Category: Estate Litigation
Tracing your ancestry is big business these days. According to Ancestry.com, the company and its worldwide affiliates have 3 million paid subscribers and have collected 15 million DNA samples from individuals.
Everyone seems to know someone with a story, some happy, some disturbing. Some people discover a 1st cousin and reconnect with them (good news)! Others find out they have a half-sister they never knew about (oops)!
It can get more disturbing than that. Police have used the DNA collected by ancestry websites to narrow down suspects in murder investigations. That’s how the Golden State Killer was arrested in 2018 for rapes and murders committed 30 to 40 years previously. It’s quite the story. The killer’s relatives clearly did him no good service by happily submitting their DNA.
Using ancestry to expand your horizons
One way that we might want to use our ancestry is verifying our roots and exploring opportunities for citizenship in another country. Many Canadians already enjoy dual citizenship because they or their parents were born outside of Canada. But many do not. And there can be advantages, including the ability to travel and work there, own property, or receive health care.
One example: if you have a grandparent who was born in the Republic of Ireland, you likely qualify for Irish citizenship, which would also make you an EU citizen with all of those privileges.
The rules differ by country, and the application process is undoubtedly thorough and time-consuming, even if you are clearly eligible. But if the potential advantages are appealing, dual citizenship might be an idea worth exploring.
Weigh any downside as well
Of course, you’ll need to look at the potential disadvantages as well (for example, there may be tax obligations you hadn’t counted on). This blog post has some good tips on the practicalities of carrying two passports, but also a quick pros and cons list of holding citizenship in two countries.
Thanks for reading … Have a great day,
It has been almost one year since the music industry and fans around the world lost Aretha Franklin. It was previously believed that Franklin died without a will, leaving an estate valued at approximately $80 million USD to be distributed under Michigan’s intestate succession laws.
However, recent reports indicate that three handwritten notes, which may be wills, have been located. Two are reportedly from 2010 and were found in a locked cabinet, with the third dated March 2014, found under cushions in Franklin’s living room.
The three handwritten notes have been filed, and a hearing will take place on June 12, 2019 to determine their validity.
From a cursory review of the applicable Michigan authorities, it appears that a will is a holograph Will (referred to as “holographic wills” in Michigan), whether or not it is witnessed, if it is (1) dated, and (2) the testator’s signature and the document’s material portions are in the testator’s handwriting. It appears that in Michigan, a holograph will may remain valid, even if some portions of the document are not in the testator’s handwriting, but the testator’s intent can be established by extrinsic evidence.
In contrast, pursuant to Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”), to be a valid holograph will the document must be (1) “wholly” in the testator’s own handwriting, (2) signed by the testator and (3) constitute a full and final expression of the testator’s intent regarding the disposition of his or her assets, on death. The SLRA does not require the document to be dated, as is required in Michigan, however both jurisdictions do not require the formal presence, attestation or signature of a witness for a holograph will to be found valid.
In Ontario, and Canada generally, steps are being taken within the legal community in attempts to solve ongoing issues of identifying missing or competing wills. Online will registries are being created so that lawyers and trust companies can upload basic information about the wills they are storing.
The Canada Will Registry’s website indicates that when a user is looking for a will, the site will publish a Knowledge of Will notice, and the lawyer or trust company storing the will (if it has been registered) will be automatically alerted. According to the website, the intent behind the registry is to replace the various search tools currently available with one comprehensive tool.
While such a tool would not have assisted in locating Franklin’s handwritten notes, it represents how the advance of technology can be used to simplify necessary steps regularly taken by estate practitioners, such as the process of locating missing or competing wills.
Technology aside, it will be interesting to see whether or not the Court will find any of Franklin’s handwritten notes to be valid holograph wills.
Thanks for reading!
In Ontario, by reason of s. 17(2) of the Succession Law Reform Act, if a testator’s marriage is terminated by a judgment absolute of divorce or is declared a nullity, any devise or bequest to his or her former spouse, any appointment of his or her former spouse as estate trustee, or any grant of a power of appointment to his or her former spouse is revoked, and the will is to be construed as if the former spouse had predeceased the testator.
This is subject to a contrary intention appearing in the will.
This provision was enacted in 1974. Prior to that, bequests to a former spouse remained valid until the testator made a new will, revoked the will, or remarried. (S. 16 of the SLRA provides that a will is revoked by marriage, subject to certain exceptions.)
In Page Estate v. Sachs (H.C.J.), 1990 CanLII 6903, the court had to grapple with the question of the retrospective application of this section. There, the testator made a will in 1968. The will gave the estate to the testator’s spouse. The testator and his spouse were divorced in 1974. The testator died in 1986. The question for the court was whether s. 17(2) would apply in those circumstances.
The court found that s. 17(2) has retrospective application. The gift to the spouse was revoked. The testator’s estate was distributed as if the former spouse had predeceased.
In the decision, the judge quoted from the “Report On The Impact of Divorce on Existing Wills” by the Ontario Law Reform Commission. It was said that s. 17(2) “represents remedial reform legislation in aid of those former spouses who neglect to alter their wills following a divorce and thereby bestowed upon their former spouse unintended windfall benefits.” The judge went on to observe that the section “simply asserts the finality which a decree absolute renders to the relationship and status of the former spouses and ties up any inadvertent loose ends which could resurrect the spousal status.”
Note that the provision only comes into play where there is a divorce or the marriage is declared a nullity. Separated spouses should “tie up any loose ends” and ensure that they consider revising their will upon separation. My first exposure to estates law involved a matter where a wife moved to divorce her husband. The husband was so irate that he vowed that she would not get anything from him in the divorce, and committed suicide. He did not revise his will. As a divorce had not yet been granted, his entire estate passed to his wife, which was clearly contrary to his intentions.
Don’t leave your ends loose.
If you use news headlines as a guide, it would seem that group benefits at work – health, dental, chiropractic and more – are getting a bad rap, and benefits fraud is the reason.
While the vast majority of employees make legitimate benefits claims, the bad apples get all of the publicity. One of the worst in recent years was the fraud involving the Toronto Transit Commission, which was linked to more than 220 employees who have either been fired or resigned.
In many cases of fraud, service providers collude with benefits plan members to get money out of the plan. So, they claim for orthotics that are never delivered, or claim for prescription glasses but receive designer sunglasses, or submit a receipt for a therapeutic massage when they actually received a sexual massage from a massage parlour.
The chill effect
The trouble with fraud, and all of the warnings about “don’t abuse your plan” is that it can create a chill effect on those who want to use the “health services” part of their plan (in-person treatments and therapies) for legitimate reasons. People can feel that using these benefits outside of an emergency situation equates to taking advantage of their plan. So, they don’t get their knee checked by a chiropractor, or get a back massage for their lower back pain, or get the orthotics they need to prevent problems down the road.
And the most underused benefit area, according to Canada’s largest provider of group benefits, Sun Life Financial, is for psychological services. For Canadian employers with 50 or more employees, 88% of employees make at least one prescription drug claim in a year but only 5% make a claim for psychological services. This is despite the fact that mental health issues are a leading cause of short and long-term disability claims. You can read the full report here.
Think prevention: Make use of your plan
My point is a simple one: employers want employees to take the prevention steps needed to stay healthy. It’s beneficial for both the employee and the business. Yes, there are short-term costs for preventative treatments, but these short-term costs can avoid larger long-term costs, such as multi-year disability leaves. This is especially true for mental health issues.
All to say, if you’re lucky enough to have a benefits plan, don’t wait for an emergency to learn about the preventative treatments available to you. From dental check ups, to mental health therapy, to chiropractic adjustments, there are subsidized treatment options available to help you stay healthy and productive.
Enjoy the rest of your day!
As spring leans toward summer, many begin to think about spending time sitting on a dock. While sitting on a dock (or a patio, if that is more your thing), consider the recent decision of Krieser v. Garber,  O.J. No. 1619.
In 2012, the Garbers decided to build a dock attached to their property on Lake Simcoe. They retained Nealon Wood Products to do so. It must have been a nice dock. The cost was $150,000.
Unfortunately, the dock was not built according to Ministry of Natural Resources-approved plans. It was built 17 feet to the west of where it was supposed to be. Boulders placed around the dock for ice protection extended over the projected lot line of Garbers’ neighbour, the Kriesers. While the placement of the dock improved the view of the Garbers, it did not improve the Kriesers’ view. Additionally, it interfered with the Kriesers’ ability to access their own property by boat.
At trial, the court found that injunctive relief was appropriate. The Garbers were ordered to remove the dock from its current location, and repair the lake bed. In addition, the Garbers and Nealon were ordered to pay the Kriesers $100,000 in punitive damages.
On the issue of costs, reported here, the court awarded the Plaintiff costs of $518,000 for the two week trial, payable by the Garbers and Nealon, jointly and severally. The Garbers were ordered to pay an additional $80,000 for costs “thrown away” in relation to an earlier adjournment of the trial.
In awarding costs, the court noted that the Plaintiff had made a very reasonable offer to settle. The offer was, according to the judge, “the most generous offer to settle I have ever seen”.
In their offer, the Kriesers offered to pay for all of the costs of having the dock and the protective boulders moved. It was estimated that this costs could be in the $150,000 range. This “with prejudice” offer was relied on, in part, to support an award of substantial indemnity costs. It also was a factor in the award of punitive damages.
Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.
A recent decision dealing with the estate of a French rock star highlights the potential relevance of social media evidence in estates matters.
Johnny Halliday, known as the “French Elvis”, died in 2017, leaving a Last Will and Testament that left his entire estate to his fourth wife, disinheriting his adult children from a previous marriage. The New York Times reports that French law does not permit a testator to disinherit his or her children in such a manner, and the adult children made a claim against the estate on that basis. The issue became whether the deceased singer had lived primarily in the United States or in France.
Halliday was active on Instagram, using the service to promote his albums and tours, as well as to share details of his personal life with fans. The adult children were, accordingly, able to track where their father had been located in the years leading up to his death, establishing that he had lived in France for 151 days in 2015 and 168 in 2016, before spending 7 months immediately preceding his death in France. Their position based on the social media evidence was preferred over that of Halliday’s widow and their claims against the estate were permitted.
Decisions like this raise the issue of whether parties to estate litigation can be required to produce the contents of their social media profiles as relevant evidence to the issues in dispute. Arguably, within the context of estates, social media evidence may be particularly relevant to dependant’s support applications, where the nature of an alleged dependant’s relationship with the deceased, along with the lifestyle enjoyed prior to death, may be well-documented.
The law regarding the discoverability of social media posts in estate and family law in Canada is still developing. While the prevalence of social media like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook is undeniable, services like these have not become popular only in the last fifteen years or so and it seems that users continue to share increasingly intimate parts of their lives online.
Thank you for reading.
There are lots of positives to retirement and your senior years: fewer costs, more leisure time, and less daily stress to name a few. And these are all worth celebrating. But the negatives can be crushing: more body pains and disease, the deaths of close friends and family, and being that much closer to death yourself.
It’s not that age 65 or 70 can’t be wonderful. It often is. If you could freeze the best time of older age, most people would take it in a snap, even over their younger years. But you can’t freeze time, so onward we go to the inevitable: settling our estate (but without us being there).
Bolt out of the gate
These facts don’t depress me, they actually motivate me. I’m not a senior yet, but many in my circle are. And the ones who impress me are the ones who embrace their senior/retirement years right out of the gate.
That means making maximum use of the freedom that comes with their “new normal.” While the activities people choose will differ radically, one common thread is often a need to watch cashflow a little more carefully. For many, it’s a balance between enjoying life now and not running out of money later.
Which brings me to my confession and my point, with the confession first: I’ve never been a coupon clipper. My spending could be described (charitably) as a bit loose. I know I could get $30 off my phone bill for 6 months if I phoned Bell and threatened to leave, but I save my energy for my work and family and choose to battle Bell another day.
Now my point: that “other day” should be when you turn 60. The reason? The discounts are far too rich to turn down, you have a little more time to organize your life around saving, and your need (if you’re retired) has likely never been greater.
From banking, to grocery and drugstore shopping, to travel, you can easily knock 20% to 50% off your costs once you reach your prime senior years. And those savings can be channelled into pursuits that you find most meaningful.
You have to know what’s available and sometimes you have to ask. But the deals (which are not time-limited) are substantial.
This website is a great place to start
Happy 60th, and happy saving. Thanks for reading!
Written reasons from a mid-trial motion was recently released in Barker v. Barker, 2019 ONSC 2906. The only issue in this motion was whether a particular video of a deceased plaintiff was admissible at trial. The larger claim at issue surrounds the Oak Ridge division of the Penetanguishene mental health centre and its treatment of maximum security mental health patients between the 60’s and the 80’s. One of the plaintiffs, James Motherall, died after the action was brought and his claims were continued by the estate trustees of Mr. Motherall’s estate under Rule 9 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Prior to Mr. Motherall’s death, Mr. Motherall was examined for discovery in the ordinary course but he was not examined under Rule 36 for the purpose of having his video testimony tendered as evidence at trial. Since a de bene esse examination did not occur, the trial judge was literally unable to assess Mr. Motherall’s credibility with his own eyes. In an effort to address this issue, counsel for the plaintiffs sought to introduce video footage of Mr. Motherall from a CBC documentary that featured Mr. Motherall and his experiences at Oak Ridge. The footage was taken a month before Mr. Motherall’s death and counsel for the Plaintiffs proposed to call the filmmaker as a witness to introduce the unedited footage of the filmmaker’s interview with Mr. Motherall.
Without criticizing the filmmaker’s work, the trial judge found that the video interview was not conducted under reliable circumstances for the purposes of a trial because Mr. Motherall was not sworn, he was not cross-examined, and he was simply asked to tell his story without more. The video was presumptively hearsay and it was up to the plaintiffs to meet, on a balance of probabilities, the criteria of necessity and reliability under the principled approach for the admissibility of hearsay evidence (R v. Khelawon, 2006 SCC 57, R. v. Chretien, 2014 ONCA 403).
In addition to the issues of reliability, the trial judge also found that the video was not necessary since there was a transcript of evidence from Mr. Motherall’s examination for discovery and an affidavit from Mr. Motherall in the course of a prior summary judgment motion.
Both the filmmaker’s proposed testimony and the video footage of Mr. Motherall was found to be inadmissible.
Even though Barker v. Barker is at its core a civil matter, the reasoning from this motion is instructive for estate litigators who are also bound by the additional hurdle for material corroboration pursuant to section 13 of the Evidence Act.
Thanks for reading!
On May 5, 2019, CBC reported on a story of a lawyer who had his cell phone and laptop seized by the Canada Border Services Agency when he refused to give them his passwords.
According to the report, Nick Wright was returning to Canada after a 4 month trip to Guatemala and Colombia. After his bags were searched, the Canada Border Services officer asked for the passwords to his phone and laptop, so that they could be searched as well. Wright refused, telling the officer that his devices contained confidential solicitor-client information. His devices were then confiscated, to be sent to a government lab which would try to determine the passwords and search the files.
According to Canada Border Services, digital devices are classified as “goods”, and Canada Border Services is allowed to examine the goods, including any electronic files on the device, for customs purposes. If a traveller refuses to reveal their password, Canada Border Services may seize the device. According to the policy manual, although an arrest would “appear to be legally supported, a restrained approach will be adopted until the matter is settled in ongoing court proceedings.”
U.S. customs and border protection officials have similar rights to search devices. Refusal to disclose passwords may result in confiscation or a denial of entry.
Such digital device searches do not occur frequent. In the 17 months between November 2017 and March 2019, 19,515 travellers entering Canada (0.015% of all travellers) had their digital devices examined by Canada Border Services.
The Canadian Bar Association warns about the risks of such searches to lawyers. Lawyers have a duty to keep client communications private. This applies to all information about a client or former client. The duty extends to staff, as well. “Your client has a right to privacy which requires you not to disclose to anyone, with exceptions, when any communications between you relate to legal advice sought or given.”
The Canadian Bar Association says that a breach could result in a loss of client trust, a client lawsuit for negligence, an E&O claim, disciplinary action and public criticism.
The Canadian Bar Association suggests that when crossing a border, lawyers should travel with a “clean device”. They should use cloud technology to store any solicitor-client information. Lawyers should erase all privileged information from their devices, including contact lists with clients’ names, addresses and contact information. The search by border services does not allow them to access information on the cloud. Once across the border, this information can easily be reinstalled from the cloud.
The move to retail automation amazes me – its impact is so unpredictable.
The most recent kerfuffle relates to claims by Shoppers Drug Mart cashiers that they’ve been made to pressure customers into using self-checkout stations rather than traditional cashiers. Cashiers claim (probably correctly) that stores are encouraging self-checkout to reduce the number of cashiers needed in store. You can read about it here.
Where will it lead?
I have no doubt that the use of self-checkout at grocery stores will increase in the future, but will it lead to the near elimination of cashier jobs? That’s hard to say. When ATMs started breeding like rabbits in the 1980s, the loss of bank teller jobs seemed almost a certainty. While there have been some branch closures and job losses, there are still thousands of branches across the country. Go into any one and the human touch is alive and well, even with online banking at our fingertips.
Contrast that with the move to self-serve gas stations. Even though a couple of cities in British Columbia (Coquitlam and Richmond) still ban self-serve gas, more than 90% of automobile gas sold in Canada today is self-serve. Most of us never think twice about it – we just pump our own. A lot of gas attendant jobs have gone by the wayside.
Prediction – a niche only for grocery self-checkout
In London, England, I went to a 24-hour Tesco grocery store recently that had no cashiers on the overnight shift. The store had just one attendant at the front whose job was to help people navigate the self-checkout machines. That’s a use that makes sense. If you want the convenience of shopping overnight, you’ll need to do a bit of work yourself at the end. I can definitely see that trend carrying on in Canada.
But my best guess is that grocery self-checkout will remain a niche offering. Bricks and mortar retailers need to differentiate themselves from their online cousins, and the personal touch is a key way to do that. I think many people will do what I do – use the self-checkout only when the line at regular cashiers looks too long.
And who wants to make that impulsive scratch & win lotto ticket purchase from a machine anyways?
Thanks for reading!
Ian M. Hull