Category: Estate & Trust
Sir Terry Pratchett was a noted author and activist. His genre was fantasy, and more than 85 million copies of his books have been sold. He was most noted for his Discworld series of 41 novels.
Sir Terry Pratchett died on March 12, 2015 at the age of 66 as a result of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease (which he referred to as an “embuggerance”). Prior to his death, he was a vocal supporter of Alzheimer’s research and assisted suicide.
Pratchett left a significant number of unfinished works upon his death. These works will never be enjoyed. Pratchett’s daughter, the custodian of the Discworld franchise, has stated that these works will never be published.
More definitively, Pratchett told his friend and collaborator, Neil Gaiman, that he wanted whatever he was working on at the time of his death to be destroyed. More specifically, he asked that his works and computers be put in the middle of the road and run over by a steamroller.
This wish was fulfilled on August 25, 2017. His hard drive was crushed by a vintage John Fowler & Co. steamroller named Lord Jericho at the Great Dorset Steam Fair. The destroyed hard drive was put on display at The Salisbury Museum
Presumably, the destruction was agreed to by his estate trustees. Otherwise, the works would fall into his estate to be dealt with as assets of the estate.
The wishes of authors with respect to their posthumous works are not always fulfilled. Notably, Franz Kafka asked his friend and literary executor Max Brod to destroy all of his works after he died. Brod ignored this request, and as a result, some of Kafka’s most famous works, The Trial, The Castle, Amerika and The Metamorphosis were published after his death. In an essay by Scott McLemee, it is noted that Kafka was a lawyer, and must have known that his intentions set out in a couple of notes would not be binding on his estate trustee.
Thanks for reading.
We often hear of the importance of forging and maintaining good relations with the in-laws. Hence, wishing to keep everyone united, and the spouse happy, we avert our gaze when the one in-law overindulges at the Christmas party, we bite our tongue when another in-law refers to us as “hey, you in the yellow”, and we put on a stiff smile when yet another in-law visits us on our birthday to ask for a loan. In one recent Ontario case, however, we see the grim consequences of having too good a relationship with one’s in-laws.
The cautionary case of Kent v. Kent arose from a legal dispute between the deceased’s son-in-law and her grandchildren. Perhaps unaware of her son-in-law’s inclinations towards insatiability and ingratitude, the deceased left equal shares of her home to the three eventual litigants. By and by, the son-in-law sought a declaration that he was entitled to a much larger share. He argued that since his mother-in-law had registered his late wife as a joint tenant (the transfer was gratuitous), and he and his late wife had moved in a decade after, the house “became their matrimonial home”. He relied upon subsection 26(1) of the Family Law Act:
“If a spouse dies owning an interest in a matrimonial home as a joint tenant with a third person and not with the other spouse, the joint tenancy shall be deemed to have been severed immediately before the time of death.”
The grandchildren countered with the presumption of resulting trust. According to this legal principle, despite legal ownership, property should be returned, or result, to the person who actually paid for the property (the beneficial owner). The presumption can be rebutted if the transferee can show that the transferor intended to gift the property (Pecore v. Pecore).
The Court ruled in favour of the grandchildren, finding that because the transfer was made from a parent to a child, with no consideration, the presumption of resulting trust applied. The son-in-law, who could not muster any evidence in his favour, did not rebut the presumption. The Court also ascribed significance to the Will itself:
“The provisions of the will and transfer made by Marian in July 2015 suggest that she believed that she was the sole owner of the property, and in a position to dispose of it as she did.”
This ruling might provide some comfort to those who have invited their married, adult children to live in their homes. It is a bitter fact, though, that the son-in-law’s conduct can bring no good to the reputation of in-laws, and that if his example is followed, we might see more in-laws receiving bequests of “thirty pieces of silver” or trusts comprised of stockings full of coal.
Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
Yesterday I blogged about the limited circumstances in which the court will interfere with a trustee’s discretionary decisions while administering a trust. Simply put, as confirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Fox v. Fox Estate in citing to the old English decision of Gisborne v. Gisborne, although generally speaking the court will not interfere with a trustee’s decisions while administering a trust, they may do so under limited circumstances and intervene if the trustee’s decision was made with what is known as “mala fides” which roughly translates as “bad faith”.
While Gisborne v. Gisborne makes it clear that the court will not interfere with a trustee’s discretion unless there is “mala fides“, it does not provide much guidance regarding what would constitute “mala fides” or “bad faith” on the part of the trustee. In Fox v. Fox Estate, in recognizing that there is little guidance with respect to what constitutes “bad faith”, the Court of Appeal cites to the article “Judicial Control of Trustees’ Discretions” by Professor Maurice Cullity (as he then was) in trying to provide some guidance for what will constitute “bad faith”. In summarizing his position with respect to what will constitute “mala fides” on the part of a trustee in exercising their discretionary authority, Prof. Cullity provides the following summary:
“Yet, it seems clear that the mala fides which will justify the intervention of the court must extend a considerable distance beyond the requirement of personal honesty. If the doctrine of fraud on a power permits the courts to intervene to strike down attempts to exercise a power which is vested in a person who is not a trustee, the jurisdiction over trustees must be at least as extensive. In very broad terms, that doctrine invalidates any attempt to exercise a power which is intended to achieve a purpose other than that for which the power was conferred. It is unquestionable that fraud in this sense is within the concept of mala fides.” [emphasis added]
Prof. Cullity’s definition of “mala fides“, whereby he advises that the court’s utilization of such a doctrine is intended to invalidate “any attempt to exercise a power which is intended to achieve a purpose other than that for which the power was conferred“, could offer some guidance on the kind of circumstances in which the court will interfere with a trustee’s discretion. It would appear that the fundamental question to be considered by the court in determining whether a decision was made in “bad faith” is in effect whether the decision is in keeping with the original intention of the trust. If the answer is “yes”, the court will not interfere with the discretionary decision by the trustee. If the answer is “no”, the circumstances may be such that the court will interfere with the decision on the grounds that it was made in “bad faith”.
Thank you for reading.
The use of a “discretionary trust” that grants the trustee with the absolute discretion to determine when and if a distribution is made to a beneficiary, and in what amount, is a fairly common estate planning tool. If you are a beneficiary of a trust which provides the trustee with such broad discretion you may question whether there is anything that you can do prior to the final distribution to question the discretionary decisions that have been made by a trustee, and whether there are circumstances in which the court will intervene to overturn a trustee’s discretionary decision. The short answer is that while the court is generally reluctant to interfere with a trustee’s discretionary decisions, there are certain limited circumstances in which they will intervene and overturn a trustee’s decision.
The leading decision in Ontario concerning when the court will interfere with a trustee’s discretion is Fox v. Fox Estate. In considering when the court may interfere with a trustee’s discretion, the Court of Appeal provides the following commentary:
“The entire question of the degree of control which the courts can and should exercise over a trustee who holds an absolute discretion is filled with difficulty. The leading case, or at least the case to which reference is almost always made, is Gisborne v. Gisborne (1877), 2 App. Cas. 300 (H.L.). It stands for the proposition that so long as there is no ‘mala fides’ on the part of a trustee the exercise of an absolute discretion is to be without any check or control by the courts.” [emphasis added]
Fox v. Fox Estate cites to the English authority of Gisborne v. Gisborne for the proposition that, so long as there is no “mala fides” on the part of the trustees in exercising their discretion, the court will not interfere with a trustee’s discretion. In Gisborne v. Gisborne, Lord Cairns provides the following commentary with respect to when the court may interfere with any discretionary decision undertaken by a trustee:
“My Lords, larger words than those, it appears to me, it would be impossible to introduce into a will. The trustees are not merely to have discretion, but they are to have “uncontrollable”, that is, uncontrolled, “authority”. Their discretion and authority, always supposing that there is not mala fides with regard to its exercise, is to be without any check or control from any superior tribunal.” [emphasis added]
Simply put, the court will generally not interfere with a trustee’s discretionary decisions unless they were exercised with “mala fides“. “Mala fides” roughly translates as “bad faith”, such that the principle from Gisborne v. Gisborne can be summarized as providing that so long as there is no “bad faith” on the part of the trustee in making a discretionary decision the court will not interfere with such a decision.
Thank you for reading.
In the past, we have written about whether an Estate must first obtain a Certificate of Appointment before issuing a statement of claim.
But what about an Estate that may be entitled to claim a portion of a court-approved settlement?
Over the past year, a number of court-approved class action settlement agreements involving deceased class members appear to have taken into account the cost and complexity of appointing an Estate Trustee.
The settlement agreement approved by the Federal Court in McLean v. Canada is the culmination of litigation concerning tragic, historic events in the lives of those who attended Indian Day Schools. These events include allegations of systemic abuse and mistreatment of children. The “class period” runs from January 1, 1920 until the date of closure or relinquishment of control by Canada of any particular day school or, that date on which the written offer of transfer by Canada was not accepted by the respective First Nation or Indigenous government.
The settlement approval noted that if a class member dies on or after July 31, 2007, their “Estate Executor” is still eligible to be paid the compensation to which the class member would have been entitled.
Similarly, the more recent settlement agreement approved by the Federal Court in Toth v. Canada addresses the claims of veterans who were in receipt of various benefits, including disability pension benefits, and had the disability pension amounts deducted from the other benefits which they received or were entitled to receive. The decision reads:
“Under the proposed settlement, which totals $100 million, every Class Member and the estates of Class Members who have passed away since the Certification Notice was published will receive a payment. Payments will be calculated and made promptly as the majority of Class Members are known and every effort will be made to ensure that all Class Members, or their estates, receive their payment, which will not be subject to income tax.”
If a proceeding has been commenced by an estate before probate has been issued, Rule 9.03 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure offers some relief in stating that the proceeding shall be deemed to have been properly constituted from its commencement.
It is not always necessary for an estate trustee to obtain a Certificate of Appointment in order to administer an estate; however, in certain matters, an estate trustee may be required to obtain probate before being able to represent the estate, whether or not there is a valid Will. The Ontario Superior Court in Carmichael et al. v. Sharpley et al. has set out three circumstances in which probate is required:
- Third parties dealing with the executor may refuse to accept the authority of the Will and demand production of letters probate as authentication of that power…
- Proceedings involving the executor representing the estate as plaintiff or as defendant. It would seem that in such circumstances the court requires probate as an evidentiary matter…
- Where a foreign executor wishes to establish title to estate assets in Ontario he must have his letters probate resealed in Ontario or obtain ancillary grant letters probate. This requires that he first obtain probate in the primary jurisdiction.
Moreover, the Estates Act ensures that estate trustees named in a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee have sole authority in respect of the estate:
“30. After a grant of administration, no person, other than the administrator or executor, has power to sue or prosecute any action or otherwise act as executor of the deceased as to the property comprised in or affected by such grant of administration until such administration has been recalled or revoked”
It will be interesting to see if the Courts will continue to take into consideration the necessity and of appointing an Estate Trustee in light of historic claims, and how third parties making efforts to award a portion of the settlement to the Estate will deal with the requirement for probate.
Thanks for reading!
A frivolous will challenge can be frustrating for any respondent. It is not only time consuming but costly as well. A motion for security for costs is an option a respondent facing a frivolous will challenge can pursue in hopes of putting an end to it. While these motions may not be used as frequently in the estate litigation context as they are used in general civil litigation, they are nonetheless valuable.
An order for security for costs requires an applicant to pay a sum of money into court that will cover the respondent’s legal costs, should they be successful in the action or application. It helps to ensure that a successful respondent is not left with an unenforceable costs order. In doing so, it acts as a deterrent to frivolous proceedings.
Rule 56.01(1) of the Rules of Civil Procedure lists several categories in which a respondent may bring a motion for security for costs. These categories include the applicant not ordinarily residing in Ontario, a frivolous or vexatious action or application or if good reason exists to believe that the applicant has insufficient assets in Ontario.
Once the respondent has shown that the action or application fits into one of the categories listed in rule 56.0(1), the applicant then has the opportunity to prove that ordering security for costs would be unjust because the applicant is impecunious and the claim has merit.
It is imperative that the motion is made without undue delay. However, if the motion involves assessing the action’s merits, Park Street Plaza Ltd. v. Standard Optical Inc. and Shuter v. Toronto Dominion Bank suggests that it should not be made until after examinations for discovery are completed.
In the context of estate litigation, Re Bisyk notes that security for costs will rarely be awarded in a will challenge case where the next of kin have been excluded from the will. This is because the estate trustee has an obligation to propound the will. However, where the next of kin acts on their own and without the support of their family members or against family members, the will challenge may be viewed as “frivolous”, thus providing the possibility for security for costs to be awarded (Boutzios Estate, Re).
Overall, a motion for security for costs is a powerful tool an estate litigator can employ. Forcing an applicant to pay money into court will make them think twice about proceeding with a frivolous will challenge. It may even stop the lawsuit all together, saving both sides costs, time and resources.
Thanks for reading!
Ian M. Hull and Celine Dookie
To learn more about motions for security for costs, check out these podcasts:
As we head towards the holiday season, it is a good time to think about the past. The weather is drab and the days are short, too, so we have ample opportunity to curl up in cozy chairs – rum and eggnog in hand, perhaps – to read old books, watch history documentaries, or otherwise reminisce of that which came before us. In line with this, in today’s blog we examine a case from 1919, Muirhead Estate, Re, which includes a decision that is both intriguing and continuously relevant for estate planning.
The deceased had left a widowhood clause in his will, by which he sought to discourage his widow from marrying another. Remarry, however, she did, in the event of which the executors of the Muirhead Estate applied to the court for directions as to the construction of the following clause:
“If my wife shall remarry the share hereby bequeathed to her shall revert to my estate and be divided among my said children.”
The court had to determine if the clause violated public policy, for even in 1919, conditional gifts “in general restraint of marriage” had long been against public policy. It found that there was a distinction between a restraint of marriage and a restraint of remarriage. The former was clearly grounds for voiding a clause, but the latter was legally valid. In particular, restraining the “second marriage of a woman” was an established exception to the public policy rule. As for the second marriages of men, the court found that these may have still fallen under the umbrella of public policy, but it did not explain or elaborate why.
One hundred years hence, we see from cases such as Goodwin and Brown Estate that the decision in Muirhead Estate, Re, is still good law – though the distinction of second marriages of men and women is in all likelihood obsolete. According to the public policy rule, you cannot, through conditions in your will, prevent a beneficiary from marrying; nor can you promote marital breakdown through such conditions. If, however, you think that your widow looks best in perpetual black finery, or you have a distaste for suitors characteristic of Odysseus, the law likely allows for you to include a widowhood clause in your last will.
Happy planning – and thank you for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
Pursuant to the 2018 Federal Budget, there will be new trust reporting requirements coming into effect for taxation years ending after December 31, 2021.
Prior to the implementation of the forthcoming changes, a Trustee would only have to file a T3 trust return if the trust generated income or distributions were made to beneficiaries during the year.
In addition to this expanded filing requirement, certain parties to the trust (such as trustees, beneficiaries and settlors) will soon be required to provide personal identification information including: names, addresses, dates of birth, social insurance numbers (or in the case of a business, a business number), as well as their jurisdiction of residence.
These requirements will apply to express trusts resident in Canada. The new proposed provisions of the Income Tax Act (the “ITA”) would extend the application of these new requirements to include express trusts that are deemed to be resident in Canada pursuant to section 94 of the ITA.
Express trusts can be loosely defined as those created “on purpose,” that is, the trust is set in express terms, usually in writing, and can be distinguished from trusts that are implied by conduct.
There are exceptions to the application of these changes, including, among others:
- Trusts that have been in existence for less than three months at the end of the tax year;
- Employee life and health trusts;
- Graduated rate estates;
- A lawyer’s general trust account (but not specific client accounts);
- Qualified disability trusts; and
- Trusts that are governed by registered plans such as RRSPs and RRIFs.
Trustees managing trusts that do not fall within one of the enumerated exceptions, may be reluctant to make the disclosure required by these changes, especially where there is a preference to keep personal matters related to the trust private. In such cases, the changes may encourage Trustees to take early steps to wind-up trusts.
Anyone who is subject to the new reporting requirements who fails to file a T3 trust return can be subjected to a penalty in an amount equal to the greater of $2,500 and 5% of the highest fair market value of the assets of the trusts in the year.
Given the risk of potentially significant penalties, estate practitioners should be careful to remind clients who are acting as Trustees that tax advice needs to be obtained, regardless of whether trust assets are generating income.
Thanks for reading!
My father used to have a saying: “Whatever drags gets dirty.” He would trot it out whenever one of us waited too long to do something and as a result, doing that thing became messy, complicated or impossible. For example: I was supposed to mail a letter. I didn’t mail the letter. Now I can’t find the letter. “Whatever drags gets dirty!”. Thanks, Dad.
Growing up, I thought that this was a widespread adage. Apparently, it isn’t. I searched it up on the internet and most of the results referred to Rupaul’s “Drag Race”.
The adage may fittingly sum up the lesson contained in the decision of the Nova Scotia Court of Probate in Kelly Estate, 2019 NSPB 1 (CanLII).
There, the deceased’s daughter and estate trustee, Carrie, brought an application for the possession of an urn containing the cremated remains of the deceased. The deceased died 13½ years before the application. Probate was granted 8 years before the application.
In the deceased’s will, cremation was requested, and Carrie was expressly given “the powers to decide what will happen with the said ashes.” This was consistent with the court’s observation that “Disposition of the deceased is one of the most fundamental tasks an executor/rix can undertake on behalf of the deceased.”
However, after the deceased’s death, the ashes were taken by Carrie’s sister, Cheryl. They remained at Cheryl’s home, apparently with the acquiescence of Carrie. The court noted that there was no evidence to suggest that there were prior attempts by Carrie to regain custody and control of the ashes over the 13½ years since death.
The court cited the BC decision of Re Popp Estate, 2001 BCSC 183 (CanLII) where the deceased’s husband, as estate trustee, was said to be entitled to control the disposition of the deceased’s remains, provided he did not act capriciously. As the husband was acting capriciously, he lost the right to deal with his spouse’s remains.
The court went on to find that by allowing the urn to remain in Cheryl’s possession for 13½ years, Carrie as estate trustee had in fact determined the disposition and final resting place of the urn: with Cheryl. A change of Carrie’s decision this late in the game “seems capricious at best or malicious at worst”, and the court was not prepared to order a transfer of the urn from Cheryl to Carrie.
When administering an estate, as in life in general, don’t let things drag.
Thanks for reading.
A recent decision by an Egyptian court saw the reversal of the trend in following Islamic Sharia inheritance law under which female beneficiaries are entitled to half the interest of their male counterparts.
The claimant, a human rights lawyer, applied to obtain the same rights as her brothers on the death of her father. Her case was previously dismissed by two courts.
In Egypt, Sharia principles are typically applied unless the parties agree that Christian inheritance laws, which do not favour male beneficiaries over females, instead be followed. In this case, the claimant and her brothers agreed that the administration of their father’s estate would not be subject to Sharia inheritance rules.
Last year, a proposed law in Tunisia designed to promote equality in respect of inheritances sparked discussion regarding unequal inheritances in a number of jurisdictions including Egypt. A 2017 survey suggests that over half of Tunisia’s population remains opposed to equal inheritance rights.
It is anticipated that this decision may result in significant change in jurisdictions where Sharia law has historically been applied in respect of personal property, regardless of religion.
Canadian courts have also considered the issue of cultures that may support an estate plan favouring sons over daughters simply on the basis of their gender. In Grewal v Litt, 2019 BCSC 1154, the daughters of the deceased challenged the Wills left by their parents, who both died in 2016, on the basis that they discriminated against them in favour of their brothers on the basis of their sex. The four daughters applied under Section 60 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, SBC 2009, c 13 (the “WESA“), for the variation of the Wills that directed the payment of $150,000 to each daughter, while the residue of the estates valued at greater than $9 million was left to the two sons.
Justice Adair noted that there was no dispute that the parents owed a moral obligation to their daughters under BC law, and, as the Wills made inadequate provision for them, they should be varied under the WESA. The Court attempted to resolve the matter by balancing the adequate, just, and equitable provision for the daughters with their parents’ testamentary autonomy and varied the division of estate assets from approximately 93% in favour of the sons with only a combined 7% for the daughters, to the more equitable division of 15% of the value of the estates for each daughter and 20% for each son. Notwithstanding the granting of the variation of the Wills, the Court stopped short of finding that the parents’ testamentary intentions were motivated solely by unacceptable discrimination against the daughters.
While many provinces do not recognize a parental obligation to benefit a non-dependant adult child after death, coming years may nevertheless see an increase in the number of challenges to a will on the basis that its terms are discriminatory.
Thank you for reading.
Other blog posts that may be of interest: