Category: Support After Death
There are three ways in which a joint tenancy may be severed (Hansen Estate v. Hansen):
- Unilaterally acting on one’s own share (e.g. selling or encumbering it).
- A mutual agreement between the co-owners.
- Any course of dealing sufficient to intimate that the interests of all were mutually treated as constituting a tenancy in common.
In Marley v. Salga, the Court addressed the third manner in which to sever joint title – by course of dealing. In this case, there were competing applications brought by Ms. Marley, the deceased’s widow, on the one hand, seeking sole legal and beneficial ownership of the matrimonial home, and by the deceased’s children from a prior marriage, on the other hand, seeking an order that the estate is entitled to a half interest in the property as a tenant-in-common.
The Court declared that the estate was entitled to a half-interest in the property as a tenant in common. The evidence considered to determine the issue included a deathbed conversation between deceased and Ms. Marley, in which Ms. Marley acknowledged the deceased’s wish to divide the property 50:50 between his children and Ms. Marley. The Court seemed to place great weight on this evidence, finding that the deceased and Ms. Marley “were in agreement as to how the property should be handled on his death.” One commentator criticizes the Court for accepting that Ms. Marley was prepared to compromise her property rights “…on the basis of soothing words spoken to her husband on his deathbed without fully understanding her rights, without the benefit of any advice as to the consequences that would result to her and without any compensation or consideration for the loss of those rights.”
Another consideration for the Court was the language of the deceased’s Will, which allows Ms. Marley to occupy the deceased’s half of the property on certain terms, purports to terminate her rights in certain circumstances, and provides for the sale of the property. The Will’s language assisted in swaying the Court, as the Court treated it as a piece of evidence used to discern if there was a common intention, and it inferred that the provision in the Will was known to Ms. Marley. This rationale has been the subject of debate as (i) a testamentary disposition cannot sever a joint tenancy and should not be relied upon as evidence of a mutual intent, and (ii) there does not seem to have been evidence of both spouses taking steps showing a mutual treatment of their co-ownership as a tenancy in common.
If appealed, we may get some helpful clarification on this important issue.
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In researching common errors in will drafting, we recently stumbled (as one often does through research) on the following question:
In the case of mutual wills, what happens in the event of remarriage?
Mutual wills operate as a contract. Simply put, the terms of the contract are that absent any revocation during the joint lives of the parties, the survivor will not revoke thereafter. The conundrum then becomes: If a will by its very nature is revocable, and wills are automatically revoked by marriage, what then happens to the agreement in the event of a second or third marriage?
The question at hand is best described with an example:
Jane has two children from a prior marriage, as does John. John and Jane get married and draft wills. The wills of Jane and John are identical except for some names and dates and include an agreement that says in part, that if John dies, all assets will be transferred to Jane absolutely, and when Jane dies all assets shall be divided equally among their four children. When John dies, his assets vest in Jane, and her will is now locked such that changing it would frustrate the terms of her agreement with her now deceased husband. But what if then Jane meets and marries Oscar? If all prior wills are null. . . Now what?
The courts have wrestled with the concept of mutual wills since the death of Lord Horatio Walpole in 1797. In his will of 1756, a nephew of the English author and statesman, George Earl of Walpole, demonstrated intent to enter in to a “compact” with his late uncle for the disposition of his and his uncle’s estates to the benefit of their respective families. The question that arose then, as it still does today, is upon what terms the two parties were transacting, and how should they be bound? Or, to quote a commentary from the turn, “How far in law and equity was each at liberty to repent, and to recall his share of the testamentary exchanges between them?”
204 years later, the question continued to be addressed in a seminal decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In 2001’s Edell v. Sitzer, Cullity J, was tasked with unpacking a bitter family dispute where an alleged agreement not to depart from equal division of assets was at stake. The question before the court then (in part) was, do the facts give rise to a constructive trust? Justice Cullity set out the test for mutual wills thusly:
- The mutual wills were made pursuant to a definitive agreement or contact not only to make such wills, but that the survivor shall not revoke.
- Such an agreement is found with certainty and preciseness.
- The survivor has taken advantage of the provisions in the mutual will.
If the test is satisfied, the court can impose a constructive trust. Rooted in the law of equity, an implied or constructive trust aims to remedy any unjust enrichment by one party of a contract (a surviving spouse, for example) over another.
But what consistently seems to trouble the conscience of the court, is the idea of “contracting-away” one’s testamentary freedom. There is no restriction for a will made in defiance of such an agreement, but in equity, the court is almost bound to treat mutual wills as a single testamentary instrument. This was the problem in the 2016 ONSC case of Rammage v. Estate of Roussel: Alf and Ruth Roussel had made mutual wills 13 years prior to Alf’s death in February of 2009, agreeing in part to divide their estate equally among their four children (both Ruth and Alf went into the marriage with 2 children each). One year after Alf’s death, Ruth made a new will, disinherited Alf’s children, and left everything to her own two kids. Upon the death of Ruth, the litigation began.
The court in Rammage determined that the wills of the deceased testators amounted to mutual wills, imposed a constructive trust, and divided the assets according to the terms of the first wills of Ruth and Alf. If the court is satisfied that the wills are mutual, any property disposed of in a subsequent testamentary document is subject to a constructive trust in favour of the named legatees, and the subsequent will fails.
Returning to the question of remarriage, one could expect the need for administration and ultimately judicial intervention, should all the beneficiaries not consent to the changes in subsequent wills. Like many decisions that seem like “a good one at the time,” mutual wills should be considered very carefully and with the advice of independent counsel. A decision to enter into a contract that prohibits one from ever changing their last will and testament must be considered from all sides. To quote the late Horatio Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford: “The wisest prophets make sure of the event first.”
Thanks for reading!
David M. Smith & Daniel Enright (Summer Law Student)
I recently came across an article discussing a court’s decision in respect of what appears to be a claim for dependant’s support in Tasmania. In the decision of Booth v Brooks  TASSC 35, the deceased died with a Will that did not leave anything to his estranged daughter. The deceased was also survived by a long-term partner and two adult sons, who were mentioned in his Will.
The daughter made a claim under a Tasmanian statute, the Testator’s Family Maintenance Act 1912 (the “TFMA”). Section 3(1) of the TFMA states as follows:
3 (1) If a person dies, whether testate or intestate, and in terms of his will or as a result of his intestacy any person by whom or on whose behalf application for provision out of his estate may be made under this Act is left without adequate provision for his proper maintenance and support thereafter, the Court or a judge may, in its or his discretion, on application made by or on behalf of the last-mentioned person, order that such provision as the Court or judge, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, thinks proper shall be made out of the estate of the deceased person for all or any of the persons by whom or on whose behalf such an application may be made, and may make such other order in the matter, including an order as to costs, as the Court or judge thinks fit.
By comparison, section 58(1) of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, (the “SLRA”) seems to have quite similar language. Section 58(1) provides:
58 (1) Where a deceased, whether testate or intestate, has not made adequate provision for the proper support of his dependants or any of them, the court, on application, may order that such provision as it considers adequate be made out of the estate of the deceased for the proper support of the dependants or any of them.
Under the SLRA, in order to qualify as a “dependant”, one must be a spouse, parent, child, or brother or sister of the deceased, to whom the deceased was providing support or was under a legal obligation to provide support immediately before his death. The TFMA, on the other hand, provides in section 3A that the persons who may make an application pursuant to section 3(1) are the:
- parents (if the deceased person dies without a spouse or children); and
- person who had a certain relationship with the deceased, and who was entitled to receive maintenance from the deceased at the time of his or her death.
In Booth v Brooks, the court concluded that the daughter had been left without adequate provision. One of the factors that lead to this conclusion was that the deceased had not had a good relationship with the daughter throughout her life and had not provided her with any direct financial support. In particular, the court stated that the deceased’s “abnegation of parental responsibility during childhood increases the moral obligation of the testator to the child”.
It seems that the key difference in the law in Tasmania versus Ontario that came into play in the Booth v Brooks decision, which would likely have resulted in a different outcome had the scenario arisen in Ontario, is that the TFMA does not require that a spouse, child, or parent be receiving or entitled to support or “maintenance” at the time of the deceased’s death. Interestingly, the Tasmanian law seems to lean the other way—if the deceased has not provided adequate support during his or her lifetime, it may increase the ability of a child or spouse to obtain support from the deceased’s estate.
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You may also be interested in these other blog posts:
Sydney Osmar‘s blog from yesterday covered the issue of the recent cuts to legal aid funding, which can only be expected to result in increased barriers to Ontario residents in accessing the court system.
Within the context of estates, high legal fees may contribute to the inability of (would-be) litigants to obtain able assistance in accessing the court system. Some meritorious estate and capacity-related litigation may not be commenced simply because of a lack of funds required to hire a lawyer to assist in doing so.
While successful parties may be awarded some portion of the legal fees that they have incurred, payable by the unsuccessful party to the litigation (or out of the assets of the estate), recovery of all legal fees incurred in pursuing litigation is rare. The balance of legal fees that a party can be expected to pay out of whatever benefit they may ultimately receive dependent on the outcome of the litigation may eliminate some or all of the financial benefit of the funds that they may stand to receive.
For example, a dependant’s support application brought by a surviving spouse who lacks the financial means to support him or herself may result in protracted litigation. Even if the application for dependant’s support is successful, the court may not always make an order that adequately reflects the entitlements of the dependant and the total fees that he or she has incurred to bring the application, limiting the funds available for the dependant’s expenses going forward. While interim support orders or orders directing payments toward professional fees related to bringing the application may be available during litigation in some circumstances, the related motions will serve to further increase the legal fees incurred by the applicant if such relief is not obtained on consent. In the absence of contribution from the assets of the estate to fund the litigation or an alternative arrangement for the payment of legal fees, it may not be possible for a surviving spouse in need to make a dependant’s support claim in the first place or he or she may need to do so without a lawyer’s assistance.
In 2016, it was reported that the numbers of self-represented litigants in Canada have increased over the last two decades and more significantly in recent years. The inability to afford a lawyer and ineligibility for legal aid assistance were cited as the primary reasons why a party is self-represented. Research suggests that parties who are self-represented are less likely to be successful in litigation (with success rates of only 4% in responding to motions for summary judgment, 12.5% for motions and applications, and 14% at trial) than represented parties.
While assistance with estate-related matters may be available to some from the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, the Queen’s University Elder Law Clinic, or other clinics (which are funded by Legal Aid Ontario and will be impacted by the recent budget cuts) in some circumstances, many individuals simply do not qualify for assistance or require assistance that is not provided by these clinics.
Our colleague, The Honourable R. Roy McMurtry, is a strong advocate for access to justice and has expressed the following sentiment: “[O]ur freedoms are at best fragile…they depend on the ability of every citizen to assert in a court or tribunal their rights under law as well as receiving sound legal advice as to their obligations. Indeed, our laws and freedoms will only be as strong as the protection that they afford to the most vulnerable members of society.”
Unfortunately, greater numbers of individuals than previously may struggle to access just resolutions of estates and other matters as a result of the recent changes to legal aid funding in Ontario.
Thank you for reading.
Nova Scotia is proposing legislation that will make it the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt “presumed consent” around organ donation.
Under the Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act, all people in Nova Scotia will be presumed to agree to organ donation upon their death, unless they opt out. The Act does not apply to those under 19, or those without decision-making capacity. In those cases, a parent, guardian or alternate decision maker may consent on their behalf.
The Act will not be proclaimed immediately: it is to take effect in 12 to 18 months, so as to allow for public education and support for health care workers.
Under previous Nova Scotia legislation, the right of a family member to veto an organ donation decision made by a deceased was removed. See our blog on the topic, here.
Several European countries already have presumed consent laws for organ donation.
In Ontario, the current system is an “opt-in” system, rather than an “opt-out” system. Under the Trillium Gift of Life Act, consent must be given prior to the removal of organs after death. The person must be at least 16 years of age. In addition to the person, other persons are entitled to consent on the person’s behalf. These include,
- a spouse, either married or common-law;
- if there is no spouse or the spouse is not readily available, the person’s children;
- if there are no children, or if none are readily available, either of the person’s parents;
- if there are no parents, or none are readily available, any of the person’s siblings;
- if there are no siblings, or none are readily available, any of the person’s next of kin;
- if there are no next of kin, or none are readily available, the person lawfully in possession of the body, other than the administrative head of the hospital, where the person dies in a hospital. Further, the coroner, Public Guardian and Trustee, embalmer or funeral director are not authorized to consent.
Consent cannot be given if the person has reason to believe that the person who died or whose death is imminent would have objected.
Organ donation has helped so many. Please consider opting in to Ontario’s organ donation program.
Have a great weekend.
Karl Lagerfeld – the iconic German designer best known for his work as creative director of Chanel and Fendi’s fashion houses – died this past Tuesday, February 19, at the age of 85.
In the wake of his death, news outlets have reported on a variety of different aspects of Lagerfeld’s illustrious life, from his legendary influence in the fashion industry, to his penchant for controversial commentary, to the impact his work has had on various celebrities and other household names. The articles that caught my eye last week, however, were those with headlines stating that Lagerfeld’s beloved pet cat, Choupette, was set to inherit his approximate $200 million fortune.
Choupette, a seven-year-old, white Birman cat, was one of Lagerfeld’s most cherished companions during his lifetime. Lagerfeld would regularly speak of his pet in human terms, referring to her as “Mademoiselle”, a “chic lady”, and calling her his favourite travel partner (the two would often travel together by private jet). Choupette reportedly has her own sets of customized Louis Vuitton cat-carriers, several personal maids, and a bodyguard, amongst other luxuries. She and Lagerfeld also often ate together, with Choupette dining on caviar and croquettes at the table, opposite Lagerfeld. As Lagerfeld’s right hand cat, she lived a life of extravagance of which many can only dream.
While Lagerfeld has suggested in past interviews that Choupette would be an heir to his vast Estate, the headlines about Choupette’s alleged inheritance drew my attention specifically for reasons of semantics: in Canada, at least, pets cannot technically hold or inherit assets themselves.
Although one may view their adored pet as a fellow family member, Canadian Law has a different perspective. In Canada, pets are legally treated as property – they are a “living asset” which will form a part of a deceased’s estate at death. In the words of Justice Danyliuk, writing in the Saskatchewan case of Henderson v Henderson, 2016 SKQB 282 : “…after all is said and done, a dog is a dog… a domesticated animal that is owned. At law it enjoys no familial rights”.
Given that it is impossible to give property to other property, a testator must come up with an alternative strategy to naming their pet as a beneficiary. For example, a testator could include a provision in their Will to gift their pets to a successive owner, and could leave a specific cash gift to the successive owner to cover costs associated with caring for their pets or pet. A formal “pet trust” – typically being a sum of money, held in trust, to be used only for the purpose of a pet’s care – could also be established to finance a pet’s care after an owner’s death
While many article titles may suggest that Choupette is personally set to inherit a portion of Lagerfeld’s Estate, it is more likely that Lagerfeld has used one of these alternative strategies to ensure his dear Mademoiselle can live comfortably for the rest of her life.
Thanks for reading!
Many of our readers will be aware that on an application for dependant’s support under Part V of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, certain property that may not be considered an asset of the deceased’s estate can be “clawed back” into the estate for the purposes of considering and funding an award of dependant’s support. Subsection 72(1)(d) provides that “a disposition of property made by a deceased whereby property is held at the date of his or her death by the deceased and another as joint tenants” shall be deemed to be part of the estate.
Whether jointly-held property is caught by s.72(1)(d) depends on whether there was a “disposition” into that joint tenancy. When a property is initially purchased by a deceased person and another in joint tenancy and remains as such at the time of death, it can not be said that there was a disposition into joint tenancy: s. 72(1)(d) would not appear to apply.
However, when the ownership arrangement of a property is more intricate, whether or not jointly-held property will be deemed to be an asset of the estate within the context of a dependant’s support application becomes less clear.
Consider the following scenario:
- At first instance, title to a property is taken as follows:
- 50% held solely by A; and
- 50% held jointly by A and B, who are common law spouses.
- Years later, A conveys the 50% held by her alone to herself and her common law spouse jointly.
- Therefore, immediately preceding A’s death, 100% of the property is held in joint tenancy by A and B.
Now, after A’s death, A’s minor children assert a dependant’s support claim. Does section 72(1)(d) apply, such that the property can be made available to fund a payment of dependant’s support?
The decision in Modopoulos v Breen Estate,  O.J. No. 2738 interpreted section 72(1)(d) of the Succession Law Reform Act to mean that, only if the property was owned solely by the deceased and later transferred into joint tenancy prior to death, would there be a “disposition” into joint tenancy.
In the unique set of circumstances described above, it could be argued that A never solely owned the property and, therefore, the later disposition is not captured by section 72(1)(d). However, another perspective is that the 50% interest held initially by A as a tenant in common (with A and B jointly as to the other 50%) would have formed part of her estate if the subsequent disposition to B as a joint tenant did not take place. This interpretation strongly supports that section 72(1)(d) of the Succession Law Reform Act would in fact apply to make the 50% interest in the property available in satisfaction of a dependant’s support claim. Certainly such an argument is consistent with the remedial intent of the legislation.
To our knowledge, there has yet to be a decision in Ontario that addresses whether section 72 would apply to a disposition out of a tenancy in common and into a joint tenancy, such as that featured in our hypothetical example. It will be interesting to see how a court would interpret similar transactions if encountered in the future.
Thank you for reading.
Other blog entries that you may enjoy reading:
- SLRA Dependant Awarded Entirety of Estate
- Priority of Claims for Dependant’s Support Over Other Claims Against an Estate
- The Risks of Joint Tenancy
- Joint Accounts Between Spouses
A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice highlights the importance of preserving a surviving married spouse’s ability to elect for an equalization of net family properties within the six-month limitation period.
Upon death, a surviving married spouse in Ontario can elect for an equalization of net family properties under Sections 5 and 6 of the Family Law Act instead of taking under the predeceasing spouse’s will or, if the spouse has not left a will, on intestacy. Subsections 6(10), 6(11), and 7(3)(c) of the Family Law Act provide that the surviving spouse must ordinarily make an election within six months of date of death and not after that date. The Court may, however, extend the election deadline in the event that: (a) there are apparent grounds for relief; (b) relief is unavailable because of delay that has been incurred in good faith; and, (c) no person will suffer substantial prejudice by reason of the delay (subsection 2(8) of the Family Law Act).
Courts have reviewed the circumstances in which an extension is typically ordered. The requirement that the delay be incurred in good faith has been interpreted as meaning that the party has acted honestly and with no ulterior motive (see, for example, Busch v Amos, 1994 CanLII 7454 (ONSC)).
In Mihalcin v Templeman, 2018 ONSC 5385, a surviving spouse had commenced two claims with respect to the estate of her late husband and an inter vivos gift made to a live-in caregiver. However, neither of the proceedings had sought any relief relating to an equalization of net family properties, nor did the wife take any steps to make an election or to extend the time within which she was permitted to do so. The Court reviewed whether the delay in making the election was in good faith. The evidence regarding the reasons for the delay in electing for equalization were considered to be vague and insufficient to satisfy the evidentiary burden that the delay was incurred in good faith. Accordingly, the applicant was not permitted to amend her pleadings to incorporate this relief.
Justice Bruce Fitzpatrick commented as follows with respect to the importance of limitation periods, generally (at para 48):
I am mindful of the general importance of limitation periods for the conduct of litigation. There is an obligation on parties to put forward all known legitimate claims within certain time limits. In this case, the time limit was relatively short. I think it cannot be readily ignored. The evidentiary record is not sufficient for me to say that justice requires me to exercise my discretion in favour of allowing [the applicant] to amend her claim so as to include a claim for equalization in all of the circumstances.
Where an equalization of net family properties may be sought at a later time (for example, pending the outcome of a will challenge or dependant’s support application), it is prudent to seek an extension well before the expiry of the six-month limitation period as courts may or may not assist a surviving spouse in seeking this relief down the road, if and when it may become advisable.
Thank you for reading,
Other blog entries/podcasts that may be of interest:
- When is it Appropriate to Extend the Time Granted in Favour of Equalization Under the Family Law Act?
- Equalization Claims and Unequal Division of the Net Family Property
- Family Law Equalization Claims and Bankruptcy
- Consolidation of Family Law Act and Dependant Support Claims
As anyone who has ever watched the show Friends can attest, “breaks” can happen in any relationship. For those attempting to claim common law spousal status however, what impact, if any, do such “breaks” have upon the length of time that the couple has to be together? Do you have to re-set the clock of the relationship after every “break”, or can the “breaks” be ignored?
Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act incorporates the definition of “spouse” from section 29 of the Family Law Act. Section 29 of the Family Law Act in turn defines “spouse” as including “two persons who are not married to each other and have cohabited continuously for a period of not less than three years“. This definition is often what is being referred to when someone says that a relationship is “common law”, with significant corresponding legal rights potentially being given to the two individuals if they are found to be “spouses”.
As the word “continuously” is included in the definition, one would be forgiven for thinking that there cannot be any “breaks” in the relationship, and that you must have a continuous three year period of “cohabitation” for two people to be considered spouses. As we will see below however, this may not necessarily be the case.
I have previously blogged about the factors that the court may look to in determining whether two people are “cohabitating”, with the Supreme Court of Canada in M. v. H. having confirmed that you look to the factors listed in Molodowich v. Penttinen to determine whether to individuals are “cohabitating” to the extent that their relationship becomes spousal. For the purpose of this blog however, the interesting question which follows is whether a couple who otherwise meets enough of the factors from Molodowich to be considered to be “cohabitating”, but had a “break” in their relationship during the three year period, could still be considered “spouses”.
In Boothe v. Gore,  O.J. No. 4376, the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division) provides the following commentary regarding the effect of a “break” on a relationship:
“The law in Ontario recognizes that a man and a woman are considered to have continuously cohabitated, despite that while living together, there might have been separations for varying periods of time before reconciling. Cohabitation does not terminate until either party regards it as being at an end, and, demonstrate convincingly that this is the party’s intent. A brief cooling off period does not convincingly show a settled state of mind that cohabitation has terminated…
The effects of temporary separations depends on the intention of the parties. When one party leaves the other and provides an objective basis to believe that they do not intend to resume cohabitation and the separation lasts for a meaningful period of time, the period of cohabitation could well have been interrupted.” [emphasis added]
As Boothe v. Gore suggests, a “break” in a relationship should not necessarily preclude a finding that two persons are common law spouses. Rather, the court is to attempt to ascertain the intentions of the parties at the time of the “break”, with the spousal status only coming to a close if either of the parties regards the relationship as being “at an end“, or the period of separation lasts for a “meaningful period of time“.
Thank you for reading.
The Globe and Mail recently published an article on couples that live apart from each other. This particular article focuses on the story of a couple who has never shared a home in the course of their twenty-year relationship. This couple is not alone; approximately 1.9 million unmarried adults in Canada were in an intimate relationship with someone who occupies a separate residence in 2011.
This form of intimate relationships are considered to be a historically new family form. Sociologists have coined this phenomenon as “LAT couples“, i.e. couples that are living apart together.
While the article focuses on couples who are deliberately choosing to live apart, there are also external factors that may prevent a couple from living together (such as immigration or capacity issues where one spouse has greater care needs than the other spouse).
LAT couples raise an interesting question with respect to whether such couples would be considered as a “spouse” within the meaning of Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act for the purposes of dependant’s support. Pursuant to section 57 of the SLRA, the word “spouse” has the same meaning as section 29 of the Family Law Act.
Section 29 of the Family Law Act in turn defines the term spouse as,
- people who are married to each other;
- unmarried people who have cohabited continuously for a period of not less than three years; or
- unmarried people who are in a relationship of permanence if they have children.
Interestingly, the Ontario Court of Appeal has made the following comment in Stephen v. Stawecki, 2006 CanLii 20225:
“the specific arrangements made for shelter are properly treated as only one of several factors in assessing whether or not the parties are cohabiting”.
Thanks for reading.