Category: In the News
Written reasons from a mid-trial motion was recently released in Barker v. Barker, 2019 ONSC 2906. The only issue in this motion was whether a particular video of a deceased plaintiff was admissible at trial. The larger claim at issue surrounds the Oak Ridge division of the Penetanguishene mental health centre and its treatment of maximum security mental health patients between the 60’s and the 80’s. One of the plaintiffs, James Motherall, died after the action was brought and his claims were continued by the estate trustees of Mr. Motherall’s estate under Rule 9 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Prior to Mr. Motherall’s death, Mr. Motherall was examined for discovery in the ordinary course but he was not examined under Rule 36 for the purpose of having his video testimony tendered as evidence at trial. Since a de bene esse examination did not occur, the trial judge was literally unable to assess Mr. Motherall’s credibility with his own eyes. In an effort to address this issue, counsel for the plaintiffs sought to introduce video footage of Mr. Motherall from a CBC documentary that featured Mr. Motherall and his experiences at Oak Ridge. The footage was taken a month before Mr. Motherall’s death and counsel for the Plaintiffs proposed to call the filmmaker as a witness to introduce the unedited footage of the filmmaker’s interview with Mr. Motherall.
Without criticizing the filmmaker’s work, the trial judge found that the video interview was not conducted under reliable circumstances for the purposes of a trial because Mr. Motherall was not sworn, he was not cross-examined, and he was simply asked to tell his story without more. The video was presumptively hearsay and it was up to the plaintiffs to meet, on a balance of probabilities, the criteria of necessity and reliability under the principled approach for the admissibility of hearsay evidence (R v. Khelawon, 2006 SCC 57, R. v. Chretien, 2014 ONCA 403).
In addition to the issues of reliability, the trial judge also found that the video was not necessary since there was a transcript of evidence from Mr. Motherall’s examination for discovery and an affidavit from Mr. Motherall in the course of a prior summary judgment motion.
Both the filmmaker’s proposed testimony and the video footage of Mr. Motherall was found to be inadmissible.
Even though Barker v. Barker is at its core a civil matter, the reasoning from this motion is instructive for estate litigators who are also bound by the additional hurdle for material corroboration pursuant to section 13 of the Evidence Act.
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My colleague, Sayuri Kagami, blogged Tuesday on efforts to use artificial intelligence in scanning for risk factors that have historically contributed to premature death. Such efforts constitute a significant development in policy pertaining to preventive models of health care.
Broadly speaking, delivery of health care services can generally be categorized into one of two models. The reactive model of health care is one based on acute care, and focuses on the treatment of illness as it arises and on an ongoing basis. Your typical visit to the emergency room would generally fall within the scope of reactive health care.
The preventive model of health care, in contrast, is a proactive treatment model emphasizing, as one might expect, the prevention of illness and the mitigation of key risk factors contributing to chronic disease. This model emerged largely as a result of the significant financial strain placed on public health care models in Ontario and abroad by the reactive model.
Treatment of acute and chronic illness on an ongoing and extended basis is, by most accounts, exceedingly expensive and inefficient. In the context of estate planning, we are frequently exposed to the considerable financial and emotional tolls of treating Alzheimer’s disease and other illnesses impacting cognition.
Since the 1970s, policy makers have made significant strides in advocating for a treatment model that sets out the benefits of preventive health care in an attempt to reduce the burden of reactive treatment models. In particular, this model focuses on steps that may be taken by individuals to reduce the risk of chronic illness in order to alleviate the strain placed on the public health care system.
A recent study performed by Cancer Care Ontario identified four main risk factors common to more than 90% of instances of chronic disease:
- Tobacco consumption;
- Alcohol consumption;
- Lack of physical activity; and
- Unhealthy eating habits.
Proponents of the preventive have therefore advocated for increased funding devoted to mitigating each of these factors in order to reduce reactive spending down the road.
If you didn’t pay attention to your grandmother while growing up, take it from the experts: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
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The use of artificial intelligence (“AI”) is saturating all facets of life and death. While we might often think of AI as some future product of a technologically advanced society, it is already in common use. Think of Apple’s Siri and Google Translate; both require AI in order to function.
Earlier this year, my colleague, Garrett Horrocks, blogged on a study showing the promising use of AI in detecting Alzheimer’s. This month, a recent study out from the University of Nottingham explores the use of AI in predicting premature death of middle-aged persons. The study shows promising results.
AI and Bias
While many reports are optimistic in how such predictive models can improve preventative health care, others are more cautious. A recent article from Wired raises the issue of potential bias in such AI models. The article delves into the concerns of scholars that AI might adopt and even promote bias as a result of implicit biases that already exist. Take, for example, the Amazon AI recruitment tool which was designed to review resumes of job applicants and pick the top candidates. Amazon abandoned the project after experiencing several issues, including the program explicitly discriminating against women. The program did so by penalizing candidates who graduated from women’s colleges or had the word “women’s” in their resume (e.g. “women’s chess club”).
The Wired article also raises concerns about existing biases in health care services, such as how patients of different ethnics groups are treated differently for pain with studies in the US finding that racial and ethnic minorities tend to be undertreated for pain, compared to non-Hispanic white persons. While the Wired article raises concerns about the potential biases that can be adopted and/or promoted by AI, the article also notes the potential for AI to reduce bias by focusing on objective factors affecting a person’s health.
AI and the Law
Many say that the law and lawyers are resistant to change (who still relies on faxes?). Despite any such resistance, the legal system, like everyone else, is being dragged into the world of AI, whether ready or not. Just as AI is revolutionizing health care, legal products implementing AI are being developed, with some estimating that over 100,000 jobs in the legal sector will be automated by 2036.
More importantly, however, is the ongoing need for the law to adapt to the changing world of AI. The implementation of AI in our everyday life has significant ramifications from the products recommended to us while online shopping to whether or not we might receive proper preventative health care. With the potential for ethical abuses and unintended consequences (such as discrimination), it will be interesting to see how (or if) laws and regulations develop to address these new advances in AI.
Thanks for reading!
Any estate litigator will tell you that many of the cases that we deal with on a daily bases involve disputes regarding the beneficial ownership of assets, being jointly held assets or assets that are wholly owned by one party and alleged to be beneficially owned by another.
For reference, legal ownership or legal title refers to property held in the name of a person or persons. In contrast, beneficial ownership is what is referred to as “actual” ownership even though the property is registered in someone else’s name.
Without a clear trust agreement, it is often very difficult to argue that beneficial ownership exists and the parties to the dispute will resort to arguments over things like, who is paying taxes for the property, who is collecting rental income and other evidence that relates to the parties’ intention.
The Province of British Columbia appears to have come up with a solution to the question of whether the specific property truly belongs to the person in whose name it is registered.
The Land Owner Transparency Act has been introduced to create a public registry of property owners in the province. Notably, this is the first legislation of its kind in Canada and is aimed towards ending the use of trusts, corporations and partnerships to shield transactions from public view.
The new legislation was positively received at Transparency International Canada whose executive director, James Cohen, noted that Canada has been criticized globally for our apparently lax beneficial ownership legislation.
In accordance with this legislation, corporations, trusts and partnerships that buy land would have to disclose their beneficial owners in the registry. It is interesting to note that failure to do so will result in fines of up to $100,000.00 or 15% of the assessed value of the property, whichever is greater.
The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (Canada) submitted certain concerns to the province such as questions of how the new framework is to work with other relevant legislation and raised questions of privacy.
Will Ontario follow suit? Stay tuned.
To learn more about this new initiative, check out this Globe and Mail article on the topic.
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One of the consequences of having to probate a Will (now referred to in Ontario as applying for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee) is that the Will, along with the assets covered by the Will, are made public.
I was intrigued to read about the estate of the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. In addition to Allen’s Last Will being made public, multiple news articles have published a list of some of the amazing properties owned by him, including a:
- condominium in Portland, Oregon ($700,000 to &850,000)
- 20-acre property in Santa Fee purchased from Georgia O’Keefe’s estate ($15 million)
- 2,066-acre ranch in Utah ($25 million)
- Silicon Valley 22,005 square foot house ($30 million)
- New York City penthouse on 4 East 66th Street ($50 million)
- double property in Idaho totalling 3,600 acres ($50 million)
- 3 acre compound on the Big Island in Hawaii ($50 million)
- 18 bedroom mansion in the South of France ($100 million)
- 387 acre camp in Lopez Island, Washington ($150 million)
- 8 acres of land on Mercer Island, Washington ($130 million)
- 400 foot Octopus Yacht (up to $130 million)
While I have no intention to address the efficacy of Allen’s estate plan, I thought the publicity of his estate provides a reminder that careful estate planning can ensure that privacy is maintained, and the payment of probate tax be avoided. In Ontario, there are numerous options available including preparing a secondary (or tertiary) Will, placing assets in joint ownership with the right of survivorship, or simply gifting assets prior to death. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and each option carries certain advantages and disadvantages.
While I expect that few people have the impressive catalogue of properties that Allen had, it should by no means preclude careful estate planning.
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It’s a new year, and we all want to live well and healthy. While our bad habits can get in the way, we generally try to do the right thing.
But what’s right? In 2019, the notion of what’s “right” for our health is getting fuzzy. The reason? We live in an “always on” marketing world, and what can actually help us live well can take a back seat to the shiny new wellness tools that are being thrust upon us.
Think about it. Has there been a major “wellness” finding, backed by science, that’s emerged over the past 20 years? I’m not sure there has been.
Scottish writer, broadcast and family doctor Margaret McCartney lays out the truth we don’t want to hear in this Globe and Mail article. We don’t want to hear it because the advice is boring, obvious and “old news”.
“The truth is that well-being is simple, if not straightforward. Don’t smoke, don’t drink excessively, do exercise you enjoy, eat a Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, interact with people, work at a job and hobbies you like, and don’t be poor.”
These are the evidence-based factors that contribute to health. And while poverty is not a choice for most people, the other factors are. Margaret McCartney’s fear is that we’re becoming so focussed on the shiny new wellness trends (cleanses, colonic irrigation, crystal-infused water, 10,000 steps, this diet, that diet) that we’re missing the bigger picture and the very basic things that can help us stay healthy.
The beginning of a new year is when wellness “hype” is at its peak. My advice? Don’t buy it. By all means, enjoy your Fitbit, your new exercise program, your life without sugar or carbs, or whatever it might be. But don’t ignore the science. None of us are perfect in our health behaviours, but let’s at least strive for what can make a proven, meaningful difference.
Thanks for reading,
My colleague, Garrett Horrocks, recently blogged on a promising breakthrough in research relating to the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The research focused on the use of artificial intelligence to assist in the early detection of the disease.
Last week, I came across an interesting article that discusses a promising breakthrough in the United States in treatment for patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative diseases. The fact that treatment options continue to be explored by the science, engineering and medical community is hopeful, in light of last year’s announcement by the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, that it is pulling out of research into Alzheimer’s disease.
The treatment consists of implanting a “pacemaker” into the part of the brain responsible for executive and cognitive functions, such as planning, problem solving and judgment. The article explains that a battery pack is then placed in the chest, which sends electrical currents through the wires in a process called “deep brain stimulation” or DBS.
Studies on the use of the implant have shown that the subject patients’ cognitive and daily functional abilities as a whole declined much more slowly than Alzheimer’s patients in a matched comparison group who were not being treated with DBS.
The article highlights one study participant, Ms. Moore, who, prior to receiving the implant, was unable to cook meals or dress herself without assistance. According to the article, Ms. Moore was very fearful that her disease would take away her ability to play hymns on the piano, however, after two years of receiving DBS, she is still able to continue playing the piano and can now cook meals, select outfits and plan outings independently.
My colleague, Garrett, has pointed out in his recent blog that there could be many ways in which the use of artificial intelligence in the early detection of Alzheimer’s could impact succession and estate planning, such as a predictive diagnosis prompting a testator to take steps to implement an estate plan prior to the loss of capacity.
There is no global definition of capacity, and there are varying degrees of capacity that attract different legal tests. Capacity is decision, time and situation specific, such that a person may have capacity to do certain things, but not others, at different times and under different circumstances.
While the full impact of the use of the implant and DBS in treating Alzheimer’s is not yet clear, should the treatment continue with its successes, it may be possible that people living with Alzheimer’s who do not have testamentary capacity today, may have testamentary capacity sometime in the future.
Thanks for reading!
It never stops. Another year on the calendar turns, and we receive another jolting reminder of the years passing. It’s not just loved ones that we lose over time – our way of life is also constantly under threat.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While we may miss some aspects of life in a nostalgic way (milk being delivered to your milk box twice a week), there are other aspects that we’re happy to leave behind.
So, what will we soon lose? Here are five things that could well (depending on your age) disappear in your lifetime.
Sweden may be the canary in the coal mine on this one. Half of the country’s retailers believe that Sweden will stop accepting cash by 2025. This has sparked calls for an e-currency and for actions needed to deal with this change (like what to do when electronic systems fail, or the power goes out). Read about it here.
It’s happening in Canada too of course. The thought of paying for a cup of coffee with a credit or debit card 10 years ago was laughable. Now it’s the norm. Bye-bye bank notes.
This is a change we all want – a cure for, or an end to, cancer. And there’s a new hope – the planting of immune cells from strangers into cancer patients to create the ultimate cancer-fighting treatment. Fingers crossed everyone. https://nationalpost.com/health/health-and-wellness/cancer-may-no-longer-be-deadly-in-future-say-british-researchers-announcing-breakthrough
- Car accidents
Okay, self-driving cars won’t eliminate traffic accidents completely – no technology is perfect or immune from outside attack. But just as traffic deaths in Canada have been cut in half since the 1970s due to safety measures such as seat belts and car seats, the move to the “auto-auto” will dramatically improve road safety. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/09/self-driving-cars-could-save-300000-lives-per-decade-in-america/407956/
- Print newspapers
Yes, this is an obvious one – print newspaper subscribers are a dying breed. But what may also be reduced is the relevance and reach of news organizations in general, even those that have moved online. While many news organizations will survive post-print, this fascinating article explains how their influence could dramatically decline, even with a robust online presence. http://www.niemanlab.org/2018/09/what-will-happen-when-newspapers-kill-print-and-go-online-only-most-of-that-print-audience-will-just-disappear/
- Farm-raised meat
2018 saw the world’s first steak grown in a lab. There’s still work to be done on taste, texture and economic models, but real meat grown from cells is a new reality. There’s a good chance that “farm animals raised for slaughter” will seem as horrific to our grandchildren as medieval torture and gladiator death battles seem to us today. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/14/worlds-first-lab-grown-beef-steak-revealed-but-the-taste-needs-work
Thanks for reading!
Let me give you the bad news first: some people are naturally more resilient than others – and life can be tough if your resilience falls in the low end of the range.
Now the good news: your level of resilience isn’t static. You can grow it – with the right brain fertilizer – to become mentally stronger in the face of adversity. This recent New York Times article discusses some of the ways it can be done.
The article is just one of many to explore the link between greater (and lasting) resilience and activities such as mindfulness, social stimulation, and physical activity. It also sets out a great definition of resilience, courtesy of Huda Akil, a neuroscientist at the University of Michigan:
“Active resilience happens when people who are vulnerable find resources to cope with stress and bounce back, and do so in a way that leaves them stronger, ready to handle additional stress, in more adaptive ways.”
In our line of work, the “vulnerable” part mentioned in the above definition is often death, and the estate dispute that follows. From our observations, while death is one of life’s certainties, dealing with it is anything but. In estate disputes, some people are able to cope with the family death and the dispute over assets. Others crumble under the weight of grief and anger. What we’ve seen in many cases is that a higher level of resilience can make a positive difference to outcomes.
How to increase resilience
So, what’s the magic “brain fertilizer” that can increase our resilience? As it turns out, it’s not really magic at all. Better health equals greater resilience, so exercising and good nutrition go a long way to improving resilience. A strong social network also plays a key role. After that, much of it involves shifting our way of thinking – which is where a trained therapist can make a huge difference.
Take a look at the American Psychological Association’s 10 ways to build resilience and consider the opportunities you may have to bounce back stronger the next time adversity comes your way.
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,