Category: Executors and Trustees
When is it appropriate for a court to reduce estate trustee compensation? The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia addressed this issue in Atlantic Jewish Foundation v Leventhal Estate (“AJF”).
Before getting into the AJF decision, it is worthwhile to include the caveat that determination of estate trustee compensation in Ontario (a summary of which can be found in my paper here) differs somewhat as compared to Nova Scotia. Nonetheless, both provinces use 5% of the value of the estate, subject to the discretion of the court, as the starting point in determining the quantum of compensation. As such, AJF remains informative in Ontario.
The deceased left a Will naming his friend, who was also a lawyer, as his Estate Trustee. AJF was named as the residuary beneficiary. The Will was silent as to estate trustee compensation. As the estate was valued at over $15 million, the Estate Trustee sought compensation in the approximate amount of $896,000, being 5% of the gross adjusted value of the estate. AJF maintained that the amount was excessive and proposed compensation in the amount of $300,000.
In determining how much compensation the Estate Trustee should be entitled to, and applying an approach similar to Ontario’s ‘five factors’, the court made the following observations: the level of responsibility is often greater for higher value estates; the increasing level of responsibility does not necessarily rise in direct proportion to the size of the estate; the Estate Trustee arranged and supervised the funeral and burial, which was mainly handled by telephone; the Estate Trustee acted promptly in selling the house; many of the assets were already in the form of cash, and the Estate Trustee knew the banks the deceased used; the Estate Trustee was diligent, wise and prudent and had to be a hands-on executor; the Estate Trustee made no mistakes; a large part of the estate was made up of investments that were readily converted into cash for distribution; and, the estate was larger rather than complex.
The court noted that 5% should be reserved for estates where there are complicating features that require more than wise and careful planning to maximize the value of the estate. Therefore, the court awarded compensation in the amount of $450,000, being slightly more than 50% of the maximum amount that could be awarded. A larger amount of compensation would have the effect of reading into the Will a bequest to the Estate Trustee that the deceased did not intend to make.
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The requirement to post a bond can be found in section 35 of the Estates Act. An Estate Trustee will be required to obtain an administration bond in instances including where: the deceased passed away without a will; the will does not name the applicant seeking to be appointed; or, the Estate Trustee resides outside of Ontario.
The amount of the bond is to be double the sworn value of the estate. However, practice has developed (see D’Angelo Estate) such that the size of the bond has been reduced to the sworn value of the estate.
While section 36(1) of the Estates Act sets out specific instances where security is not required, it is section 37(2) which gives the court the general power to reduce the amount of the bond or dispense with it altogether. In the helpful decision of Henderson (Re), the court indicates that the applicant Estate Trustee who seeks an order dispensing with the requirement to post a bond, should file affidavit evidence in support, containing the following:
- The identity of all beneficiaries of the estate;
- The identity of any beneficiary of the estate who is a minor or incapable person;
- The value of the interest of any minor or incapable beneficiary in the estate;
- Executed consents from all beneficiaries who are sui juris to the appointment of the applicant as estate trustee and to an order dispensing with an administration bond should be attached as exhibits to the affidavit. If consents cannot be obtained from all the beneficiaries, the applicant must explain how he or she intends to protect the interests of those beneficiaries by way of posting security or otherwise;
- The last occupation of the deceased;
- Evidence as to whether all the debts of the deceased have been paid, including any obligations under support agreements or orders;
- Evidence as to whether the deceased operated a business at the time of death and, if so, whether any debts of that business have been or may be claimed against the estate, and a description of each debt and its amount;
- If all the debts of the estate have not been paid, evidence of the value of the assets of the estate, the particulars of each debt – amount and name of creditor – and an explanation of what arrangements have been made with those creditors and what security the applicant proposes to put in place in order to protect those creditors.
Applicants should make sure to address each of these factors when applying to dispense with an administration bond.
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We have previously blogged on the various ways that an estate trustee may be removed and/or replaced. Examples include scenarios where an estate trustee dies in the midst of administering an estate, or renounces from his or her position, or where an estate trustee is removed by court order.
Ontario legislation provides guidance for beneficiaries and estate trustees in the aforesaid circumstances. Ontario legislation does not, however, specifically address what to do if an estate trustee is deemed mentally incapable to administer an estate, either before or after probate is granted. For more information on what mental incapacity is, and how to address mental incapacity, click here.
If an estate trustee is deemed mentally incapable, the first question to consider is how far along they were in the administration of the estate.
If the estate trustee has not yet applied for a certificate of appointment of estate trustee with a will (hereinafter referred to as the certificate of appointment of estate trustee), then another person may apply for a certificate of appointment of estate trustee in their place. A person acting under a valid continuing power of attorney for property for the mentally incapable estate trustee may renounce and consent (as appropriate) for the estate trustee. If the incapable individual has not appointed an attorney for property, then their statutory or court appointed guardian assumes this responsibility. Where the will names an alternate estate trustee in the event the estate trustee is unable to act, the alternate should be contacted to discuss whether they are willing and able to assume this role.
In circumstances where an estate trustee has been declared mentally incapable of administering an estate after the certificate of appointment of estate trustee has been issued, any person appearing to have a financial interest in the estate may bring a notice of application for the removal and replacement of the estate trustee. Again, the incapable estate trustee’s power of attorney or statutory or court appointed guardian would likely be involved in this process. Once a court order for removal and replacement is obtained, the replacement estate trustee may apply for a Court Status Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee with a Will pursuant to Rule 74 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Thank you for reading!
My colleague, Natalia Angelini, recently blogged on the unexpected death of QuadrigaCX’s founder, Gerald Cotton. Mr. Cotton was the only person who held the password to access the holdings of the company’s clients.
The QuadrigaCX case has brought the issue of digital assets and passwords within estate planning to the global stage. While this case is an extreme, most testators, if not all, will have some form of online presence requiring the use of passwords when they die.
Natalia discusses the case as a reminder that in the era of growing digital assets, we need to think about how to ensure the gifting of such assets can be effected, as well as ensuring that estate trustees know how to access such assets. I would like to examine the topic of the digital era and passwords in relation to fraud and identity theft involving estates.
Identity Theft of the Dead
Back in September, 2018, I attended the Law Society’s continuing professional development program called “Practice Gems: Probate Essentials 2018”. While there, a paper written by Craig Ross and Kyle Kuczynski of Pallett Valo LLP entitled “Protecting Estates From Identity Theft” was presented.
The paper examines the increase in identity theft of estates and sets out helpful tips on what steps can be taken by testators and estate trustees alike to protect the privacy and identity of the estate.
The paper discusses concerns regarding the vast online presence a testator may have, the full extent of which will likely be unknown to the intended estate trustee. Personally, I think of how this could easily include not only social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, it would also include the many other applications I use in a day, including but not limited to music streaming apps, fitness apps, online banking apps, video streaming apps and transportation apps such as Uber. All of the various social media platforms and applications we utilize store important information including names, dates of birth, phone numbers, emails, credit card numbers, and in some instances the names of family members.
Tips to Protect your Estate
As the paper points out, this information “sits dormant and vulnerable after death”. Below, I summarize some of the main tips the paper discusses in relation to a testator’s online presence, and how best to protect against fraud and/or identity theft:
- The testator should keep and safely store a master list of accounts, subscriptions and services;
- The testator should keep a record of all websites that store or publish personal information. The Testator should also attempt to minimize the personal data that may be published online, such as birth dates, or city of residence;
- The testator should keep a list of login information and passwords for websites and services regularly used by the testator that retain or publish personal information. The list should be maintained in a secure manner;
- The estate trustee should cancel all memberships and known subscriptions of the deceased;
- The estate trustee should advise all financial institutions and credit agencies of death as soon as possible;
- The estate trustee should redirect mail as soon as possible;
- If account logins and passwords are available, social media accounts and other websites should be deleted. If no logins and passwords are available, the estate trustee should contact the website or account providers in question and request that the account be frozen or deleted; and
- Online service providers should also be notified of the death and instructed to freeze accounts.
In addition to providing these helpful tips, the paper discusses the difficulties an estate trustee may have in actually effecting the deleting and freezing of certain social media accounts and/or websites depending on the user agreement between the testator and the platform or website. They provide the example of Facebook which includes a term within its user agreement that prohibits the sharing of passwords and login information without its permission.
Further, Facebook’s default policy is to memorialize a user’s account upon their death, rather than delete it, and while they may delete it upon request, they are under no obligation to do so.
Out of curiosity, I conducted a quick search on Instagram to learn more about their policies regarding the death of user and it also appears that the app will memorialize, rather than delete the account of a deceased user. Instagram also has a policy against the sharing of login and password information.
In light of the ever evolving digital era we find ourselves in, it is prudent to give consideration to what will happen to our expansive online presences after we die, and to take what steps we can now to protect our assets and identities.
Thanks for reading!
Please feel free to check out the below blog which discusses protecting against identity theft after death more generally:
Traditionally, the transition from adolescence into formal adulthood has been marked by certain milestones: moving in with one’s partner, engagements, weddings, and the first purchase of a car or house, for example.
Today, however, as Dr. Steven Mintz notes in this Psychology Today article on modern adulthood, the journey to achieving adult status is “far slower and much less uniform” than it was in previous generations.
The Canadian Encyclopedia reports that in recent years, the average age of first marriage in Canada is close to 30 years old for women, and 32 years old for men. This contrasts sharply with the 1960s and 1970s, when young people in Canada were more likely to marry between the ages of 23 and 25 years old.
Similarly, while the average young adult in the sixties could expect to achieve such “emblems of adulthood” as home ownership, marriage, children, and a stable job by around the age of 24, far fewer young adults in the 2000s will have attained these markers by this same period. According to Statistics Canada, 54% of men and 43.4% of women in Canada have never married by their early thirties. In Mintz’s article, he notes that rates of childbearing, homeownership, and even car ownership for young adults have also distinctly declined from those of past generations.
Notably, many of the traditional adulthood markers relate to asset accumulation – whether it’s the paycheque associated with a steady and lucrative job, or an investment in a home or vehicle, for example. With fewer millennials travelling down these conventional paths to adulthood, and arguably having fewer assets to their names, should today’s young adults be concerned with formulating a plan for their Estate?
In my view, the answer is yes. This blog will address three of many reasons to set up an Estate Plan as a young adult today.
- Your assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries of your choice, instead of being determined by Intestacy
In Ontario, Part II of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) governs how one’s assets will be divided if a person dies “intestate” – namely, without a Last Will.
As many young millennial adults are unmarried and without children, I will focus on subsections 47(3)-(11) of the SLRA. These subsections delineate how an estate will be divided if one dies without a will and has neither a spouse nor children (notably, common law spouses are not included as a “spouse” on intestacy). These rules can be summarized as follows:
- If the Deceased has no spouse and no issue, the estate goes to the Deceased’s surviving parents, equally.
- If there are no surviving parents, the estate goes to the Deceased’s siblings equally (and if a sibling has predeceased, that sibling’s share goes to their respective children).
- If there are no siblings, the estate goes to the Deceased’s nephews and nieces equally.
- If there are no nephews or nieces, it goes to the next of kin of equal degree of consanguinity – in some cases, distant relatives can end up inheriting from the estate, despite otherwise having no relationship with the Deceased.
- If there are no next of kin, the estate escheats to the Crown.
Making an estate plan empowers a party to decide specifically to whom their assets – of both financial and sentimental value – will go.
Importantly, and as we have blogged on previously, any unpaid debts of the Deceased, in addition to the expenses and liabilities of the estate (e.g. funeral expenses, taxes, legal fees, etc.), are a first charge on the assets of the estate, and must be paid by the estate before assets will be distributed to beneficiaries.
- You can choose who will manage your assets, limited or not
By way of a Last Will and Testament, one can appoint an Estate Trustee (or Estate Trustees) of their Estate. Among many other critical duties, the Estate Trustee is responsible for securing the assets of the Estate; settling any of the of the Deceased’s debts and taxes; ensuring the Deceased’s assets are distributed in accordance with the Deceased’s wishes; and, often, tending to funeral arrangements.
When a person dies intestate and an Estate Trustee is not appointed, the process of the administration of their Estate becomes much more onerous, potentially more expensive, and can be significantly delayed. By executing a Will which appoints an Estate Trustee, one can ensure that a responsible and trustworthy person, who is up to the task, will give effect to their final wishes and manage their estate effectively after death.
- You can document your intentions for your intangible, digital assets
This recent Globe and Mail article sums it up succinctly: neglecting to plan for one’s online assets can create “huge headaches” for executors, especially in light of Canadians’ “expanding digital footprints”.
In addition to those online assets which have true financial value – such as cryptocurrency, Paypal accounts, and some loyalty rewards programs – many digital assets, like Facebook or Instagram accounts, can have significant personal and sentimental value. By stating one’s preferences for digital assets management in an estate plan, one can better ensure that their wishes for these assets are honoured, and potentially reduce conflicts between loved ones that might otherwise arise in this respect. The Globe and Mail cites Facebook profiles as a prime example:
” … some loved ones may want a family member’s Facebook profile to remain active after they pass away, for remembrance; while others might want to delete the account, for closure.”
If this article has inspired to start your estate planning process, we encourage you to meet with a trusted Estates Lawyer to assist with your planning needs.
Thanks for reading!
Cryptocurrency is aptly described in a recent post as “digital cash stored on an electronic file and traded online… like online banking but with no central bank or regulator. It also has virtual wallets which store the cryptocurrency.”
As with any online assets, access to a deceased person’s cryptocurrency is vital. Without it, heirs will not receive their intended entitlements and the cryptocurrency will remain dormant. A stark example of such a problem can be found in the QuadrigaCX debacle.
QuadrigaCX is Canada’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange. Its’ founder, Gerald Cotton, died unexpectedly and prematurely at age 30. He was the only one who knew the password to access the holdings of the company’s clients. Once news of his death got out, thousands of clients were rushing to withdraw millions in funds. They have not yet been successful, the reason being, as one author explains, is that “…Cotten was the sole person responsible for transferring QuadrigaCX funds between the company’s “cold wallet” — secure, offline storage — and its “hot wallet” or online server…Very little cryptocurrency was stored in the hot wallet for security purposes. Cotten’s laptop was encrypted, and his widow, Jennifer Robertson, and the expert she hired have been unable to access any of its contents.”
QuadrigaCX is evidently now in financial straits. It has filed for creditor protection in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Further, Ms. Robertson has reportedly sought the appointment of Ernst & Young to oversee the company’s dealings while attempts to recover the lost holdings continue.
This unfortunate situation highlights the risk that may accompany cryptocurrency’s lack of regulation. It also serves as a reminder to us that with ownership of digital assets growing, we need to think about how to ensure that gifting such assets is effected, including making sure to inform our intended estate trustees of how to access the assets. Doing so is helpful because, as the above case demonstrates, it is a must in the case of cryptocurrencies to have the password relevant to the wallet where the currency is held. Further, with an asset as volatile as cryptocurrency can be, a fully informed estate trustee will be in a better position to avoid delays in the administration of an estate and/or allegations of mismanagement if he/she is able to quickly access and distribute such assets.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
Section 38 of Ontario’s Trustee Act provides that an estate trustee may commence or maintain, on behalf of a Deceased individual, an action in tort that could otherwise have been commenced by that individual. As discussed in related blogs on this section, such actions are ordinarily subject to a stricter limitation period than that of other civil claims.
In typical civil claims, Ontario’s Limitations Act imports a two-year limitation period which begins to run as of the date the cause of action was discovered. The limitation period under the Trustee Act, however, begins to run as of the Deceased’s date of death and is not subject to this principle of discoverability, unless the Plaintiff can satisfy the Doctrine of Special Circumstances. The decision in Graham Estate v Southlake Regional Health Centre recently contextualized this Doctrine and, in so doing, suggests that the principle of discoverability will not always be dispensed with.
In May 2008, the Deceased in Graham Estate underwent a botched surgical procedure that ultimately gave rise to a claim in medical negligence. The Deceased subsequently died in February 2009, and a claim was commenced by the Deceased’s Estate in May 2010, well within the two-year limitation period under section 38(3).
As part of this initial claim, the Estate obtained disclosure of relevant medical records relating to the operation. In or about 2015, more than four years after the limitation period had expired, counsel for the Estate subsequently received an additional unprompted cache of records that had not been previously disclosed. This new set of records gave rise to a claim against a party who was not a party to the existing litigation.
In February 2017, the Estate subsequently brought a motion seeking to add the Proposed Defendant as a party to the litigation. At issue in this decision was whether the Estate was out of time as a result of the strict operation of section 38(3) of the Trustee Act. The Court ultimately held that the Estate ought to succeed on the basis of the Doctrine of Special Circumstances.
As the claim against the Proposed Defendant was, on its face, out of time, the Estate argued that the Doctrine of Special Circumstances ought to apply. This Doctrine is comprised of a two-step test to be satisfied by the Plaintiff:
- The Plaintiff must rebut the presumption of prejudice that would result to the party to be added; and
- The Plaintiff must satisfy the Court that special circumstances justify the addition of that party.
At the outset, the Court held that the loss of a limitation defence immediately gave rise to a presumption of prejudice in favour of the Proposed Defendant. However, the Estate identified a number of factors that operated to rebut the presumption of prejudice, notably:
- The claims to be made against the Proposed Defendant were identical to those already commenced against the existing Defendants;
- The action against the Proposed Defendant was tenable in law; and
- There would be no procedural unfairness to the Proposed Defendant if he were added as a party, as no trial date had been set and he would have sufficient time to prepare a defence.
The Court then considered whether there were any equitable special circumstances that merited the addition of the Proposed Defendant as a party. As above, the Court held that there were, but in so doing, in effect considered factors not unlike the discoverability principle.
Chiefly, the Court noted that the Proposed Defendant’s role in the circumstances giving rise to the initial negligence claim had not become apparent until the limitation period had already expired. The Court found that the Estate had made efforts to obtained the relevant records well within the limitation period, and that the records implicating the Proposed Defendant had erroneously been omitted. The Court held that this was not a case in which the Estate was “handicapped by its own inaction.”
While section 38(3) of the Trustee Act on its face imports a strict limitation period, the Graham Estate decision nonetheless suggests that the courts will consider discoverability, among other factors. That said, this analysis is only engaged if the presumption of prejudice is rebutted.
Thanks for reading.
I recently blogged about the growing use of home DNA tests and what impact an unexpected result could have upon your rights as a beneficiary of an estate. While such a blog was from the perspective of an individual who discovered through a home DNA test that their biological father was not in fact the individual they previously believed it to be, and the potential impact such a finding could have upon their status as a beneficiary of their “father’s” estate if their interest was based on their status as a “child”, questions would also emerge in such a scenario if you were the Estate Trustee of such an estate regarding what you should do.
If you are the Estate Trustee of an estate in which a bequest is based on parentage (i.e. an intestacy or a bequest to a testator’s “issue” or “children”), and you discover that one of the beneficiaries has voluntarily taken a home DNA test which revealed that they were not in fact related to the deceased, could you still make a distribution to such a beneficiary? If you have already made a distribution to such a beneficiary, is there a risk that the other beneficiaries could now make a claim against you as Estate Trustee, alleging that you distributed the estate to the incorrect individuals and that they have suffered damages as a result?
In response to whether an Estate Trustee could potentially be liable to the other beneficiaries for historically paying out amounts to a beneficiary who it is later discovered was not actually related to the deceased, it would appear that the Estate Trustee likely would not be liable under such a scenario. In my previous blog I discussed the provisions of the Children’s Law Reform Act (the “CLRA“) which establish a person’s legal parentage in Ontario, and the various presumptions establishing an individual’s father. While sections 13(1) and 14(1) of the CLRA allow the court to make a subsequent different declaration as to a person’s parentage, section 14(2) of the CLRA provides that such an Order “does not affect rights and duties that were exercised or performed, or interests in property that were distributed, before the order was set aside“. As a result, it would appear, arguably, that if an Estate Trustee historically made a payment to an individual based off of parentage, and a subsequent declaration is made by the court that the individual in question was not actually the parent of the beneficiary, the historic payment to the beneficiary could not be put in issue or reclaimed provided that at the time the payment was made the beneficiary was still presumed and/or declared to be the child of the deceased.
The issue of what an Estate Trustee is to do if a payment has not yet been made and they discover that an individual who they previously believed to be a beneficiary is not in fact related to the deceased could be more complicated. In the event that the other beneficiaries who could be affected by the distribution do not unanimously consent to continue to allow the distribution to the individual notwithstanding the results of the DNA test, it is possible that one or all of the other beneficiaries may later bring a claim against the Estate Trustee for negligence, alleging that the Estate Trustee knew about the results of the DNA test before making the distribution and that they have suffered damages as a result of the distribution. To offset such a risk, it may be wise for the Estate Trustee in such a scenario to bring an Application for the opinion, advice and direction of the court pursuant to section 60(1) of the Trustee Act and/or rule 14.05, asking the court to determine whether the distribution may still be made to the potential beneficiary in light of the results of the home DNA test.
Thank you for reading.
It is not uncommon for a trust or a Will to provide a trustee with broad and unfettered discretion in the administration of the trust or estate. We have previously blogged about the powers and duties of estate trustees, stating that it can be difficult to determine how such discretion should be exercised. Often, a trustee is given broad discretion to encroach on the capital of a trust or estate, for the benefit of a beneficiary. The issue then is: what factors can a trustee consider in determining whether to exercise their discretion to make a capital encroachment?
Broadly speaking, if a trustee is given unfettered discretion by a settlor or testator, the court will only intervene in the trustee’s decision-making if the trustee has exercised his or her discretion on the basis of mala fides, or bad faith. While there are a number of specific factors that a trustee may properly consider, for the purpose of this blog I will focus on one, namely the extent to which a trustee can consider a beneficiary’s income and/or assets.
Where a trustee is being asked to encroach on capital for the benefit of an income beneficiary, the trustee must consider the application of the even hand rule (briefly discussed in this blog). In doing so, a trustee may be tempted to consider the income beneficiary’s financial circumstances, as this information could illuminate how the trustee’s decision may affect the income beneficiary as compared to the capital beneficiary. However, the case law seems to indicate that this would not be a proper consideration.
In Re: Luke,  O.W.N. 25, the court considered whether the income beneficiary, who was also the trustee, should first look to her own financial resources before exercising her power to encroach on capital for her own benefit. The court determined that she did not have to first exhaust her own resources, as the testator had not expressed an intention in his Will that she do so. Similarly, in Hinton v. Canada Permanent Trust Company, (1979), 5 E.T.R. 117 (H.C.), a corporate trustee requested information from an income beneficiary as to the beneficiary’s own financial resources in the context of the trustee exercising its discretion to encroach on capital. Again, the court found that the testator had not indicated an intention in his Will that the income beneficiary’s income should be a factor in determining whether to encroach on capital, and the income beneficiary’s resources were, accordingly, not relevant.
The foregoing principle has been followed in a number of other decisions over the years, thus appearing to support the impropriety of considering a beneficiary’s personal financial resources as a factor in making capital encroachments, absent an intention by the testator in this regard.
Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!
Other blog posts that may be of interest:
It is that time of the year when media outlets release their “top” or “most popular” lists, like the Time 100.
I came across a rather interesting and topical list the other day called “The Most Obnoxious Celebrity Wills” by Ranker. This particular list features 24 celebrity Wills and I will excerpt some of the notable mentions here:
- Napoleon Bonaparte’s Will was first on the list. Apparently, his Will included a direction for his head to be shaved and for his hair to be divided amongst his friends.
- Harry Houdini asked his wife to hold an annual séance to contact his spirit.
- Philip Seymour Hoffman wanted his son to be raised in three different cities: New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
- Charles Dickens gave directions for a particular dress code at his funeral.
- Fred Baur, the person who designed the Pringles can, wanted to buried in a Pringles can.
Turns out testamentary freedom is whatever you want to make of it but the enforceability of provisions like these are another matter.
Thanks for reading and Happy Holidays!