Does a judge have the authority to treat a claim as having been commenced when the court did not issue a Statement of Claim in time? Yes, according to the decision in Patkaciunas v. Economical Mutual Insurance Company, 2021 ONSC 5945 (CanLII).
There, the plaintiff sought to commence a claim against the defendant. The limitation period was to expire on June 25, 2019. The paralegal for the plaintiff attended the court office to have the claim issued. He was at the court office at 4:29 pm; well before the 5 pm closing time. The paralegal told the court staff about the urgency of the matter, and was told that he would be seen. When called to the counter, the paralegal was told by the lone clerk on duty that the computer system was shutting down at 5 pm, and the Statement of Claim could not be issued. The clerk then turned and walked away. The claim was not issued until the next day.
Justice Dunphy found that the court staff acted improperly in not issuing the claim. He went on to find that he had the inherent jurisdiction to treat as done that which the public officials had a duty to do. “The court must have the capacity to control its own processes and when a demonstrated failing in the court’s processes is proved to be the proximate cause for the apparent failure to accomplish fully a required step before the expiry of a limitation period, the court’s inherent jurisdiction extends to treating as done that which its own staff ought to have done.” He declared that the Statement of Claim be amended to show an issue date of June 25, 2019.
A useful precedent for those rare circumstances where, through no fault of your own, the court, inadvertently, due to backlog or otherwise, doesn’t get done what needs to get done.
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New Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) legislation came into force on March 17, 2021, which provisions include expanding eligibility to those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable. Although the new legislation temporarily, until March 17, 2023, does not allow those with a mental illness as their sole underlying medical condition to be eligible for MAID, the statute obliges the Minister of Health and Minister of Justice to initiate an independent expert review “respecting recommended protocols, guidance and safeguards to apply to requests for medical assistance in dying by persons who have a mental illness.”
Further to this mandate, the Government of Canada recently announced that an Expert Panel on MAID and Mental Illness has been established to undertake the review. The announcement includes a link to the member biographies, and describes them as reflecting “a range of disciplines and perspectives, including clinical psychiatry, MAID assessment and provision, law, ethics, health professional training and regulation, mental health care services, as well as lived experience with mental illness.”
The Government news release also highlights the critical importance of this work, with the Minister of Health quoted as saying:
“Protecting the vulnerable, including those suffering from mental illness or in crisis, is a priority for the Government of Canada. That is why the work of the Expert Panel is so important to me. The Expert Panel will provide us with independent, objective advice on safe and appropriate ways to assess and provide MAID to individuals living with mental illness who are seeking this avenue to end their suffering. The work of the Expert Panel will be difficult, but will provide Canadians with reassurances that we are balancing justice with compassion.”
The Expert Panel’s final report containing its recommendations is due by March 17, 2022. We will be sure to keep an eye out for further updates on this issue.
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An almost ubiquitous figure in pop culture, Bob Ross has been immortalized through references as broad-spanning as t-shirts quoting his famous line, “happy little accidents”, to a cameo in the Marvel action hero movie, Deadpool.
Bob Ross’ long-running series, “The Joy of Painting”, which ran from 1983 until his untimely death in 1994, resulted in the production of thousands of original artworks. The ownership of this substantial art collection was left in the hands of Bob Ross Inc. (“BRI”), as discussed in a previous blog.
Recently, a documentary was released on Netflix, “Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed”, bringing the estate of Bob Ross back into the public eye. It explores behind the scenes Bob Ross’ legacy, delving into the disputes surrounding the use of his name and likeness following his death.
Our previous blog on Bob Ross’ estate explained that, following his death, ownership and control of BRI fell to his business partners, Annette and Walt Kowalski. Bob Ross was known for his easy-going and kind-hearted personality. However, the documentary exposes tensions in the inner business workings of the multi-million dollar empire that was the Bob Ross trademark.
By the end of his life, Bob Ross was allegedly at odds with the Kowalskis and their vision for his brand. Through his will, Bob Ross tried to create a trust in the name of his brother, Jimmie, and son, Steve, that would give them control of his interest in BRI, as well as complete ownership of his name and likeness.
Bob Ross was known for his ‘alla prima’ technique of wet-on-wet paint, which allowed him to be creative in ‘using’ his mistakes to create solutions. Unfortunately for the beneficiaries of the trust, the ink on a contract dries quickly, and the partnership agreement with the Kowalskis was one ‘mistake’ Bob Ross could not fix.
The litigation that followed his death resulted in a settlement granting the Kowalskis complete control of BRI pursuant to the terms of its partnership agreement. Steve, the son, attempted to renew the litigation in 2019 on grounds of an undisclosed term of the trust agreement, granting him exclusive rights to the name and likeness of Bob Ross. The US federal court ruled in favour of BRI, as the plaintiff could not own property that the trust never actually had a legal right to.
The outcome was no doubt disheartening for Steve. However, the law upheld what was ostensibly a valid and enforceable contract, the partnership agreement.
Business vehicles such as partnerships and corporations are commonplace. However, the articles of incorporation of a corporation, for example, can restrict the sale and/or transfer of shares. In entering any kind of business structure, it is always wise to plan ahead. Where so desired, make sure your beneficiaries can benefit from your interest in a business, and remember your estate may not have the power to change or undo contracts you were a party to.
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Suzana Popovic-Montag & Raphael Leitz
On today’s podcast, Stuart Clark and Rebecca Rauws discuss the limited grant under s. 29(3) of the Estates Act as a tool to consider when probate may be delayed, but there is an urgent need to deal with an estate asset. For more information, please check out Stuart’s recent blog on this topic here.
Should you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com or leave a comment on our blog.
In the recent decision of BMO Trust Company v. Cosgrove, 2021 ONSC 5681, a holograph Codicil was the subject of dispute. The handwritten document includes the following language:
“End of page 3 of the Codicil for the Last Will and Testament of me, Nola Louise Bogie
Signed, Published and Declared by the said Testatrix, Nola Louise Bogie, at the City of Toronto, in the Municipality of Toronto, in the Province of Ontario,
As and for her Codicil as an attachment amending her Last Will and Testament.
Dated on: [left blank]”
The Court was tasked with considering whether the testator handwriting her name in the attestation clause constituted a signature in accordance with the formalities for executing a Will in sections 6 and 7 of the Succession Law Reform Act (SLRA).
The applicant, BMO Trust Company, agent for the estate trustee, was advocating for the validity of the Codicil, on the grounds that the testator’s signature appears twice in the attestation clause, and this placement of the signature does not render the Codicil invalid in accordance with s. 7(2)(c) of the SLRA.
The respondent, one of the beneficiaries in the underlying Will, contested the validity of the Codicil, arguing that although the testator’s handwriting of her name occurs in the attestation clause, she had no intention to sign, or give effect to, the Codicil.
In the analysis of the case, the Honourable Justice Dietrich noted that Ontario is currently a “strict compliance” jurisdiction, such that the SLRA formalities must be complied with. She reviewed the statutory requirements of section 6 of the SLRA, which states that “A testator may make a valid will wholly by his or her own handwriting and signature, without formality, and without the presence, attestation or signature of a witness.” Her Honour also reviewed section 7’s requirements regarding the signature, which must appear “at, after, following, under or beside or opposite to the end of the will so that it is apparent on the face of the will that the testator intended to give effect by the signature to the writing signed as his or her will.”
Further, Her Honour considered subsection 7(c) of the SLRA, which makes it clear that a will is not rendered invalid “by the circumstance that the signature is placed among the words …of a clause of attestation”, and subsection 7(e), which states that a will is not rendered invalid if there is sufficient space “on or at the bottom of the preceding side, page or other portion of the same paper on which the will is written to contain the signature.”
What distinguishes a “signature” from writing out one’s name in long hand was delineated, with Dietrich J. stating that “it must be apparent that what is alleged to be the act of signature was specifically intended by the testator to give legal effect to the document, per s. 7(1) of the SLRA.”
The evidence in this case was also assessed. It notably included that: (i) the holograph Codicil was an unfinished document, with certain blanks, including next to the space where the testator would have likely placed her signature, (ii) though not required, the testator intended to sign the document in the presence of specific witnesses, (iii) the testator understood that the Codicil needed to be signed to be valid, and (iv) after the Codicil was prepared the testator advised the Law Society of Ontario in writing that she had “handwritten a codicil (not yet signed).”
Justice Dietrich concluded upon the evidence proffered that the testator, in writing her name when drafting the holograph Codicil, did not intend to give legal effect to the document.
With legislative changes coming in the new year, we can expect to see similar cases cropping up with increasing frequency.
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Sometimes, the court will say that enough is enough. It will put the brakes on frivolous estate litigation.
One such case is the Court of Queens’ Bench of Alberta decision of Re Klein. There, the deceased died in 2012. She was survived by her three children, who were the beneficiaries of her estate. The estate appears to have consisted of a real property, and some bank accounts. Notwithstanding the apparent straightforwardness of the estate, it appears that multiple proceedings were commenced as between the beneficiaries and the estate trustee in relation to the estate.
On August 27, 2021, after various earlier court attendances, Justice Graesser put a stop to the litigation. The matter was before the court as two of the beneficiaries sought further disclosure of banking activity in relation to a $99.25 deposit into the estate account.
In the decision, Justice Graesser reviewed the history of the estate administration and the evidence of the parties. He concluded that there was no merit in requiring the estate trustee to make any further disclosure. He noted the “proportionality” provisions of the Rules of Court. While the estate trustee may not have accounted perfectly, “Any further work, by [the estate trustee] or by the Courts in receiving or reviewing any further information or submissions, would be completely disproportionate to the magnitude of any possible failings.”
Justice Graesser also noted the court’s readiness to dismiss frivolous claims as an abuse of process. “I subscribe to [ACJ Rooke’s] comments about the need for a cultural shift in civil litigation and to save the Courts and the litigants themselves from frivolous litigation.”
Justice Graesser pointed out that the estate trustee had previously passed her accounts, rendering may of the current complaints by the beneficiaries as res judicata. Further, the passage of time had rendered many of the claims by the estate trustee against the beneficiaries as statute-barred.
While the judge determined that he could not strike claims without hearing from the parties, he was able to continue a stay of proceedings, and not allow any of the parties to take any further steps without leave of the Chief Justice. The parties were, however, permitted to move to dismiss any existing claims.
Justice Graesser concluded by advising: “I do not encourage the parties to continue their disputes in Court. From my extensive review of the Court filing from its beginning, I am satisfied that the parties have nothing to gain by continuing their fight.”
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An unfortunate reality with the administration of estates is that probate can take a long time to be issued. It is not uncommon for it to take six to eight months, if not longer, after the application is filed before the Certificate of Appointment is issued. As many institutions such as banks require a Certificate of Appointment before they will grant access to estate funds, and the Estate Trustee is generally unable to deal with any real estate owned by the estate until the Certificate of Appointment has been issued, this delay can often result in complications with the initial administration of the estate. These complications can be particularly acute when there is an urgent need for the Estate Trustee to complete a particular task which requires probate, such as the potential urgent need to deal with certain real estate or assets on behalf of the estate.
In the past when faced with the urgent need for probate a common solution would be to bring a Motion seeking an order directing the Registrar to expedite the issuance of the Certificate of Appointment. As anyone who has recently attended an event at which an estates court judge has spoken can attest however this option generally appears no longer to be available, as the message being conveyed is the court is generally not prepared to order the Registrar to expedite the process absent extraordinary circumstances. Such a reluctance appears in part based on the court not wanting to place the Registrar in a position of being in contempt of court if they are unable to comply with the expedition order, as well as administrative issues the expedition orders were causing at the estate office.
The general inability to expedite the issuance of probate absent limited circumstances has raised a number of questions about what, if anything, an applicant Estate Trustee can do if faced with the urgent need for probate and their situation does not meet one of the limited circumstances the court has indicated they will consider expediting probate. Would the applicant Estate Trustee simply have to wait however long the probate application takes in the normal course, or are there other options absent expediting probate that may be available to them?
One potential solution is the use of a “limited grant” under section 29(3) of the Estates Act as a stop-gap, with the applicant Estate Trustee being provided with the authority to complete the particular urgent task under the limited grant until such a time as probate is issued at which time the limited grant would expire. As the limited grant should not require the active involvement of the Registrar, with the individual’s authority to complete the task being derived from the order itself, many of the concerns raised in relation to ordering the Registrar to expedite probate do not appear present with the limited grant.
The limited grant is technically a separate appointment from Estate Trustee, such that the order providing for the limited grant should likely contemplate items such as what is to happen to any assets subject to the limited grant upon the limited grant expiring (i.e. are they to be returned to the Estate Trustee), as well as whether an accounting for the limited grant and/or any compensation to the appointee is payable now or if it is to be deferred to any accounting for the main estate.
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When you think of the assets to be distributed upon an individual’s death, the common ones are bank accounts, investments, real estate, and any heirlooms or valuable items that have been accumulated during one’s lifetime. But we can’t forget digital assets as well.
Digital assets are any type of content stored digitally on a computer, website or on the cloud. Most of us are online every day for work and personal reasons, generating documents, sending texts and sharing images. These are all digital assets. So are frequent flyer or store reward programs that allow people to accumulate points that could grow to have substantial worth.
If you think your digital assets won’t amount to much, think again. A 2013 study by McAfee, an American-based global computer security software company, found that the average American had more than $35,000 of assets stored on their devices. Our digital profiles have certainly increased since then, and so has the need to protect those assets when we die.
Millennials, generally defined as those born between 1981 to 1996, know the value of digital assets. They grew up in the digital world and place great value on the movies, music and apps on their various devices.
As they age, they are starting to think about estate planning, sometimes in ways that older generations may not be familiar with. For example, their estates may include Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. Their financial profile will not only encompass traditional bank and investing assets, but perhaps PayPal or other financial apps.
Social media accounts are another important form of digital asset. We probably all know someone who has died but their Facebook page lives on. This occurs because when a social media account is opened, the person is asked to approve a user agreement that often prohibits sharing passwords. On death, these agreements can force the executor into long battles to gain access to the account, often in a foreign jurisdiction where the online firm is based.
By listing your digital assets in your will and by designating someone, perhaps your executor, to manage those accounts after your death, you can ensure your online profile does not outlast your time here on Earth. Of course, you have to provide that person with your login information for each of their social media and crypto-currency accounts. Some people rely on a digital vault – which is really an online safety deposit box – to store this information, with the password for the vault shared with their executor.
Digital assets are crucial for those operating online businesses, as they include their website and all its content, plus the firm’s social media and email accounts. Financial information about clients is also part of that, contained in online accounting programs that perhaps only one person can access.
There have been limited legislative reforms to address digital assets. In 2016, the Uniform Access to Digital Assets by Fiduciaries Act was introduced, based on the American Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. It would provide, by default, access to fiduciaries (including executors) to digital assets, though this Act has yet to be adopted by most provinces and may not be binding on firms based outside of Canada.
In Ontario, the Estates Administration Act does not explicitly refer to any assets of a digital nature. Nor does the Substitute Decisions Act, which governs what happens when someone is not capable of making certain decisions about their property.
Alberta’s Estate Administration Act is the only Canadian succession-related statute to make reference to online accounts within the context of the executor’s duty to identify estate assets and liabilities, which includes online accounts.
Given the amount of digital information that is recorded about each of us, our digital assets reflect the lives we lived. Since Canadians are online more than ever, our electronic footprint is increasing, and so is the need to address digital assets in our wills.
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Generally speaking an Estate Trustee has the ability to “step into the shoes” of the deceased individual as if they were the deceased individual. I have previously blogged, for example, about the Estate Trustee’s general ability to waive any duty of confidentiality owed to the deceased individual after death. This ability to represent the deceased individual generally extends to any legal proceedings commenced against the deceased individual’s estate, with it typically falling to the Estate Trustee to represent the deceased individual or their estate in the claim. But what happens when there is no Estate Trustee? Can a legal proceeding be commenced against a deceased individual when there is no Estate Trustee, and, if so, who represents the estate in such a claim?
Rule 9.02 of the Rules of Civil Procedure provides the general framework by which a claim can be commenced against the estate a deceased individual where there is no Estate Trustee, providing for the appointment of a “litigation administrator”. Specifically, rule 9.02(1) provides:
“Where it is sought to commence or continue a proceeding against the estate of a deceased person who has no executor or administrator, the court on motion may appoint a litigation administrator to represent the estate for the purposes of the proceeding”
The “litigation administrator” is typically a neutral third party whose sole role is to represent the estate in the proceeding. The authority of the litigation administrator does not extend beyond the representation of the estate in the legal proceeding, with the litigation administrator, for example, not having the authority to make distributions to the beneficiaries or otherwise administer the estate (i.e. pay debts or liabilities). To the extent it is desired to complete such tasks someone will need to be appointed as Estate Trustee or otherwise be provided with the authority by way of court order through something like a limited grant under section 29(3) of the Estates Act.
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We have previously blogged at length about the broad discretionary powers of the court to award support for dependants after death under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act. Although support applications are most often commenced in circumstances where the insufficient support was caused directly by the estate planning of the deceased individual (or lack thereof), a support application can also be a useful tool where, as a result of the deceased’s debts and liabilities at the time of death, the deceased’s estate is insolvent such that the bequests in the Will may not be carried out.
Section 2(3) of Ontario’s Creditors’ Relief Act provides:
“A support or maintenance order has the following priority over other judgment debts, other than debts owing to the Crown in right of Canada, regardless of when an enforcement process is issued or served:
- If the maintenance or support order requires periodic payments, the order has priority to the extent of all arrears owing under the order at the time of seizure or attachment.
- If the support or maintenance order requires the payment of a lump sum, the order has priority to the extent of any portion of the lump sum that has not been paid.”
Simply put, the payment of a support order, including those under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act, is paid in priority to all other judgment debts other than those owed to the “Crown in right of Canada” (i.e. taxes).
Generally speaking a deceased’s debts and liabilities are paid in priority to all distributions to beneficiaries, such that where these liabilities are significant there could be little to no funds remaining to pay the beneficiaries after the debts are paid. As a result of the priority of support orders over other judgment debts, it could be advantageous for a surviving spouse or next of kin when faced with an insolvent estate to commence an Application for support as a dependant. If the individual is confirmed as a dependant the payment of their support Order would take priority over any other judgment debts, potentially resulting in a situation where the dependant receives a benefit from the estate where such a benefit otherwise would not materialize had they waited for their bequest under the Will or intestacy.
Thank you for reading.