some way. Hold incoming emails until later in the day, instead of constantly interrupting workflow.
- Embrace New Technologies – It takes time and is anxiety making, but is usually a benefit. This is then followed by Cybersecurity nervousness.
- Seize the Future – Think about the future in a different way. Law and work itself have changed significantly in the last year. Such as working from home.
- Drink Less. The pandemic put an end to in-person networking, seminars, and social events but, this might be followed by more drinking. After the “Spanish Flu” it was the “Roaring Twenties”.
- Be Grateful – That the last year is over and although we all still have to be vigilant, this pandemic will end.
Studies have shown that only a small percentage of New Year’s resolutions actually get implemented! Good luck!
Thanks for reading!