There are numerous resources available to estates and trusts lawyers to help them navigate their practice during these COVID-19 times. As there does not yet seem to be one amalgamated repository, I thought I would use today’s blog to highlight some sites that I tend to be frequenting:
The Law Society of Ontario
The LSO has created an easy to read list of FAQs. Certain questions that I have found particularly helpful include: the requirements regarding commissioning an affidavit, including affidavits of service; the use of virtual means to identify or verify the identity of a client; whether virtual means can be used to assess a client’s capacity; and, what are the best practices for using video conferencing in providing legal advice or services.
LawPRO is continuing to update avoidaclaim.com. Given that new claims reports continue to come in at pre-crisis numbers, lawyers must remind themselves that although the physical location of their practice may have changed, the level of service provided must not.
Hull & Hull LLP
If you are reading this blog, you are probably already aware of the comprehensive resources being provided by Hull & Hull LLP, which can be found here. If not, we are covering everything from estate planning to estate litigation, including the execution of wills and how to have litigious matters heard by presiding judges.
Ontario Bar Association
The OBA has set up a COVID-19 Action Centre. While helpful information continues to be provided, I find myself continually looking forward to their ‘mindful moments’ which arrive daily in my inbox.
Stay safe and wash your hands,
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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in temporary changes to the way that lawyers are able to practice law. For the time being, many of us and our staff are working remotely, avoiding in-person meetings whenever possible, and access to assistance through the courts is limited.
Processes such as examinations for discovery and mediations may not necessarily be postponed with the availability of online platforms through which they can be hosted, such as Zoom. However, an issue remains in how best to address procedural issues for which we would normally seek directions from the court.
For the time being, court dates are available only to provide assistance in respect of truly urgent matters. While some clients may consider the appointment of an estate trustee during litigation or timetabling issues to be urgent, it is unlikely that a judge will share this viewpoint absent compelling circumstances. While the scope of matters that can be heard by teleconference may expand after April 6, 2020, the ability of the courts to keep up with demand can be expected to be limited. Furthermore, once the courts resume operations, one can only expect schedules to fill up quickly as lawyers and clients try to make up for lost time.
Lawyers and our clients have a common interest in moving matters forward during this period of instability. To assist in this regard, I am spearheading an initiative that I have called Estates Arbitration Litigation Management (“EALM“).
What I see as being the key features of EALM can be summarized as follows:
- parties will enter into an EALM agreement that sets out the matters to be arbitrated, primarily being procedural and interim relief;
- senior members of the Bar will assist the parties as arbitrators in determining those issues agreed upon at a reduced hourly rate;
- if the decision of the arbitrator requires a court order to be effective (for example, the appointment of an estate trustee during litigation), the parties agree to file a consent motion in writing to obtain the necessary order; and
- the parties may return to court to address substantive issues once normal operations are restored or may elect to proceed to arbitration or mediation.
These measures have already been successfully employed by the Family Law Bar and we are grateful to Aaron Franks, Judith Nicoll, Martha McCarthy, and Gary Joseph for sharing their experiences in that regard. A link to a precedent draft agreement specific to EALM, as well as an information sheet that lawyers will be able to share with clients, will be added to the resources section of our website within the next couple of days, which will be the result of continued consultations with senior members of the Estates Bar.
Despite the unique challenges posed by COVID-19, it is important that we employ new measures to continue to move matters forward for the benefit of our clients and colleagues throughout the Estates Bar, and I am hopeful that EALM will become a timely and cost-effective tool in limiting the disruption to our practices in the coming weeks. If you have any comments regarding EALM, or are interested in introducing this into your own practice, please contact me at email@example.com.
Thank you for reading and be safe.
There is so much in flux right now due to COVID-19. In the area of estates and trusts though, the obligations that an estate trustee owes to beneficiaries remains stable. During this time, estate trustees need to consider how best to administer an estate, and what they should be doing to limit future claims against them. The purpose of today’s blog is to consider the estate trustee’s duty to invest.
According to section 27(1) of the Trustee Act, “In investing trust property, a trustee must exercise the care, skill, diligence and judgment that a prudent investor would exercise in making investments”. This is often referred to as the prudent investor rule. Section 27(5) sets out certain criteria the trustee is required to consider in investing trust property, including, amongst other things, the general economic conditions and the possibility of inflation or deflation.
Given the current market fluctuations, estate trustees need to give invested trust property considered attention. While they cannot be expected to produce resounding returns for the beneficiaries, they can take steps to make sure their investments are prudent in the circumstances and avoid future claims from beneficiaries. These could include claims that the estate trustee failed to properly invest trust assets or that they failed to exercise their discretion.
The estate trustee should consider doing at least four things. First, they should review the terms of the will as to whether there are any specific investment requirements. Second, they should contact their investment advisor to obtain professional advice and share any relevant terms of the will. Third, the estate trustee should ask the investment advisor to put their advice/comments in writing and the estate trustee should hold on to this. Fourth, if the trustee is afforded some sort of discretion (for instance, considering the interests of capital versus income beneficiaries), the trustee should prepare a memorandum to themselves. The memorandum should set out the reasons why they reached the investment decision that they did and the factors they considered, which should include the section 27(5) criteria.
Stay safe and wash your hands,
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Notably, individual returns, normally due on or before April 30, 2020 are now due on or before June 1, 2020. Payments due April 30, 2020 are due on or before September 1, 2020, with no penalty or interest being payable if payments are made on or before September 1, 2020. Installment payments due on a date before September 1, 2020 can be paid up to September 1, 2020.
Things are not so clear with respect to terminal tax returns for deceased taxpayers. Normally, these are due on April 30, 2020 if the deceased died between January 1, 2019 and October 31, 2019, and six months after death if the deceased died between November 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019. What is not entirely clear is whether these deadlines are also extended. Some accountants are advising to file and remit payment in accordance with the old deadlines until further clarification is given. Hopefully, this issue will be clarified shortly.
Please note that things change daily, and further clarification may be coming soon. If these deadlines may apply to you, or an estate that you are responsible for, please consult a knowledgeable accountant and/or monitor the CRA website.
Thank you for reading. Stay safe and healthy.
In uncertain times, it can be helpful to remember what we can do to plan for our own health, security, and well-being. In the past, we have blogged about “longevity planning” (i.e. advice for longer life expectancy) and the resemblances it has to executing powers of attorney for personal care (“POA PC”).
In Ontario, powers of attorney for personal care are generally governed by the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 (the “SDA”). The Health Care Consent Act, 1996 also applies to certain decisions made by attorneys for personal care.
Personal care decisions are about health care, medical treatment, diet, housing, hygiene, and safety. An attorney for personal care will be able to make almost any decision of this nature that the grantor would normally make for him/herself when they were capable.
According to the SDA, an attorney for personal care must follow the known wishes of the grantor or make decisions in the best interest of that person. In doing so, the attorney must choose the least restrictive and intrusive course of action that is available and is appropriate in the circumstances.
If you are appointed as an attorney for personal care, below is a non-exhaustive list of steps you should take or obligations you may have:
- Obtain a copy of the POA PC and determine whether it is in effect. The POA PC only comes into effect once the grantor is incapable of making his or her personal care decisions.
- Determine whether there are any specific instructions/restrictions in the POA PC.
- Encourage the grantor’s participation in decision-making and try to foster the grantor’s independence as much as possible.
- Encourage and facilitate communication between the grantor and his/her family and friends.
- Consider developing a guardianship plan. While this is not mandatory for an attorney whose powers stem from a POA PC, it may help provide a roadmap for future decisions.
The above checklist is non-exhaustive list of some of the obligations an attorney for personal care have. Section 66(4) of the SDA also sets out a number of factors to consider when determining what personal care decisions are in the incapable person’s best interest. Most importantly, an attorney for personal care must not lose sight of the fact that he/she is a fiduciary and held to a higher standard.
Making decisions as an attorney can be difficult, particularly in uncertain circumstances. It is important to be prepared. The Ministry of the Attorney General also provides some useful information about an attorney’s obligations here. A lawyer should be consulted so the attorney understands their duties.
Thanks for reading!
We have previously blogged about NoticeConnect’s Canada Will Registry. The Will Registry allows lawyers and law firms to register their clients’ estate planning documents. Other lawyers are then able to search the Registry for the Will of someone who has passed away. The Registry alerts the lawyer who registered the Will of the search, and the lawyer can decide whether to disclose the existence and location of the Will.
On Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford released a list of essential businesses, which included lawyers, meaning that law firms may remain open during the shut-down of non-essential businesses in Ontario. That being said, we are still being encouraged to maintain social distancing, and many of us are working from home to try to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Working from home can present a unique set of challenges for solicitors with an estate planning practice, given the volume of original documents that must be stored, organized, updated, and maintained. Records may be kept partially, or entirely by paper records, which are physically located at the office, and inaccessible from home.
The Will Registry can be a helpful tool in organizing estate planning documents electronically, in order to reduce or eliminate issues with accessing records and information when working remotely.
NoticeConnect recently posted this blog setting out how the Will Registry can help professionals work from home. For instance, one of the tools mentioned is the ability to attach electronic copies of documents, such as Wills, to your registered records. This would allow you, and any staff who have access to your digital Will vault, to access and review estate planning documents. This may be helpful in a situation where a client contacts you seeking advice as to whether their Will needs to be updated; you would not be required to go into the office in order to review the client’s Will. There are also organizational tools, which can help with searching, sorting, and updating your records.
In these uncertain and constantly changing times, it is useful to consider any tools that may help us adapt and maintain our practice.
Thanks for reading and stay safe!
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The Law Society of Ontario (LSO) has issued a COVID-19 Response which is required reading for all members of the Bar. As we have noted in many of our blogs posted since the onset of the pandemic, the delivery of legal services requires us all to adopt a new normal. The LSO has provided guidance in its Response regarding the delivery of legal services remotely that would never previously have been considered other than in person. As the LSO notes: “This is an unprecedented situation and some flexibility may be required to ensure continuity of essential legal services without undue risk to public health.”
Commissioning of affidavits has always been one such task performed in person. The LSO has provided guidance on an appropriate departure from commissioning in the physical presence of the deponent. It is worth noting that s. 9 of the Commissioner for Talking Affidavits Act (“the Act”) only speaks of the commissioner having to be in the presence of the deponent (the requirement for “physical” presence being a best practice but not an essential element of the statute).
Accordingly until further notice and as a result of COVID-19:
- The LSO will interpret the requirement in section 9 of the Act that “every oath and declaration shall be taken by the deponent in the presence of the commissioner or notary public” as not requiring the lawyer or paralegal to be in the physical presence of the client.
- Rather, alternative mean of commissioning such as commissioning via video conference will be permitted subject to management of risks associated with this relaxed practice including but not limited to: fraud, identity theft, undue influence, and capacity.
Virtual commissioning is a temporary measure that casts a burden on the lawyer to make extra enquires into the existence of one or more of these risks. The LSO sees the current circumstances as a regrettable opportunity for persons to attempt to commit fraud or other illegal acts. Lawyers and paralegals must accordingly “be alert to red flags in order to ensure that they are not assisting, or being reckless in respect of any illegal activity.” To protect against being an unwitting accomplice see the Federation of Law Societies’ Risk Advisories for the Legal Profession.
Thanks for reading.
Most of us are used to meeting our clients in person. With that option on hold for now, we are having to adopt new practices, like “virtual” meetings. How can we make virtual meetings work for estate planning where communication is so important?
Like many of you, we are turning to technology.
Remote meeting software, like Skype and Zoom, allow us to communicate, see and hear our clients and vice versa. And yet, there can still be a disconnect in trying to ensure that both parties understand one another.
There is now software that can help with that communication. Hull e-State Planner, which we created, is cloud based software that can be accessed from home and shared with your client via Zoom or Skype. It’s a visual platform so you and your client can literally be on the same page – even in different locations.
The client’s family tree and list of assets are displayed on the screen.
You can drag and drop assets, creating legacies and bequests, while the client watches their plan being developed.
While discussing their instructions, you can show the client the different implications of their decisions.
At the meeting, you can give the client a graphic summary of their Will.
Once the meeting is over, you can automatically generate the Will and Powers of Attorney in Word format.
We have found that virtual meeting software, when coupled with Hull e-State Planner, can help make those estate planning meetings much more efficient and effective.
As well, we also understand there has been a financial impact to your practice during this time. In what we hope may help a little, we have decided to waive all Hull e-State Planner fees, for the foreseeable future until things settle down.
We’d be happy to have you join us for a Free Webinar where we will show you how we are using virtual meeting software and Hull e-State Planner together and our thoughts on getting Wills signed up.
The Webinars are:
Click on the date to sign up for the Webinar.
Wishing you and your loved ones good health,
Many of us are familiar with the expression: “Time waits for no one.” We also previously blogged about the impact time has on all parties in litigation: “No one likes to see a limitation period applied to dismiss a claim.” (So says Justice Nakatsuru in the opening line of his decision in Sinclair v. Harris.)
In general, claims must be commenced in a timely fashion. If too much time passes–depending on the circumstances and nature of the claim–parties may be prohibited from commencing a lawsuit, or have their lawsuit dismissed, by what is known as a ‘limitation period’.
With the recent developments of COVID-19, however, the Lieutenant Governor in Council made an Order under s. 7.1 of Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act suspending limitation periods in Ontario. This suspension is retroactive to March 16, 2020. A copy of the Order can be found here.
What happens when the suspension is lifted? It will be interesting to see if limitation periods go back to existing the day this suspension is lifted, or if further legislation may be needed to deal with this issue. For now, it appears that “time” is waiting for everyone.
Thanks for reading!
The Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) released a Notice this morning further elaborating on the declaration of a provincial emergency in relation to the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and ,more particularly, its impact upon the courts.
The Notice states: “ To further protect the health and safety of all court users and to help contain the spread of COVID-19 , we ask members of the legal profession and members of the public NOT to attend court houses in person at this time, unless they are required to be in court for a hearing or to make an urgent filing in a civil, criminal or family matter.”
Notwithstanding the foregoing, the court continues to accept non-urgent matters by regular mail.