Category: Executors and Trustees
One of the ways a Will can be declared invalid is if the court finds that there were suspicious circumstances surrounding the preparation of it. In Graham v. Graham, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found that significant involvement from the testator/grantor’s child was indicative of suspicious circumstances regarding the preparation of a Will and Power of Attorney (POA).
The testator, Jackie, had four children: Tim, Robert, Christine and Steven.
Jackie suffered from terminal cancer. She was hospitalized from November 22, 2015 to December 7, 2015, and again from December 22, 2015 to December 24, 2015, to receive treatment for severe pain.
In mid-December 2015, Robert’s wife, Tammy, searched for and contacted a lawyer to prepare a Will and POA for Jackie. Tammy obtained a Client Information Sheet (CIS) from the lawyer’s office and completed it herself. The lawyer prepared the documents based on this CIS. At Robert’s request, the lawyer went to the hospital to meet Jackie and have her sign the Will and POA. This was the first time Jackie met the lawyer and saw the Will and POA.
Jackie’s Will named Robert as estate trustee and sole beneficiary of her estate. The POA named Robert as Jackie’s sole attorney for property. Robert’s wife, Tammy, was named as the alternate estate trustee and attorney.
On January 4, 2018, Robert used the POA to transfer Jackie’s house to himself as sole owner. Four days later, Jackie died of cancer.
Tim challenged the validity of Jackie’s Will and POA claiming that they were prepared under suspicious circumstances and that Jackie was subject to undue influence by Robert and Tammy.
- Jackie had been in ill health for a long time prior to her death, so it was reasonable to infer she had chosen to die without a will, until Robert’s involvement.
- Jackie was treated with heavy painkillers on the night and morning of the day she signed the will and POA.
- Robert and Tammy “orchestrated virtually every aspect of the Will and the POA”, which included searching for a lawyer, providing instructions, arranging for the lawyer to meet Jackie, remaining in Jackie’s room for part of the meeting, and taking part in the discussions concerning the Will and POA.
- The drafting lawyer relied entirely on Robert and Tammy to provide him with all of the information concerning the Will and POA.
After finding that suspicious circumstances existed, the burden then shifted to Robert to prove that Jackie had testamentary capacity and that she knew and approved of the contents of the Will and POA. Using the test for testamentary capacity as outlined in Banks v. Goodfellow (1870), the court found that Robert could not establish that Jackie had testamentary capacity. In coming to this conclusion, the court considered the following:
- There was no evidence that Jackie was given the Will or the POA to read or that it was read to her.
- Although Jackie knew where she was living, there was no evidence to indicate that she had any knowledge or understanding of the monetary value of her house.
- It was unclear whether Jackie could do more than repeat what she was told.
- Jackie was confused and/or mistaken in certain beliefs about her son, Tim.
- The medications that Jackie was taking for her pain left her confused and drowsy.
As a result, the Will and the POA were declared invalid.
Graham v. Graham serves as a cautionary tale for adult children who become too involved in the drafting of their parents Wills and POAs. It warns us that the courts view this type of involvement as suspicious. Moreover, Graham v. Graham suggests that physical impairment can impact a testator’s mental state, thus making them vulnerable.
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Ian Hull and Celine Dookie
Earlier this year, Ian M. Hull, Suzana Popovic-Montag, and I were pleased to co-author the Canada Chapter of the 2019 Chambers & Partners Global Private Wealth Guide for the third consecutive year.
The guide provides an overview of the law as it relates to a number of issues relevant to financial planning and estate planning in jurisdictions throughout the world. Specifically, the following topics are covered (among others):
- tax regimes;
- succession laws;
- laws relating to the transfer of digital assets and other assets;
- family business planning;
- wealth disputes;
- elder law; and
- obligations of fiduciaries.
With chapters summarizing the state of the law and related trends in 34 countries, including the United Kingdom, United States, Switzerland, France, and Israel, the guide can be a great resource to be used as a starting point when assisting clients who have assets (or are beneficiaries of assets) in other jurisdictions.
A complete electronic copy of the 2019 Chambers & Partners Global Private Wealth Guide is available here: https://practiceguides.chambers.com/practice-guides/private-wealth-2019. The online version includes a “compare locations” feature, which allows readers to quickly review differences between two or more jurisdictions.
Thank you for reading.
Acting as an estate trustee can be complicated. Complications are multiplied where the estate includes property that is or has been used in a manner contrary to the Cannabis Control Act.
Under the Cannabis Control Act, S.O. 2017, Chapter 26, as amended, various offences are created involving the production, sale or other distribution of cannabis. Vis-à-vis landlords, section 13 of the Act makes it an offence to “knowingly permit a premise of which he or she is a landlord to be used in relation to activity prohibited by section 6”. Section 6 provides that no person shall sell cannabis, other than an authorized cannabis retailer.
The Act provides for penalties for landlords of at least $10,000 and not more than $250,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than two years less a day, or both. Fines are subject to an additional 25% Victim Fine Surcharge.
Additionally, the court may, upon conviction, order that a premise be closed to any use for a period not exceeding two years. Prior to conviction, the police may cause the premises to be closed immediately. The premises are to be closed until the final disposition of the charge, subject to an order of the court lifting the closure.
A defense to a charge against a landlord under the Act is the fact that the landlord took reasonable measures to prevent the prohibited activity.
Additionally, forfeiture could be sought by the Crown under the Civil Remedies Act.
An estate trustee holding real property should take steps to ensure that he or she knows what is happening at the property, and to ensure that the property is not being used for illegal activity. In addition, the estate trustee should document the steps that are taken to prevent illegal activity. Leases should be reviewed in order to ensure that they prohibit illegal activity.
For further information, see “The Ontario Cannabis Control Act and Implications for Commercial Landlords” by David Reiter and Brian Chung.
For a blog on Cannabis and Estate Law, see my prior blog, here.
Have a great weekend.
Competing applications about the ownership of a home were before the Court in Marley v. Salga, 2019 ONSC 3527. On the death, the home was jointly owned between the deceased (Salga) and his wife (Marley). Notwithstanding the registered, legal ownership of the property, Salga’s Will gave Marley a lifetime right to occupy and use Salga’s one-half interest in the property and thereafter directed that the house be sold for the benefit of the residuary beneficiaries.
This led the residuary beneficiaries to commence an Application for a declaration that the Estate is entitled to an undivided one-half interest in the home and for an order requiring the Estate Trustee (Klassen) to sell the home right away (the “Salga Application“). Thereafter, Marley commenced her own Application for a declaration that she was the sole legal and beneficial owner of the property, or, alternatively, that her interest in the property is greater than 50% (the “Marley Application“).
Ultimately, Justice Reid found that ownership of the property was severed by the deceased in the course of his dealings but denied the Salga Applicants’ request that the property be sold before the termination of Marley’s interest under the Will. The Marley Application was also denied. Our blog on this decision can be found here.
The parties were unable to agree to the issue of costs. Justice Reid, 2019 ONSC 6050, followed the traditional approach to costs in estate matters and the costs of both applications, on a partial indemnity scale, were ordered from the Estate. In reaching this conclusion, Justice Reid considered and found the following:
- The Marley Application was in essence a response to the Salga Application and the costs of both proceedings were treated as one;
- Both parties were found to be partially successful: the Salga Applicants were successful in obtaining a declaration that 50% of the home belongs to the Estate and the Marley Applicant was successful in preventing an immediate sale of the home;
- Consideration was given to the fact that an award of costs from the Estate meant that the Salga Applicants (as the residuary beneficiaries) would be effectively bearing their own costs as well as Marley’s costs. However, that was not enough to outweigh the deceased’s responsibility to act unambiguously by severing his interest on title during his lifetime.
- Costs against the Estate in this case “places the responsibility for the litigation squarely on [the deceased] where it belongs“.
This costs decision is also an informative read for the costs of an estate trustee as a respondent in both proceedings and how costs should be paid from an estate where there is no liquidity.
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Lewis v. Lewis is a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in which the Appellants challenged the dismissal of their Application from the Superior Court of Justice. At issue was whether the Appellants’ mother, Marie Lewis, had the requisite capacity to execute new powers of attorney for property and personal care. The Appellants sought to invalidate the new powers of attorney and bring back into effect prior powers of attorney which Mrs. Lewis executed in 1995.
The Appellants raised several issues on appeal. In essence, they took issue with the application judge’s assessment of the evidence and exercise of his case management discretion.
In dismissing the appeal, the Ontario Court of Appeal emphasized the following principles regarding capacity:
- Since capacity is presumed, those objecting to the document(s) have the onus to rebut that presumption, with clear evidence, on a balance of probabilities.
- Similarly, those raising the issue of suspicious circumstances and undue influence bear the onus of establishing it, on a balance of probabilities.
- The fact that someone had various chronic medical conditions throughout their life does not automatically mean that they lacked capacity. It is open to the application judge to consider the evidence. In doing so, the application judge may reject any evidence that they find to be unreliable.
- Without evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable for an application judge to take “solace” from the fact that the individual executed their new powers of attorney before their solicitor of many years.
- It is reasonable for an application judge to refer to the statements of section 3 counsel, appointed by the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, concerning an individual’s expressed wishes.
Good things to keep in mind when dealing with capacity issues.
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Suzana Popovic-Montag and Celine Dookie
We all know how long an Estate Trustee typically has to wait for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With or Without a Will, if filed in Toronto. Sometimes a Certificate of Appointment is not granted for six to eight months from the filing date.
The Court recently expressed its frustration with the frequency of motions being commenced by Estate Trustees seeking to expedite the granting of the Certificate of Appointment. The option of obtaining the Certificate of Appointment on a more urgent basis appears to no longer be available as a result. Apparently, it was not unusual for Estate Trustees to seek to expedite the process when real property of an Estate needed to be sold. The Court does not always agree that the sale of real property cannot wait until the Certificate of Appointment is granted.
Despite the Court’s stance on expediting the granting of Certificates of Appointment, there are special circumstances that would arguably warrant the Court’s intervention. What if an Estate Trustee’s authority is required to manage a certain asset of an Estate such that, if it is not obtained within a reasonable amount of time, the Estate could suffer significant expense?
An option that is available which should be carefully considered (particularly given the Court’s position on expediting the process overall) is seeking a limited grant from the Court for a particular purpose. Historically, this was known as a grant ad colligenda bona, and was limited to particular purposes as well as limited until such time as a general grant could be made (see Charles H. Widdifield, Surrogate Court Practice and Procedure, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 1930) at 190).
Today, where the conditions for an appointment of an Estate Trustee During Litigation are not met, and there is a delay in the appointment of an Estate Trustee, a limited grant for the purpose of gathering in and protecting the assets may be sought by way of a motion or application for directions under Rule 75.06 of the Rules of Civil Procedure (see Ian M. Hull & Suzana Popovic-Montag, Macdonell, Sheard and Hull on Probate Practice, 5th ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2016) at 384).
This option should be carefully considered where the circumstances are truly special such that the Court’s intervention is required on an urgent basis and the Estate Trustee cannot wait until the Certificate of Appointment is granted.
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Find this blog interesting? Please consider these other related posts:
Yesterday I blogged about the Notice of Contestation of Claim, which is a process that in essence provides the Estate Trustee with the ability to require individuals with a potential claim against the estate to commence such a claim within 30 days of being served with the Notice of Contestation of Claim failing which they are deemed to have abandoned the claim such that they can no longer pursue it before the court.
The power given to an Estate Trustee by the Notice of Contestation of Claim coupled with the relatively short timeframe by which the claimant must respond could appear attractive to an Estate Trustee, potentially enticing the Estate Trustee to use such a process to flush out all potential claims at the early stages of the administration of the estate. This is turn raises questions about the kinds of claims that the Notice of Contestation of Claim can be used for, and whether it can be used for all potential claims against an estate or whether the claims against which it can be used are more limited. Could you, for example, serve a possible dependant with a Notice of Contestation of Claim, and in doing so require the alleged dependant to bring their claim for support forward within 30 days failing which they are deemed to have abandoned their claim?
The issue of whether a Notice of Contestation of Claim can be used against a potential dependant of the estate was dealt with by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Omiciuolo v. Pasco, 2008 ONCA 241, wherein the court confirmed that the Notice of Contestation of Claim could not be used in relation to a potential claim for support by a dependant under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act. In coming to such a decision the Court of Appeal notes that historically the “claim or demand” referenced in sections 44 and 45 of the Estates Act had been interpreted to mean a “claim or demand against the estate by a ‘creditor’ for payment of money on demand“, and that it could not be used for claims such as declaratory relief or a claim for judicial sale or foreclosure.
From the Court of Appeal’s rationale in Omiciuolo v. Pasco it would appear that the “claims” against which a Notice of Contestation of Claim can be used are likely limited to claims of potential creditors of the estate (i.e. claims that the deceased owed an individual money), and that it cannot be used against other more nuanced or equitable claims such as a potential claim from a dependant for support or declaratory relief.
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What’s an Estate Trustee to do when faced with a situation in which an individual has threatened to bring a claim against the estate but has not yet actually taken any formal steps to advance the claim. As Estate Trustee you have certain obligations to the beneficiaries of the estate, including seeing to the administration in a timely manner. An Estate Trustee also has obligations to the creditors of the estate however, and needs to ensure to that all debts of the estate are paid prior to distributing the estate to the beneficiaries. If they fail to do so, the Estate Trustee could face potential personal liability to the creditors of the estate.
An active claim being commenced against the estate can significantly delay the amount of time it takes for an estate to be administered, as the Estate Trustee cannot see to the final administration of the estate while the claim remains active as they must ensure that there are requisite funds in the estate to satisfy any damages award should the estate ultimately not be successful in the claim. The same is also true for a claim that has been threatened against the estate, as the Estate Trustee may be apprehensive to distribute the estate in the face of a claim possibly being commenced for the same reason. When faced with a such a threatened claim the Estate Trustee could be put in a difficult dilemma, for on the one hand they wish to administer the estate in a timely fashion to the beneficiaries and there is no active claim that has been commenced that would otherwise stop them from doing so, yet because of the threatened claim they may be reluctant to do so for fear of their own potential liability should the claim later be commenced after the funds have been distributed. When faced with such a situation the “Notice of Contestation of Claim” could become the Estate Trustee’s new best friend.
At its most basic the Notice of Contestation of Claim provides a mechanism by which a Estate Trustee can require the potential claimant to formally advance their claim against the estate failing which they are deemed to have abandoned the claim. The “Notice of Contestation of Claim” process is governed by sections 44 and 45 of the Estates Act. If a potential claimant is served with a Notice of Contestation of Claim they are provided with 30 days to issue a “claim” pursuant to the Notice of Contestation of Claim, failing which they are deemed to have abandoned the claim. The 30 day deadline may be extended up to a maximum of three months by the court if the claimant should seek such an extension.
The process by which a Notice of Contestation of Claim is issued is governed by rule 75.08 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, providing the form (Form 75.13) that the Notice of Contestation of Claim must be in, as well as the steps that the claimant must follow to bring their claim before the court upon being served with the Notice of Contestation of Claim should they intend to pursue the matter.
Through the Notice of Contestation of Claim an Estate Trustee can force a potential claimant to make a decision regarding whether they intend to bring a claim against the estate. If the potential claimant does not take the appropriate steps following being served with the Notice of Contestation of Claim their potential claim is deemed to be abandoned and can no longer be pursued before the court, with the Estate Trustee being theoretically free to proceed with the administration of the estate.
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Section 9(1) of the Estates Administration Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E 22 (“EAA” ) provides, among other things, that real property vests in persons beneficially entitled to that property under a will if that property was not disposed of, conveyed to, divided or distributed among the persons beneficially entitled by the personal representative within three years after the death of the deceased (unless a caution has been registered on title). The EAA does not provide further clarification on when vesting takes effect if a property is subject to a life interest, and further, what happens to that property upon the termination of the life interest.
The recent decision of Lewis Pelicos, Executor and Trustee of the Estate of James Pelicos v. The Estate of Stelios Pelicos, 2019 ONSC 5304 provides clarity on when vesting takes place in circumstances where real property is subject to a life interest.
In that case, the Applicant’s father, James, died testate. The beneficiaries of James’ estate were his two sons, Steven and Lewis (the Applicant). James’ last will and testament required his two sons, Steven and Lewis (the Applicant) to hold his residential property in trust for his wife, Lillian, for her lifetime. Steven passed away some years later, leaving only the Applicant as the beneficiary of his father’s estate. The Applicant was also the executor and trustee of his father’s estate.
Following the death of the life tenant, the Applicant wished to sell the property, but required the court’s direction on whether Steven’s estate would be entitled to a share of the proceeds of sale. The answer to that question depended on whether the property vested in the beneficiaries of James’ estate on his death, or the death of the life tenant.
The Applicant brought an application seeking the court’s directions, with the issues stated as follows:
(1) Can it be inferred that the property falls into the residue of the estate upon the termination of the life interest?
(2) In the alternative, do the beneficiaries of James’ estate take their interest on the testator’s date of death, or the date of death of the life tenant?
The court ultimately found that the property vested in both Steven and the Applicant as of the date of death of the testator, and as a result, the property did not fall into the residue of the estate upon the death of the life tenant.
To learn more about Vesting of Real Property, check out this blog:
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The Ontario Court of Appeal recently set aside an order committing an estate trustee to 15 days in jail, to be served on weekends, for contempt of an order requiring the estate trustee to pass his accounts.
In Ross v. Ross, 2019 ONCA 724 (CanLII), the estate trustee was a lawyer, 73 years of age, with no prior convictions or findings of contempt. At the time of the appeal, the estate trustee had purged his contempt.
At the hearing below, the judge found that the contempt arose from “a failure to understand and appreciate or to ignore the need for, and importance of, complying with the order within the specified time or within a reasonable time.” The Court of Appeal held that this finding meant that the estate trustee’s actions did not amount to a callous disregard for the court’s authority. Accordingly, a jail sentence was not appropriate.
For other cases on contempt and sentencing, see our blog, here and here. In the first blog, reference is made to a case where an 88 year old litigant with health issues was sentenced to 30 days in jail for contempt. In the second blog, we discuss a case where an attorney for property failed to pass accounts as required by court order. He was fined $7,000.
Finally, consider the case of Canavan v. Feldman, 2004 CanLII 4787 (ON SC). This was a claim by an estate trustee against his former lawyer. There, the estate trustee, 67 years old, spent 35 days in jail for contempt of court orders relating to a passing of accounts, and was only released when new counsel put further evidence before the court. The estate trustee’s prior lawyer had consented to an order of contempt without the estate trustee’s knowledge. The lawyer told the estate trustee that he had “nothing to worry about”. At a sentencing hearing, the lawyer did not attend. The estate trustee was sentenced to 6 months in jail. The estate trustee was awarded general damages of $200,000 and punitive damages of $100,000 against his prior lawyer.
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