Category: Estate & Trust
Further to my blog on Monday, the Court of Appeal also released another interesting decision last week with respect to the tort of conspiracy in the context of a family law proceeding. Leitch v. Novack, 2020 ONCA 257, is an appeal from a summary judgement motion that was brought by the husband’s father, a family trust, and a family company. Summary judgment was brought because the wife sought damages against the moving parties for an alleged conspiracy that they were intentionally withholding payments to the husband in order to reduce his family law obligations.
The motion judge, in 2019 ONSC 794, held that the conspiracy claim was appropriate for partial summary judgment. The conspiracy claims were dismissed even though the wife could still pursue a claim to impute additional income to the husband for the purposes of determining his income at trial. Over a million dollars in costs were later awarded to the husband and the moving parties and there was a subsequent order for security for costs that effectively froze all of the wife’s assets.
The appeal was allowed. The Court found that there was a material risk of inconsistent results because the wife was allowed pursue her claims that additional income ought to be imputed to the husband despite the motion judge’s finding that there was no unlawful conspiracy.
As for the tort of conspiracy, Justice Hourigan confirms and clarifies the application of this doctrine in the context of family law matters. The tort of conspiracy is part of the judicial toolbox to ensure fairness and for deterrence. It is also there for enforcement purposes because the purpose of the conspiracy is to hide income or assets and “a judgment against a co-conspirator will often be the only means which by which a recipient will be able to satisfy judgment” (paras. 46-47).
Justice Hourigan commented that
“a transfer of funds by loan, gift, or otherwise, is not the only way that the alleged co-conspirators could have acted in furtherance of the conspiracy. If the trial judge is satisfied that [the husband] had an entitlement to funds and that a co-conspirator withheld the transfer of funds to him as part of a conspiracy with the understanding that he would receive the money at some future date, the withholding of funds may itself be an act in furtherance of the conspiracy. It is not necessary to establish more than an acted-upon conspiracy to conceal [the husband’s] entitlement.” (para. 51).
The costs awards and the preservation order were also set aside.
This decision is certainly important to keep in mind when advising trustees of discretionary trusts.
Thanks for reading!
Although the temporary emergency Order has only been in place for a few days, there is no question that lawyers have already begun to virtually witness the execution of wills and powers of attorney. A complimentary CPD program on the issue was put on by the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) last week, chaired by Ian Hull. A link to it is here. LawPRO has also provided a helpful commentary on the subject matter from the perspective of risk-avoidance here, and below I draw upon the points made that may help lawyers lessen their risk of a malpractice claim.
As much as lawyers may be focused on adhering to the requirements under the emergency Order, LawPRO reminds us that the most common cause of malpractice claims in the estates area is inadequate investigation – a failure to inquire about assets, prior wills and details about past and present marital and familial relationships. The second most common error is a communication failure – not ensuring consistency between the draft will and the instruction notes, and not ensuring that the solicitor and client each understand the other. So it is important to keep risk management tips here top of mind, particularly given that it may be more difficult to effectively communicate or ensure that clients understand documentation when conducting virtual client meetings.
As related specifically to virtual witnessing of wills and powers of attorney, LawPRO has various suggested steps to lessen the risk of a claim, which I comment on below.
- Comfort – Some clients may not be as ease with video technology and/or discussing personal matters through this medium. Take the time to establish that all participants are comfortable.
- Identification – As a result of Covid-19, the LSO is not requiring face-to-face meetings to identify or verify a client’s identity. Here you can find the LSO’s guidance on the issue, and LawPRO’s video conference checklist (accessible through the LawPRO link above) will help lawyers consider the steps needed before, during and after a video conference meeting.
- Capacity and undue influence – These known risks may be more difficult to assess through virtual communication, making it all the more important that certain precautions be taken, such as: (i) asking open questions, and follow up questions, (ii) asking questions to establish that the client is acting independently (e.g. explore relationships and reasoning in detail when marked changes are being made), (iii) when acting for one client, make sure the client is alone in the room (consider asking for a video pan of the room if you can’t clearly see it), and (iv) take notes reflecting consideration of capacity and undue influence, especially if there are any concerns. Here you can find a checklist WEL Partners has created for indicators of undue influence during video meetings, and the LSO has released a special comment on the issue here.
- No counterparts – You will need multiple virtual meetings so each witness can sign the original will or power of attorney. Video conference wills will also likely require a different affidavit of execution, and here you can find our recent blog that provides sample affidavits of execution.
- Document your work – Particular scrutiny may be given to documents executed during this health crisis. Taking detailed notes or recording the meeting (with client consent) will document what occurred, and reporting to the client thereafter will serve to confirm your instructions.
- After the emergency – Although not required, once it is safe to do so consider recommending that your clients re-execute their testamentary documents in the physical presence of witnesses.
To help mitigate the risk of a claim, Hull eState Planner has created checklists for executing wills and powers of attorney by video. The will execution by video checklist can be found here and the powers of attorney execution by video checklist can be found here.
The Covid-19 situation is creating rapid change, and at Hull & Hull LLP we are monitoring things on a daily basis. I encourage you to continue to access our website for further updates. Our resource page can be found here.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
The reduced hours and filing capabilities of the court during the COVID-19 pandemic have raised some interesting questions surrounding the filing of probate applications. Although the court’s direction to file court materials by mail is likely of no concern for a majority of matters, as a probate application could contain the original executed copy of a Will as well as a potentially significant bank draft for any estate administration tax, you would likely be rightly hesitant to place such documents in the mail under the current circumstances for fear that they may be lost.
The potentially good news for those needing to file probate applications with the Toronto court is that it is our current understanding that the Toronto court is allowing probate applications to be filed in person at the court office daily between the hours of 10:00 am and 12:00 noon, and again from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Although these filing capabilities and times are of course subject to change, at least for the time being those in Toronto appear to be able to file probate applications in person without having to concern themselves with the possibility of the application being lost in the mail. Those needing to file probate applications in jurisdictions outside of Toronto should check to see if they too are making an exception to allow probate applications to be filed in person and not by mail.
In the event that it does not appear that it will be possible to file the probate application in person, such that the probate application would likely need to be filed by mail, the individual wishing to file the probate application should seriously consider whether there is an urgent need to file the probate application or whether it could wait until the courts have fully re-opened. If you are advising a client in such a situation, you should clearly explain what would happen in the event that the original Will was lost, and that an application to prove a copy of the lost will would be necessary (together with the added time and expense). Although the presumption that the lost will was destroyed by the testator with an intention of revoking it could likely easily be overcome by the fact that the possession of the Will could be traced to after the testator’s death, there would still be added time and expense of needing to bring the lost will application.
In the event that the client does still decide to proceed with filing the probate application by mail, one way to potentially reduce some of the risk may be to have any probate fees paid by trust cheque from the law firm and not by bank draft. Although in the event that the application materials were lost in the mail the lost will application would likely still be required, at least the concern associated with losing an original bank draft (and potentially the associated funds) is lessened as a trust cheque should more easily be cancelled. Multiple notarial copies of the original Will should also likely be made prior to placing it in the mail.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
Mediation, with plenary sessions, small break-out rooms for parties and their counsel, and a mediator shuttling between the rooms seem like a distant, archaic memory. The former format of mediation is the antithesis of social distancing.
(I find it hard to now watch a tv show or movie without thinking to myself, “That’s not very good social distancing.”)
However, the show, litigation and mediations, must go on. Welcome to the age of virtual mediation.
Programs such as Zoom allow for parties to meet and discuss ideas and resolve differences without being physically in the same room. While the virtual alternative is not perfect, it is workable.
With Zoom, there are a few ways for mediations to be accommodated. One option is for the organizer to set up several online meetings: one to be used as a plenary session where everyone has access, and one for each of the parties to the litigation. In the plenary room, all of the parties and their counsel can join. In the parties’ separate room, only the party and their counsel can participate, with the mediator joining and leaving as necessary.
Another option is for the organizer to set up one meeting. The organizer would be able to admit participants into the meeting room, or put them into a virtual “waiting room” while others remain in the meeting room.
Another consideration when organizing a Zoom mediation is to ensure that the organizer has a Pro account or better. While the Basic account is free, it only allows for meetings of 40 minutes or less. The Pro account, at $20 per month per host, allows for meetings of up to 24 hours, which should probably enough for most mediations. (Some mediators are slow mediators: you know who you are.)
Some reporting services are offering virtual mediation assistance. Neesons, for example, can offer extensive technical support for mediations, examinations and arbitrations. They have also hosted a number of presentations on virtual examinations, arbitrations and mediations. Contact them if you want more information.
(Fun fact: Zoom Video was trading at $68.04 on December 31, 2019. On March 23, 2020, it was trading at $159.56. As of the time of writing this (April 2, 2020), share prices had relaxed to $118.10.)
Thank you for reading. Stay healthy. Practice safe litigation.
Notably, individual returns, normally due on or before April 30, 2020 are now due on or before June 1, 2020. Payments due April 30, 2020 are due on or before September 1, 2020, with no penalty or interest being payable if payments are made on or before September 1, 2020. Installment payments due on a date before September 1, 2020 can be paid up to September 1, 2020.
Things are not so clear with respect to terminal tax returns for deceased taxpayers. Normally, these are due on April 30, 2020 if the deceased died between January 1, 2019 and October 31, 2019, and six months after death if the deceased died between November 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019. What is not entirely clear is whether these deadlines are also extended. Some accountants are advising to file and remit payment in accordance with the old deadlines until further clarification is given. Hopefully, this issue will be clarified shortly.
Please note that things change daily, and further clarification may be coming soon. If these deadlines may apply to you, or an estate that you are responsible for, please consult a knowledgeable accountant and/or monitor the CRA website.
Thank you for reading. Stay safe and healthy.
Recent developments with COVID-19 mean a number of procedural changes have been put in place at the Toronto Estates List. The following operations are effective as of March 23, 2020:
1. All regular matters which have been scheduled and are not urgent, or time sensitive, are adjourned to after June 1, 2020 and are not currently being rescheduled, subject to any further direction from the Court (in accordance with the Notice to the Profession issued by Chief Justice Morawetz, March 15, 2020).
2. The judges of the Toronto Estates List will continue to hear and decide urgent and time-sensitive matters. The procedure for urgent matters on the Estates List is the same as the procedure for urgent matters on the Commercial List and will be in accordance with the procedure set out in the Changes to Commercial List Operations in light of the COVID-19 March 16, 2020 advisory, with necessary changes. For greater certainty, all urgent requests and materials on the Estates List should be sent to the Commercial List trial coordinator at Toronto.firstname.lastname@example.org
3. There is no change to the usual procedure for filing materials in matters that are to be considered by the Court in writing, including motions for consent orders and ex parte orders. Materials for matters to be heard in writing may still be filed at the Estates Office, subject to any further direction of the Court.
4. Applications for Certificates of Appointment (i.e. probate) are still be accepted and processed by the Estate Office.
5. Notices of Application (Forms 14E, 74.44, and 75.5) will continue to be issued by the Estates Office but instead of fixing a return date the Notice of Application shall indicate that the matter will be heard: “on a date to be fixed by the Registrar.”
6. Notices of Objections (Form 75.1) may be filed in the Estates Office as usual.
The PDF copy of the above notice can be found here.
Thanks for reading,
The Victorians consigned themselves to more subtlety in their works of entertainment than we at present do. To all appearances, theirs was decidedly not an age capable of enjoying rap music and HBO comedies. The spiciest themes in their art, therefore, would include marriage intrigues, duels, financial scandals – or, as we see in George Eliot’s Middlemarch – controversial wills and eccentric testators.
The wills and estates subplot in Middlemarch is comprised of all the ingredients that you may see in a modern legal drama: a rich and erratic miser (Mr. Featherstone) manipulating his relatives with implied promises of future bequests; the idle protégée (Fred Vincy) who accumulates debts with the idea that the testator will bail him out; concern over the testator’s attachment to his young caregiver (Mary Garth); a train of impoverished relatives ill-concealing their greedy expectations; and much discussion on why “blood” was deserving and why “strangers” were not.
It is remarkable how little has changed in a century or so with respect to wills and estates. Then, as now, a Mr. Featherstone who promises a bequest, receives consideration, and then goes back on his word, may be found to have broken a binding contract – as occurred in Legeas v. Trusts & Guarantee Co. Likewise, a ruling of unjust enrichment (Moore v. Sweet) or specific performance (Folsetter v. Yorkshire & Canadian Trust Co.) could be made against him/his estate.
Still relevant today are the challenges of undue influence and incapacity. In the story, the scheming relatives are alarmed at Mr. Featherstone’s connection to Ms. Garth. She, all too aware of an undue influence allegation, refuses her patron’s money and ignores him when he orders her, while on his deathbed, to destroy his wills. In return, he throws his cane at her, which is perhaps evidence of incapacity.
Much as we may laugh at the relatives in Middlemarch who repeatedly visit Mr. Featherstone to remind him of his obligations to his “own flesh and blood”, our own law continues to ascribe significance to bloodlines. The Succession Law Reform Act defines “child” based upon conception, and the statute’s intestacy provisions speak of “issue” and the “nearest degree” of kindred. As many an adopted child and step-child knows, with respect to estates law, blood still matters.
There are some marked differences between Eliot’s England and modern Canada. Whereas Fred Vincy was loaned money in part because the creditors knew he was favoured by Mr. Featherstone, we now have businesses openly and explicitly offering advances to those who “have an inheritance coming”. Although we still use the Banks v. Goodfellow test for evaluating capacity, there have been some innovations, such as capacity assessments done after death and more nuanced, neuroscientific understandings of capacity. Lastly, if Mr. Featherstone had died in Ontario in 2020, he could not take as much comfort in tantalizing relatives and then crushing their hopes, for we have dependency support laws whereby testators must provide “adequate provision” for their “dependents”. Perhaps the creation of such laws was influenced, in part, by the ghoulish conduct of such Victorian literary characters.
Thank you for reading. Enjoy the rest of your day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry.
Are you an estate trustee? Is the estate being sued? Are there no, or insufficient, assets left in the estate to satisfy any judgment that may be obtained? Then plene administravit (or plene administravit praeter) is the doctrine for you!
Plene administravit is Latin for “fully administered”. It is pleaded where there are no assets remaining in the estate to satisfy any judgment and costs award that may be obtained. Plene administravit praetor means “fully administered except”, and is pleaded when there are some but insufficient assets in the estate to satisfy any judgment and costs.
Failure to plead plene administravit could lead to personal liability on the part of the estate trustee for the claim. As stated in Commander Leasing Corp. Ltd. v. Aiyede (1983) CanLII 1649 (ON CA):
It has long been established that if an executor or administrator has no assets to satisfy the debt upon which an action is brought, in the absence of a plea of no assets or plene administravit, he will be taken to have conclusively admitted that he has assets to satisfy the judgment and will be personally liable for the debt and costs if they cannot be levied on the assets of the deceased. If the executor has some, but insufficient, assets to satisfy the judgment and costs, a plea of plene administravit praetor will render him liable only to the amount of assets proved to be in his hands as executor”.
Where the doctrine is pleaded, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff to show that assets existed or ought to have existed in the hands of the estate trustee at the time the action was commenced.
In Commander Leasing, the estate trustee distributed the proceeds of the estate to the beneficiary (herself), with knowledge of the claim. The Court had no difficulty in finding that as the doctrine was not pleaded, the estate trustee was personally liable for the judgment.
In Commander Leasing, the Court of Appeal also discussed the companion doctrine of devistavit. Devistavit, or a wasting of assets, is defined to be “mismanagement of the estate and effects of the deceased, in squandering or misapplying the assets contrary to the duty imposed on them, for which the executors or administrators must answer out of their own pockets, as far as they had, or might have had, assets of the deceased.” In Commander Leasing, the court found that in distributing the estate the estate trustee breached her duty as estate trustee, rendering her personally liable.
However, all is not lost if the estate trustee fails to plead plene administravit. In Brummund v. Baumeister Estate, 2000 CanLii 16988 (ON CA), the Court of Appeal upheld a trial judge’s decision to allow the defendant to amend the defence at trial to plead the doctrine. The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff was not prejudiced by the amendment, as the facts underlying the application of the doctrine were fully canvassed at trial.
Have a great, plenus weekend.
Once a donor has agreed to donate funds to a charitable institution, are they entitled to have any input as to how those funds are spent? Does that donor have any recourse if their funds are not being spent the way they envisioned? Faas v. CAMH, 2018 ONSC 3386, 2019 ONCA 192 provides some insight regarding these questions.
At the direction of its principal, Andrew Faas, the Faas Foundation agreed to donate $1 million to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and its fundraising arm (collectively “CAMH”). The funds were to establish a mental health program entitled “Well@Work”. Accordingly, Mr. Faas’ payments were to be made in installments of $333,000 each year for the next three years.
Mr. Faas signed a Donor Investment Agreement (the “DIA”) which outlined a proposal for the program. The DIA also provided that an annual status report was to be provided to Mr. Faas. Nearly one year into the development of the program, Mr. Faas informed CAMH that he was not satisfied with the program’s progress, the extent of reporting or the expenditure of the donation. The parties reached an impasse with regards to these matters and Mr. Faas refrained from making the remaining two payments. He also requested that CAMH forward any money not spent on the first installment to another Canadian agency. However, all of the money for the first year had already been spent by CAMH on the development of the program.
In response, Mr. Faas commenced an application based on section 6 of the Charities Accounting Act which provides:
(1) Any person may complain as to the manner in which a person or organization has solicited or procured funds by way of contribution or gift from the public for any purpose, or as to the manner in which any such funds have been dealt with or disposed of.
. . .
(3) Wherever the judge is of opinion that the public interest can be served by an investigation of the matter complained of, he or she may make an order directing the Public Guardian and Trustee to make such investigation as the Public Guardian and Trustee considers proper in the circumstances.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice found that there were no grounds on which to order the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”) to conduct an investigation because there was no identifiable public interest. Furthermore, no mischief was identified and nothing in the records indicated that CAMH had mismanaged the funds.
Justice Morgan stated that inquiries under the Charities Accounting Act should not be initiated lightly and that they should not “simply be for the sake of meddling.” They must only be invoked when real mischief to the public at large exists.
Mr. Faas’ complaint was not that CAMH had failed to use the donation for their own charitable objectives but that they did not use their donation in a manner that conformed to Mr. Faas’ personal vision. This did not go against public interest, but rather a private one.
The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with the decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and dismissed the appeal.
Faas v. CAMH emphasizes that while an unsatisfied donor does have a potential recourse of asking the PGT to conduct an investigation under the Charities Accounting Act as to how their funds were spent, an investigation will not be initiated without some evidence of mismanagement. As such, once a donor has agreed to make a donation, and as long as the charitable organization is not mismanaging the funds, the donor cannot retract their donation simply because the organization is not strictly adhering to the donor’s vision.
Thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Celine Dookie
This blog is the second and final blog in my series discussing estates-related topics in the film The Grand Budapest Hotel. While the first part focused on the application of forfeiture rules in the context of a testator’s murder, this blog specifically discusses the policy considerations that arise as a result of the further Last Will and Testament executed by one of the film’s characters, Madame D.
As a brief refresher, late in the film, a further Last Will and Testament executed by Madame D is discovered, the operation of which is only to be given effect in the event of Madame D’s death by murder. While the concept makes for an interesting twist in the film, in reality the purported condition precedent that the Will takes effect only upon death by murder likely means nothing in the context of Madame D’s estate planning.
Part I of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act specifically contemplates that a Will is revoked by, among other actions, the execution of a subsequent Will made in accordance with the provisions of that section. It is not made clear in the film which of Madame D’s two Wills were executed last. If the further Will was executed most recently and complied with all of the requirements of due execution, the prior Will would have been revoked and the second Will would likely prevail irrespective of the condition precedent.
Alternatively, a Will may also be revoked by a written direction of the testator to do so. Failure to expressly revoke a prior Will can potentially create problematic administration scenarios in which a testator may have believed, albeit mistakenly, that a prior Will had been revoked when in fact it had not.
While executing a Will in accordance with the provisions at Part I of the Succession Law Reform Act is sufficient in and of itself to revoke prior Wills, it is nonetheless prudent from an estate planning perspective to include a written intention to revoke prior Wills (provided, of course, the testator intends to do so).
Separately, even if we were to disregard the provisions of the Succession Law Reform Act, there would be a number of practical policy concerns if a Will whose effects were subject to a condition precedent. Notably, a reasonable debate could arise between beneficiaries in scenarios in which the cause of death is ultimately unclear.
The film suggests Madame D’s reason for executing a further Will to take effect on her murder is to ensure her nephew could not benefit from her demise at his hand. However, as discussed in Tuesday’s blog, that goal is accomplished by the operation of the slayer rule. Alternatively, Madame D could have relied on a common estate planning technique by making her nephew’s interest in her estate, rather than the Will in its entirety, subject to a condition precedent.
While Ontario prohibits conditions precedent that are deemed to be contrary to public policy, such as restraining marriage or promoting discriminatory behaviour, other conditions precedent are recognized at law. For example, Madame D could have simply made Dmitri’s interest contingent on his reaching a certain age, or reaching a certain milestone in his life, such as graduating from university. Instead, the purported condition precedent that the further Will was to take effect on her murder likely has no effect at all, provided the evidence shows it was executed after the initial Will and in compliance with the provisions of Part I of the Succession Law Reform Act.
Thanks for reading.