Category: Estate Litigation
When a parent transfers assets to an adult child, the rebuttable presumption of resulting trust will apply to that transfer. Unless the child can rebut the presumption, it will be presumed that the child was holding the transferred assets in trust for the parent.
But what kind of evidence will be needed to rebut the presumption? Ideally there would be some kind of documentation made contemporaneously with the transfer to support the parent’s intention. If the documentation is lacking, there may be evidentiary issues where the parent has passed away or is incapable, and is not able to give evidence as to his or her intention at the time of the transfer.
In the recent decision of Pandke Estate v Lauzon, 2021 ONSC 123, the court considered two cheques paid by a mother, Carol, to her adult son and daughter-in-law, Steven and Marnee, in the amounts of $35,000.00 and $90,000.00, respectively, shortly before her death. The court reviewed the evidence in determining whether the presumption of resulting trust was rebutted, or whether Carol had intended the cheques to be gifts.
Carol was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2017, and died about a month following her diagnosis. At the time that she was diagnosed, she lived with her husband, William, to whom she had been married since 1992. Following her diagnosis, it was decided that Carol would move in with Steven and Marnee, as William was not physically capable of providing her the care that she would require. Shortly after moving in with Steven and Marnee, Carol provided a cheque in the amount of $35,000.00, payable to Marnee, with a note on the cheque stating that it was “For Rent”. Four days later Carol provided another cheque payable to Steven, in the amount of $90,000.00, with the note on the cheque stating “Medical Expenses”. The total value of the two cheques constituted the majority of Carol’s liquid assets. William, who was the sole beneficiary of Carol’s estate, challenged these payments following Carol’s death.
The court found that the $35,000.00 payment was intended to be a gift by Carol to Steven and Marnee. Part of the evidence on which the court’s conclusion in this regard was based was Marnee’s hearsay evidence of what Carol had told her about why she was making the payment, being that Steven had left his job to care for Carol and she did not want him to suffer financially as a result. The court found that Marnee’s hearsay evidence could be admitted, notwithstanding that it was hearsay, on the basis that it fell within a traditional exception to the hearsay rule (that the statement is adduced to demonstrate the intentions or state of mind of the declarant at the time the statement was made) and under the principled approach to hearsay evidence as it met the necessity and reliability requirements. The court also found that Marnee’s evidence was corroborated by independent evidence.
However, with respect to the $90,000.00 payment, the court found that there was insufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of resulting trust. Although the court admitted Steven’s evidence of statements made by Carol to him as to her state of mind at the time the cheque was signed, the court also raised other concerns with Steven’s evidence. For instance, the reference to “Medical Expenses” noted on the cheque was concerning, as there were no medical expenses, and the court wondered why Carol would not have simply indicated that it was a gift if that is what she intended it to be. The court was also not convinced by a statement that Steven said was made by Carol that she was making the payment because she did not want Steven to suffer financially because he had left work to care for her, given that only a few days before Carol had made the $35,000.00 payment, which paid off Steven’s truck loan, line of credit, and left around $15,000.00 cash to spare. There was also no corroborating evidence of Carol’s intention to gift the $90,000.00 amount to Steven. As a result, Steven held the $90,000.00 in trust for Carol’s estate.
Unfortunately, it is often the case that payments to adult children are challenged after the parent has died. Unless the parent has taken special care to document his or her intention in making the payment, the intention can be difficult to determine with any degree of certainty. Accordingly, a parent making a gift to an adult child should consider seeking legal advice as to the best way to document such a transfer in order to ensure that their intentions will be upheld. From the opposite perspective, if a parent wants to make a transfer on the basis that their adult child will hold the asset in trust for him or her, or his or her estate, the parent should also consider seeking legal advice to ensure that this is properly documented in order to reduce the chance of issues arising in this regard after his or her death.
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The basic limitation period under section 4 of the Limitations Act, 2002 provides that a proceeding shall not be commenced in respect of a claim after the second anniversary of the day on which the claim was discovered. However, pursuant to section 7(1) of the Act, the “clock” does not run when the person with the claim,
(a) is incapable of commencing a proceeding in respect of the claim because of his or her physical, mental or psychological condition; and
(b) is not represented by a litigation guardian in relation to the claim.
A person is also presumed to be capable of commencing a proceeding in respect of a claim at all time unless the contrary is proved (section 7(2)), although minors are dealt with separately under section 6 of the Act.
The issue of the plaintiff’s capacity to commence a proceeding in respect of his claim was considered at length by the Court of Appeal in Carmichael v. GlaxoSmithKline Inc., 2020 ONCA 447. Carmichael is a tragic case involving the murder of the plaintiff’s 11 year old son. The plaintiff strangled his son to death in 2004 when he was suffering from mental illness and psychotic delusions. During this time, the plaintiff was also taking an anti-depressant that was manufactured by the defendant drug company. The plaintiff was charged with murder and he was found to be not criminally responsible as a result of his mental disorder. He later received an absolute discharge from the Ontario Review Board on December 2, 2009. Nearly two years after that, the plaintiff commenced his claims against the drug company on October 5, 2011.
The defendant drug company brought a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the plaintiff’s claim as statute barred. The motions judge dismissed the motion because he found that the plaintiff was incapable of commencing a proceeding because of his psychological condition until the day of his absolute discharge from the Ontario Review Board. The Court of Appeal disagreed.
The Court of Appeal affirmed the use of the Huang/Hengeveld indicators as a list of non-exhaustive, objectively verifiable indicators of incapacity under section 7(1)(a) of the Act (see paras. 94-96):
- a person’s ability to know or understand the minimum choices or decisions required to make them;
- an appreciation of the consequences and effects of his or her choices or decisions;
- an appreciation of the nature of the proceedings;
- a person’s ability to choose and keep counsel;
- a person’s ability to represent him or herself;
- a person’s ability to distinguish between the relevant and irrelevant issues; and,
- a person’s mistaken beliefs regarding the law or court procedures.
Moreover, the plaintiff’s physical, mental, or psychological condition must be the cause for the incapacity in order to meet section 7(1)(a). The incapacity cannot arise from other sources, such as lack of sophistication, education, or cultural differences (para. 101).
The Court of Appeal ultimately found that the plaintiff had the capacity to sue the defendant drug company prior to his absolute discharge from the Ontario Review Board. The Court disagreed with the motions judge’s view of the plaintiff’s expert evidence. The plaintiff’s expert witness was criticized for never having prepared a capacity assessment before and for making conclusions that were unsupported by the evidence. Rather,
“The evidence shows that Mr. Carmichael had several reasons for not suing GSK before December 2, 2009: he did not believe he had the necessary expert evidence until he received the genetic test from Dr. Lucire in October 2009; he was worried about repercussions if the Hospital decided that he was not taking responsibility for his actions; and he was concerned for his own and his family’s well-being. These are understandable reasons for not commencing a lawsuit. But in my view, none of these reasons, alone or together, prove that Mr. Carmichael was incapable of suing GSK until December 2, 2009 because of his psychological condition.” (para. 163)
Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was denied last week.
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Section 38 of the Trustee Act, except in cases of libel and slander, permits estate trustees to commence actions, on the deceased’s behalf, for all torts or injuries to the person or to the property of the deceased, and vice versa for those seeking to commence actions with respect to a wrong committed by a deceased person, so long as those claims are brought within two years of the deceased’s death.
The discoverability principles under the Limitations Act, 2002 are not applicable to toll the two-year limitation period under section 38(3) of the Trustee Act. The application of this strict two-year limitation period is only mitigated by common law principles such as the doctrine of fraudulent concealment: Giroux Estate v. Trillium Health Centre, 2005 CanLII 1488 (ONCA), Bikur Cholim Jewish Volunteer Services v. Penna Estate, 2009 ONCA 196, and Levesque v. Crampton Estate, 2017 ONCA 455.
Recently, the Court of Appeal has considered limitations defences in three of its estates decisions so far in 2021. One of them was the case of Zachariadis Estate v. Giannopoulos, 2021 ONCA 158, which I blogged about the other day. The other two cases were Beaudoin Estate v. Campbellford Memorial Hospital, 2021 ONCA 57, and Hayward v. Hayward, 2021 ONCA 175.
The Beaudoin Estate is a medical malpractice claim by the Beaudoin Estate and the deceased’s wife, daughter, grandchildren as claimants under the Family Law Act. The claimants alleged that the deceased was negligently diagnosed and treated when he was brought to the hospital’s emergency department which led to a delay in surgery that could have saved his life. Mr. Beaudoin died on January 9, 2015 and the action as commenced on April 27, 2017 by way of a statement of claim. The defendants asserted amongst other things in their statement of defence that the plaintiffs were statue barred pursuant to section 38(3) of the Trustee Act. The plaintiffs then alleged that the hospital had fraudulently concealed their cause of action by failing to provide them with the deceased’s complete medical records when they were requested from the hospital, particularly certain CT imaging that was not provided to them until May, 2017.
The hospital then brought a rule 21.01(1)(a) motion to determine an issue of law raised by the pleadings so as to dispose of the action without trial. It is important to note that, unlike a motion for summary judgment under Rule 20, no evidence is admissible on a motion under r. 21.01(1)(a), except with leave of a judge or on consent of the parties: r. 21.01(2)(a).
The Court of Appeal found that the motion judge erred in deciding the question of fraudulent concealment as a question of law under r. 21.01(2)(a). Motions under r. 21.01(1)(a) are not the proper procedural vehicle for weighing evidence or making findings of fact (para. 30). Similar to limitations issues under the Limitations Act, 2002 and the factual dispute surrounding the discovery of a claim, factual disputes surrounding the fraudulent concealment of a cause of action are more properly determined under a motion for summary judgment under Rule 20. To do so would be unfair to a plaintiff when no evidence is admissible on such a motion except with leave of the court or on consent (para. 34).
In Hayward v. Hayward, the appellants raised as a ground of appeal that the trial judge erred by failing to find that the applicants were statute bared. The Court of Appeal dismissed this ground of appeal on the basis that the defence was not raised by counsel regardless of the fact that the application did not have full pleadings like an action would. The trial judge cannot be criticized for failing to respond to a defence that was not raised by counsel (para. 7).
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Dr. Zachariadis was divorced and estranged from his two daughters. After his divorce, he began a romantic relationship with Ms. Giannopoulos. They were together for almost twenty years as common law spouses until Dr. Zachariadis’ passing. A year before his death, Dr. Zachariadis moved in with Ms. Giannopoulos and they had plans to marry. Dr. Zachariadis transferred his medical practice to Ms. Giannopoulos’ son Aris, and he gave Ms. Giannopoulos a bank draft for $700,000.00 which she deposited into her own bank account. He died within six months of that bank draft.
Dr. Zachariadis did not have a relationship with his daughters from his first marriage. He was not invited to their weddings and he has never met his grandchildren. Dr. Zachariadis died without a Will and his daughters became the estate trustees and beneficiaries of this Estate. More than two years after Dr. Zachariadis’ passing, the daughters commenced an action against Ms. Giannopoulos to recover the payment of $700,000.00 to her on the basis of breach of trust, fraud at equity, conversion and unjust enrichment. The action was dismissed on a motion of summary judgment by Justice Koehnen. The appeal of Justice Koehnen’s decision, 2019 ONSC 6505, and his Honour’s costs order, 2020 ONSC 588, were also dismissed by the Court of Appeal, 2021 ONCA 158.
On the motion for summary judgment, Justice Koehnen found that the daughters were statute barred by section 38(3) of the Trustee Act in failing to commence their claims within two years of Dr. Zachariadis’ death. The daughters failed to make out any fraudulent concealment on Ms. Giannopoulos’ part that would toll the operation of section 38(3). Rather, Justice Koehnen found that there was no positive obligation on Ms. Giannopoulos’ part to tell the daughters about the payment, and he found that the payment was a gift in any event. All of which were upheld by the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal also found that there was no basis to interfere with Justice Koehnen’s costs order. The Estate and the daughters, in their personal capacities, were ordered to pay Giannopoulos costs of $199,602.46 on a substantial indemnity scale. The allegations of fraud in the underlying claim were unsupported and pursued to the end. Justice Koehnen noted that the daughters could have pursued their claims on the basis of constructive trust and resulting trust without going so far as alleging fraud. The daughters were also found to have taken unnecessarily aggressive steps and to have lengthened the proceeding due to their lack of cooperation with Ms. Giannopoulos’ counsel while Ms. Giannopoulos’ offers to settle were weighed against them. Issue was also taken with the length of the daughters’ materials which were noted to be in violation of the page limits and other formatting requirements for facta. Lastly, Justice Koehnen rejected the daughters’ argument that they were only pursuing the claim to ensure the due administration of the Estate and out of their concern that the Estate would have sufficient funds to pay its CRA liability. Interestingly enough, Justice Koehnen commented that, if that were the case, the daughters could have simply turned over the claim for CRA to pursue.
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The Consolidated Practice Direction Concerning the Estates List in the Toronto Region was established for the hearing of certain proceedings involving estate, trust and capacity law, applying to matters on the Estates List in the Toronto Region.
As of March 9, 2021, Part VII (Contested Matters – Estates) of this practice direction was amended to make reference to model orders prepared by the Estate List Users’ Committee.
Generally, parties are expected to take the time and care to prepare proposed orders giving directions for consideration by the court. If the parties are unable to agree upon an order giving directions and a contested motion for directions is required, each party must file a copy of the draft order giving directions it is seeking with its motion materials.
In addition to providing requirements for what orders giving directions should address, where applicable, this practice direction now includes the following model orders:
- Order Giving Directions – Appointment of Section 3 Counsel
- Order Giving Directions – Power of Attorney/Guardianship Disputes
- Order Giving Directions – Will Challenge
- Order Giving Directions – Dependant’s Support
- Order Giving Directions – Passing of Accounts
As noted in the practice direction, the preparation of draft orders for consideration by the court will greatly expedite the issuance of orders. Where the relevant model orders have been approved by the Estate List Users’ Committee, a copy of the draft order showing all variations sought from the model order must be filed.
The addition of model orders can greatly benefit the Estates List in the Toronto Region. Among other things, these model orders provide a baseline for all parties, such that it can significantly reduce drafting time and potential disagreements on wording among parties, which in turn can increase efficiency and reduce costs.
Many thanks to the Estate List Users’ Committee for their time and efforts in preparing these model orders!
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Estate litigation can be expensive. Sometimes a court may award costs to be paid personally by a party in an estates matter. Parties should always try to act reasonably throughout the litigation, as anything less may attract such adverse costs consequences. A recent example of this is the case of Dewaele v. Roobroeck, 2021 ONSC 1604.
The underlying application arose from the inability of three siblings to agree on how the estates of their late parents should be administered. The siblings were the sole beneficiaries and co-estate trustees of their parents’ estates. The daughter of the deceased parents brought an application against her two brothers seeking various relief, including an order removing them as co-estate trustees and appointing her as the sole estate trustee. Her application was successful and she sought costs against her brothers. Specifically, the applicant sought an order that her substantial indemnity costs be paid by her brothers and that the balance of her full indemnity costs be paid by the estates.
The decision on the issue of costs was given by the Honourable Justice Sheard, who held in favour of the applicant. In her written reasons, Justice Sheard provides a concise summary of the law governing the determination of cost awards in estates matters. First, she cites s.131 of the Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43 as amended, which provides that, subject to the provisions of an Act or rules of court, the court has discretion to determine by whom and to what extent costs should be paid. The factors set out in Rule 57.01 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 194 guide the court’s exercise of this discretion. The overriding objective in a cost award is that it be fair and reasonable, which is, in part, determined by the reasonable expectations of the parties concerning the quantum of costs.
Justice Sheard further explains that in estate litigation, the general rule is that estate trustees are entitled to be indemnified for costs reasonably incurred in the administration of the estate. However, the “loser pays” costs regime applies to estate matters, and a blended cost award – in which a portion of the costs is paid by the litigants and a portion from the estate – is within the court’s discretion.
In this case, the applicant asked for substantial indemnity costs from her respondent brothers. Justice Sheard affirms at paragraph 19 of her decision that such an award may be made “where the losing party has engaged in behaviour worthy of sanction”. Moreover, elevated costs should only be awarded where “there has been reprehensible, scandalous or outrageous conduct on the part of one of the parties”. Here, the respondents failed in their obligations as estate trustees, deliberately interfered with the applicant’s ability to complete the administration of the estates, and failed to comply with previous court orders made. Justice Sheard found that this conduct was worthy of sanction and can be characterized as reprehensible and outrageous. As such, an elevated costs award was appropriate. Justice Sheard ultimately decided that the applicant was entitled to be fully indemnified for the costs she incurred in respect of the application, with the respondents liable to pay the majority of these costs (and the balance to be paid from the assets of the estates).
This costs decision is an excellent reminder of the importance of acting reasonably in estate litigation. If any party, including an estate trustee, chooses to act unreasonably then they may pay for it in the end.
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Living a double life can be complicated. A double life that involves a secret second family can be especially complicated, both during the deceiver’s life and after their death. How is the deceiver’s estate to be divided as between his first family and his secret second family? What rights does the unmarried secret spouse in particular have in the deceased’s estate? The Supreme Court of British Columbia addresses these issues in its recent decision of Boughton v Widner Estate, 2021 BCSC 325.
Boughton concerns the Estate of Michael Gregory Widern. Michael was a known member of the infamous Hells Angels and died on March 9, 2017 by homicide. Michael left behind his married spouse, Sabrina, and their two children. He also left behind Sara – whom he had been seeing for roughly eight years unbeknownst to his wife – and their two children. While Michael was alive he spent time with both of his families, alternating between the two households. Sabrina had no knowledge of Michael’s second family until after he passed away.
Michael died without a last will and testament, leaving his estate to be distributed in accordance with the intestacy provisions set out in British Columbia’s Wills, Estates and Successions Act (“WESA”). In Boughton, Sara brought a claim against Michael’s estate seeking, amongst other things, a declaration that she is a spouse of Michael for the purposes of the WESA and is consequently entitled to a share of his estate. As such, one of the issues to be dealt with by the court was whether the WESA permits the division of an estate as between two individuals who were in concurrent, subsisting spousal relationships with the deceased at the time of death.
The honourable Justice Jennifer Duncan declared that Sara was a spouse for the purposes of the WESA. Section 2 of the WESA provides that two persons are spouses of each other if immediately before the deceased person’s death they were married to each other or they had lived together in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years. Justice Duncan found that on his death, Michael was still married to Sabrina and was also in a marriage-like relationship with Sara. Section 22 of the WESA states that if two or more persons are entitled to a spousal share of an intestate estate, they share the spousal share in the portions to which they agree or as determined by the court. Justice Duncan reasoned that this section clearly provides for more than one spousal share in the estate of an intestate. She also analyzed the legislative intent of section 22 and found that the intention of the Legislature was to continue to provide for individuals in a marriage-like relationship with an individual who was still married to someone else at the time of death. On this basis, Justice Duncan held that Sara was entitled to a declaration that she is a spouse of Michael as that term is defined in the WESA. It was further ordered that Sara and Sabrina were each entitled to half of Michael’s estate.
If this case were decided under Ontario law we would likely see a different result. Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”) has no provision equivalent to section 22 of the WESA which recognizes a “spousal share” in an intestate estate for someone other than the deceased’s married spouse. For purposes of intestate succession in Ontario, “spouse” has the same meaning as in section 1 of the Family Law Act (“FLA”), which is in essence a married person. It follows that an unmarried secret spouse would likely have no statutory entitlement to share in their deceased spouse’s estate. However, a secret spouse in Ontario could potentially claim an interest in their spouse’s estate pursuant to the dependent support provisions contained in Part V of the SLRA. In Part V, “spouse” has the same meaning as in section 29 of the FLA, which defines “spouse” more broadly as including persons not married to each other and have cohabited continuously for a period of not less than three years, or have children together and are in a relationship of some permanence. If a secret spouse meets this definition, they may still have a right to a portion of their deceased spouse’s estate by way of a dependent support claim.
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Handwritten Wills/Codicils are certainly quite rare, particularly for people with means. In certain circumstances, and particularly where the testator had made a pre-existing Will, the presence of a subsequent handwritten Will or Codicil can suggest the presence of suspicious circumstances.
As Paul Trudelle blogged last week, Larry King apparently executed a secret handwritten codicil in 2019 that divided his roughly $2 million estate amongst his five children, to the exclusion of his wife, Shawn King. Mrs. King apparently intends to challenge the validity of the 2019 codicil.
In Ontario, an amendment to a Will is referred to as a “codicil” and it is considered to be a Will, for the purposes of the Succession Law Reform Act. A handwritten Will, in Ontario, is referred to as a “Holograph Will” and the only requirement is that it be made wholly by the testator’s own handwriting and signature, without formality, and without the presence, attestation or signature of a witness. The fact that a Holograph Will is usually made without witnesses will often cause litigation, particularly if there are suspicious circumstances surrounding its execution and/or discord in the family of the deceased.
If Mr. and Mrs. King resided in Ontario, Mrs. King could pursue various claims in challenging the validity of the 2019 codicil (subject to the available evidence), including:
- Lack of requisite testamentary capacity on Mr. King’s part;
- Mr. King being subject to undue influence from any or all of his children (or other third parties);
- Presence of suspicious circumstances in the execution of the codicil; and
- Presence of fraud in the execution of the document (which is pleaded quite rarely, as there are serious costs consequences for those that make such an allegation but are unable to prove it).
It will certainly be interesting to see how this matter unfolds, particularly taking into account that $2 million is not a significant amount when the costs of litigation are taken into account.
Interestingly, some sources suggest that his Estate is actually worth $50 million, which sounds a lot more accurate!
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Re Crowley Estate, 2021 ONSC 582, raises an interesting question surrounding the potential impact of counsel missing a procedural deadline in association with a Notice of Objection to the issuance of a Certificate of Appointment (i.e. probate), and whether missing such a deadline is fatal to the Objector’s ability to generally proceed with a challenge to the Will.
The Notice of Objection process is governed by rule 75.03 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. It generally provides that at any time before the issuance of a Certificate of Appointment any individual who appears to have a financial in the estate may file a “Notice of Objection” to the issuance of a Certificate of Appointment. The impact of filing of the Certificate of Appointment is to in effect to pause the probate process, with the applicant Estate Trustee being required to vacate and/or deal with the Notice of Objection before probate can be issued. The process by which the Notice of Objection is generally dealt with is that upon being advised of the Notice of Objection the Estate Trustee is to serve a “Notice to Objector” upon the Objector in accordance with rule 75.03(4), which then provides the Objector with 20 days from the date on which they are served with the Notice to Objector to serve and file a “Notice of Appearance”. If the Notice of Appearance is served by the deadline, the matter proceeds to a motion for directions in accordance with rule 75.03(6), where the court would be asked to provide directions regarding how the objections that were raised are to be adjudicated before the court. If no “Notice of Appearance” is filed by the deadline the Notice of Objection is automatically vacated, and the probate application may proceed as if no Notice of Objection had been filed.
In Re Crowley Estate, the Objector filed a Notice of Objection to the issuance of probate, and was in turn served with a Notice to Objector by the Applicant. The date on which the Objector was served with the Notice to Objector was November 20, 2020, which would have resulted in a deadline of December 10, 2020 for the Objector to serve the Notice of Appearance. The Notice of Appearance was not served however by the Objector until December 15, 2020. The matter was directed by the Registrar to a Judge, who in turn asked the parties to make written submissions regarding the matter. The Applicant’s lawyer took the position that rule 75.03 was “unforgiving” with respect to its deadlines, and that as the Objector had missed the deadline to serve the Notice of Appearance the court was now required to proceed with the probate application as if no Notice of Objection had been filed. Objector’s counsel advised that the reason for the missed deadline was due to health related concerns surrounding COVID-19, appearing to note in any event that even if the Notice of Objection was vacated the Objector would be proceeding with a challenge to the validity of the Will, noting that the Objector had subsequently commenced a separate Application to address the concerns surrounding the validity of the Will on January 7, 2021.
The court ultimately extended the deadline for the Objector to file the Notice of Appearance under rule 3.02, which allows the court to extend any time prescribed by the rules on such terms as are just. In extending the deadline, Justice Boswell notes that the Objector clearly always intended to pursue the objection, and that there is no clear prejudice to allowing the extension. Perhaps interestingly however, although the comment does not appear to have played a decisive role in the final ruling, Justice Boswell references that even if the Certificate of Appointment was issued the Objector would likely have been at liberty to seek the return the Certificate of Appointment under rule 75.05, appearing to give credence to the Objector’s position that they would have been at liberty to proceed with their challenge to the validity of the Will regardless of the missed deadline for the Notice of Objection.
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Sometimes when parties arrive at a settlement, notwithstanding that the settlement may objectively be in their interests, they may not necessarily be pleased with the outcome. If the settlement has been concluded and fully documented, however, a party who has had second thoughts will likely be out of luck if they want to avoid complying with the agreement. This is important because parties should usually be held to the bargains that they make in a settlement.
A settlement does not necessarily have to be in writing to be valid, but like any contract, there must be a “meeting of the minds” on the essential terms of the agreement.
In a recent decision, Daehn v Lalonde, 2021 ONSC 301, the court considered a motion to enforce a settlement where draft minutes of settlement had been exchanged, but not signed. The dispute between the parties underlying the settlement concerned the validity of competing Wills. The parties were engaged in negotiations between January and July 2019, during which time several offers and versions of draft minutes of settlement were exchanged. In mid-July, counsel for the responding parties to the motion advised the moving party that he would no longer be acting for the responding parties, and retracted all offers to settle made by the responding parties.
The moving party took the position that certain conduct by counsel for the responding parties should be taken as akin to acceptance of terms in the minutes of settlement. Such conduct included providing bank statements that had been requested as a condition of settlement, and proposing changes to some terms of the draft minutes without complaint about others. The court did not accept this argument, and did not find acceptance of the agreement by words or conduct of the responding parties.
The court briefly reviewed the law regarding validity and enforcement of settlements. Like a contract, a concluded settlement requires both a mutual intention to create a legally binding contract, and agreement on all essential terms of the settlement.
The court found that the responding parties never agreed to the terms of settlement. Despite the moving party’s argument that the responding parties had agreed to the sole “essential” term, the court found that it cannot be the case that the moving party alone can dictate what terms of the settlement are essential. The court concluded that a settlement cannot be imposed where no agreement was reached.
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