Category: Estate Planning
Business Insider recently reported that 2.1 billion people access at least one of the Facebook, Messenger, Whatsapp or Instagram apps every day. That’s a little less than a third of the world’s population.
These platforms allow us to share various aspects of our lives. Some of us use them to document everything. But what happens to these accounts when a user passes away? Do their accounts remain on these platforms forever or can they be removed? Let’s take a look at four of the biggest social network platforms to see what their policies say.
Facebook users have the option of having their account permanently deleted or appointing a legacy contact to look after their “memorialized account.” A legacy contact is someone who is chosen to oversee an account if it is memorialized. The legacy contact must be 19 years or older. They can accept friend requests on the deceased’s behalf, pin tribute posts and change the account’s profile picture and cover photo.
Key features of memorialized accounts include the following:
- The word “Remembering” will appear next to the person’s name on their profile
- No one can log into the account
- The account will not appear in public spaces such as friend suggestions
- Content that was shared on Facebook while the deceased was alive will remain visible to the audience it was initially shared with
- Depending of the deceased’s privacy settings, friends of the deceased can share memories on the account’s timeline
Similarly to Facebook, Instagram accounts can also be permanently deleted or memorialized upon request. To remove the account, the user must provide proof that they are an immediate family member of the deceased. Proof may include the deceased’s birth or death certificate or proof of authority that the individual is the lawful representative of the deceased person or their estate. In order to memorialize an account, proof of death such as a link to an obituary or news article is required. A memorialized Instagram account will not appear differently from an account that has not been memorialized.
Instagram’s memorialized accounts have the following key features:
- No one can log into the account
- Posts shared on the account stay on Instagram and will remain visible to the audience they were initially shared with
- Changes will not be able to be made to any of the account’s existing posts or information
Unlike Facebook, a legacy contact cannot be appointed for a memorialized Instagram account.
A colleague, classmate or loved one can request the removal of the deceased’s profile by filling out this form. The form requires several pieces of information such as the applicant’s relationship to the deceased, the link to the deceased’s obituary and the company the deceased most recently worked at.
A verified immediate family member or someone who is authorized to act on behalf of the estate can request the removal of the deceased’s account. A request requires information about the deceased, a copy of ID from the individual making the request and a copy of the deceased’s death certificate.
Thanks for reading!
Ian M. Hull and Celine Dookie
Often, matters are settled with a term requiring that the terms of the settlement be kept strictly confidential. What happens if such a term is breached?
The decision of an arbitrator in Acadia University v. Acadia University Faculty Association, 2019 CanLII 47957 (ON LA) provides an answer. There, Dr. Rick Mehta, a tenured professor, was terminated for alleged cause. The matter was settled at a voluntary mediation. Faculty counsel were present, along with Dr. Mehta’s personal counsel.
A term of the settlement provided that the settlement was “without any admission of liability or culpability by any of the parties”. Further, the parties agreed “to keep the terms of these Minutes strictly confidential except as required by law or to receive legal or financial advice.” “If asked, the parties will indicate that the matters in dispute proceeded to mediation and were resolved, and they will confine their remarks to this statement. Stated somewhat differently, it is an absolute condition of these Minutes that no term of these Minutes will be publicly disclosed.”
Under the settlement, Dr. Mehta was to receive a specific payment, said by the arbitrator to be a “relatively modest amount”.
Unfortunately for Dr. Mehta, he tweeted that he had been “vindicated”. In response to a comment from a follower stating that the follower hoped that Dr. Mehta received a “nice sum monz”, Dr. Mehta replied saying “all I will say is that I left with a big grin on my face.” He later tweeted that “I got the vindication that I was seeking. … I have left the university on my term, as opposed to the administration’s or union’s terms.”
Dr. Mehta was ordered by the arbitrator to remove the tweets. Dr. Metha responded with more tweets referring to his “severance pay”. He threatened to release the Minutes to the media unless certain conditions were met.
The arbitrator found that there was a clear breach of the Minutes. The arbitrator went on to find that by reason of the breach, the University was not required to honour the payment provision under the Minutes.
A similar result was reached in the decision of Jan Wong v. The Globe and Mail Inc., 2014 ONSC 6372. There, reporter Jan Wong reached a settlement after the termination of her employment by The Globe and Mail. The settlement contained a term that Ms. Wong would not, until August 1, 2009, “disparage The Globe and Mail or any of its current or former employees relating to any issues surrounding her employment and termination… .” The settlement further provided that the terms of the settlement were not to be disclosed. The settlement also contained a provision that if there was a breach, Ms. Wong would have an obligation to pay back the settlement funds.
Subsequently, Ms. Wong wrote a book about her relationship with The Globe and Mail. It was to be published by Doubleday. The Globe and Mail objected to the publication of the book, and Doubleday terminated its publication contract with Ms. Wong. Ms. Wong then self-published her book.
In her book, Ms. Wong did not say what she was paid as severance. However, she made various references to the payment, including:
- “I’d just been paid a pile of money to go away …”;
- “Two weeks later a big fat check landed in my account”; and
- “Even with a vastly swollen bank account …”.
The Globe and Mail argued that these references were in breach of the Minutes of Settlement. The arbitrator agreed. Ms. Wong’s application for judicial review was dismissed. Ms. Wong was ordered to repay the $209,912 in severance that was paid to her.
Bottom line: If your Minutes of Settlement contain a confidentiality clause, keep the settlement confidential!
Thank you for reading.
Disinheritance has long been a subject replete with interest. Is it a doleful mishap, a strange whim rooted in spite, a tragedy, or is it just desserts and a shield by which elderly persons can impose good behaviour on their successors? Charles Dickens was fascinated with the subject. From Great Expectations to Martin Chuzzlewit, many of his tales include fabulously wealthy testators, parasitical and destitute minor relatives, wronged rightful heirs, family bonds eroded by greed, artifice and deception – and often, in the end, a just outcome. Similar to how the poignancy of this theme stirred Dickens’ readers, aggrieved disinherited parties are often so stirred, to put it mildly, that they commence all-out legal warfare – quenching their scorn with the costly and sometimes blackened bread of estate litigation.
From the testator’s point of view, there is no foolproof method of disinheriting a child. It certainly helps if the child is not dependent, is an adult, has no basis for expecting anything, and there is a forceful, probative reason for the disinheritance (i.e. “so-and-so didn’t let me see my grandchildren”). It might be a good idea for a testator to explicitly state that he or she is disinheriting a child, lest the child later make the argument that the omission was a slip-of-the-mind rather than deliberate disinheritance. The testator may also include a clause explaining the rationale, though this can be dangerous – disinheriting someone out of racism (Spence v. B.M.O. Trust Company,  O.N.S.C. 615 at paras. 49-50).
Some drafting solicitors may suggest giving a small, nominal amount to the otherwise disinherited child – to partially appease the child, appear more moderate to a judge, or otherwise “save face”. The problem with this, however, is that as soon as someone is a beneficiary, he or she may be able to invoke beneficiary rights, such as objecting to the passing of accounts.
As for disinherited children, they may have legal recourse, such as section 58(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act, which gives the court discretion to determine if “adequate provision” has been made for a testator’s “dependants”. In Tataryn v. Tataryn Estate,  2 S.C.R. 807, the Supreme Court overturned the explicit disinheritance of a son and wife because it found that the testator failed his “moral obligation” to provide for them. If a dependant support claim leads nowhere, a disinherited child can always challenge the will, for the wellspring of arbitrary disinheritance is often incapacity or undue influence.
It is hard to lose a parent. Hard, too, is the loss of an inheritance. Keeping this in mind, testators who wish to prevent a conflagration of litigation might opt not to light the spark of disinheritance. If they feel the circumstances demand it, however, they should work with their estate planners to fortify their legal positions against the storms which might otherwise gather.
Thank you for reading,
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
Communications between a client and their lawyer are protected by solicitor-client privilege. Except in limited circumstances, only the client can waive the privilege.
Upon death, the right to waive privilege passes to the estate trustee named in the will, or appointed by the court if there is no will.
Is the right to waive privilege absolute, applying to all solicitor-client communications? According to a decision of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia, the answer is No.
In Dumke v. Conrad, 2019 NSSC 310 (CanLII), the deceased died without a will. Her son applied for and was appointed as administrator of the deceased’s estate. He was the sole beneficiary.
Prior to the deceased’s death, the son was attorney for property for the deceased. The deceased regained capacity and brought a proceeding to declare the power of attorney in favour of the son invalid, and to compel the son to pass his accounts. That litigation was resolved.
Following the death of his mother, the son sought to obtain the lawyer’s file relating to the power of attorney litigation. The lawyer then brought an application for directions, with the question being whether the son was entitled to the litigation file.
The court held that the right to waive privilege is not absolute. The files sought must be relevant to an issue being decided or to the ability of the personal representative to administer the estate. Confidentiality “should not be interfered with except to the extent necessary and the right of the respondent to waive privilege must be interpreted restrictively.”
A deceased person could have criminal files, child protection files, divorce files, etc. If a person seeking advice from a lawyer knew that, after their death, their children would have access to those files, the free, confident, candid communication necessary between a lawyer and client would not occur. The basis of solicitor/client privilege would be eroded. As stated above in Descôteaux, the right to counsel would be imperfect if the privilege is eroded or frittered away.
The court could not find any reason why the files being sought would be relevant to the administration of the estate. Rather, it found that the files being sought were for “personal reasons not relevant to the administration of the estate”.
The court ordered that the file in relation to the power of attorney litigation not be disclosed.
Thank you for reading.
Recently, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that even where a gift is not validly executed, the intention of the parties can still be fulfilled through a bare trust.
A father made a profitable investment that was held by his wife in trust for their three children in equal shares. One brother sold his share of the investment, so that the remaining portion of the investment was to be divided 50/50 between his brother and sister. The sister subsequently disclaimed her share of the investment for tax reasons, with the result that her share reverted back to the mother. It was understood and orally communicated that the mother would hold the investment and gift the income from the investment to the sister, with the principal coming back to the sister as part of the mother’s inheritance. When the mother was eventually declared incapable and the brothers became their mother’s Attorneys for Property, they were suspicious of this arrangement between their mother and their sister, and brought an action against the sister and her husband.
The main issue was whether the past and future proceeds of the investment had been validly gifted by the mother to the sister, and whether the sister’s husband, who had assumed responsibility for using the proceeds, was liable as trustee de son tort.
In the initial ruling, the application judge rejected the sister’s claim to the funds and held that the gift from the mother was invalid. Funds had been transferred by the mother to the sister through signed blank cheques. A valid gift requires delivery from the donor to the recipient (Bruce Ziff, Principles of Property Law, 6th ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2014); Teixeira v. Markgraf Estate, 2017 ONCA 819, 137 O.R. (3d) 641, at paras. 38, 40-44), and the gift was not considered delivered until the cheque had been cashed. In this case, by the time the cheques were cashed by the sister, the mother had been declared incapable and lacked the capacity to gift. The judge ruled that the money belonged to the mother, and that the sister and her husband had to account for it, and the husband was liable as trustee de son tort.
This result was overturned recently in the Court of Appeal. The court found that the applicable legal mechanism here was not a gift, which was invalid, but instead was a valid bare trust. A bare trust is where the trustee has no obligations other than to convey the trust property to the beneficiaries on their demand (Donovan W. M. Waters, Mark R. Gillen & Lionel D. Smith, Waters’ Law of Trusts in Canada, 4th ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2012) at pp. 33-34).
The decision turned on whether there had been sufficient certainty of intention from the mother to create a bare trust, and the court found that there had been. The trust did not have to be formally evidenced in writing because the trust property was funds in a bank account and not land or an interest in land (Statute of Frauds, R. S. O. 1990, c. S.19, ss. 4, 9-11; see also In the Estate of Jean Elliott (2008), 4 E. T. R. (3d) 84 (Ont. S. C.) at para. 42.). There was sufficient evidence in the conduct of the parties to show an intention for the funds to be held for the sister as well as one of her brothers in equal shares, and the certainty of intention for the mother to hold the money as bare trustee was satisfied. As there was a valid trust, the husband was not liable as trustee de son tort because he had not acted inconsistently with the terms of the trust. While the proceeds that had already come from the investment were held on bare trust by the mother, the future distributions from the investment were not, as future property cannot be the subject matter of a trust (para. 58 and 84 of the judgment).
Moral of the story
This is a great indicator of how, when a gift is invalid, the court will use the legal mechanism of a bare trust to give effect to the intention of the parties, so long as their intention is sufficiently certain.
Thanks for reading,
Ian M. Hull and Sean Hess
A few Thanksgiving-related items:
- To go “cold turkey”: to stop an addictive habit suddenly and completely. To be contrasted with a gradual cessation or weaning.
There are differing opinions on the origin of the term. One theory is that the term derives from the cold, clammy feel of the skin during withdrawal, like a turkey that has been refrigerated. Along the same lines, the term may refer to the goosebumps and cold sweats that abstaining addicts may suffer from.
Another theory is that the term derives from a combination of “cold”: in the sense of “straightforward” or “matter-of-fact”, as in “the cold, hard truth”, and “talking turkey”, meaning to speak plainly. Proponents of this theory refer to the fact that the term was used before it was applied to withdrawals from drug addiction.
- John Lennon wrote a song called “Cold Turkey”, which was performed by the Plastic Ono Band. The song was first performed on September 13, 1969 in Toronto, and appeared on an album called “Live Peace in Toronto 1969”. The song’s lyrics are definitely not about a Thanksgiving dinner leftover.
- When cooking turkey, it shouldn’t be cold. Butterball has a “Turkey Calculator” that will tell you how big a turkey to buy, how long to thaw it, and how long to cook it, based on the number of guests.
- “Did you know that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving at the beginning of October and yet Americans celebrate their Thanksgiving at the end of November? That means we must have invented it, because we celebrate it first. Did you? It’s a fact.” – “It’s a Canadian Fact”, SCTV.
Cold turkey or hot, enjoy your Thanksgiving.
Avoiding Common Errors in an Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will
Commencing an Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will is the first step in having a court formally declare a will as valid. This process was formerly known in Ontario as “probate”.
While these Certificates are not mandatory, some banks and financial institutions may require an Estate Trustee to obtain a Certificate in order to deal with estate assets. Aside from this, a Certificate is usually required in instances where:
- the estate is large;
- the assets cannot be easily transferred; and
- real property forms part of the estate.
Avoiding Common Errors
Although the Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will is fairly short in length and seems straightforward, it is rare for these Applications to be approved upon their first submission. In the majority of cases, they are returned for corrections.
In order to assist applicants in completing their forms, the Ministry of the Attorney General released the following guidelines that highlight some common errors in these Applications:
- An Affidavit of Execution of Will or Codicil (Formed 74.8) signed by one of the witnesses to the will must be filed together with the original will, which will be marked as “Exhibit A” to the affidavit.
- If there is no affidavit of execution and both witnesses cannot be found or have died, an affidavit attesting to the signature of the testator must be filed. Ideally, the affidavit should be made by someone who is familiar with the testator’s signature.
- On Form 74.4 “Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will (Individual Applicant)”, the question under section 5 regarding an election of the Family Law Act should only be answered if the applicant is the spouse of the deceased.
- If the will states that someone other than the applicant has the right to apply for the Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee (or succeeding estate trustee), that person must give up their right by completing Form 74.11 “Renunciation of Right to a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee (or Succeeding Estate Trustee) With a Will.”
- This must be indicated on the Application (Form 74.4) and on Form 74.13 “Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will.”
4. If the applicant is not named as Estate Trustee in the will, they must obtain consent to their appointment from the beneficiaries who make up a majority share of the assets of the estate.
5. If an Estate Trustee who is named in the will or codicil is not the applicant due to death or renunciation, this should be indicated on the Application (Form 74.4) and on Form 74.13.
- If a will and/or codicil refers to a memorandum, the memorandum must be filed with the court.
- If the memorandum cannot be found, an affidavit indicating this must be filed, along with the efforts made to locate it.
- All beneficiaries named in the will must be served with Form 74.7 “Notice of an Application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will.”
- If a beneficiary has not been served, an explanation must be given in Form 74.6 “Affidavit of Service of Notice” as to why.
- Form 74.7 must be marked as “Exhibit A” to Form 74.6 “Affidavit of Service of Notice.”
- The original will should be marked as “Exhibit A” to the affidavit in the Application (Form 74.4).
- If Form 74.8 “Affidavit of Execution of Will or Codicil” is not submitted, an affidavit must be filed with the Application that explains this and sets out the efforts made to find the people who witnessed the testator sign their will.
- On Form 74.13 “Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will”, the address of the court should be typed under the Registrar’s signature line.
- The date should not be filled in on this Form;
- A plain, unmarked copy of the will should be filed; and
- The court will impress a seal upon the Certificate of Appointment and the copy of the will attached.
To read the full article from the Ministry of the Attorney General about how to avoid common errors in applying for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee, visit this link.
Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Celine Dookie
On today’s podcast, Paul Trudelle and Rebecca Rauws discuss the recent decision of Naismith v Clarke, 2019 ONSC 5280, and the minimal evidentiary threshold test for will challenges.
Should you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com or leave a comment on our blog.
There have been a number of recent decisions discussing the threshold to be met before a court will allow a will challenge to proceed. These decisions flow from the Ontario Court of Appeal decision of Neuberger Estate v. York, 2016 ONCA 191 (CanLII). We have discussed this case in a number of our blogs. See here, for example.
Today, Rebecca Rauws and I recorded a podcast on the decision of Naismith v. Clarke, 2019 ONSC 5280. In that decision, the court held that the threshold for challenging a will on the basis of testamentary capacity was not met, while it was with respect to the issue of undue influence. The podcast should be posted soon.
More recently, the decision of Maloney v. Maloney, 2019 ONSC 5632 (CanLII) was released. There, the estate trustees brought a motion to remove a Notice of Objection filed by a child of the deceased.
The court ordered the removal of the Notice of Objection. The court noted that there was no basis for setting aside the will. An affidavit from the lawyer who prepared the will set out the circumstances under which the will was prepared. The lawyer had no concerns about the deceased’s capacity. Although the challenger suggested that there were suspicious circumstances surrounding the creation of the will, there was no evidence to support the suspicions. Further, there was no evidence of undue influence. The challenger “has not provided any evidentiary basis to support a further investigation into the validity off this will.” At best, the challenger’s position was that her father would not have drafted his will in such a way. This was not enough to support a challenge.
Of note is the fact that the court had the evidence of the drafting solicitor. In many will challenges, the challenger or the propounder is not able to put this evidence before the court at this early stage due to issues of privilege. Often, the first step in a will challenge proceeding is to obtain an order to allow the evidence of the drafting solicitor to be obtained, along with medical notes and records.
Another important factor noted by the judge was the effect of the will challenge. The challenge stalled the administration of the estate. The court noted that even if the will challenge was successful, it would have no real effect on the distribution of the estate. The will provided that the estate was to be distributed to the three children of the deceased. On an intestacy, the distribution scheme would be the same, except for the specific disposition of an oak china cabinet.
In such cases, the court’s gatekeeping role is a tough one. The court must ensure that frivolous challenges do not proceed, while ensuring that it is able to ascertain and pronounce what documents constitute the testator’s valid will. The threshold should not be too high. As stated succinctly by Justice Myers in Seepa v. Seepa, 2017 ONSC 5368 (CanLII), “At this preliminary stage, the issue is not whether the applicant has proven his or her case but whether he or she ought to be given the tools, such as documentary discovery, that are ordinarily available to a litigant before he or she is subjected to a requirement to put a best foot forward on the merits.”
Have a great weekend.
What is a solicitor’s duty when preparing a Will?
Those seeking to answer this question should start their journey with the BC Court of Appeal decision of Chalmers v Uzelac. Here, Madam Justice Southin noted that, “every solicitor who, as part of his or her practice, draws wills should read, mark and inwardly digest at least once each year the judgment of Sir John Alexander Boyd, C. in Murphy v. Lamphier (1914), 31 O.L.R. 287, the Canadian locus classicus on a solicitor’s duty in taking instructions”.
Murphy is a seminal case. The Court found that it was wrong to assume that because a person can understand a question put to them, and give a rational answer, that they are of sound mind and capable of making a Will. Instead, the Court emphasized that capacity must be judged in light of the nature of the act and all of the circumstances:
“A solicitor is usually called in to prepare a will because he is a skilled professional man. He has duties to perform which vary with the situation and condition of the testator. In the case of a person greatly enfeebled by old age or with faculties impaired by disease, and particularly in the case of one labouring under both disabilities, the solicitor does not discharge his duty by simply taking down and giving legal expression to the words of the client, without being satisfied by all available means that testable capacity exists and is being freely and intelligently exercised in the disposition of the property. The solicitor is brought in for the very purpose of ascertaining the mind and will of the testator touching his worldly substance and his comprehension of its extent and character and of those who may be considered proper and natural objects of his bounty. The Court reprobates the conduct of a solicitor who needlessly draws a will without getting personal instructions from the testator, and, for one reason, that the business of the solicitor is to see that the will represents the intelligent act of a free and competent person.”
Expanding on this, the Ontario Court of Appeal in Hall v Bennett Estate references an article by M.M. Litman & G.B. Robertson which identifies common errors that have been either the subject of criticism by the courts or the basis of liability for professional negligence in the preparation of a Will, including failing to: obtain a mental status examination; interview the testator in sufficient depth; properly record/maintain notes; test for capacity; and, provide proper interview conditions.
Read, mark, and inwardly digest this blog at least once a year accordingly.
If you consider this blog interesting, please consider these other related blogs: