Category: Passing of Accounts
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently set aside an order committing an estate trustee to 15 days in jail, to be served on weekends, for contempt of an order requiring the estate trustee to pass his accounts.
In Ross v. Ross, 2019 ONCA 724 (CanLII), the estate trustee was a lawyer, 73 years of age, with no prior convictions or findings of contempt. At the time of the appeal, the estate trustee had purged his contempt.
At the hearing below, the judge found that the contempt arose from “a failure to understand and appreciate or to ignore the need for, and importance of, complying with the order within the specified time or within a reasonable time.” The Court of Appeal held that this finding meant that the estate trustee’s actions did not amount to a callous disregard for the court’s authority. Accordingly, a jail sentence was not appropriate.
For other cases on contempt and sentencing, see our blog, here and here. In the first blog, reference is made to a case where an 88 year old litigant with health issues was sentenced to 30 days in jail for contempt. In the second blog, we discuss a case where an attorney for property failed to pass accounts as required by court order. He was fined $7,000.
Finally, consider the case of Canavan v. Feldman, 2004 CanLII 4787 (ON SC). This was a claim by an estate trustee against his former lawyer. There, the estate trustee, 67 years old, spent 35 days in jail for contempt of court orders relating to a passing of accounts, and was only released when new counsel put further evidence before the court. The estate trustee’s prior lawyer had consented to an order of contempt without the estate trustee’s knowledge. The lawyer told the estate trustee that he had “nothing to worry about”. At a sentencing hearing, the lawyer did not attend. The estate trustee was sentenced to 6 months in jail. The estate trustee was awarded general damages of $200,000 and punitive damages of $100,000 against his prior lawyer.
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No, we are not referring to the 1979 film featuring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, but a far more recent (but nonetheless interesting) legal dispute involving an application to pass accounts, suspicious activity on behalf of an Attorney for Property, and the resurgence of the equitable defences of laches and acquiescence.
A complex series of facts is present in the Estate of Ronald Alfred Craymer v. Hayward et al, 2019 ONSC 4600: two Attorneys for Property, six marriages, seven children, thirty years of estrangement between Ronald and his four children, and virtually no financial records for the period during which the first Attorney for Property oversaw the affairs of her incapable husband’s estate.
The cruxes of the dispute are that the first Attorney for Property (Joan, Ronald’s wife) transferred the title of the matrimonial home to herself, she kept scanty financial records, and the value of her assets (over $1 million) dwarfed that of her late husband’s (around $35,000). When Joan died suddenly, John Craymer (Ronald’s son, the plaintiff) applied for a passing of accounts and the second Attorney for Property (Linda, Joan’s daughter) was left in the unenviable position of potentially having to answer for the conduct of her late mother in relation to accounts of which she, Linda, had no knowledge.
Under section 42 of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 30, the Court may order a passing of accounts. In considering whether to do so, it should examine “the extent of the attorney’s involvement in the grantor’s financial affairs and second whether the applicant has raised a significant concern in respect of the management of the grantor’s affairs” (McAllister Estate v. Hudgin, 42 E.T.R. (3d) 313 (ONSC), at para 13). Since section 42 carries a high threshold, and Linda was not responsible for her mother’s conduct, the Court did not grant the application. In its reasons, moreover, the Court found fault with the transfer of the home, but given the marital relationship between grantor and attorney, it did not attach much weight to the scantiness of detailed accounts.
Noteworthy in this case is the Court’s consideration of the equitable doctrines of laches and acquiescence in the context of a motion for a passing of accounts (in which, in Ontario, there is no limitation period). In determining whether these defences apply, the Court looks at the length of the delay and the resulting prejudice. Neither of these components were applicable here, for when John learned of the value of his father’s estate as well as the transfer of the home into Joan’s name, he acted promptly. Instead, his application was dismissed on the Court’s discretion.
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Ian Hull & Devin McMurtry
We often encounter situations where the administration of an estate is complicated by the fact that the deceased was married multiple times, and there is a clash between children from a prior relationship and a subsequent spouse (and/or his or her children). Sometimes, a couple will be closer with one set of children, which may lead to disputes following both of their deaths. Estate of Ronald Alfred Craymer v Hayward et al, 2019 ONSC 4600, was one such case, in which Joan and Ronald had been closer for much of their 32-year marriage with Joan’s children from a prior marriage. After Joan and Ronald died in 2016 and 2017, respectively, a dispute arose between their adult children.
While Ronald’s will named his own children as beneficiaries of his estate, his Continuing Power of Attorney or Property (like Joan’s), named Joan’s daughter as alternate attorney for property, should his spouse be unable to act. Joan had acted as Ronald’s attorney for property from 2006, during which he had suffered a stroke, until her death. In 2011, Joan had transferred the couple’s matrimonial home, previously held jointly, to herself alone. During this period, however, there had been no request by Ronald’s children for an accounting. Joan’s daughter had subsequently acted as Ronald’s attorney for property and as estate trustee for Joan’s estate over the period of approximately eight months between the deaths of Joan and Ronald.
Ronald’s children sought a passing of accounts with respect to the management of their father’s property by Jane and her daughter and, specifically, challenged the change in title to the matrimonial home. The Court referred to Wall v Shaw, 2018 ONCA 929, in stating that there is no limitation period to compel an accounting. Accordingly, it considered the only bar to this relief to be laches and acquiescence. Justice C.F. de Sa commented that the there was nothing improper in the manner in which the plaintiff had sought the accounting and, furthermore, that the delay was not unreasonable in the circumstances. The Court permitted the claim regarding the matrimonial home to continue, but nevertheless declined to order a passing of accounts:
…[O]rdering the passing of accounts is discretionary. And in my view, to require an accounting at this point would result in a clear injustice as between the parties.
[Joan’s daughter,] Linda, as Estate Trustee, is hardly in a position to account for Joan’s spending while she was alive. Yet, to require a passing of accounts at this point would subject every line of Joan’s spending (as Attorney for Property) to the court’s scrutiny. Moreover, as the Estate Trustee, the Defendant would be liable to account for any unexplained expenditures.
Indeed, it is unclear that the spending was spurious given the nature of the relationship between Joan and Ronald. Joan would have been spending the money as his wife as much as his Attorney for Property. The failure to keep detailed accounts is hardly suspicious given the circumstances here.
…In the circumstances, I will not order a passing of accounts.
This decision is interesting in that it clearly considers the practicality of a passing of accounts and the inability of the deceased attorney’s estate trustee to properly account in the absence of relevant records in determining that it would be unjust to order a passing of accounts, despite there being no other apparent legal reason not to do so.
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In Baca v. Tiberi, the court awarded substantial costs as against an attorney for property/estate trustee for maladministration of her mother’s property while she was alive, and of her estate following her death.
The litigation was settled prior to a court determination. However, under the settlement, the parties submitted the question of costs to the court.
In Baca, the court found that there was serious misappropriation by the attorney and estate trustee. The attorney added her name to her mother’s bank accounts and took out money for her own expenses. She caused her mother to incur tens of thousands of dollars of debt for the benefit of the attorney, her husband and sister. She moved into her mother’s home with her family and did not pay rent. She transferred title to the home to herself and her mother jointly. After the mother’s death, she transferred the home to herself and her husband. She mortgaged the home to pay her own debts.
At the costs hearing, the court asked the parties whether the attorney’s lawyer might have personal liability for costs. The attorney waived solicitor-client privilege and the lawyer was subjected to examination and made submissions.
The court awarded costs against the attorney and the lawyer on a “full indemnity” basis, after a reduction of $50,000 for excessive time spent, in the amount of $301,941.41, plus HST and disbursements. (The estate had a total value of approximately $1m.) The attorney and the lawyer were jointly and severally liable for costs. As between themselves, the attorney was to be liable for 75% of the costs, and the lawyer was liable for 25%.
In its ruling, the court was critical of the lawyer’s conduct. The court found that the lawyer pursued a goal that was unattainable. Further, the lawyer misrepresented facts to the court. In pleadings, the lawyer (not the client, per the court) denied assertions that were, to her knowledge, true. Further, the pleadings contained assertions that were known to be false. The lawyer allowed a misleading affidavit to be sworn by her client. The lawyer also failed to ensure that certain funds were held in trust in accordance with a court order. At a later hearing, the lawyer advised the court that the funds were held in trust when they were not.
The court found the lawyer liable, partially, on the basis that she knew of her client’s misconduct yet advised or acted on instructions to take untenable legal positions. She also took legal steps that costed her client and the other side hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet the steps did nothing to avoid “the only inevitable conclusion possible”: that her client would have to make the estate whole. There was no evidence that the client was ever advised of the situation.
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Building on this idea of judicial discretion is the recent case of Dobis v Dobis recently heard and decided by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, whereby the court ordered a passing of accounts by a party who was deemed to have misappropriated funds from an estate asset.
Elizabeth commenced an application in her role as the estate trustee of her late husband’s estate. She sought, among other things, certain orders that would allow her to gain and maintain possession and control over one of the estate assets, a four unit rental property. She also sought an order requiring her son, Mark, to pass his accounts in respect of funds she alleged were misappropriated from the rental property.
Mark resided in one of the units of the rental property with his spouse, and alleged that it was his father’s intention that he maintain a life interest in the property. During the lifetime of the deceased, Mark acted as a manager/superintendent of the rental property in exchange for reduced rent. He also collected rent from one of the tenants and deposited the funds into a bank account owned jointly by his parents. Following his father’s death, Mark began diverting rent from the rental property to himself rather than depositing it in the joint account.
Despite requests from Elizabeth, Mark failed to properly account for the rental income. The accounting that was provided to Elizabeth was not supported by vouchers, and contained no detail of the expenses incurred. Elizabeth submitted that Mark had no legal or beneficial interest in the property, that he was holding the property hostage while unlawfully benefiting personally from the funds generated by the property, and that he failed to account for those funds.
In arriving at its decision, the court relied on the 2016 Ontario Superior Court decision in Net Connect Installations Inc. v. Mobile Zone Inc., which held that a court has jurisdiction to order an accounting where a party is deemed to have misappropriated funds.
Ultimately, Mark was compelled to pass his accounts for all monies received by him in connection with his management of the property. All this to say, watch what you do, because you may be held accountable.
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The recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Dzelme v Dzelme acts as a helpful reminder that even if an attorney has standing to seek a passing of accounts, the Court may still refuse to grant the passing.
John was named as the attorney for personal care for his father, Ritvers, and sought an accounting of Ritver’s financial affairs from his brother Arnis (Ritvers’ other son) who was the attorney for property. Both John and Arnis agreed that John, given that he was an attorney for personal care, could apply under section 42(4)(1) of the Substitute Decisions Act for a passing of accounts without leave. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeal identified that even if a person has standing to apply for an accounting, it remains the discretion of the Court to order a passing of accounts.
In deciding whether to order the passing, the superior court judge made the following findings of fact: (i) both the father and mother were capable when they executed written instructions to Arnis not to produce any financial information about his affairs to John; (ii) the mother maintained this position in response to John’s motion; (iii) a capacity assessment found that the mother was capable of making her own decisions; (iv) a third brother corroborated Arnis’ evidence that he was abiding by his parent’s wishes; (v) the application judge did not doubt that Arnis was following his mother’s wishes; and, (vi) there was no reason to suspect that Arnis was acting improperly with respect to certain transactions.
On this basis, the Court of Appeal upheld the application judge’s dismissal of John’s request for an order that Arnis pass his accounts of Ritver’s property.
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In Daniel Estate (Re), 2019 ONSC 2790 (CanLII), the applicants applied to have their estate trustee and attorneyship accounts passed. As stated by the judge hearing the application, “Unlike many applications to pass accounts, this is a “good news” story.”
The applicants were the friends and former neighbours of a high net worth, elderly couple, Isabel and Wayne. For over 20 years, the applicants provided extensive personal assistance to the elderly couple. “In many ways, [the applicants] acted like loyal and dutiful family members.” In addition to completing simple neighbourly tasks, the applicants helped the couple in many other ways. They eventually became the attorneys for property and personal care for the couple. When Wayne died, the applicants took on the role of acting as his Estate Trustee.
The application to pass accounts was supported by an affidavit from Isabel, who indicated that she was content with the claim for compensation being made by the applicants. The application materials also included an accounting analysis prepared by a Chartered Accountant, who reviewed the accounts in detail, and also an analysis by a Certified Case Manager and Certified Canadian Life Care Planner, who assessed the value of the personal services provided by the applicants.
In the end, the court awarded the applicants compensation for administering Wayne’s estate of $129,775; compensation for acting as attorneys for property of $435,772.36 and compensation for acting as attorneys for personal care, for a total of $757,659.
With respect to costs, the court awarded the applicants their costs of $125,021 for the unopposed passing of accounts. According the judge, “While this amount seems at first blush high, I note the accounting report alone was worth $45,000. In my view of the detailed, thorough and helpful material filed and in view of the hours it took to assemble, digest and present the financial information provided, I find that the fees and disbursements claimed are reasonable.”
The court appears to have been impressed by the extent and quality of the assistance provided by the applicants to Isabel and Wayne. Further, the court appears to have been impressed with the detailed and extensive materials put before the court in order to justify the claims on the passing.
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When is it appropriate for a court to reduce estate trustee compensation? The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia addressed this issue in Atlantic Jewish Foundation v Leventhal Estate (“AJF”).
Before getting into the AJF decision, it is worthwhile to include the caveat that determination of estate trustee compensation in Ontario (a summary of which can be found in my paper here) differs somewhat as compared to Nova Scotia. Nonetheless, both provinces use 5% of the value of the estate, subject to the discretion of the court, as the starting point in determining the quantum of compensation. As such, AJF remains informative in Ontario.
The deceased left a Will naming his friend, who was also a lawyer, as his Estate Trustee. AJF was named as the residuary beneficiary. The Will was silent as to estate trustee compensation. As the estate was valued at over $15 million, the Estate Trustee sought compensation in the approximate amount of $896,000, being 5% of the gross adjusted value of the estate. AJF maintained that the amount was excessive and proposed compensation in the amount of $300,000.
In determining how much compensation the Estate Trustee should be entitled to, and applying an approach similar to Ontario’s ‘five factors’, the court made the following observations: the level of responsibility is often greater for higher value estates; the increasing level of responsibility does not necessarily rise in direct proportion to the size of the estate; the Estate Trustee arranged and supervised the funeral and burial, which was mainly handled by telephone; the Estate Trustee acted promptly in selling the house; many of the assets were already in the form of cash, and the Estate Trustee knew the banks the deceased used; the Estate Trustee was diligent, wise and prudent and had to be a hands-on executor; the Estate Trustee made no mistakes; a large part of the estate was made up of investments that were readily converted into cash for distribution; and, the estate was larger rather than complex.
The court noted that 5% should be reserved for estates where there are complicating features that require more than wise and careful planning to maximize the value of the estate. Therefore, the court awarded compensation in the amount of $450,000, being slightly more than 50% of the maximum amount that could be awarded. A larger amount of compensation would have the effect of reading into the Will a bequest to the Estate Trustee that the deceased did not intend to make.
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Applications to pass accounts are unique as civil proceedings go. The nature of the inquiries being made by the Court, the relief that a judge is empowered to grant, and the procedural considerations that apply are all features that distinguish applications to pass accounts from other civil applications. Procedural considerations in particular have garnered some notoriety recently as a result of several notable decisions released in the past few years. The recent decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario (then sitting as the Divisional Court) in Wall v Shaw, 2018 ONCA 929, provides some clarity to a few of the loose ends.
In Wall, the Deceased died leaving a Will naming the appellant as estate trustee and which created two testamentary trusts for the benefit of her two children. The Deceased’s nieces and nephews were also named as contingent beneficiaries in the event that both children died before vesting in the trust property.
The estate trustee acted for more than 10 years, but never formally passed his accounts. Instead, the estate trustee held frequent informal meetings with the Deceased’s children to review the administration of the estate and to discuss the estate trustee’s compensation.
A dispute between the Deceased’s daughter and the estate trustee relating to the latter’s compensation eventually led the daughter to bring an application seeking an order compelling the estate trustee to pass his accounts.
The estate trustee subsequently commenced an application to pass accounts in March 2015. In June 2015, the Deceased’s daughter filed a notice of objection to the accounts, followed in January 2016 by a notice of objection delivered by two of the Deceased’s nieces.
In response, the estate trustee brought a motion seeking to strike out the objections of the daughter on several grounds. Notably, the estate trustee took the position that the daughter’s approval of the accounts at the informal meetings constituted acquiescence of the estate trustee’s conduct. In the alternative, the estate trustee argued that the daughter’s objections were now statute-barred pursuant to sections 4 and 5 of Ontario’s Limitations Act or barred by the doctrine of laches.
The estate trustee was unsuccessful at first instance on all three grounds, but only chose to appeal the first ground. Specifically, the estate trustee argued on appeal that the judge at first instance had erred in refusing to apply the two-year limitation period under section 4 of the Limitations Act. The appeal was dismissed, and the reasons on appeal provide some procedural clarity in respect of the interplay between limitation periods and passings of accounts.
Section 4 of the Limitations Act generally provides that a “proceeding” cannot be commenced in respect of a “claim” if more than two years have elapsed since the date the claim was discovered. The Court of Appeal took issue with each of the quoted terms.
Notably, the held that a notice of objection does not commence a “proceeding” for the purposes of section 4 of the Limitations Act. Rather, a notice of objection ought to be viewed as a response to a proceeding that has already been commenced, being the application to pass accounts. The Court also pointed to its prior ruling in Armitage v The Salvation Army, in which it was held that an application to pass accounts was not a “claim” pursuant to section 4 of the Limitations Act. Accordingly, it followed that a responding objection raised in that application could also not constitute a claim.
Finally, the Court highlighted an important distinction between applications to pass accounts and other civil applications. Unlike a traditional civil claim, the Court in an application to pass accounts is not tasked with awarding judgment in favour of one party or the other. The purpose of an application to pass accounts to is initiate a “judicial inquiry” into the management of an estate and, if appropriate, provide redress to the estate, rather than to the beneficiaries personally.
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Canada is currently in the midst of a postal strike. Although the strike is currently “rotating” in nature, with different communities being subject to the strike on different days, it is possible that the strike could become country wide should negotiations remain unsuccessful. Although concern may immediately turn to the potential impact of a full strike upon online holiday shopping, a full national strike could also have an impact upon the legal world in relation to the service of documents.
Canada Post remains a vital service to the legal community, amongst other things remaining one of the official means of service upon a lawyer of record pursuant to rule 16.05 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. Although there are alternate service mechanisms available to serve documents upon a lawyer of record should the strike become national, such as potentially using a courier, there are certain documents which the Rules of Civil Procedure provide may only be served by mail.
Rule 74.18(3) of the Rules of Civil Procedure contemplates that an Application to Pass Accounts is to be served by regular lettermail, providing:
“The applicant shall serve the notice of application and a copy of a draft of the judgment sought on each person who has a contingent or vested interest in the estate by regular lettermail.” [emphasis added]
Although such a rule typically assists the Applicant in serving the Application to Pass Accounts in a streamlined and cost effective manner, as otherwise personal service of the Application to Pass Accounts would be required pursuant to rule 16.01 as an “originating process”, the rule does not contemplate what is to occur in the circumstance that service by regular lettermail is not possible (i.e. in a full work stoppage). In such circumstances, how can the Applicant ensure that the Application to Pass Accounts is properly served as required by the Rules of Civil Procedure?
From a common sense standpoint there are likely alternatives readily available to serve the Application materials other than by regular lettermail, including potentially by courier or by personal service. From a strict reading of rule 74.18(3) however, service of the Application to Pass Accounts by any means other than “regular lettermail” is not proper service, such that it is possible that a beneficiary may argue that they have not been properly served should you serve them by any other means. Should this occur, it is possible that an Order validating service and/or substituting service for alternative means under rule 16.04 may be required.
Thankfully at present the strike is only “rotating” in nature, such that we can continue to mail out documents such as Applications to Pass Accounts to be served in accordance with the Rules of Civil Procedure (subject to any potential daily interruptions should your community be striking on a particular day). Should circumstances change however, and there is a full work stoppage, it is possible Orders may have to be sought validating and/or substituting service for service in a manner other than by regular lettermail for those items such as Applications to Pass Accounts which the Rules provide may only be served by mail.
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