Recently, Stuart Clark blogged about the film Knives Out and its relation to estate law. Another popular movie, Murder Mystery, which aired on Netflix last year, also offered some thoughtful considerations for those interested in estate law. The film, starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, was the most popular title on Netflix in 2019. In its first three days on the streaming service, it was viewed by 30,869,863 accounts.
Just as Stuart gave a spoiler alert in his blog, this blog also contains spoilers.
In Murder Mystery, Nick Spitz and his wife, Audrey Spitz, embark on a trip to Europe. On the plane, Audrey meets billionaire Charles Cavendish, who invites them to join him on his family’s yacht for a party to celebrate Malcolm Quince’s (Charles’ elderly billionaire uncle’s) upcoming wedding to Charles’ former fiancée. While on the yacht, Malcolm announces that he will be changing his will to leave everything to his soon-to-be wife. After this surprise announcement, the lights suddenly go out, a scream is heard, and when the lights come back on, the guests are surprised to see that Malcolm has been killed. Nick and Audrey are framed for Malcolm’s death. To prove their innocence, they must find Malcolm’s real killer.
Throughout the movie, French inheritance law is heavily emphasized. As summarized by Nick in the film: “The French law states that a man’s estate must be divided equally amongst his children.” This type of estate plan is referred to as a “forced heirship.” France’s succession law is based on the Napoleonic Code introduced in the 1800s. Under France’s succession law, children are reserved a certain portion of their parents’ estate. If a parent has one child, at least one-half of the estate must be reserved for them. If a parent has two children, at least two-thirds of the estate must be reserved for them and if a parent has three or more children, at least three-quarters of the estate must be reserved for them.
Those who have watched the film may find themselves wondering if the succession laws in Ontario are similar to that of France. Unlike French inheritance law, in Ontario, a testator does not have an obligation to leave a share of their estate to an adult, independent child. Under subsection 58(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”), a testator is only under an obligation to provide support for their “dependants”.
According to subsection 57(1) of the SLRA, a “dependant” includes the deceased’s spouse, parent, child, brother or sister “to whom the deceased was providing support or was under a legal obligation to provide support immediately before his or her death.” Therefore, if a testator was not under a legal obligation to provide for an adult child, that child may not have an entitlement to share in their parent’s estate.
Just something to think about the next time you watch the film.
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Ian Hull and Celine Dookie
In many respects the law of Quebec differs from that of other provinces. In terms of medical assistance in dying (MAID), however, a September 2019 decision of the Quebec Superior Court of Justice has the potential to spark change in legislation throughout the country.
In Truchon c Procureur général du Canada, 2019 QCCS 3792, the Court considered the constitutional validity of the requirement that the natural death of individuals accessing MAID be reasonably foreseeable. The applicants had been declared ineligible for MAID on the basis that their deaths were not considered to be reasonably foreseeable. The first applicant suffered from cerebral palsy and his condition had deteriorated significantly in 2012, when he became totally paralyzed, preventing him engaging in activities that he had previously enjoyed. The second applicant suffered from paralysis and severe scoliosis, with a significant change in her health in 1992 when she was diagnosed with degenerative muscular post-polio syndrome. Both applicants lived in constant pain with a poor prognosis of continued suffering and deterioration, but had been denied access to MAID on the basis that their natural deaths were not reasonably foreseeable and decided to seek the Court’s assistance.
The Court first reviewed the issue of whether the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement violated the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While the restriction was noted to have the potential effect of prolonging the lives of some individuals who would otherwise request MAID, it was also considered to have the risk of encouraging some patients “to end things prematurely, and often in a degrading or violent manner, before being in mortal agony, or having completely lost their dignity or being in the final stage of life.” Due to the exposure of some Canadians seeking MAID to (1) a higher risk of death and (2) physical and psychological pain, “depriv[ing] them of the opportunity to make a fundamental decision that respects their personal dignity and integrity”, the reasonably foreseeable death requirement was ruled to infringe the right to life, liberty, and security under Section 7 of the Charter.
Next, the Court considered whether the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement violated the right to equality under Section 15 of the Charter. The Court found the applicants were prevented from accessing MAID on the basis of the nature of their disabilities, which notwithstanding being “serious and incurable” did not render death reasonably foreseeable, and that as a result the first applicant in particular was “deprived of the exercise of these choices essential to his dignity as a human being due to his personal characteristics that the challenged provision does not consider. He can neither commit suicide by a method of his own choosing nor legally request this assistance.”
The infringement of the applicants’ fundamental rights under Sections 7 and 15 of the Charter was not considered to be justified by Section 1 and the Court, accordingly, declared these provisions of Quebec and Canadian MAID laws unconstitutional. The declaration of constitutional invalidity of the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement for accessing MAID was suspended for six months to provide an opportunity to address amendments to provincial and federal legislation.
Quebec has recently announced that it now intends to eliminate the parts of its MAID legislation that have been declared unconstitutional. Prime Minister Trudeau has advised that the government will be updating federal legislation to reflect the Truchon decision prior to March 11, 2020, when the judgment will take effect. Precisely how Canada and Ontario will amend the relevant provisions of MAID legislation has yet to be determined.
As yesterday’s blog mentioned, there has been recent scrutiny regarding the restrictive approach in respect of access to MAID and this decision out of Quebec and corresponding updates to the law may represent an important first step in the right direction in enhancing accessibility.
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Our blog has previously covered the developments in medical assistance in dying (MAID) since the prohibition against MAID ended in Canada in 2016.
Almost 230 thousand Canadians responded to a recent government survey on MAID, making it the largest public consultation in Canadian history. Although the complete survey results have yet to be released, respondents are reported to have shown great support for making it easier for Canadians to access MAID.
As MAID has gained recognition throughout the country, many have fought for increased accessibility and the expansion of eligibility criteria. Specifically, some believe that the criteria are too restrictive in excluding (1) individuals whose deaths are not imminent, and (2) those who cannot consent to receive MAID at the time at which it is administered. Because recipients of MAID are required to provide consent personally immediately prior to its administration (rather than in advance), health problems that may also impact mental capacity can render some of them ineligible.
In some parts of the country, MAID is already accessed at significant levels. In Vancouver Island, with the greatest access in Canada to MAID per capita, MAID accounted for over six percent of all deaths in 2019.
Given the clear engagement of Canadians regarding the issue of enhancing access to MAID, it will be interesting to see how legislation regarding MAID may be updated over time to address the potential introduction of advanced consent and/or the authority of substitute decision-makers to confirm consent.
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Other blog posts that may be of interest:
Your sister (falsely) trash talks you to your mom. Mom then writes you out of her will.
“Fraudulent calumny!”, you scream.
Fraudulent calumny occurs where a person poisons the mind of a testator against another person who would otherwise be a natural beneficiary of the testator’s bounty by casting dishonest aspersions on his or her character.
The doctrine has been applied or considered in many UK decisions.
Fraudulent calumny is said to be a species of undue influence. However, rather than influence a testator to do something, the influencer influences a testator to NOT do something: leave a bequest to a certain party.
In order to establish fraudulent calumny, the person alleging fraudulent calumny must prove:
- That A made a false representation;
- To B, the testator;
- About C, a third person;
- For the purposes of inducing B to alter his or her testamentary dispositions;
- That A made the representations knowing them to be false, or reckless as to their truth; and
- That B’s will was made only because of the false representations.
See Kunicki& Anor v. Hayward,  4 WLR 32 at paragraph 122.
Like other undue influence, the test is a difficult one to pass.
In a recent UK decision, Rea v. Rea,  WTLR 1231, the court rejected a claim of fraudulent calumny. The court held that the challengers did not establish that their sister poisoned their mother’s mind against them, by saying that the challengers had abandoned her. The court found that the mother felt, of her own volition, that she was abandoned. Thus, whether it was true or not, the mother made her own decision without anyone “poisoning her mind”; therefore without fraudulent calumny or undue influence.
For a more artistic depiction of fraudulent calumny, see Boticelli’s Calumny of Apelles. The painting has been described as follows:
On the right of it sits a man with very large ears, almost like those of Midas, extending his hand to Slander while she is still at some distance from him. Near him, on one side, stand two women—Ignorance and Suspicion. On the other side, Slander is coming up, a woman beautiful beyond measure, but full of malignant passion and excitement, evincing as she does fury and wrath by carrying in her left hand a blazing torch and with the other dragging by the hair a young man who stretches out his hands to heaven and calls the gods to witness his innocence. She is conducted by a pale ugly man who has piercing eye and looks as if he had wasted away in long illness; he represents envy. There are two women in attendance to Slander, one is Fraud and the other Conspiracy. They are followed by a woman dressed in deep mourning, with black clothes all in tatters—she is Repentance. At all events, she is turning back with tears in her eyes and casting a stealthy glance, full of shame, at Truth, who is slowly approaching.
In R. v. Muvunga, defence counsel tried to use the painting as a visual prop, to be referred to as an allegory about false accusations. The court rejected the bid. “While the painting is of great interest to art historians and other scholars, I find that it has no place in a modern Canadian criminal trial.”
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The testators died in 2008. The family realized there was a disagreement about the validity of their parents’ codicils that year but everything seemed to be on hold until Helen brought an application in 2015 to determine the validity of the codicil. In response, Krystyna brought a motion for summary judgment to dismiss Helen’s application on the basis it is statute barred pursuant to the Limitations Act, 2002. This motion was brought by Krystyna because she was interested in maintaining the force and effect of the codicils that gave her certain properties. Thereafter, Helen cross-motioned for summary judgment on her application.
Rule 20.04 of the Rules of Civil Procedure sets out the basis for summary judgment. Summary judgment shall be granted if: (a) the court is satisfied that there is no genuine issue requiring a trial with respect to a claim or defence; or (b) if the parties agree to have all or part of the claim determined by a summary judgment and the court is satisfied that it is appropriate to grant summary judgment. The Supreme Court of Canada in Hryniak v. Maudlin, 2014 SCC 7, determined that “a trial is not required if a summary judgment motion can achieve a fair and just adjudication, if it provides a process that allows the judge to make the necessary findings of fact, apply the law to those facts, and is a proportionate, more expeditious and less expensive means to achieve a just result than going to trial.”
With that in mind, Justice Dietrich found that Krystyna’s motion for summary judgment was appropriate for the following reasons (see para. 35):
- There were no material facts in dispute;
- No additional facts would emerge at trial;
- The application of an absolute limitation period was generally a fairly straightforward factual analysis;
- That based on the evidence before her, this matter can be resolved without a trial and that a trial of this narrow issue would be a more expensive and lengthy means of achieving a just result.
The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with Justice Dietrich’s finding on this point. The panel emphasized how both parties brought summary judgment motions and filed affidavits with exhibits of their own.
In contrast, a similar summary judgment motion was unsuccessful in Birtzu v. McCron, 2017 ONSC 1420, 2019 ONCA 777 (on the issue of costs, only). The Court in Birtzu found that summary judgment was not appropriate and ordered costs against the defendant in any event of the cause (with reasons that were unreported). That said, the defendant was ultimately successful in proving that the plaintiffs were statute barred after a full trial on all issues.
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Doreen So and Celine Dookie
In wills, trusts, and estates litigation, much hinges upon expert evidence. In a will challenge that is based upon alleged testamentary incapacity, both the objector and propounder of the will would be prudent to enlist a capacity assessor. A party suspicious of undue influence may wish to consult a physician, a police officer, or some other party who could be privy to abuse. In a contested passing of accounts, an expert investor can speak to the soundness of a trustee’s investments.
Though in theory expert evidence should clarify the points of contention, in practice it can sometimes render matters murkier and more uncertain. For instance, what happens if two equally distinguished handwriting experts draw opposite conclusions? What if a coroner’s findings contradict the preponderance of other evidence?
Another concern is experts’ impartiality, as evidenced by Wilton v. Koestlmaier, wherein one party unsuccessfully charged an expert witness with advocating for the other side. Courts have long been apprehensive that some experts may (perhaps unwittingly) be kinder with the parties with whom they interact and from whom they collect their bills. In 1873, Sir George Jessel, M.R., wrote:
“There is a natural bias to do something serviceable for those who employ you and adequately remunerate you. It is very natural, and it is so effectual, that we constantly see persons, instead of considering themselves witnesses, rather consider themselves as the paid agents of the person who employs them.”
One possible fix for this source of apprehension is to have both parties deal with the same expert. At the very least, litigators should not employ the same expert to too great an extent, which might appear as a “red flag”.
Courts have also looked into the timing for delivery of expert reports. The Rules of Civil Procedure prescribe that expert reports are served no less than 90 days before the pre-trial conference (or 60 days for responding parties’ reports). Oftentimes, however, parties should exchange their reports well before these deadlines, for once parties receive these reports, they have a much better idea of the relative strength of their positions, which may steer them towards settlement. In Ismail v. Ismail, Grace J. spoke to this:
“How can the parties’ lawyers advise their clients concerning settlement without knowing their case and the one they must meet? How can the parties make informed decisions?”
Too many experts can increase costs exponentially (especially if the experts are famous or from faraway places), but too few experts could lead to a scantiness of evidence. As a nice medium, the Australians have come up with the practice of “hot tubbing” experts—which, despite its fun name, does not involve splashing, shouting, or the unusual combination of horn-rimmed spectacles with bathing suits. Rather, “hot tubbing” refers to having a panel of experts questioned together, which can allow for an identification of the points of agreement and disagreement and more lively discussion.
Thank you for reading. Enjoy your day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
On today’s podcast, Noah Weisberg and Rebecca Rauws discuss the recent decision of Re Vaudrey, 2019 ONSC 7551. In that case, the testator tried to disinherit one of his daughters, but failed to make provision in his Will for the disposition of the residue of his estate in the event that the residuary beneficiaries predeceased him (which they did). Without this, the residue of the testator’s estate was distributed on an intestacy—entirely to the daughter that he had wished to disinherit.
Should you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com or leave a comment on our blog.
Today’s blog is a continuation of yesterday’s discussion regarding the limitations analysis in Piekiut v. Romoli, 2019 ONSC 1190, 2020 ONCA 26. No limitation period was found to apply where an estate trustee was simply seeking a determination and declaration as to whether certain codicils were valid or not valid.
The testators in this case died in 2008. They had 3 children, Helen, Victor, and Krystyna. A meeting took place in 2008 between all 3 children and a lawyer to discuss the administration of the Estate. During this meeting, Krystyna revealed, for the first time, the existence of codicils and declarations of gift that provide her with an interest in certain properties. Helen refused to acknowledge the validity of these new documents.
In 2015, Helen brings a court application. Her application was later amended, on the consent of parties, in 2018 to reflect that Helen was only seeking a declaration in respect of the validity of the codicils. Thus in 2019, Justice Dietrich’s decision was made in the context of Krystyna’s motion for summary judgment to dismiss Helen’s application on the basis that it was statute barred and Helen’s cross-motion for summary judgment on her application. Justice Dietrich found that, since Helen did not ask the court to determine the ultimate beneficiaries of the properties that were subject to the Codicil or to vest such properties in any particular beneficiary or beneficiaries, her application was not barred by the Limitations Act, 2002.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Justice Dietrich. The panel was also of the view that this case is distinguishable from Leibel v. Leibel, 2014 ONSC 4516 and Birtzu v. McCron, 2017 ONSC 1420 because of the consequential relief that was pleaded in those cases. Since the Court of Appeal decision did not go into the details of the relief sought in Birtzu (unlike its description of Leibel), it is helpful to understand the breadth of the Statement of Claim in Birtzu, which sought the following:
- an Order setting aside the Will;
- an Order setting aside the Deceased’s Powers of Attorney;
- an accounting of the entire Estate, as well as all financial transactions undertaken by the Deceased, or on his behalf, or on behalf of his Estate, from the date that the Deceased’s matrimonial home was sold in 2003 to the date of trial;
- Orders for the production and release of financial and medical information;
- an Order reversing all transactions undertaken by the Defendant, either directly or indirectly, without authority or in breach of her authority, or in breach of her fiduciary duties to the Deceased and to his beneficiaries, including the Plaintiffs;
- an Order tracing the property of the Deceased into the property owned by the Defendant, including her home;
- Orders for injunctive relief, including the issuance of a certificate of pending litigation;
- a Declaration that all property held in the name of the Defendant, or part thereof, is held by her for the benefit of the Plaintiffs;
- damages against the Defendant in the amount of at least $400,000.00, for conversion of property, breach of statutory duty, and/or breach of fiduciary duty;
- pre- and post- judgment interest; and
- costs fixed on a substantial indemnity basis, plus H.S.T.
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The main issue on appeal was whether Justice Dietrich was right in finding that the applicant could still ask the court to determine whether certain codicils were valid (or invalid) seven years after death. Justice Dietrich based her limitations analysis on whether this proceeding would fall under section 16(1)(a) of the Limitations Act, 2002 where there is no limitation period in respect of “a proceeding for a declaration if no consequential relief is sought”.
In her reasons, Justice Dietrich distinguished the case before her from the other limitations cases that have applied the two-year, basic limitation period to will challenges: Leibel v. Leibel, 2014 ONSC 4516, Birtzu v. McCron, 2017 ONSC 1420, and Shannon v. Hrabovsky, 2018 ONSC 6593. The case before her was different from Liebel, Birtzu, and Shannon because nothing had been done by the respondent beneficiary to propound the codicils that she had an interest in. If the proceeding was started differently in 2015, by the very beneficiary who has an interest in the codicils, then the estate trustee would have a limitations defence against the beneficiary. Since the beneficiary had done nothing, it remained opened to the estate trustee to commence an application for declaratory relief. Such declaratory relief is “a formal statement by a court pronouncing upon the existence or non-existence of a legal state of affairs.’ It is restricted to a pronunciation on the parties’ rights” (see para. 46, 2019 ONSC 1190).
The Court of Appeal agreed that there was no limitation period in this case because the applicant did not seek consequential relief in addition to a determination of the validity or invalidity of the codicils. The Will had not been probated and nothing had been done for seven years to resolve the issue.
“In these circumstances, Helen was entitled to seek declaratory relief, simply to establish the validity, or lack of validity, of the codicils – to define the rights of the parties in order to avoid future disputes.”, Strathy C.J.O., MacPherson J.A., and Jamal J.A.
Thanks for reading and more on these limitation cases to follow later this week!
Tattoos are, without a doubt, popular. According to a clinical report in Pediatrics, in 2010, 38% of 18 to 29 year olds had at least one tattoo. A study conducted in 2015 found that 47% of Millennials had at least one tattoo. Tattoos, once the hallmark of rebel culture, have now crossed over into the mainstream. It may be that the rebels are the ones without tattoos.
Tattoos are now also making a mark on the administration of estates.
Take Chris Wenzel, who died in 2018. His dying wish was that his tattoos, which covered most of his body, be preserved and given to his wife. According to a CBC report, with the assistance of an organization called “Save My Ink Forever”, she was able to preserve Chris’ tattoos.
Legal issues relating to the process are discussed in the December 2019 issue of Step Journal. In an article entitled “Whose Skin Is It Anyway?”, authors Julia Burns and Matthew Watson discuss the legal implications of such tattoo preservation services from the point of view of English and Welsh succession law.
One issue is that in the common law, there is “no property in a corpse”. A person cannot dispose of their own body through their will. However, the authors note that courts are relaxing this rule, particularly where the body or parts have “a use or significance beyond their mere existence”.
Estate trustees have the responsibility of disposing of the body. The deceased’s wishes are not binding on the estate trustee. However, while not binding, they are relevant. The authors cite a decision, RE JS (Disposal of Body),  EWHC 2859 (Fam), where the deceased asked that her body be cryogenically frozen. The deceased’s mother wanted to abide by these wishes, but her father did not. The court appointed the mother as estate trustee. The court could not order that the wishes of the deceased be followed, but did order that the father be restrained from interfering with the mother’s arrangements as estate trustee.
If a tattoo is property of the estate, how is it to be disposed of? The authors suggest that the will should specifically address this.
Another issue that the authors identify is whether an estate trustee would have an obligation to preserve a tattoo, assuming that it has value. Is such a tattoo an asset of the estate that the estate trustee must “call in”? There appears to be no easy answer to this. However, the authors conclude that “Common law’s strength is its ability to adapt to new social developments; treating preserved tattoos as art that can be disposed of in the same manner as any other chattel may be one of them.”
Thanks for reading.