Category: In the News
Our first house together was a rental duplex in High Park. We knew something was awry when we collected the mail from the common mailbox one afternoon and saw that first letter. It was from the Attorney General’s office and was addressed to the neighbour who lived upstairs. Over time, the letters increased in frequency; the envelopes became increasingly colourful and the font size of the word ‘URGENT’ also ballooned to quite incredible proportions. That was 15 years ago, and we periodically wonder if he’s still on the lam from the law. So when I recently saw a link on the Toronto Star website to an article entitled, “Next Door to Trouble: Neighbours as Nightmares”, I was tickled by the prospects of reading about the camaraderie of the shared experience of the nightmare neighbour.
The article waded through the usual neighbourhood conflicts of noise (parties, pets), garbage, and other common by-law violations such as too-tall fences, too-long grass and too-overhanging trees. But the meat of the article, and by far the most entertaining portion, referred to a number of websites designed to help one navigate the muddy waters of personal relationships, whether they be at home, in the community, or at work. Ahhhh – now we’re cooking with gas.
First up is civilityexperts.com, a Winnipeg-based website offering seminars and tips ‘aimed at fostering respect and communication’. Some 10 percent of the emails it receives are related to bad behaviour in the ‘hood, citing the example of the family who returned from vacation only to find the neighbours in their pool. The Americans have rottenneighbour.com while the Brits have Neighbours from Hell. These websites serve as ‘early warning systems’ for those in the market for a new home. Clever. New, from the creator of civilityexperts.com is youresorude.com, a website that charges a very affordable $2 to send a nasty anonymous email to your neighbour on your behalf.
We’ve moved around a lot since High Park and now count ourselves blessed that our worst complaint about our neighbour is that he has the best damn lawn on the block.
Jennifer Hartman, Guest Blogger
At present, there is no single diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, the diagnosis is reached when the medical practitioner (e.g. psychiatrist, general practitioner, geriatrician, or neurologist) has eliminated all other possible causes of the symptoms being experienced; an overview of these symptoms is provided in a previous Hull & Hull LLP blog of February 17, 2009. As a result, the diagnosis is generally coined ‘probable Alzheimer’s disease’ and this thin wedge of uncertainty often leads to an inability to accept the diagnosis as well as resistance to care and treatment. An autopsy is currently the only means of confirming the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Associated Press reported last week, however, that the first commercial version of a test designed to detect Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages could be available in as few as 12 to 18 months. According to Dr. Daniel Alkon, scientific director of the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute (the Institute has teamed with Inverness Medical Innovations Inc. for this endeavour), the test works by detecting abnormal function of a protein that is known to be involved in memory storage.
Early diagnosis will have a multitude of benefits: incorrect diagnosis of the disease based primarily on a patient’s behaviour can be greatly reduced, lifestyle changes can be made which may slow the progression of the disease, the patient and their family may gain valuable time to plan for the future, and those with a family history of Alzheimer’s disease will have tangible information with which to move forward.
Jennifer Hartman, Guest Blogger
It appears that the matter may now be at an end. On Tuesday, a South Carolina judge approved a settlement that gives nearly half of his estate to a charitable trust, a quarter to his wife and young son, and a quarter to his six adult children, according to an Associated Press report on the Macleans.ca website.
James Brown died on December 25, 2006. Numerous issues arose following his death. There were allegations of improper management of his estate; a dispute over where and how to bury his body; and an issue as to the entitlement of his wife and son, both of whom came along after his will was made in 2000.
The exact size of the Godfather of Soul’s estate is unknown. His estate was said to be valued at $80m, but subject to substantial debt.
The settlement was reached in January 2009, but the court refused to approve the settlement, and required further information. That approval was granted on Tuesday.
But wait! There may be an encore. There are pending lawsuits by the prior estate administrators, and a former employee. We may not have heard the last of this matter.
Thank you for reading, and have a great weekend.
Ontario’s new harmonized sales tax is coming into effect on July 1, 2010. One of its effects will be to impose PST on funeral services: services that have previously been exempted from PST.
According to the harmonized sales tax, funeral services will now be taxed at the rate of 13%, up from 5%. The effect on a $5,000 funeral would be to raise the tax payable from $250 to $650.
The new harmonized tax may also have an effect on prepaid funeral services. According to a May 27, 2009 Toronto Star article, there are 224,257 prepaid funeral contracts in Ontario, and about 1 in 4 funerals in Ontario are prepaid.
The Ontario Minister of Finance has indicated that the government hopes to implement some sort of grandfathering clause, so that funeral services prepaid before a certain date remain exempted from the PST. However, nothing has been finalized yet. The cut-off date would likely be some time before July 1, 2010.
Those considering a prepaid funeral would be wise to complete their plans sooner rather than later. The new tax, like death, is approaching.
Thank you for reading.
"I regard large inherited wealth as a misfortune, which merely serves to dull men’s faculties. A man who possesses great wealth should, therefore, allow only a small portion to descend to his relatives. Even if he has children, I consider it a mistake to hand over to them considerable sums of money beyond what is necessary for their education. To do so merely encourages laziness and impedes the healthy development of the individual’s capacity to make an independent position for himself." – excerpt from the last will of Alfred Nobel, 1833-1896
Born in Stockholm on October 21, 1833, Alfred Nobel was the third son of Immanuel Nobel, an engineer and inventor, and Andriette Ahlsell. After being sent abroad for study, Alfred became best known for mixing siliceous earth with nitroglycerine, forming it into a rod, and coining it ‘dynamite’. In addition to his obvious attraction to science, innovation and industrialism, Nobel was also drawn to social issues, as touched upon in a previous Hull and Hull LLP blog .
On November 27, 1895, Nobel signed his third and last will in Paris. It was handwritten on a yellow notepad, with notes scribbled in the margin, and Nobel had discussed it with no one. (Click here for the full text of the will).
After he died of a stroke at his villa in Italy in 1896, shock and controversy ensued when it was discovered that Nobel had bequeathed the bulk of his fortune (the equivalent of $214 million in today’s money) for the establishment of what would come to be known as the Nobel Prizes: coveted and prestigious annual prizes in five categories, awarded without distinction of nationality. Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist, two of Nobel’s young engineers, were named as executors, and one of their first tasks was to collect Nobel’s far-flung assets and move them quickly back to Sweden before French authorities could make claim to the money. Nobel’s shares, bonds and documents were rounded up and hurried to the Swedish consulate in Paris by horse-drawn cab, escorted by Sohlman, who was armed with a revolver ‘at the ready in case of direct attack’.
The will was incredibly controversial, and was indeed flawed, imprecise and legally deficient. Apparently Nobel had had such negative experiences with lawyers (‘niggling parasites’, as he referred to them) when defending his dynamite patents that he had drawn up the will himself. Initially, Nobel’s permanent domicile could not be easily determined since he had lived in so many countries. To complicate matters, the executors were left the task of forming the Foundation, which was done in Sweden where the will was eventually probated. Nobel had not even consulted the various Prize-awarding institutions to seek their consent to participate in the awarding of the Prizes. Most surprisingly for Nobel’s relatives, this third will contradicted an earlier will in that Nobel’s heirs, instead of receiving twenty percent of the estate would now only receive specific legacies. Two bitter nephews quickly challenged the will and tried to have it declared null and void, however, another nephew residing in Russia told Sohlman about the Russian concept that the executor is ‘the spokesman of the soul’ of the testator. King Oscar II of Sweden added fuel to the fire when he dismissed Nobel’s wishes as ‘nonsensical’ and ’not patriotic minded’ because his property would now be dispersed internationally. King Oscar II later recanted his disapproval when he realized that publicity about the prizes might, in fact, benefit Sweden, and in 1902, handed out the first prizes to the laureates on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.
Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger
A recent case from Britain focuses the spotlight on the traditional Hindu cremation practice.
A 70 year old Hindu spiritual leader, Davender Ghai, sought the legal right to an open air funeral pyre. In 2006, Newcastle City Council has refused Mr. Ghai’s request for a permit for an open air cremation site in a remote part of Northumberland. Citing the Cremation Act, 1902, Council noted that the burning of human remains other than a crematorium is a criminal offence. The Ministry of Justice agreed with the Council’s decision.
Mr. Ghai appealed the Council’s decision to the High Court. Mr. Ghai, who immigrated to Britain from Kenya in 1958, stated this he required an open air funeral pyre to release his spirit after death. Invoking Articles 8 and 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights Act, Mr. Ghai argued that his religious freedom and freedom to family life were being infringed. Mr. Ghai requested to be able to follow the 4,000 year old tradition at the time of his death and noted that such permits would have to be regulated and pyres sites held away from urban and residential areas.
Mr. Justice Cranston upheld the Council’s decision. He agreed with the Ministry of Justice that open cremation is prohibited by law and that the prohibition was justified on the grounds of public health and public safety. The issue is not over yet, Justice Cranston did give Mr. Ghai permission to appeal his ruling to the Court of Appeal. Mr. Ghai has stated his intention to do so.
As the population ages in multicultural societies, we can expect to revisit similar issues frequently
Enjoy your day,
Over the weekend, lawyers from Hull & Hull attended a banquet and silent auction in support of Fanconi Canada, an organization committed to raising money for Fanconi Anemia.
For all those who are eco-obsessed, the New York Times reports that a cemetery in Lawrence, Kansas is offering an environmentally-friendly way to be buried (when your time finally comes; and see previous blogs that also touch on this issue using our search bar)).
The Oak Hill Cemetery has been offering “green” burials since January of this year and has recently sold its first plot. It plans to devote approximately 1/3 of an acre to what it refers to as “natural burials”.
The deceased has the opportunity to be buried in a biodegradable casket, without being embalmed and with no concrete grave liner. Polished or metal headstones are not permitted – head stones can only be made from natural rock. In lieu of artificial flowers and other grave decorations, wild flowers will grow, the objective being for the land to eventually revert to its natural habitat.
Unlike a lot of environmentally-friendly initiatives, natural burials will be less expensive than the traditional alternatives – about 25% to 75% less, depending on the options selected.
The natural burial process does have its challenges, though – and they are resolved by relying on some “non-green” solutions. Digging a grave is somewhat difficult without heavy machinery. The solution is to allow the family members help city employees dig 1/3 of the grave with shovels and rely on machinery to do the rest. Family members are also given the option of allowing a lowering advice to be used to place the coffin in the grave (if they decline, city staff will do it using biodegradable materials).
According to Joe Sehee, director of the Green Burial Council, people are beginning to doubt whether preserving a body through artificial means is the decent thing to do. Sehee told the Associated Press, ”I think people are finding solace in the ashes to ashes idea again…It allows people to befriend death on some level, to say ‘Let’s let go and return naturally, not try to impede the process any more.’”
Have a great day!
Megan F. Connolly
In Maryland, legislation was recently enacted that allows pet owners to establish trusts for their pets, making it the 40th state to allow pet trusts. Previously, people could not leave gifts to pets because, at law, pets were chattels and could not inherit property.
There are some limitations to the law. To begin with, people can only leave funds for pets living at death – they are not allowed to provide for “future generations” of animals.
In addition, while the pet owner must name a trustee for a trust, it must also name a caregiver for the pet (the caregiver and trustee can be one and the same). If, after the pet owner’s death, the pet is not properly cared for or the trust funds are not being administered appropriately, the law will provide that an outside party can apply to the court to get the trustee or the caregiver replaced.
The pet owner should also specify to whom the remainder of the trust should go when the pet dies (the article suggests that the caregiver or trustee should not be left the remainder, in case it becomes a disincentive to keep the pet alive).
The law is set up so as to avoid the type of litigation that ensued after Leona Helmlsey’s death (Helmsley, as you might remember, left $12 million in trust to her dog Trouble, while leaving nothing to two of her grandchildren). While it does not specify a maximum that a pet owner can leave in trust, it does provide the funds should be sufficient to care for the pet. It also gives the court the discretion to vary the trust if a beneficiary challenges it as being excessive.
I can’t say the trend towards providing for pets in an estate plan is all that surprising, given how attached people can be to their pets.
Have a great day!
Megan F. Connolly
A trip through the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum, a ride on the Maid of the Mist, catching a flick at the IMAX Theatre, posing for goofy pictures at Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks. Oooh – don’t forget the big breakfast at HoJo’s after the late night at the Casino. Ah, the cultural attractions of Niagara Falls, Canada.
Did I mention Ramses I?
Three thousand years ago, Ramses I was the founder of the Nineteenth Dynasty of Egypt. After ruling for just two years, he died and was buried in the Valley of the Kings in 1290 B.C. (same neighbourhood as King Tutankhamun, for those of you who follow these things). Grave-robbing was rampant in those days, and while the coffin of Ramses I was eventually recovered in 1881, it was found to be empty.
A collective scholarly exercise of connect-the-dots suggests that the mummified remains were ultimately sold for seven pounds (now there’s a bargain in these tough economic times!) to a Canadian physician named James Douglas who had apparently acquired the mummy for a museum owner in Niagara Falls. The remains were placed on exhibit in The Niagara Falls Museum, sharing floor space with a two-headed calf, a five-legged pig, and a collection of barrels showcasing the daredevil history of the Falls.
When the museum shut its doors in 1999, the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Atlanta’s Emory University procured the remains, and the mummy thereafter underwent a barrage of medical investigative techniques including CT scans, X-rays, computer imaging, and of course, radiocarbon dating. The puzzle pieces all fit; the position of the arms high across the chest, carbon dating to 3,000 years old, the quality of the mummification, not to mention the physical resemblance to Ramses the Great.
On October 25, 2003, after negotiations between the Michael C. Carlos Museum and Egyptian authorities, Ramses I finally returned home to Egypt where he is now on display in a special annex to the Luxor Museum. As foretold in the Book of the Dead: "Fleeter than greyhounds, quicker than a shadow, I have traveled the Earth. I come to you without a witness against me."
Jennifer Hartman, Guest Blogger
P.S. Nothing beats breakfast at HoJos the morning after the Casino.