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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We live in a big and beautiful country that is great for summer vacation travel from sea to sea. The vast distance from British Columbia to Nova Scotia is not just geographic, as shown by court decisions involving the review of wills. There is also a great deal of public policy distance between these provinces.
In the recent British Columbia decision on July 17, 2019 of Grewal v Litt, 2019 BCSC 1154 the four daughters of the deceased sought a court-ordered variation of the mirror wills of their parents using the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, S.B.C. 2009, c. 13. In their wills, the parents left 95% of their nine million dollar estate to their two sons and the remainder to their four daughters. The daughters sought and obtained a variation based on the facts and legislation with the court ordering 15% to each of the four daughters and 20% to each of the two sons.
In the Nova Scotia decision in Lawen Estate v Nova Scotia Attorney General, 2019 NSSC 162, the court ruled that the deceased had a great deal of testamentary freedom and that this freedom was constitutionally protected. The Estate of Jack Lawen was subject to a claim by some of his adult and competent children under the Nova Scotia Testator’s Family Maintenance Act for a change in the distribution of assets from what was specified in his will. In this case, the daughters applied, but they were not successful. It is interesting to note that the Judge agreed with the argument that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms could be used to strike down those provisions of the legislation that allowed the adult competent children to even bring their application to the court. The Charter, it was argued, protects the right to decide where the property would go and to disinherit his children. Presiding Justice John Bodurtha wrote in his decision dated May 24, 2019, “A testamentary decision is a fundamental personal decision that is protected under section 7” of the Charter.
Legislation that infringes and limits a testator’s freedom, however, can be justified in some instances, and to certain degrees, depending on the province and the case facts. If you try to disinherit your dependant spouse then the courts would step in and limit your testamentary freedom. This also applies to not providing for dependants who are minor children, non-competent adult children, and even competent adult children in some provinces. One could ask, however, if it is fair and just that the daughters in British Columbia could achieve an equitable distribution of the family estate, but in Nova Scotia, they would have failed.
Canadian limitations on testamentary freedom are small and balanced in comparison to the forced heirship provisions of many European civil law jurisdictions. In those countries, a testator is forced by law to leave a portion of the estate to family members. The percentage of the estate to be distributed and those who are eligible varies by jurisdiction. It is an interesting public policy approach to make the family unit legally paramount in forced heirship jurisdictions, and not the individual testator.
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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.
Thanks for reading.
In Marsden Estate (Re),  N.B.J. No. 295, upheld on appeal at  N.B.J. No. 304, the deceased was seen by a solicitor and gave instructions for the preparation of a will on September 19, 2016. She died the next day, before the will could be signed.
The estate trustee under the impugned will brought an application to prove the will. She relied on s. 35.1 of New Brunswick’s Wills Act. This section provides:
35.1 Where a court of competent jurisdiction is satisfied that a document or any writing on a document embodies
(a) the testamentary intentions of the deceased, or
(b) the intention of the deceased to revoke, alter or revive a will of the deceased or the testamentary intentions of the deceased embodied in a document other than a will,
the court may, notwithstanding that the document or writing was not executed in compliance with the formal requirements imposed by this Act, order that the document or writing is valid and fully effective as if it had been executed in compliance with the formal requirements imposed by this Act.
The matter was contentious, as two of the testator’s children were essentially excluded from the will. The testator told the solicitor that she had been estranged from them for some time.
The court relied on affidavit evidence, including the affidavit of the drafting solicitor. The court concluded that the unsigned will reflected the testator’s “deliberate, fixed and final expression as to the disposal of her property upon her death”. Further, the court was satisfied that the testator had testamentary capacity, and was not being unduly influenced.
In earlier blogs, we reported on similar applications under similar “substantial compliance” legislation. An Alberta court considered the legislation but declined to apply it where there was an absence of clear and convincing evidence that the deceased failed to execute the will by inadvertence or mistake. An Australian court went as far as admitting an unsent text message to probate.
In Ontario, the doctrine of strict compliance continues to apply. As stated by Nick Esterbauer in his blog of December 11, 2017, it will be interesting to see if Ontario legislation opens the door to substantial compliance in the future. To date, it has not.
Thanks for reading.
Often, estate trustees no longer want the job, and want to be removed. This is particularly the case when they are required to deal with difficult beneficiaries. In most cases, where a Certificate of Appointment has been issued or where they have acted as estate trustee in any way, a court order is required. However, as illustrated in Pierce v. Zock, 2019 ONSC 4156, getting an order removing oneself as estate trustee is not always straightforward.
There, the deceased appointed two of his children, Gary and Norma, as estate trustees. The wills, primary and secondary, established a trust for the benefit of another child, Stephen. The relationship between Gary and Norma on the one part, and Stephen on the other broke down. Gary and Norma brought an application to remove themselves as estate trustees.
Under the trusts established by the wills, Stephen was entitled to remain in the deceased’s real property as long as he was capable of maintaining the property and managing his personal care. If these conditions were not met, the property was to be sold and the proceeds divided amongst the deceased’s four children, with Stephen’s share being held in a trust administered by the estate trustees. The estate trustees also sought directions from the court as to whether these conditions were being met, and if not, whether the real property could be sold.
The court noted that a trustee cannot be forced to continue to serve as a trustee if he or she is no longer willing or able to continue. However, in this case, the estate trustees were not able to suggest an alternate to act as estate trustee. No institutional trustee or individual was willing to act. Further , the Public Guardian and Trustee was not willing to act.
During oral argument, Gary indicated a willingness to continue to act on a short term basis, if the court allowed the sale of the real property. The court seized upon this reluctant willingness, and ordered that Norma be removed, but that Gary stay on as estate trustee. The court imposed conditions, which included that Stephen shall have no contact with Gary except through legal counsel.
On the question of the sale of the property, the court refused to allow the sale. The court found that there was insufficient evidence that Stephen was not maintaining the property or was incapable of managing his personal care.
In conclusion, Gary was kept on as estate trustee and was not permitted to resign. The property was not to be sold.
Such a possible outcome should be kept in mind when accepting an appointment as estate trustee. Further, testators should consider naming alternate estate trustees in event that the appointed estate trustees are not able or willing to continue in the role.
Have a great weekend.
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)
In a recent recording, “Money in the Grave”, Drake asks that he be buried with his money. He sings:
In the next life, I’m tryna stay paid
When I die, put my money in the grave.
Several issues come to mind.
First, Drake’s wish to be buried with his money is not binding on his estate trustee unless it is in a properly executed testamentary instrument.
Second, even if the money is buried with Drake, his estate trustee may have to pay Estate Administration Tax on the buried money if the will is to be probated. Drake may want to consider multiple wills. (Well-considered primary and secondary wills might also avoid the payment of Estate Administration Tax on the value of all of his chains, and other bling.)
Third, the act of destroying money is illegal in many jurisdictions. In Canada, under the Currency Act, it is illegal to “melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is legal tender in Canada”. The Criminal Code creates an offence for defacing a current coin. There is no similar prohibition on defacing or destroying paper money. However, in the US, burning money or any other act that renders a note “unfit to be reissued” is illegal. Arguably, the act of burying money is not the same as destroying money.
(Read Stuart Clark’s blog, here, about a woman who cut up the equivalent of $1.4m CDN to disinherit her heirs.)
Fourth, Drake’s estate trustee might be accused of waste. He or she may want to seek the opinion, advice or direction of the court before they “Bury my [expletive] Chase Bank.”
More on point, in the US decision of Eyerman v. Mercantile Trust Co., 524 S.w.2d 210 (1975), the testator directed that her house be burned down, the lot sold, and the proceeds added to the residue of her estate. A neighbour wasn’t too crazy about the idea, and applied for an injunction. The injunction was, at first, denied. On appeal, the court held that the direction in the will was against public policy.
The court in Eyerman cited the decision of In re Scott’s Will, 88 Minn. 386 (1903). There, the testator directed his estate trustee to destroy money belonging to the estate. The court there found that the clause was void. The court also quoted from Restatement, Second, Trusts, 124, at 267.
“Although a person may deal capriciously with his own property, his self interest ordinarily will restrain him from doing so. Where an attempt is made to confer such a power upon a person who is given no other interest in the property, there is no such restraint and it is against public policy to allow him to exercise the power if the purpose is merely capricious.”
In Restatement, an example is given of a bequest from A’s estate to B in trust to throw the money into the sea. (Query: more lyrical or less lyrical than Drake’s direction?) “B holds the money upon a resulting trust for the estate of A and is liable to the estate of A if he throws the money into the sea.”
In another, earlier Drake ditty, “Crew Love”, Drake boasted about spending $50K on a vacation, and needing restaurant reservations for twenty. “I never really been one for the preservation of money. Much rather spend it all while I’m breathing.” It seems that he now has so much money that he may not be able to spend it all while living, and he is turning his thoughts to succession planning. He may want to get some professional estate planning advice.
Thank you for reading.
The city of Toronto was abuzz this past weekend as we kicked off summer 2019 with wall-to-wall sunshine. There were so many wonderful things to celebrate this weekend. For some, celebrations continued over the Toronto Raptor’s historic NBA Championship win. Some were tapping their feet to the beat for the first weekend of Toronto’s Jazz festival. Others, like myself, were flooding the streets to celebrate one of the city’s largest, loudest, and most colourful parades of the year – the Toronto Pride Parade.
Pride festivities provide a great opportunity to come together with others to celebrate and promote the equal rights of all persons regardless of gender or sexual orientation. While there, I reflected on some key considerations for LGBTQ+ individuals to consider in the context of estate planning in Ontario.
1. The value of a will
A will is an invaluable tool to assist people in planning for the future. The Succession Law Reform Act, RSO 1990, c. 26 (“SLRA”) gives individuals the power to dispose of property post-death.
Provided that your will meets the statutory requirements to be valid (which are prescribed in Part I of the SLRA) testators are free to dispose of their property as they wish. This a right regardless of sexual orientation or gender and includes couples that are in common-law relationships and same-sex marriages.
Importantly, the will provides a testator with a level of control over how children are provided for post-death. This is especially important in scenarios where parents rely on assisted reproduction as a method of conceiving a child. Having a will allows a testator to specifically name children and outline how that child is to take under the will. For more information about this, click here.
2. Rules of Intestacy
If you die without leaving a will, your estate will be subject to the rules of intestacy which are governed by Part II of the SLRA. Under these rules, married couples are entitled to take their spouses property absolutely if the deceased is not survived by issue. On July 20, 2005 the Parliament of Canada enacted the Civil Marriage Act, which legalizes same-sex marriage and provides in section 2, that, “Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others”. This definition replaced the former definition which described marriage as the lawful union between a man and a woman. As a result, same-sex spouses are entitled to take from their spouses estate on an intestacy.
In contrast, common-law relationships do not share this privilege, regardless of whether it is a heterosexual or homosexual common-law relationship.
3. Incapacity During Lifetime
An important consideration for LGBTQ+ individuals is also what would happen in the event that they become incapable of making decisions regarding their health care and property. Although laws vary by jurisdiction, legal and biological family, such as spouses (sometimes including common-law partners), children and parents, will generally be favoured over other persons who may have a close but legally unrecognized, relationship with the incapable person. This could have a negative impact on an individual whose non-accepting family members step into a decision-making role for them.
4. Dependant Support Claim
If you fall under the definition of a “dependant” under Part V of the SLRA, which could apply to same-sex common-law relationships and spouses alike, you may be entitled to make a dependant’s support claim against your partner’s estate.
Thank you for reading!
After making her will, the deceased “whited-out” the name of a beneficiary using white-out or liquid paper. Was this an effective amendment to the will?
This question was answered in Levesque Estate (Re), 2019 BCSC 927 (CanLII). There, the deceased made a formal will which left the residue of her estate to 7 beneficiaries. However, at some point between the making the will and her death, the deceased obscured the name of one of her beneficiaries using white-out. The estate trustees applied to the court for the opinion of the court with respect to whether this “alteration” was effective.
Applying B.C. law, the court determined that the alteration would be effective if either the alteration made the word or provision illegible, or if the alteration was deemed by the court to represent the intention of the deceased to alter the will.
With respect to the first test, the court found that the whited out provision did NOT render the name beneath to be “impossible to read by ordinary inspection … without chemical or other analysis”. Therefore, the alteration was not valid on this basis.
(In another case out of Newfoundland, the court held that provisions were “whited out” to the extent that “no part of the previous text [was] apparent”. Apparently, the testator used a heavier hand when whiting out. In that case, the whiting out of the text was found to be an effective revocation.)
In Levesque, however, the court went on to apply the second test of substantial compliance, and found that the alteration was a “deliberate or fixed and final expression of the Deceased’s intention” to remove the beneficiary from her will. “Carefully dabbing white-out over the provision in question was undoubtedly a considered and deliberate act on the part of the Deceased. She was applying the white-out to the original Will. It was not a casual act. The only reasonable inference is that her intention was to remove the provision from the Will.” The court was able to use its curative powers to give effect to the alteration.
In giving effect to the alteration, the court applied s. 58 of B.C.’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act, which gives the court authority to give effect to the alteration of a will even if there is not strict compliance with the formal requirements of the Act. In Ontario, there is no similar “substantial compliance” provision. It is not clear that the whited-out changes would have been effective in Ontario.
For another blog on white-out and wills, see “Revocation of Wills: White Out of this World”.
Have a great weekend.
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,