Category: News & Events
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion on CBC’s show “On the Money” last night. The panel discussion was prompted by an article posted by CBC news entitled “Care of aging parents costs Canadians an estimated $33B annually.”
The essence of the article was that Canada’s aging population is causing adult children to incur a significant burden, not only in terms of the outlay of money for caregiving costs but, perhaps more significantly, arising from time away from work required to care for their parents.
The Ontario Legislature has recognized the need to address this issue.
Section 49.1(2) of the Employment Standards Act, contains a section on Family Caregiver Leave, which permits employees to take an unpaid leave of absence of up to eight weeks in order to provide care or support to a sick family member.
Pursuant to the statute, an employee would be entitled to an unpaid leave of absence to provide “care or support” to the following family members/individuals who have a “serious medical condition”, including:
- The employee’s spouse.
- A parent, step-parent or foster parent of the employee.
- A child, step-child or foster child of the employee or the employee’s spouse.
- Any individual prescribed as a family member for the purpose of this section.
Although it would appear that there is some relief afforded by the Legislature when an aging parent needs assistance, the fact of the matter is that long-term needs cannot be met except by careful estate planning and consideration of financial resources. It might be worth adding that the family caregiver leave provisions appear to be more directed to short-term illnesses rather than the progressive decline associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
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The Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority was established in 2010 by the Ontario government under the Retirement Homes Act, 2010, S.O. 2010 Chapter 11 (the “Act”), and acts as a licensing body for retirement homes in Ontario.
The fundamental principle of the Act is to ensure that a retirement home is “operated so that it is a place where residents live with dignity, respect, privacy and autonomy, in security, safety and comfort and can make informed choices about their care options.”
Section 67 of the Act states:
- (1) Every licensee of a retirement home shall protect residents of the home from abuse by anyone.
(2) Every licensee of a retirement home shall ensure that the licensee and the staff of the home do not neglect the residents
Section 67 encompasses financial abuse as well. According to Regulation 166/11 of the Act, financial abuse is defined as “any misappropriation or misuse of a resident’s money or property.” Pursuant to the Act, a licensee must establish a trust fund if they are in charge of money from a resident; however, the Act is silent with respect to loans between a resident and the licensee.
Due to the normal process of aging, financial decision-making ability naturally declines and, as such, it is important that places of trust, such as retirement homes, avoid situations that may lead to financial abuse. Residents of a retirement home are dependent on the operator of the home for housing, safety and care. This dependency creates an expectation of trust between the staff and the residents. Moreover, many elderly individuals may lack mobility, suffer from visual impairment, or may not have family that comes and visits them, resulting in more of an increased attachment or trusting relationship with individuals at the residence.
Where a retirement home resident is competent, the issue of whether financial abuse exists will depend on the circumstances surrounding the home. For example, it is a possibility that a perfectly competent retirement home resident may have a friendship with a staff member of the residence, and desire to give them a monetary loan or gift as a sign of friendship.
It is important not to assume that every case of an elderly person in a residence providing a loan to staff is financial abuse, as assuming vulnerability in adults may lead to paternalism. Furthermore, pursuant to the Quebec case of Quebec (Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse) v. N. (R.), 2016 CarswellQue 13351, there is a “need to balance the protection of aged persons against exploitation, on the one hand, and the scrupulous need to respect their autonomy in exercising their legal rights on the other hand.”
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Our firm attended the OBA Professional Development Dinner With Your Honourable Estates List Judges on April 5, 2017. The topic of the new practice advisory on video conferencing, and its intended use, was one of the topics that were discussed that evening.
This particular practice advisory is applicable only to 9:30 scheduling appointments on the Toronto Estates List and it was made in accordance with Rule 1.08 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. The new practice advisory is clear that, unless otherwise directed by the court, video conferencing is available in consent matters, unopposed matters, and scheduling matters. Parties or counsel who chose to appear by video conference must make their own arrangements and they may use CourtCall without prior Court approval. An appearance by CourtCall should be communicated to the Court in either the request or confirmation form filed for the appearance. As a matter of convenience, the Order, once issue and entered, will be sent to you by CourtCall.
For those who are interested, further details with respect to what CourtCall is and how it works are available on their website, https://courtcall.com.
Any other arrangements with alternative technologies for this purpose will require prior Court approval.
According to the Honourable Estates List Judges who were present during the Dinner, regardless of whether a matter is on consent or unopposed, video conference may still be less than ideal in situations where substantive relief is sought, such as an unopposed guardianship application.
For future OBA Trusts and Estates Law events like the Dinner, please check out the section group here.
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If an estate trustee is not fulfilling their duties and is not acting in the best interests of the estate, it is possible to commence an application for removal.
When seeking to remove an estate trustee in Ontario, anyone with a financial interest in an estate can apply to have an executor passed over or removed, pursuant to s. 37(3) of the Trustee Act. Rule 14.05(3)(c) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, allow an application to be commenced for the purpose of “the removal or replacement of one or more executors, administrators or trustees, or the fixing of their compensation.” The applicable principles for the removal of an executor have been established in Letterstedt v Boers (1884), 9 App Cas 271 (South Africa PC) and have been summarized in Johnston v Lanka Estate, 2010 ONSC 4124:
- The court will not lightly interfere with the testator’s choice of estate trustee;
- Clear evidence of necessity for removal is required;
- The court’s main consideration is the welfare of the beneficiaries; and
- The estate trustee’s acts or omissions must be of such a nature as to endanger the administration of the estate/trust.
A recent British Columbia Court of Appeal decision, Al-Sabah v Al-Sabah, 2016 BCCA 365, upheld the removal of an estate trustee of an estate on the basis that she did not comply with the notice provisions of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, and was not acting in the best interests of the estate.
In this case, the deceased died in 2003, intestate, and left 15 beneficiaries, including his two sons, two wives, and seven daughters. One of his daughters was the appellant and the estate trustee of the estate. The respondents on the appeal comprised 79% of the beneficiaries to the estate.
Upon the death of Mr. Al-Sabah, estate litigation was commenced across several countries, as he had held property in many different locations. The appointment of the estate trustee by British Columbia was successful, however, the appellant had also applied to be the estate trustee of the estate in London, and had her position revoked, and she commenced at least 4 actions in Kuwait against other beneficiaries, all of which were unsuccessful.
In chambers, the estate trustee was removed, and appealed that ruling. On appeal, it was upheld that the estate trustee did not exercise reasonable diligence in providing notice to the other beneficiaries of her intention to apply for the position, and that she failed to disclose relevant information to the beneficiaries.
The British Columbia Wills, Estates and Succession Act section 121, and the British Columbia Supreme Court Rules establish the requirements for notice of the beneficiaries. It was established that the estate trustee did not provide notice to the proper addresses required by the rules, as the addresses to which she forwarded notices were almost all incorrect. The judge also noted that the application was made amidst “hotly contested” and “acrimonious” estate litigation, and that when she applied for her grant of administration, she did not disclose that there was significant litigation surrounding the estate in other countries.
If this case were to have taken place in Ontario, it is likely that the Ontario courts may have come to the same decision as the British Columbia court, in applying the principles as established in Letterstedt v Boers. The court would not have been interfering with the testator’s choice of estate trustee as he died intestate, and it is clear that the removal was required due to her dishonesty and her lack of consideration of the welfare of the beneficiaries, thereby endangering the administration of the estate.
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Earlier this week, I blogged about the astonishing case of Anna and Kym Hakze, two Alberta sisters whose whereabouts were discovered more than thirty years after they had been missing. I also discussed the Absentees Act, which creates a legal mechanism in Ontario for a missing person’s affairs to be put under the management of a committee.
In today’s blog, I will be discussing the Declarations of Death Act, 2002, which provides the Court with the authority to declare a missing person as dead.
Declarations of Death Act, 2002: an overview
Pursuant to section 2 of the Declarations of Death Act, 2002, an “interested person” can apply to the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario, on notice to any other interested persons of whom the applicant is aware, for an Order declaring that an individual is dead.
The Court will grant such relief if it is satisfied that the missing person has disappeared in circumstances of peril (pursuant to subsection 2(4) of the Act) or if they have been absent for at least seven years (pursuant to subsection 2(5) of the Act).
Who is an “interested person”?
An application for a declaration of death can be commenced by an “interested person,” a term that is defined at section 1 of the Act.
In addition to next of kin and married and common-law spouses, the Act defines “interested person” to include:
- a person named as an executor of the individual’s Estate under a Will or a person who may be entitled to be appointed as an administrator of the Estate on an intestacy;
- a guardian or attorney for personal care or property under the Substitute Decisions Act;
- a person who is in possession of property owned by the missing individual;
- if there is a contract of life insurance or group insurance insuring the missing individual’s life, the insurer and any potential claimant under the contract; and
- if the missing individual has been declared an absentee under the Absentees Act, the absentee’s committee.
The test for a declaration of death
An applicant must satisfy the Court, on a balance of probabilities, that:
- the individual has disappeared in circumstances of peril or been absent for at least seven years;
- the applicant has not heard of or from the individual since the disappearance or during the seven-year period;
- to the applicant’s knowledge (after making reasonable inquiries), no other person has heard of or from the individual during the seven-year period;
- the applicant has no reason to believe that the individual is alive; and
- there is sufficient evidence to find that the individual is dead.
In the event that the Court is not satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to declare the person dead, section 3 of the Act provides the Court with the ability to provide the alternative relief of making an Order under the Absentees Act.
What are “circumstances of peril”?
In considering whether to bring an application under subsection 2(4) of the Act, an applicant must consider if the circumstances in which the individual disappeared would constitute “circumstances of peril.”
Although such circumstances are not defined under the Act, the Court has held that “peril” means a “situation of serious and immediate danger.” The Court will undertake a fact-specific inquiry, and the applicant should ensure that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that the missing individual was in serious and immediate danger prior to their disappearance.
Thank you for reading,
Umair Abdul Qadir
Other Articles You May Be Interested In:
- The Absentees Act: Administering the Assets of Missing Persons
- Declarations of Death in Ontario
- Disappearances, Disasters and Declarations of Death
Last week, the news of the location of two Alberta sisters who had been missing for more than thirty years made headlines across the country.
Anna and Kym Hakze, originally from Lethbridge, Alberta, were last seen in the mid-1980s and last heard from in 1993. The sisters were formally reported as missing in 2003.
The case for the search for the sisters went cold, and local police went as far as submitting the family’s DNA to detectives during the investigation of convicted serial killer Robert Pickton in British Columbia. As reported on CBC News, a 1984 newspaper clipping and a tip from the public ultimately provided a breakthrough and helped police locate the sisters’ whereabouts.
Who administers a missing person’s property?
The story of the Hakze sisters is particularly newsworthy because of how uncommon it is for a missing person to be found after such a significant length of time. In a press release issued by the Lethbridge Police Service, Staff Sergeant Scott Woods noted, “After so many years it’s very unusual for a case like this to end with good news.”
Unfortunately, many families of missing persons are only left with unanswered questions. In addition, the missing person’s assets may be left unmanaged and unadministered, which can be particularly problematic if the person has creditors or dependants who require immediate access to these funds.
In Ontario, the Absentees Act creates a legal mechanism for a missing person’s affairs to be put under the management of a committee.
The “due and satisfactory inquiry” requirement
The Act provides the Superior Court of Justice to declare a person to be an absentee, if it is shown that “due and satisfactory inquiry” has been made regarding their whereabouts. The Court also has the power to direct such further inquiries to be made and proceedings to be taken as the Court considers expedient before an order is made.
It should be noted that a simple missing person report prepared by the police may be insufficient to justify a declaration under the Absentees Act. Applicants must be prepared to demonstrate that they have conducted reasonable, independent inquiries into the missing person’s whereabouts.
An application under the Absentees Act can be made by the Attorney General; any one or more of the missing person’s next of kin; the missing person’s married or common law spouse; a creditor; or any other person.
Appointment of a committee
If the Court is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to declare the missing person to be an absentee, section 4 of the Act also empowers the Court to appoint a committee for the custody, due care and management of the absentee’s property. A trust corporation may be appointed as such a committee, with or without other persons.
Where such a committee is appointed, section 6 of the Act states that the powers and duties of the Court and the committee are the same as the powers and duties of the Court and of a guardian of property under the Substitute Decisions Act, with necessary modifications. Thus, the Absentees Act imports the requirements that apply to the management of the property of incapable persons in Ontario.
The Absentees Act provides a useful remedy for families of missing persons and other interested parties. Later this week, I will be blogging about the Declarations of Death Act, 2002, and the circumstances in which a Court will declare a person to be dead.
Thank you for reading,
Umair Abdul Qadir
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As societal norms are continuously changing and evolving, there has been a change in attitudes toward the relationship between adopted children and their biological parents. Today, society encourages adopted children and their birth parents to re-establish a relationship. For example, we have previously blogged on a change of the law in Saskatchewan, which provides for an adult adopted child to reconnect with their birth parents.
In Ontario, the legal status of adopted children is governed by the Child and Family Services Act (the “CFSA”). Section 158(2) of the CFSA provides that, upon an adoption order being granted, the adopted child becomes the (legal) child of the adoptive parent and ceases to be the child of the person who was his or her parent before the adoption order was granted. Pursuant to this statute, once a child is adopted, they are not entitled to their birth parent’s estate unless specifically provided for in the birth parent’s will.
Furthermore, in Ontario, there are no direct provisions governing a testator’s wishes in distributing their property. There is no requirement that all children must be treated equally, or that an individual must leave a part of their estate to their children through a testamentary document. Statutory protection does exist, for dependants, however, under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act.
In contrast, the law in British Columbia provides that the Court has discretion to vary a will to remedy disinheritance of a child. Pursuant to s. 60 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (“WESA”), a parent must make adequate provision for their children, and if the court does not find a testamentary division among the children to be equitable, the court can intervene.
A recent case out of British Columbia considered a novel argument: does the receipt of a benefit under a birth parent’s will entitle an adopted child to argue for a greater share of the estate under section 60 of the WESA?
In the Boer v Mikaloff, 2017 BCSC 21, Mr. Boer was legally adopted as a baby to an adoptive family. He became reunited with his birth mother around the age of thirty, and in his birth mother’s last will and testament, he received a portion of her estate. Mr. Boer challenged his birth mother’s last will and testament in court, arguing that pursuant to s. 60 of the WESA, he was not given an equitable share of his mother’s estate compared to his mother’s other children.
The court held that Mr. Boer was not entitled to an equitable share, as he was not legally considered to be his birth mother’s child. The court held that section 3(2)(a) of the WESA does not allow an adopted child to manipulate a bequest by the child’s pre-adopted parent into a s. 60 claim and applied the case of Canada Trustco Mortgage Co. v Canada, 2005 SCC 54, to uphold that the text, context and purpose of the statute in this regard was clear.
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The common law slayer rule makes the law in Canada clear that committing murder will prevent a person from inheriting the estate of the victim. For clarity, the accused must be found guilty and exhaust all of their rights to appeal before the courts will void a testamentary gift or beneficiary designation.
In the cases of Helmuth Buxbaum and Peter Demeter, who were found guilty of murdering their wives, the court refused to allow the men to benefit from their crimes by collecting the proceeds of their wives’ insurance policies. Pursuant to the case of Demeter v British Pacific Life Insurance Co.,  OJ No 3363, a criminal conviction will be accepted as proof of criminal activity in civil cases. Therefore, a person who has been convicted of murder cannot argue in civil court proceedings that he or she is innocent and capable of accepting a testamentary gift.
Recently, in Minneapolis, an individual named Michael Gallagher killed his mother, and around a year later, is attempting to obtain her life insurance proceeds. According to an article in the Toronto Star, bedbugs were infesting the apartment of Mr. Gallagher’s mother, and he believed that she would be evicted from her home, and decided to “send her to heaven.” The law in Minnesota is similar to the law in Canada, and their legislation states that an individual who “feloniously and intentionally kills the decedent is not entitled to any benefits under the will.”
This case turns, however, on the fact that Mr. Gallagher was not convicted for murdering his mother. In July, a Judge found that he was not guilty due to reasons of mental illness, stating that he “was unable to understand that his actions were wrong.” This finding allows Mr. Gallagher to potentially have a claim to his mother’s life insurance policy.
In Canada, a similar finding is known as NCRMD (Not Criminally Responsible on Account of Mental Disorder). If this case took place in Canada, it is likely that Mr. Gallagher would have been found NCRMD. This raises the important question of whether an individual, who is not convicted of murder, but has killed somebody, is still able to claim the proceeds as a beneficiary a testator’s estate or life insurance.
In the case of Nordstrom v. Baumann,  SCR 147, Justice Ritchie stated, “The real issue before the trial judge was whether or not … the appellant was insane to such an extent as to relieve her of the taint of criminality which both counsel agreed would otherwise have precluded her from sharing in her husband’s estate under the rule of public policy.“ The court held that the public policy slayer rule does not apply if the individual was found NCRMD at the time of the killing. Furthermore, in the case of Dreger (Re),  O.J. No. 2125 (H.C.J.), the court held that “[the] rule of public policy [that a person found not guilty for murder] cannot receive property under the will…the only exception to this rule is that a person of unsound mind is not so disqualified from receiving a benefit under the will of a person he has killed while in law insane.“ Lastly, the recent case of Dhingra v. Dhingra Estate, 2012 ONCA 261, upheld a similar finding and allowed the NCRMD individual to apply for the deceased`s life insurance policy.
The law in Ontario seems to uphold the principle that a mentally ill individual who was unable to understand the consequences of their actions should not be automatically disentitled to life insurance proceeds.
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On January 1, 2017, the Government of Saskatchewan implemented changes governing the release of adult adoptees birth registration, and access to birth registration information.
In Saskatchewan, prior to the adoption of the new regulations, adult adoptees required the consent of a birth parent in order to find out their birth name, the name and location of the hospital where they were born, and the name of their biological parents. The requirement of consent was very burdensome on adult adoptees who had to go through the Saskatchewan Government, specifically the Post-Adoption Services branch, in order to track down their biological parents. Locating biological parents and obtaining consent would result in average wait times of approximately three years.
Those eligible to apply for the newly implemented Post-Adoption Services regulations, if the adoption was finalized in Saskatchewan, are:
- an adult adoptee (18+ years of age);
- an adoptive parent of an adoptee who is under 18;
- a birth parent of an adoptee;
- the adult child of a deceased adult adoptee;
- the adult child of a deceased birth parent whose child was placed for adoption; or
- an extended family member of an adult adoptee or birth parent.
With the new regulation, adult adoptees no longer require consent from both parties to access birth registration information. The information is readily available to individuals who file a request. With the current regulation, the wait time for information is expected to be a few weeks.
From January 1, 2016 to January 1, 2017, both adoptees and birth parents had the option to veto the release of their birth registration information, specifically the biological names. There was no option to veto the name of the birth hospital or location. According to an article by CBC News, some 84 vetoes have so far been registered by birth parents, and “significantly fewer” by adult adoptees. Vetoes can only be placed on adoptions that occurred prior to January 1, 2017. Therefore, adoptions after January 1, 2017 must be subject to the new regulations.
The Government of Saskatchewan Post-Adoption Services website offers online forms requiring documentation such as a birth certificate, drivers licence and Order of Adoption. Further documentation will be required if the individual is an adult child of a deceased adult adoptee, or the adult child of a deceased birth parent whose child was placed for adoption. Furthermore, the application allows the searching party to specify their preferred method of contact.
From an estate planning perspective, it is interesting to consider that these revisions will, in certain circumstances, cause adoptees to be named as beneficiaries in the will of their biological parents.
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This week, in the 500th episode of Hull on Estates, Paul Trudelle and Nick Esterbauer discuss the recent Court of Appeal decision of Granger v Granger and the law of unjust enrichment.
Should you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on our blog.