Category: News & Events
In Ontario the courts have been rapidly adapting their practice and procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning on July 6, 2020, the Superior and Ontario Court of Justice will now be further expanding its operations. The date is dependent on approval from the Chief Medical Officer of Ontario.
The Ministry of the Attorney General (“MAG“) has established an incremental plan to prepare courthouses to facilitate the return of full court operations in Ontario. MAG has announced that Phase One will be implemented on July 6, 2020 in a limited number of courthouses and courtrooms. Court operations will continue to expand with a targeted completion date of November 1, 2020.
I will briefly highlight some of the takeaways from MAG’s strategy for re-opening:
- Reopening of 74 courthouses and 149 courtrooms across Ontario;
- Workplace safety considerations are being implemented throughout courthouse and courtrooms including the installation of plexiglass barriers, hand sanitizer stations, and distance markers. There will also be increased screening procedures for those entering any courthouse and caps on the number of occupants in each room;
- Each courthouse will have risk assessment conducted so that the proper preventative measures can be put into place;
- Virtual hearings will continue as we gradually phase back to in-person appearances.
MAG has yet to clarify on the types of in-person court appearances that will be heard during Phase One. Since the declaration of the emergency, the Superior Court of Justice has heard many “urgent” matters, being motions, case conferences, and pre-trials. It is hoped that the types of matters that are to be heard will be expanded as a part of Phase One.
In the meantime, counsel should continue to utilize and embrace the new technologies offered by the Courts to schedule virtual hearings and integrate them into their regular practice. Rather than waiting for a complete re-opening of the Courts, lawyers should be prepared to “attend” virtual hearings in order to best serve clients and provide them with access to justice.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned!
My last blog discussed recent steps taken by the legislature to modernize the administrative side of the practice of law in Ontario. The practical side has also seen a number of developments that have emerged as a direct result of the ongoing pandemic. Some of these efforts have been spearheaded by the courts directly, while others, such as the Estate Arbitration and Litigation Management initiative, have been developed by members of the Bar an in effort to continue moving matters towards a resolution despite limited court access.
A recent decision of the Superior Court of Justice provides some important commentary on the judiciary’s expectations of parties and counsel to adapt to the current reality using these tools and others so that files can continue to progress.
In Arconti v Smith, Justice Myers grappled with the competing views of the parties as to whether an examination for discovery ought to proceed by way of a videoconference. The defendant, who was to submit to examination, proposed that the examination proceed by way of videoconference given the social distancing guidelines in place.
The plaintiff objected on several grounds. Among other objections, the plaintiff argued that the defendant and their counsel ought to be in each other’s presence to ensure the process proceeded smoothly. Alternatively, the plaintiff argued that the fact of conducting an examination remotely would “[deprive] the occasion of solemnity” and would otherwise make it more difficult to assess the defendant’s demeanour as a witness. The plaintiff argued that the examination ought to be deferred until social distancing guidelines were lifted.
Justice Myers’ initial response to the plaintiff’s position was simple, yet persuasive: “It’s 2020.” He held that the parties have technological tools at their disposal to conduct examinations and other litigation steps remotely, and that the use of such tools was especially salient in the context of the social distancing guidelines. Although Justice Myers advised that the concerns raised by the plaintiff might be relevant in different circumstances, they were not at issue there.
Ultimately, Justice Myers held that the use of readily available technology should be part of the skillset required both of litigators and the courts, and that the need to use such tools was merely amplified, not created, by the pandemic. The plaintiff was ordered either to conduct the examination of the defendant by videoconference, or to waive their entitlement to conduct the examination altogether.
This decision provides a glimpse into the court’s expectations of litigants and counsel to move matters forward in spite of the social distancing guidelines and court closures. While the current directives and legislation cannot be used to compel a party to perform a particular litigation step by audiovisual means, one may read Arconti as suggesting that the courts will nonetheless expect the parties to consider the entirety of their skillset to move matters along so that they do not languish in litigation purgatory as a result of social distancing guidelines.
Once social distancing guidelines have been lifted, it will likely be some time before the courts have dealt with the matters that were adjourned between March and June and are in a position to hear new matters. Parties who are willing to use the tools at their disposal to move matters forward and avoid contributing to this delay may find themselves commended by the judiciary. Those who are resistant to adapt, on the other hand, may expose themselves to commentary from a judge, or possibly cost consequences for their client, depending on the circumstances.
If you are interested in learning more about litigation procedure and estate planning best practices in the time of COVID-19, please consult our information guide.
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There’s a really good chance that if you live anywhere in the world that is not completely disconnected from the rest of society, you would have heard about COVID-19, and the fact that it has officially reached every single continent (except for Antarctica). The World Health Organization (WHO) has maintained that the containment of COVID-19 must be the top priority for all countries, given the impact it may have on public health, the economy and social and political issues.
Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.
In a statement released on March 4, 2020, the WHO indicated “although COVID-19 presents an acute threat now, it is absolutely essential that countries do not lose this opportunity to strengthen their preparedness systems.”
The value of preparedness is being played out in a Seattle suburb, where COVID-19 has spread to a local nursing home, resulting in a quarantine of residents and staff. In the US, nursing homes are being criticized for being incubators of epidemics, with relaxed infection-control practices and low staffing rates, among other issues. Friends and family of residents in this Seattle facility are in an unenviable position, worrying about the health and safety of their loved ones and considering the gut-wrenching possibility that their loved ones might die alone. To read more about this issue, click here.
With the number of confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 on the rise in Ontario, I wonder how our long-term facilities are preparing to deal with an outbreak should one occur?
In the spirit of prevention, it is important to consider reducing the frequency of visits with our elderly loved ones, and spreading knowledge and information about hand-washing and other preventative measures.
For more information about COVID-19, click the links below:
Government of Ontario: https://www.ontario.ca/page/2019-novel-coronavirus
World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
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An estate trustee has several responsibilities, including paying tax liabilities arising from the deceased’s death. There are multiple deadlines to remember, including:
- Prior Year’s T1 Return – If the death is between January and April, the return for the prior year must be filed within six months after the date of death.
- Terminal T1 Return – If the death is between January and October, the return for the year of death is due April 30th of the next year. If the death is in November or December, the return must be filed within six months.
- T3 Tax Return – If there is income received by the estate after the date of death, the T3 tax return must be filed within 90 days after the end of the calendar year or the estate year (365 days post-death), whichever period the estate trustee elects.
In addition to the above income tax-related deadlines, should the executor apply for a Certificate of Appointment (probate), Estate Administration Tax (“EAT”) will be owed upon filing the application. EAT is calculated on the value of the assets of an estate:
- $5 per $1,000.00, or part thereof, is owed on the first $50,000.00; and
- $15 per $1,000.00, or part thereof, is owed on the value of the estate over $50,000.00.
Once probate is granted, an Estate Information Return (“EIR”) must be filed with the Ministry of Finance. An EIR requires the executor to provide an inventory and particulars of each type of asset of the estate, including fair market values at the date of death. The deadline to file the initial EIR is within 90 days after probate is granted. If the executor discovers incorrect or incomplete information, an amended EIR must be filed within 30 days of the discovery.
The 2019 Budget of Ford’s Ontario government proposes certain changes that would impact both the EAT and EIR.
EAT – The 2019 Budget proposes to eliminate the payment of EAT on the first $50,000.00 of the estate value. This change would spare modest estates from having to pay EAT, which may be particularly impactful in circumstances with limited available monies. It will also result in a savings of $250.00 for larger estates, as no EAT will be payable on the first $50,000.00.
EIR – The 2019 Budget proposes to extend the EIR initial filing deadline from 90 days to 180 days, and the amended filing deadline from 30 days to 60 days. The change to the initial filing deadline may be especially helpful for executors, as it can be a challenge to obtain particulars and date of death valuations of all estate assets within just three months of death.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
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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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,
It is nearly a new year. It is during this time that we reflect on the past year, make goals for the upcoming year, and come across all sorts of ‘best of’ and ‘most popular’ rankings.
As such, I herewith present the most popular estate and trust cases from 2018, as decided solely by me (and without regard to any actual data):
- Moore v Sweet – the Supreme Court of Canada provided clarification regarding the juristic reason competent of the test for unjust enrichment, as well as confirmed the circumstances in which a constructive trust remedy is appropriate in the context of unjust enrichment.
- Re Milne Estate & Re Panda – In Re Milne (currently under appeal), the Superior Court of Justice found that multiple Wills were invalid where so-called ‘allocation clauses’ (also referred to as basket clauses) in the Wills provided the Estate Trustees with the discretion to determine which estate assets fell under which Will. Conversely, in Re Panda, the Superior Court of Justice declined to follow Re Milne and probated the Will notwithstanding the presence of an allocation clause. The Superior Court of Justice also addressed the roles of the court as either the ‘court of probate’ or ‘court of construction’ and whether a Will is a trust that is subject to the three certainties.
- Wall v Shaw – the Court of Appeal (sitting as the Divisional Court) held that there is no limitation period to objecting to accounts in an Application to Pass Accounts. The Court reasoned that a notice of objection does not commence a ‘proceeding’ for the purposes of section 4 of the Limitations Act.
- Seguin v Pearson – the Ontario Court of Appeal reiterated the different tests for undue influence that apply in the inter vivos and the testamentary context.
- Valard Construction Ltd. v. Bird Construction Co. – the Supreme Court of Canada found that a trustee had a fiduciary duty to disclose the terms of a trust (here, it was a bond) to the beneficiary, notwithstanding the fact that the express terms of the trust did not stipulate this requirement.
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Earlier this year, we argued the appeal in Moore v Sweet before the Supreme Court of Canada. On Friday, the Court released its decision, which has provided what, in our view, was necessary clarification of the juristic reason component of the test for unjust enrichment. The Supreme Court has also confirmed the circumstances in which a constructive trust remedy is appropriate within the context of unjust enrichment. Our firm was pleased to argue the appeal at the Supreme Court in February 2018 and to learn on Friday of our client’s success in the reversal of the split decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal.
The facts of the case were relatively straightforward: The appellant had previously been married to the deceased. Around the time of their separation, the appellant and the deceased entered into an oral agreement whereby the appellant would remain the designated beneficiary for the life insurance policy on the deceased’s life on the basis that she would continue to pay the related premiums. The appellant paid the premiums on the life insurance policy until the deceased’s death approximately 13 years later, while, unbeknownst to the appellant, the deceased named his new common law spouse (the respondent), as irrevocable beneficiary of the policy soon after the oral agreement was made. At the time of his death, the deceased’s estate was insolvent.
At the application hearing, Justice Wilton-Siegel awarded the appellant the proceeds of the life insurance policy on the basis of unjust enrichment. The respondent was successful in arguing before the Ontario Court of Appeal that the designation of an irrevocable beneficiary under the Insurance Act was a “juristic reason” that permitted what was otherwise considered the unjust enrichment of the respondent at the appellant’s expense. The appellant was subsequently granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Justice Coté, writing for the Majority, agreed that the test for unjust enrichment was flexible and permits courts to use it in the promotion of justice and fairness where required by good conscience. The Court clarified that the juristic reason permitting an unjust enrichment needs to justify not only the enrichment of one party but also the corresponding deprivation of the other party. While the irrevocable beneficiary designation may have required the payment of proceeds for the policy to the respondent, it could not be considered as also requiring the appellant’s deprivation of the proceeds to which she was entitled under the oral agreement. The Court found that a designation of an irrevocable beneficiary under the Insurance Act precludes claims by creditors of an estate, but it does not state “with irresistible clearness” that it also precludes a claim in unjust enrichment by a party who has a contractual or equitable interest in the proceeds.
While reaching the opposite result, the dissent acknowledged that this was a difficult appeal, in which both parties were innocent and had strong moral claims to the proceeds of the life insurance policy.
We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to argue this case before the Supreme Court of Canada earlier this year and look forward to following the role of this decision in further developments in the Canadian law of unjust enrichment.
Thank you for reading.
On November 19 and 20, 2018, the Family Dispute Resolution Institute of Ontario (“FDRIO”) will be holding its 2018 Family Dispute Resolution conference. As you can guess from its name, the conference will be addressing topical issues in family law and family dispute resolution. From workshops on financial topics common in family law, effective arbitration, and the use of interdisciplinary teams to resolve issues with high conflict clients, the conference offers a variety of practical seminars.
The FDR conference brings together a wide variety of professionals engaged in family dispute resolution from lawyers, therapists, family coaches and parenting coordinators, and business valuators. As described on their website, FDRIO serves as an organization to bring together multidisciplinary professionals who facilitate family dispute resolution.
Of course, why discuss such a conference in a blog relating to estate and trusts law? Unfortunately, family drama, difficulties, and legal issues don’t end upon the incapacity or death of a loved one (indeed, they can often get worse). We regularly see claims brought regarding or against Estates that bring up a myriad of family law issues. From preparing financial statements as part of dependant support claims and handling claims for equalization of Net Family Property to engaging with high conflict clients who are mired in the turmoil of family difficulties, it’s important to understand the family law issues that may affect claims relating to estates. Even better, however, is learning the tools and tips of family dispute resolution professionals who have accumulated a wealth of knowledge as to how to navigate the difficult family relationships that affect their clients. While we may be focused on the legal issues involved in any particular matter, we often see clients who are instead focused on the issues that we can’t assist with such as siblings rivalries and tension resulting from the breakdown of a marriage. It’s always helpful to learn from those in the trenches of family law how to better handle such situations and best assist our clients.
Hull & Hull LLP is proud to be a silver sponsor of the 2018 conference and is looking forward to learning all the latest on Family Dispute Resolution on November 19 and 20, 2018.
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When someone composes an obituary for a loved one who has passed away, carefully selecting the photograph to go along with it, one would suppose that the last thing on their mind is the copyright they may hold in that obituary and photograph. Of course, few people expect that an obituary could be the subject of republication or possible copyright infringement.
However, one website has been reproducing obituaries in their “database of deceased people”, leading to questions about ownership of the obituaries themselves, as well as the photographs accompanying them. The website reproduces obituaries and photographs, apparently without permission from the individuals who originally created and posted the obituaries. As reported in this Global News article, one family even states that an obituary for their loved one, which had not been written by their family and contained a number of errors, was posted on the website less than a day after their loved one passed away. The family did not know who wrote the obituary, although the website released a statement that all of the obituaries they re-post are already on the internet.
A recent article in The Lawyer’s Daily discusses an application for certification of a class action copyright claim against this obituary database website. The application claims that the website is infringing copyright and moral rights in respect of the obituaries and photographs. The moral rights claim relates to the website’s monetization of the obituaries by offering options to purchase flowers, gifts, or virtual candles, through affiliate retailers. Some funeral homes offer a similar service, but the article notes that the unsavoury nature of the website’s business model, which consists of “scraping” obituaries from elsewhere on the internet, without permission or notice, and making money by doing so through advertisements or the selling of flowers or virtual candles, could provide some support for the moral rights claim.
In relation to the copyright infringement claims, there may be some obstacles to overcome, particularly in relation to ownership of the copyright. According to The Lawyer’s Daily article, under the Copyright Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42, the person claiming a copyright infringement must be the owner, assignee or exclusive licensee of the work in question. An assignment of copyright must be in writing. As mentioned in the article, this could create an issue if the photograph used in the obituary was taken, for instance, by a stranger.
Damages in the event of liability are also uncertain. In a recent case with similar facts, where the defendants were found to have infringed on the plaintiff’s copyright, the court awarded statutory damages of only $2.00 per image because the cost of capturing the images in that case was low. However, given the emotional aspect of obituaries, it is possible that the facts in this case could lead to a larger damages award.
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