Category: Estate Planning
As the 21st century progresses, societies across the world have moved towards legalization and decriminalization of drugs and, in general, a narrower definition of what constitutes a “vice”. At the same time, there have been increasing efforts, both legally and culturally, to safeguard people from falling into dependence. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission prohibits alcohol advertising that depicts the consumption of alcohol. In contrast to decades wherein Santa Claus and doctors were advertised smoking, cigarette packaging is decidedly less festive – indeed, its gore is more characteristic of a horror film than a consumer product. So wary have some of us become that there have been studies published in Australia and Britain that have analyzed James Bond’s drinking habits and stated that he would be “at high risk of multiple alcohol-related diseases and an early death” (as though Bond blanches at risk!).
In previous centuries, there was far less legal regulation (except under Prohibition, a marked exception) of the aforementioned indulgences, but there was no less apprehension with respect to their widespread usage. In the 1887 case of Jordan v. Dunn,  W.L. 9876 (Ont. Q.B.), a testator devised his lands to his son on the condition, in part, that he abstain from intoxicants and card-playing. The Court decided that the gift did not vest until the beneficiary adhered to the testator’s rules:
“If a devise be only on the performance of some particular duty or upon some particular event; that is, if it be a condition precedent, there is no gift unless the condition is fulfilled; and it makes no difference that the event is impossible, impolitic or illegal.”
In Quay, Re,  CarswellOnt 706, a testator’s gift to his son came with the condition that he was not “engaged in malt or spirituous liquor traffic or in any form of gambling or games of chance”. The son, perhaps a little piqued at the testator’s implication, sought a determination of the condition’s validity. The Court upheld the condition, not construing it as an in terrorem clause but as a “competent direction in furtherance of public interests”. A distinction was also drawn between “playing games by way of diversion or amusement” and gambling as a daily occupation.
The testatrix in Kennedy Estate, Re,  CarswellMan 72, was yet more prohibitive, giving her daughter farmland rental proceeds only as long as her daughter did not “smoke or drink intoxicating liquor”. The Court approved of this provision:
“Conditions that a person must not drink intoxicating liquor, or play cards, or must ‘continue steady’ are valid conditions and although there is no specific authority I hold that a condition against smoking comes within the same category and is a valid condition.”
Ostensibly, these “continue steady” conditions are still legally valid, but we cannot say with great certainty, for it seems that these days testators are less inclined to make such conditions for their testamentary gifts. This is unfortunate for students of the law eager for test cases, although it is fortunate for fun loving beneficiaries, whose smiles might otherwise dampen from the constant accompaniment of a sober-faced condition precedent.
Thank you for reading … Have a great day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Devin McMurtry.
One of the primary and often urgent duties of an Estate Trustee is to dispose of the deceased’s body. Often, issues arise with respect to the proper disposal of the deceased’s remains: how it is to be done, and by whom. These issues are exacerbated when the deceased dies intestate. No one has the immediate authority to make the necessary decisions.
The difficulties that can arise are illustrated in the companion decisions of Re Timmerman Estate, 2020 ONSC 3424 (CanLII) and Re Timmerman Estate, 2020 ONSC 3425 (CanLII).There, Marguerite died on October 16, 2019. She was survived by a daughter, Shannon and a son, Craig. Craig died shortly thereafter, on November 12, 2019. Both died without a will and with only nominal assets.
Marguerite’s sister (Craig’s aunt) applied for a Certificate of Appointment as Estate Trustee for both estates. However, she did not have Shannon’s consent or a Renunciation from Shannon, as required by the Rules of Civil Procedure. She applied to the court to dispense with these formalities.
There was evidence before the court that Marguerite wished to be cremated. Shannon objected to this. However, there was evidence that Shannon may have had capacity issues. After raising her objection to the cremations, Shannon appears to have disappeared.
The judge hearing the applications noted that the bodies had remained in a hospital morgue for over 7 months, a delay that was “unconscionable” and “intolerable”, and due for the most part to difficulties in contacting Shannon despite reasonable efforts.
The court granted the applications notwithstanding the lack of consent or a renunciation from Shannon, citing Rules 2.01 and 2.03, which allow a court to dispense with the strict compliance with the Rules of Civil Procedure where it was necessary and in the interest of justice. “It is in no-one’s interests to delay the administration of this estate and, hence, the removal of the bodies and their cremation or burial, because of Shannon Timmerman’s failure or inability to take any steps herself to address the need to attend to these formalities.”
In both estates, the court directed the Estate Trustee to make best efforts to bring the Certificate of Appointment to the attention of Shannon before the bodies were finally laid to rest. However, this requirement was not to unduly delay things further. If Shannon could not be located using best efforts, the Estate Trustee was to proceed with the disposal of the remains as she saw fit.
See here for our blog on The Duty to Dispose of the Body.
Thanks for reading.
An oft-repeated maxim of equity is that “equity regards substance rather than form”. Just outcomes, it is thought, should not be frustrated by mere technical shortcomings or other superficial flaws. However, in applying this principle, courts are mindful not to neglect form in every case or to too great an extent, lest legal drafting becomes slipshod and legal results unpredictable.
A recent British Columbia decision dealt with, in part, the dichotomy of form and substance in the context of will drafting errors. In Conner Estate v. Worthing, there were three patent errors on the face of the deceased’s will: (1) the will provided for 150% of the sale proceeds of the deceased’s house, owing to, seemingly, a mathematical error (50% given to the husband, 20% to five others); (2) the residue was gifted twice, once to the husband and once to the children; and (3) several lines appeared to have been missing. While the court acknowledged that it was generally barred from adding words to erroneous wills (though it had the power to delete words), it found that this case was an exception to the rule, for the deceased’s intentions could be clearly ascertained from the extrinsic evidence – the solicitor’s notes and the deceased’s letter of instructions – and the solicitor was responsible for the errors:
“While the exception to the prohibition against adding words on an application to rectify a will at the court of probate stage in Moiny Estate is extremely narrow, I conclude that the facts in this case fit within that narrow exception. Ms. Conner’s stated intentions should not fail simply because her solicitor failed to draft her will in a manner that gave effect to her wishes.”
A similar result likely would have been reached in Ontario, where it has long been held that in matters of “equivocation” – when the words in a will apply to two or more persons – courts can look to extrinsic evidence to infer a testator’s actual intention. If a will is not equivocal, and the testamentary intention can be discerned in the will, the courts cannot examine extrinsic evidence – and whatever the substance, the form will prevail.
As we have previously written, the courts may be hindered from rectifying drafting errors in scenarios where the errors are subtle and there is little extrinsic evidence of true testamentary intention. It is important, therefore, for both drafting solicitors and testators to carefully review their wills before executing them, and to watch out, in particular, for those minor errors which may burn while emitting no smoke.
Thank you for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry.
As many of our blog readers will know, Ian Hull, Jordan Atin and Suzana Popovic-Montag have been working hard during the pandemic to host weekly webinars in efforts to increase resource sharing and practice management tips.
I have had the opportunity to help out with this endeavour, and have attended each webinar to date. Many helpful practice tips and resources have been shared, so I thought it may be useful to provide an overview summarizing some of the main takeaways that have been touched upon to date:
Virtual and Counterpart Execution of Wills/POAs
- After swift responses from the Attorney General of Ontario, Wills and POAs can now be witnessed virtually, and, executed in counterpart for the duration of the pandemic. Of course, the Emergency Order does not set out explicitly how to do so. Therefore, Ian and Jordan have attempted to outline best practices on how to accomplish the virtual and counterpart execution of Wills and POAs. Jordan has prepared a detailed blog setting out the process he uses, providing links to helpful checklists which can be found here.
- Some further tips discussed include circulating locked versions of the documents to be executed with a unique identifier so that the solicitor can ensure everyone is working off the same document.
- While the Emergency Order has opened up the possibility for counterpart and remote execution of Wills and POAs, clients should be encouraged to re-sign their Wills and POAs when in-person meetings can resume.
Holograph Wills and the use of an Amanuensis
- Some early discussions in the webinar series, before counterpart and remote execution was a possibility, focused on the possible use of holograph wills, or the use of an amanuensis (signing a testator’s Will, on their behalf, at their direction).
- Jordan has summarized these discussions in two blogs. To learn more about the use of holograph wills, see here. To learn more about the use of an amanuensis, see here.
- An important topic that has been touched on throughout the webinar series is avoiding LawPRO claims in a COVID-19 world. While much thought has been given to the actual execution and witnessing of Wills and POAs during the pandemic, practitioners should not let their regular practice management fall to the back burner. Regardless of COVID-19, LawPRO claims continue to result from errors such as: inadequate investigation, miscommunication, errors of law and poor time management.
- Now with the increasing necessity to take Will planning instructions by phone or video conference, heightened steps need to be taken to ensure that both client and solicitor understand the client’s instructions and intent, as well as testing for things like capacity and undue influence. WEL Partners have prepared a checklist for indicators of undue influence during virtual meetings which can be found here.
Tools and Technology for Practice Management
- LawPRO has prepared a resource page which includes links to various tools, articles, checklists and other resources which can be accessed by practitioners.
- E-State Planner – one of the many ways in which E-State Planner can be used to avoid claims, regardless of COVID-19, is by providing the client with visuals. Using visual aids while taking instructions ensures that there is an understanding between client and solicitor, right from the spelling of names to the actual impact their instructions have on the distribution of the estate.
- Virtual Web Conferencing Systems – while there are many options to choose from, it is clear that the web conferencing has become a significant part of the daily practice of law, one which is likely to stay. Whether using Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts or any of the many other systems available, lawyers should take the opportunity now, to familiarize themselves with web conferencing. In particular, screen sharing, which has become integral to virtual meetings, mediations, hearings, examinations and so forth, is a particular skill that should be honed.
- Protecting privacy – as we have learned, it is extremely important to take all necessary precautions to protect privacy when utilizing web conferencing systems. Examples of such steps are: using passwords, using the “waiting room” or “lobby” feature so that the host can limit access to the meeting to authorized individuals, or, requiring registration.
- Recordings – another unique feature of web conferencing systems is that the recording of meetings is becoming increasingly more common. While this can be helpful for ensuring that there is a complete record of instructions and advice given, it also means that lawyers will likely be held to a higher standard (as the recording will allow for greater scrutiny).
- Inter-office communication resources – with lawyers and staff working from home, there is greater need for fostering instant communication and resource sharing inter-office. Services such as Slack can be used for both inter-office communication and file management. Slack also allows for you to add in tools and apps to assist in practice management, such as Notability, the use of check lists, work flows, and even web conferencing platforms.
- File management in a “remote world” – with the office working from home, there is a greater need for remote office software. Programs such as Clio and Monday.com are examples of such software.
Moving Matters Forward
- With courts limited to hearing only urgent matters, lawyers have had to get creative in how we can continue to move matters forward and continue to meet and exceed client expectations. As discussed in the webinar series, this has included (for cases that are appropriate) conducting examinations and mediations virtually. To learn more about the Estate Arbitration Litigation Management initiative spearheaded by Suzana, see here.
Finally, as we have had a regular and significant turn out to the weekly webinar series, I would like to remind all participants that they qualify for CPD credits for having attended the webinars. In case you missed which credits you are eligible for, please see below:
- Webinar 1 – March 27, 2020: 15 mins substantive, 15 mins professionalism
- Webinar 2- April 3, 2020: 45 mins substantive, 15 mins professionalism
- Webinar 3 – April 11, 2020: 30 mins substantive, 30 mins professionalism
- Webinar 4 – April 17, 2020: 45 mins substantive, 15 mins professionalism
- Webinar 5 – April 23, 2020: 45 mins substantive, 15 mins professionalism
- Webinar 6 – April 24, 2020: 15 mins substantive, 15 mins professionalism
- Webinar 7 – May 1, 2020: 45 mins substantive, 15 mins professionalism
- Webinar 8 – May 8, 2020: 45 mins substantive, 15 mins professionalism
- Webinar 9 – May 15, 2020: 45 mins substantive, 15 mins professionalism
- Webinar 10 – May 22, 2020: 45 mins substantive, 15 mins professionalism
- Webinar 11 – May 29, 2020: 45 mins substantive, 15 mins professionalism
Thanks for reading!
A recent decision out of Alberta on holograph wills is interesting. The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench decision released on February 20, 2020 in Edmonton in the Estate of Dalla Lana, 2020 ABQB 135 starts with the following :
“Mr. Dalla Lana made a will in 1997. On March 1, 2018 (four days before he died) and via notes made on two sticky notes, he made what he described as “changes to my earlier will”. The “changes” if valid, effectively rewrote the entire will.”
The decision then goes on to find that the “two sticky notes” were a valid will. This was one more decision in a long line of cases (in substantial compliance jurisdictions, unlike Ontario) with wills being upheld when written on everything from napkins to tractor fenders.
If a valid will can be done on a sticky note, one should ask is there any reason now why an electronic will could not be done on an iPad or smartphone?
Pandemic emergency Orders in Ontario have recently accepted wills being signed and witnessed by video conference or by counterpart. However, there is still a requirement for a “hard copy” of the will. A purely electronic will with a digital signature is still not permissible.
Some jurisdictions have already allowed electronic wills into probate. In Australia, the High Court of Queensland gave probate to a will in 2013 contained in the iPad of the deceased, in Yu Estate 2013 QSC 322.
Although digital electronic signatures have been allowed in Ontario for use in some business situations for many years, there are some restrictions on doing electronic will signatures which are found in the Electronic Commerce Act, 2000, SO 2000, c 17,
31 (1) This Act does not apply to the following documents:
- Wills and codicils.
- Trusts created by wills or codicils.
- Powers of attorney, to the extent that they are in respect of an individual’s financial affairs or personal care.
Given the emergency statutory provisions triggered by the pandemic, it seems inevitable that a meaningful debate will soon ensue about the merits of electronic wills and the broader question of whether Ontario should adopt substantial compliance in its estates legislation.
Thanks for reading.
Please enjoy these blogs on the subject:
Many of us are in the midst of spring cleaning, or, this year, the deeper, extended COVID cleaning.
As part of cleaning process, consider cleaning up your estate plan. Organize the documents and information relevant to your estate plan for your own reference, and for the ultimate ease and convenience of your estate trustees.
There are many websites that offer tips on organizing and simplifying your estate documents. There are apps available to help organize and store your information.
As a starting point, BDO has produced a comprehensive list, “My Financial Story and Estate Organizer”, that can be completed by the testator and left in a readily accessible place: perhaps with the testator’s Estate Trustees.
I have seen too many estates where a person passes away leaving a state of chaos. Often, it is not known whether the person left a Will, or who the estate trustee is. This presents immediate problems when trying to address the steps necessary upon death, such as making or implementing burial decisions. In addition, after burial, the estate trustee is often scrambling to find out what assets the deceased had, and where they are.
This game of cat and mouse can be readily avoided by listing what and where your assets are. Not making such a list is simply vexatious.
Remember Gerald Cotten? He was the founder of QuadrigaCX who died in 2018. He was the only one who knew the password to access the $137m or more of holdings of the company’s clients. Leaving an organized estate plan (or even a sticky note with a password scrawled on it) would have eased a lot of tension. See Natalia Angelini’s blog on this, here.
The issues that arise upon one’s death are difficult in the best of cases. Make them easier to address by organizing your affairs so as to assist your estate trustees. Take advantage of the time available now to clean up your estate plan.
Have a great weekend. Stay safe.
As we know, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario has passed emergency legislation allowing for Wills and powers of attorney to be executed and witnessed virtually, and in counterparts. This legislation will remain in effect for the duration of the declared emergency. Although Premier Doug Ford recently announced a plan for reopening Ontario, the timeline for doing so is still vague, and it’s unclear when the emergency will be declared to be at an end. Once the emergency is over, the normal rules for execution of Wills and powers of attorney, as set out in the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26, and the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 30, will once again govern how such documents may be validly executed.
Before coronavirus became such a pressing concern, there was some discussion in the United States, of allowing Wills executed electronically to be considered valid testamentary documents. According to this article in The New York Times, entitled “A Will Without Ink and Paper”, at the time the article was published in October 2019, some states already had laws to allow e-signatures on Wills, and others were looking to adopt similar laws this year.
In the US, the Uniform Law Commission has proposed the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, which is intended to serve as a model for states who wish to enact such legislation. The law would allow testators to complete the entire Will-making and execution process online, without a lawyer or notary present. There are already online services, currently serving states that already have laws allowing electronic Wills, which provide a platform for the creation of these digital Wills.
According to The New York Times article, the process of creating an electronic Will involves a testator creating a Will online, and then having a video-conference call with a notary. The notary will review the document, ask questions of the testator, notarize it, and send it back.
Although the concept of electronic Wills seems convenient, the costs may ultimately outweigh the benefits. As one lawyer quoted in the article states, signing a Will “is not like getting toilet paper delivered by Amazon instead of going to a supermarket…This is a solemn thing that people don’t do every day.” The “inconvenience” of consulting a lawyer, having a Will professionally drafted, and executed in the traditional way, will likely be worth the trouble for most testators, particularly when you consider that this is not a task that needs to be done repeatedly, at frequent intervals (like going to the grocery store to buy toilet paper).
The article mentions a number of points as to why electronic Wills may not be such a great idea. Without a lawyer’s involvement, there is a heightened risk for undue influence to go undetected. Testators with significant assets that may be structured in complicated ways, or who have unique family situations, such as a blended family, are not likely to be well-served by the creation (let alone the execution) of a Will online, without estate planning advice from a lawyer.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and it is helpful to have alternate methods of executing Wills and powers of attorney in these unprecedented times. But when life goes back to normal, I think we can be comfortable with the return to the “old-fashioned” way of executing Wills and powers of attorney. Although some may consider the process to be cumbersome, the added protection for testators, and the comfort of an estate plan that takes into account each testator’s unique situation, is worth the price.
Thanks for reading,
You may also enjoy these other blog posts:
Natalia Angelini recently blogged about some helpful tips from LawPRO on how to minimize the risk when virtually witnessing Wills and powers of attorney. On April 24, LawPRO posted another helpful article about the risks of “renting out” your signature as a virtual witness.
The emergency legislation requires that one of the witnesses to a Will that is executed by means of audio-visual communication technology (which now temporarily meets the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26 requirement that the testator and witnesses be “in the presence of” each other), be a Law Society licensee. This means that some of us may be asked to be witnesses to a Will or power of attorney that we did not prepare ourselves. However, as LawPRO points out, simply being a witness does not necessarily mean that we will not be held responsible if there are problems with the Will or power of attorney.
Some of the issues that may arise could include the following:
- Problems with the Will or power of attorney not being executed properly, in accordance with the requirements for due execution and the specific requirements of virtual execution pursuant to the temporary legislation.
- The Will or power of attorney not reflecting the testator or grantor’s wishes. This may arise if a testator or grantor prepares their own Will or power of attorney from an online service or kit, resulting in a document that is likely not tailored to the testator or grantor’s particular situation, financial circumstances, and wishes.
- Technical errors in the document, such as the omission of a residue clause, which can drastically impact the distribution of the testator’s assets.
LawPRO has provided some tips for how to protect yourself if you are asked to be a witness to a Will or power of attorney that you did not prepare (although the tips seem equally applicable if you did prepare the document in question):
- Take detailed notes.
- Send a reporting letter following the execution of the document and confirm the scope of your retainer.
- Record the signing (with the client’s permission).
You may also consider having the testator or grantor sign a limited retainer agreement, before you witness the Will or power of attorney, which explicitly sets out that you have been engaged only for the purpose of witnessing the document, and not to review it or provide any legal advice.
Thanks for reading, and stay safe!
These other blog posts may also be of interest:
COVID-19 has prompted innovation and legislative updates in terms of the way that lawyers can assist our clients with estate and incapacity planning. A new tool created by a professor at my alma matter, Queen’s University, has recently emerged to supplement formal planning by making it easier for clients to create end-of-life treatment plans and to discuss their end-of-life wishes with their families and health care teams.
The Plan Well Guide is a free online tool that allows users to formulate a “Dear Doctor letter”, which can be provided to a physician for discussion and can be reviewed with family members (or otherwise an attorney or guardian of personal care) to ensure an understanding of the person’s wishes during a health crisis. The website also includes other information and resources relevant to end-of-life decision making.
I went through the process of creating an end-of-life plan using this resource and found it to be user-friendly and straightforward. Some highlights of the Plan Well Guide include the following:
- There are prompts that ask whether a user has a Power of Attorney for Personal Care and Will in place, which may act as a prompt to obtain a lawyer’s assistance if necessary.
- The website illustrates the user’s wishes, with examples to confirm the accuracy of the information that the user inputs. Where the illustration is not consistent with the user’s actual wishes, the user can go back to modify priorities to better reflect their wishes.
- Quizzes to ensure proper understanding of terms such as ICU treatment, comfort care, and the nature of resuscitation.
- There are prompts for both outstanding questions or issues for discussion with a healthcare provider and explanations of wishes to provide those reading the document with a better understanding of the user’s rationale behind their wishes.
Especially in the midst of the current pandemic, tools like this that make end-of-life planning more accessible, while having the potential to expose deficiencies in incapacity or estate planning and encouraging an open discussion of wishes in terms of medical treatment, can be helpful resources.
Thank you for reading.
Other blog posts that may be of interest:
Thanks to the swift response of the Attorney General, Wills and Powers of Attorney can now be witnessed in counterpart.
The new emergency Order now confirms that a Will and Power of Attorney can be signed and subscribed by witnesses on separate documents in counterpart.
By using video conferencing and counterpart, wills and powers of attorney can be fully executed remotely, giving immediate validity to the documents. Previously, all three signatures (the testator/grantor and two witnesses) had to be on the same document. That required the couriering of the document around for up to three separate signing ceremonies.
You can find more details, our thoughts for the process for executing in counterpart and an updated execution checklist on the Hull e-State Planner Blog (click here)
The updated checklists and resources for your consideration can also be downloaded here:
- WILL EXECUTION IN COUNTERPART CHECKLIST (LINK TO CHECKLIST)
- POA EXECUTION IN COUNTERPART CHECKLIST (LINK TO CHECKLIST)
- AFFIDAVIT OF EXECUTION (LINK HERE)
- ATTESTATION CLAUSE (LINK HERE)
As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.