Category: Estate Planning
If you are asked to be someone’s estate trustee/executor, you may wonder what liability you are assuming. That is on top of the regular workload, as settling the testator’s financial affairs and distributing the remaining assets to their beneficiaries usually takes a year, involving visits to banks, lawyers and other relevant parties. Much can happen in that time, and beneficiaries may be pressuring you to quickly pass along their share of the estate.
Here are some important points to keep in mind with personal liability.
Many Last Wills and Testaments contain phrasing meant to protect loved ones as they carry out their executor duties, usually along the lines of: “No trustee acting in good faith shall be held liable for any loss, except for loss caused by his or her own dishonesty, gross negligence or a wilful breach of trust.”
That type of clause is important, but there is still some liability that comes with the position.
First, let’s make it clear that an executor does not incur personal liability for the debts and liabilities of the deceased. However, it is the executor’s duty to ensure that financial obligations are paid from the estate before any money goes to beneficiaries.
The potential liability here is particularly significant with respect to taxes. Most estates will have taxes owing, so it is the executor’s duty to ensure that all outstanding tax matters are resolved. Section 159 of the Income Tax Act requires executors to obtain a clearance certificate. This document confirms that the taxes of the deceased have been paid in full. If the executor does not obtain this certificate and the funds from the estate have already been distributed, they will be personally liable for taxes owed.
There is always a chance that an executor could discover the testator was not meeting their tax obligations to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). There are a number of reasons this may arise, ranging from simple carelessness to deliberate tax evasion. No matter the situation, the executor is responsible for rectifying that shortcoming using the estate’s funds, before money is given out to beneficiaries.
The CRA has created a Voluntary Disclosure Program that allows executors to come forward and voluntarily correct any errors or omissions without being subject to penalties or prosecution.
Personal liability for executors also arises if they spend money on professionals to help with the administration of the estate. That could include such people as lawyers, accountants, investment advisors, real estate agents, or art appraisers. Estates can be complex, so it is well within the scope of diligent executors to seek professional guidance. Accordingly, the cost for these services will be borne by the estate, not by the executor.
Detailed records must be kept of any money spent, as executors have a duty to account to the beneficiaries. These records must show all expenses paid by the estate and what money the estate received, from insurance benefits, banks or other sources.
In most cases, beneficiaries of an estate will approve, or consent to, the accounts as kept by the estate trustee. But if they feel finances were not properly managed, they can ask for court approval of the records, known as a “passing of accounts.”
Since executors have a duty to maximize the recovery, and value, of estate assets, they are personally liable for any losses they cause. That could include being reckless with the assets, which causes a loss in monetary value. Examples of this would be if an estate has to pay penalties on a tax return that the executor filed extremely late for no good reason, or if a home was sold for much less than market value.
The good news is that if an executor performs their duty diligently and honestly, any financial liability they assume will be paid by the estate.
Be safe, and have a great day.
The great thing about having a Last Will and Testament is that it clearly spells out what happens to your estate upon your passing. Conversely, the terrible thing about not having this document in place when you die is that you have no control over how your assets are distributed, which may cause anguish and hardship to loved ones you would have otherwise chosen as beneficiaries.
When you die without a will, or intestate, Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) sets out how your estate is distributed. It provides that unless someone who is financially dependent on the deceased person makes a claim, the first $350,000 is given to the deceased person’s spouse.
A problem that immediately arises is defining the meaning of spouse. For the purposes of intestacy, the SLRA adopts the definition of spouse found in section 1 of the Family Law Act, which reads: “‘spouse’ means either of two persons who: (a) are married to each other, or (b) have together entered into a marriage that is voidable or void, in good faith on the part of a person relying on this clause to assert any right.”
As such, only married spouses are entitled to benefit under the intestacy regime. You may have had a long and loving common-law relationship with a person you regarded as a spouse, but if there is no formal wedding declaration, they could be denied the inheritance you wanted them to receive. A common-law spouse may potentially seek redress by making a dependant’s support claim against your estate, though it is an effort and expense that could have been avoided with a proper will.
If you have no spouse, your children will inherit the estate. Sounds simple enough, but again there may be an issue with the way in which the SLRA defines child, as it only accepts biological offspring or those who were adopted as children. With blended families, many people have developed loving and long-lasting relationships with their step-children. In the eyes of the SLRA, however, they are not given the same inheritance rights as biological and adopted children.
Things get a bit complicated from here. Allow me to summarize:
- If any children have died, that child’s children will inherit their share.
- If there is no spouse or children or grandchildren, the deceased person’s parents inherit the estate equally.
- If there are no surviving parents, the deceased person’s brothers and sisters inherit the estate.
- If any of the brothers and sisters have died, their children (the deceased person’s nieces and nephews) inherit their share.
- If there are no surviving brothers and sisters, the deceased person’s nieces and nephews inherit the estate equally. (If a niece or nephew has died, their share does not pass to their children.)
- When only more distant relatives survive (cousins, great-nieces or nephews, great aunts and uncles), the rules are complex and a lawyer’s advice is a good idea.
There are many other problems that arise with those who die intestate, such as deciding who will be executor and oversee the estate distribution. The closest relative is usually chosen by the courts for the position, which may mean that your children are in charge and not your common-law spouse, which could create tension and expensive legal battles.
If you have minor-age children and there is no other legal parent alive, the appointment of the guardian will be out of your control.
Perhaps you have promised your grandson that he will inherit your valued coin collection when you die. That probably won’t happen, since all assets of the estate will be valued and divided up under the SLRA rules. However, in a will you can leave specific instructions, directing who receives what items you are leaving behind.
You may feel indebted to a charity, church, or hospital for their work while you were alive, and you want to leave that institution some money. Again, that can’t happen without a will.
The final point to consider is that if you have no next-of-kin and you die without a will, your entire estate goes to the Ontario government, with the Office of the Public Guardian & Trustee stepping in to administer your estate and seize your assets.
Drawing up a Last Will and Testament is a simple way to avoid all these issues, saving anguish and needless paperwork when the time comes.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!
When parents consider who should be the guardian of their minor-age children in the event they both were to die, they are probably thinking in terms of who will assume parenting responsibilities. In Ontario, however, there is an important distinction between the custodial guardian and the guardian of property, the latter being the person who will make financial decisions for those children until they reach the age of majority. One person can fulfill both roles or parents can break the responsibilities apart and assign guardians for each.
Let’s explore the second form of guardianship first.
In Ontario, subsection 47 (2) of the Children’s Law Reform Act describes a guardian of the property as someone “responsible for the care and management of the property of the child.”
Their duties include making trustee investments and investing the child’s money as required by the management plan approved by the court. If there is a large amount of money involved, the guardian may be required to pass the accounts before the court at fixed intervals, usually from one to five years.
Detailed records, or accounts, must be kept of all transactions carried out on behalf of the children.
Guardians of property may be paid for their work, following the fee scale set out in Ontario Regulation 159/00. It states they are entitled to three per cent on capital and income receipts, three per cent on capital and income disbursements and three–fifths of one per cent on the annual average value of the assets as a care and management fee.
The court can review the accounts and adjust the amount of compensation given, and, if required, demand that some or all of these funds be repaid.
With the financial responsibilities involved in being a guardian of property, it is easy to see why parents should select someone comfortable with handling money for this role.
When selecting a custodial guardian to assume day-to-day parenting duties, most people look to family members. That often works well, especially if the person lives close by and has children of their own. But don’t be afraid to look beyond your circle of relatives. In some circumstances, a family friend might be the better choice. Just as there are no perfect parents, there are no perfect guardians, but your children will have to live with the choice you have made in the event of your untimely death.
There are a number of factors to consider with any guardian choice, such as geography. School-age children may not appreciate being uprooted from friends and schoolmates if the custodial parent lives in another community or province.
The age and health of the custodial guardian are important as well, as you want someone who has the energy to take on the myriad of tasks involved in child-rearing. For that reason, someone who is nearing retirement might not be a wise choice as a custodial guardian.
Parents also have to think about the attitudes and values they are trying to instill in their children. You want to find a custodial guardian who lives by similar standards as yours, to ensure your children are brought up in a manner in which you approve.
Finances should be a factor in your decision-making. Even if a will provides funding for the children’s needs, the custodial guardian’s expenses will go up, so you won’t want to select someone who is already financially strained.
For both guardian roles, you will want to be sure to discuss the issue thoroughly with the people in question before appointing them in your will. It is a statistical long-shot that their services will be required, but make sure they are comfortable taking on those duties if they are ever required to fulfill those roles.
One final point: review your guardianship appointments on a regular basis. Everyone’s personal circumstances change, and the person who agreed to be guardian 10 years ago may be unfit or unwilling to assume that role now.
Stay safe – and have a great day,
As many of our readers know, Ontario may be well on its way to becoming a jurisdiction in which wills may be validated notwithstanding that they are not strictly compliant with the formal requirements set out under the Succession Law Reform Act. However a recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice reminds us that Ontario, for now at least, remains a strict compliance jurisdiction where all formalities must be followed in the execution and witnessing of wills and codicils.
During the pandemic, many lawyers have taken advantage of the ability to assist clients in the remote execution and witnessing of their wills, as well as the execution and witnessing of wills in counterpart. In order to validly do so, the will must be witnessed using audio-visual communication technologies. In Re Swidde Estate, 2021 ONSC 1434, however, the drafting solicitor and other witness were neither in the physical presence of the testator nor in her presence by way of audio-visual communication technology, at the time that a codicil was signed. Instead, the witnesses were in communication with the testator over the phone (without video) at the time that she signed the codicil. The codicil was later couriered to the witnesses who then each signed the same document. The Court found that this did not meet the requirements set out under the Emergency Order in Council permitting remote execution and witnessing of wills, and the codicil could not be admitted to probate. This case may serve as a reminder to drafting solicitors to ensure that all requirements are strictly adhered to. In that regard, readers may find it helpful to use a checklist, such as that available through our website (linked here), when assisting clients in the remote execution of wills or other estate planning documents.
Bill 245 is currently in its third reading. Section 5 of Schedule 9 to the Bill provides for the Court validation of wills where a document sets out testamentary intentions but has not been properly executed or made. Such a provision would enable a judge in circumstances such as those in Re Swiddle Estate to validate a will or codicil that was not properly executed. This provision will come into effect no earlier than January 1, 2022 and will apply only to wills left by persons who have died following that date, subject to further changes before the legislation may be finalized and may ultimately take effect. Accordingly, especially while Ontario remains a strict compliance jurisdiction, it is important to exercise caution in ensuring that all wills we prepare are properly executed and witnessed.
Thank you for reading.
Wage increases are not proportionate to the astronomical rise in the cost of living. As a result, it is not all that uncommon for some to live “pay cheque to pay cheque” – especially those millennials just beginning their careers, starting a family, and hoping to buy property. Even those who have attended graduate programs (many of whom spend several years paying off the massive debt accrued by such ambitions), have double income earning families, and who hold esteemed positions in the workforce, still struggle to put aside any significant amount of money for retirement. Consequently, many young people make the unwise mistake of counting on their impending inheritance to fund their retirement.
According to Ipsos Reid survey, 35% of Canadians are relying on an inheritance to fund their futures. Although baby boomers as a generation possess great wealth, there are several reasons why that fortune might not land in the hands of millennials.
Firstly, individuals might deplete their assets while still living. Given the steady increase in life expectancy, individuals are living longer and correspondingly, their wealth must last longer. For some, this might mean living lavishly in their retirement years and travelling the world. Others who aren’t so lucky might be plagued by illness requiring extensive care. In the latter scenario, savings can be quickly consumed by these unforeseen health care expenses. For context, a private room at a long-term care home in Ontario costs on average $2,640 a month. Retirement homes, not subsidized by the government, cost approximately $3,204 a month if an individual requires assistance.
Another reason why an inheritance should not be counted until it is received is due to the volatility of the stock market. An unexpected downturn in the stock market, or a poor investing decision, could result in a retirement portfolio plummeting and thus no inheritance left to pass along.
Lastly, some parents might share the same beliefs as investing icon Warren Buffett, who infamously remarked that he would leave his children “enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.” A 2014 study by the Insured Retirement Institute confirmed that although in the past over two-thirds of baby boomers reported that they would leave their children an inheritance, this number dropped to just 46% in 2014. It appears that more parents might agree with Buffet’s philosophy than expected. As a result, it seems wise to consider your potential inheritance as a welcome bonus rather than a given.
Thanks for reading – and enjoy the rest of your day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph
A person’s Last Will and Testament allows them to not only determine how their estate is distributed upon their death, but can also set out their expectations on how to care for their minor-aged children. To ensure that the needs of the child can be met, here are some of the elements that should be part of this important document.
One key issue is to decide who to appoint as guardian – the person who will assume the responsibility of raising the children upon the death of their parents. A person entitled to custody of a child may appoint one or more persons to fill that role after the death of the parent, as per section 61 of the Children’s Law Reform Act. It’s also possible to choose a different guardian for each child if that works in a particular situation.
Keep in mind that such an appointment is typically only in force for 90 days, during which time the custodian must bring a court application seeking permanent status. The testator’s appointment can be overturned by a judge, however, especially if circumstances have changed between the writing of the will and the guardianship appointment being made. Perhaps your appointed guardian is having personal struggles of their own and is no longer fit to care for your children. In most cases, though, the court will typically respect the choice of the testator and assign great weight to their final wishes.
When it comes to minor-age children, an equally important designation is the appointment of a trustee. This can be the same person as the guardian, though it doesn’t have to be. A trustee makes decisions about how your assets are managed and when funds are allocated to your children. For example, parents may decide it would not be in their children’s best interests to receive a large inheritance at the age of 18. Those funds can be controlled by the trustee until the children reach a higher level of maturity.
When parents prepare their wills, they do not know what the future needs of their children will be. Maybe a child will be injured and will require therapy not covered by provincial health plans, for example, or they could develop a keen interest in music or some other pursuit requiring expensive equipment.
These needs could be paid for by the trust if the trustee is convinced they are in the best interests of the child. The trustee can also release funds for the general maintenance of the child, with all withdrawals recorded for later reference.
Specialized trusts can be established for a number of different scenarios. For example, the Henson Trust is used in estate planning where there is a disabled beneficiary who is entitled to receive support payments from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
Under the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, if a recipient of ODSP has assets or receives income over a prescribed limit, they will be ineligible to receive support payments. One way to address this issue is through the establishment of the Henson Trust.
Those in a second marriage or any sort of blended family definitely need a will. There needs to be direction on who inherits what. Court challenges are sure to arise if the direction is unclear or if it is seen as patently unfair to one party.
That is reinforced by a TD Wealth survey that found that family conflict was identified as the leading threat to estate planning. The survey cited the designation of beneficiaries (30 percent) as the most common cause of conflict, with other leading factors including not communicating the plan with family members (25 percent) and working with blended families (21 percent).
Some parents may want to include information about their parenting philosophy or provide advice about how to handle their children in the will. A Last Will and Testament is not the place for that. This is a legal document that contains specific instructions about the distribution of your estate. After your will is probated, it becomes a public document that anybody can read. However, instructions or encouragement about parenting can be included in a letter or other separate document that accompanies the will.
A will is the last gift you will give your children, so you’ll want to work with a lawyer to make sure it leaves the legacy you intended.
Thanks for reading – and be safe.
Goldie and Kevin inherited a life interest in real property in Nova Scotia. Under the will, the survivor will get the property in fee simple.
Goldie wanted to have the property divided up. In the alternative, she wanted it sold and the proceeds split. Kevin opposed.
Could Goldie force the partition or sale of the lands? The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal said no.
In its decision of Fownes v. Ernst, 2021 NSCA 8 (CanLII), the Court of Appeal considered the nature of each of the party’s interests in the land. The Court considered that neither party had a “vested” fee simple interest, and only a contingent interest. At best, the parties had an “expectancy”, and an expectancy is not a property right. The right of survivorship granted in the will did not create an interest in the land until one of the life tenants died.
The Court of Appeal concluded that the Partitions Act “permits actions by those holding estates in possession, not in remainder or reversion.” Goldie could not force the sale of the land.
The Court of Appeal noted that the language of the Ontario legislation is broader, and permits life interest holders to bring partition proceedings. However, even with the broader language, Ontario courts do not permit holders of a contingent remainder interest to bring partition proceedings, as their interests were not “possessory”.
The issue is put another way in the Ontario decision of S. B. v. W. B., 2020 ONSC 5023 (CanLII). There, the court noted that partition or sale may occur where the life interest “runs concurrently” with the other interests, by not where the life interest runs “consecutively” with the other interests. Presumably, where the interests of the remainders are not immediate, but only arises after the life interest is determined, the remainders cannot seek partition or sale and oust the life tenant.
Thank you for reading. Have a great weekend.
I have blogged this week about the general availability of “pour over clauses” and whether you can leave a bequest in a Will to an already existing inter vivos trust. In my blog yesterday I discussed “facts of independent significance” as one of the potential arguments that has been raised to attempt to uphold “pour over clauses”, and how the concept was rejected by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Quinn Estate v. Rydland, 2019 BCCA 91. In today’s blog I will discuss another argument that was raised in Quinn Estate to try to uphold pour over clauses; the doctrine of “incorporation by reference”.
The doctrine of incorporation by reference at its most basic allows a Will to refer to a separate document which provides for dispositive provisions, with such a separate document being “incorporated” into the Will to be carried out by the executor as part of the administration of the Will. The most common example of incorporation by reference would be a memorandum directing who is to receive various personal items from the testator, with the Will directing the executor to distribute the personal items in accordance with the terms of the separate memorandum.
The general test for whether a document can be incorporated by reference into a Will is:
- It must be clear that the testator in the Will referred to some document then in existence; and
- the document in question must be beyond doubt the document referred to.
When incorporation by reference is raised as part of an attempt to uphold a pour over clause it appears to be the argument that so long as the inter vivos trust was in existence at the time the Will was signed, and the trust is clearly identified by the Will, that it should be able to meet the test for incorporation by reference such that the “pour over clause” can be saved.
In Quinn Estate the court ultimately rejects the attempt to save the pour over clause under the doctrine of incorporation by reference, appearing to emphasize there is a fundamental flaw in the attempt to incorporate a trust by reference into a Will insofar as it does not appear to be the testator’s intention to actually incorporate the terms of the trust into the Will, but rather simply to make a distribution to the separate trust. When something is “incorporated by reference” into a Will it means exactly that, insofar as the terms of the separate document are said to be incorporated into the Will and read as a single document. This concept appears fundamentally at odds with any attempt to make a bequest to an already existing trust under a pour over clause, as the testator never likely intended to have the terms of the trust incorporated into the Will to be administered by the executor as part of the Will, but rather to have the executor make a bequest to the trust to be administered separately from the estate. In emphasizing this point the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Quinn Estate states:
“Strictly speaking, resorting to incorporation by reference to incorporate the original trust document into the will belies the essential nature of a pour-over clause: here it is perfectly clear that the will-maker had no intention of incorporating the trust into his will. He rather demonstrated the obvious intention of making a gift to the trust.”
As my blogs this week have shown, any attempt to leave a bequest in a Will to an already existing inter vivos trust using a “pour over clause” is highly problematic.
Thank you for reading.
Yesterday I blogged about the general use and availability of “pour over clauses” and whether you can leave a bequest in a Will to an already existing inter vivos trust. Although the answer to that question is “it depends”, as cases such as Quinn Estate v. Rydland, 2019 BCCA 91, have shown the court is generally reluctant to uphold these kinds of bequests due to the potential of amendments being possible in a way that contradicts statutory requirements, such that any individual considering a potential bequest to an already existing trust should proceed with extreme caution.
In ultimately refusing to uphold the bequest to the inter vivos trust in Quinn Estate the court provides an excellent summary of the typical arguments that are used to try to uphold “pour over clauses”, and why, in their opinion, they should not be available to save the bequest. One of these potential arguments is the doctrine of “facts of independent significance”.
The doctrine of “facts of independent significance” in effect provides that subsequent and independent facts of “significance” can have an effect on the interpretation and/or administration of Wills notwithstanding that such subsequent facts may not otherwise meet the formal requirements to amend or alter a Will. Examples that are often cited to are clauses such as those that would provide that property is to be divided “amongst my partners who shall be in co-partnership with me at the time of my decease” or to the “servants in my employ at my death“. As both of these classes of individuals can change after the Will has been executed, such that the individuals who may ultimately receive the gifts may be different at the time of death versus when the Will was executed, this can be seen as a potential exception to the general rule that the Deceased’s intentions must be clear at the time the Will was executed and cannot be altered unless in compliance with the strict statutory requirements.
In the case of pour over clauses, the potential argument to utilize the doctrine of facts of independent significance would appear to be that as the court allows certain bequests to be upheld notwithstanding that the circumstances surrounding the bequest could change after the fact, the potential of an inter vivos trust being varied after the signing of the Will should not automatically void the bequest.
The court in Quinn Estate ultimately rejected the potential use of the doctrine of “facts of independent significance” to save pour over clauses. In coming to such a decision the Court of Appeal notes:
“Applying the doctrine to validate a pour-over clause would also differ in character to the existing applications recognized in the Anglo-Canadian jurisprudence. The traditional applications of the doctrine validate de facto amendments to the will only with regard to limited “facts”. The terms “partner” and “car” are inherently limited. A trust document recognizes no such limit. Extending the doctrine to pour-over clauses would grant testators unlimited power to amend the disposition of their estate without following the strictures of WESA. In my view, this is not an extension the common law should permit.” [emphasis added]
Although the Quinn Estate decision was a decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, as the Ontario statutory regime also does not appear to specifically contemplate the use and availability of “pour over clauses” it is likely that the same concerns referenced by the British Columbia Court of Appeal would be present in any attempt to uphold the use of pour over clauses under the doctrine of facts of independent significance in Ontario.
I will blog tomorrow about the concept of “incorporation by reference” as it relates to pour over clauses. Thank you for reading.
This week on Hull on Estates, Doreen So and Nick Esterbauer discuss Bill 245’s proposed addition of Section 21.1 to the Succession Law Reform Act and contemplate the differences between strict compliance, substantial compliance, and will validation provisions.
For more information on this and other changes proposed under the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, please see last week’s discussion featuring Jonathon Kappy and Rebecca Rauws here.
Should you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on our blog.