Like many in the estates world, we have been closely following the evolvement of Bill 245, the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021. Initially introduced in February of 2021, Bill 245 significantly alters Ontario’s estate laws. Bill 245 was proposed by the government in an effort to modernize an outdated system – a proposal that was welcomed by those in the estates community. The Estates Bar welcomes these developments and commends the Attorney General’s office for taking these significant steps in updating our legislation to better reflect the realities of life in the 2020s.
On April 19, 2021, Bill 245 received royal assent. The changes to Ontario’s estate laws are enumerated in Schedule 9 of Bill 245 and include the following:
- The Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) is amended to provide for the remote witnessing of wills through the means of audio-visual communication technology for wills made on and after April 7, 2020. The execution of a will in counterparts will now be permitted.
- Section 16 of the SLRA, which provides for the revocation of a will upon marriage, except in specific circumstances, is repealed.
- Subsection 17(2) of the SLRA is amended to include separated spouses. As such, any gift bequeathed to a spouse will be revoked upon separation.
- Section 21.1 is added to the SLRA and provides the Superior Court of Justice with the authority to, on application, make an order validating a document or writing that was not properly executed or made under the Act, if the Court is satisfied that the document or writing sets out the testamentary intentions of a deceased or an intention of a deceased to revoke, alter, or revive a will of the deceased.
- Section 43.1 is added to the SLRA to exclude separated spouses from inheriting on an intestacy.
Bill 245 does not, however, affect the rights of common-law spouses.
The repeal of the provision under the SLRA with respect to the automatic revocation of any pre-existing wills by marriage is an important first step in protecting vulnerable older Ontarians from predatory marriage scenarios. Similarly, the updated rights of separated spouses will, in most cases, result in a more appropriate treatment of separated spouses who do not take the step of obtaining a formal divorce.
The new will validation provision to be added to the SLRA will provide the courts with a mechanism to allow the intentions of individuals who may not be aware of the formal requirements for a valid will to be honoured. In the past, we have seen technicalities prevent what was clearly intended to be a will from functioning as one from a legal perspective.
These changes also have the potential to improve access to justice. In particular, the permanence of virtual witnessing provisions for both wills and powers of attorney has the potential to increase access to justice while preserving necessary safeguards in the will execution process. The emergency measures introduced during the pandemic will allow Ontarians improved access to legal assistance in their estate planning, regardless of where in the province they may be located.
The amendments relating to the remote witnessing of wills and counterpart execution are currently in effect. The remaining legislative amendments will not come into force until a day proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor, which will not be earlier than January 1, 2022.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph
The great thing about having a Last Will and Testament is that it clearly spells out what happens to your estate upon your passing. Conversely, the terrible thing about not having this document in place when you die is that you have no control over how your assets are distributed, which may cause anguish and hardship to loved ones you would have otherwise chosen as beneficiaries.
When you die without a will, or intestate, Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) sets out how your estate is distributed. It provides that unless someone who is financially dependent on the deceased person makes a claim, the first $350,000 is given to the deceased person’s spouse.
A problem that immediately arises is defining the meaning of spouse. For the purposes of intestacy, the SLRA adopts the definition of spouse found in section 1 of the Family Law Act, which reads: “‘spouse’ means either of two persons who: (a) are married to each other, or (b) have together entered into a marriage that is voidable or void, in good faith on the part of a person relying on this clause to assert any right.”
As such, only married spouses are entitled to benefit under the intestacy regime. You may have had a long and loving common-law relationship with a person you regarded as a spouse, but if there is no formal wedding declaration, they could be denied the inheritance you wanted them to receive. A common-law spouse may potentially seek redress by making a dependant’s support claim against your estate, though it is an effort and expense that could have been avoided with a proper will.
If you have no spouse, your children will inherit the estate. Sounds simple enough, but again there may be an issue with the way in which the SLRA defines child, as it only accepts biological offspring or those who were adopted as children. With blended families, many people have developed loving and long-lasting relationships with their step-children. In the eyes of the SLRA, however, they are not given the same inheritance rights as biological and adopted children.
Things get a bit complicated from here. Allow me to summarize:
- If any children have died, that child’s children will inherit their share.
- If there is no spouse or children or grandchildren, the deceased person’s parents inherit the estate equally.
- If there are no surviving parents, the deceased person’s brothers and sisters inherit the estate.
- If any of the brothers and sisters have died, their children (the deceased person’s nieces and nephews) inherit their share.
- If there are no surviving brothers and sisters, the deceased person’s nieces and nephews inherit the estate equally. (If a niece or nephew has died, their share does not pass to their children.)
- When only more distant relatives survive (cousins, great-nieces or nephews, great aunts and uncles), the rules are complex and a lawyer’s advice is a good idea.
There are many other problems that arise with those who die intestate, such as deciding who will be executor and oversee the estate distribution. The closest relative is usually chosen by the courts for the position, which may mean that your children are in charge and not your common-law spouse, which could create tension and expensive legal battles.
If you have minor-age children and there is no other legal parent alive, the appointment of the guardian will be out of your control.
Perhaps you have promised your grandson that he will inherit your valued coin collection when you die. That probably won’t happen, since all assets of the estate will be valued and divided up under the SLRA rules. However, in a will you can leave specific instructions, directing who receives what items you are leaving behind.
You may feel indebted to a charity, church, or hospital for their work while you were alive, and you want to leave that institution some money. Again, that can’t happen without a will.
The final point to consider is that if you have no next-of-kin and you die without a will, your entire estate goes to the Ontario government, with the Office of the Public Guardian & Trustee stepping in to administer your estate and seize your assets.
Drawing up a Last Will and Testament is a simple way to avoid all these issues, saving anguish and needless paperwork when the time comes.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!
This week on Hull on Estates, Stuart Clark and Kira Domratchev discuss the recent decision of Grove v Simon Dirk Kenworthy-Groen as executor of the estate of William Grove  WASC 70, pertaining to production of preceding Wills and a drafting solicitor’s records.
Should you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on our blog.
As many of our readers know, Ontario may be well on its way to becoming a jurisdiction in which wills may be validated notwithstanding that they are not strictly compliant with the formal requirements set out under the Succession Law Reform Act. However a recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice reminds us that Ontario, for now at least, remains a strict compliance jurisdiction where all formalities must be followed in the execution and witnessing of wills and codicils.
During the pandemic, many lawyers have taken advantage of the ability to assist clients in the remote execution and witnessing of their wills, as well as the execution and witnessing of wills in counterpart. In order to validly do so, the will must be witnessed using audio-visual communication technologies. In Re Swidde Estate, 2021 ONSC 1434, however, the drafting solicitor and other witness were neither in the physical presence of the testator nor in her presence by way of audio-visual communication technology, at the time that a codicil was signed. Instead, the witnesses were in communication with the testator over the phone (without video) at the time that she signed the codicil. The codicil was later couriered to the witnesses who then each signed the same document. The Court found that this did not meet the requirements set out under the Emergency Order in Council permitting remote execution and witnessing of wills, and the codicil could not be admitted to probate. This case may serve as a reminder to drafting solicitors to ensure that all requirements are strictly adhered to. In that regard, readers may find it helpful to use a checklist, such as that available through our website (linked here), when assisting clients in the remote execution of wills or other estate planning documents.
Bill 245 is currently in its third reading. Section 5 of Schedule 9 to the Bill provides for the Court validation of wills where a document sets out testamentary intentions but has not been properly executed or made. Such a provision would enable a judge in circumstances such as those in Re Swiddle Estate to validate a will or codicil that was not properly executed. This provision will come into effect no earlier than January 1, 2022 and will apply only to wills left by persons who have died following that date, subject to further changes before the legislation may be finalized and may ultimately take effect. Accordingly, especially while Ontario remains a strict compliance jurisdiction, it is important to exercise caution in ensuring that all wills we prepare are properly executed and witnessed.
Thank you for reading.
The Consolidated Practice Direction Concerning the Estates List in the Toronto Region was established for the hearing of certain proceedings involving estate, trust and capacity law, applying to matters on the Estates List in the Toronto Region.
As of March 9, 2021, Part VII (Contested Matters – Estates) of this practice direction was amended to make reference to model orders prepared by the Estate List Users’ Committee.
Generally, parties are expected to take the time and care to prepare proposed orders giving directions for consideration by the court. If the parties are unable to agree upon an order giving directions and a contested motion for directions is required, each party must file a copy of the draft order giving directions it is seeking with its motion materials.
In addition to providing requirements for what orders giving directions should address, where applicable, this practice direction now includes the following model orders:
- Order Giving Directions – Appointment of Section 3 Counsel
- Order Giving Directions – Power of Attorney/Guardianship Disputes
- Order Giving Directions – Will Challenge
- Order Giving Directions – Dependant’s Support
- Order Giving Directions – Passing of Accounts
As noted in the practice direction, the preparation of draft orders for consideration by the court will greatly expedite the issuance of orders. Where the relevant model orders have been approved by the Estate List Users’ Committee, a copy of the draft order showing all variations sought from the model order must be filed.
The addition of model orders can greatly benefit the Estates List in the Toronto Region. Among other things, these model orders provide a baseline for all parties, such that it can significantly reduce drafting time and potential disagreements on wording among parties, which in turn can increase efficiency and reduce costs.
Many thanks to the Estate List Users’ Committee for their time and efforts in preparing these model orders!
Thank you for reading.
There have recently been many proposed changes to estate laws in Ontario under the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021. The Bill passed Second Reading on March 2, 2021, and was referred to a Standing Committee.
We have blogged on many of these proposed changes. See “Modernizing the Succession Law Reform Act”, and “Ontario Raises Small Estate Limit to $150,000 – Now What?”.
One of the proposed changes is an increase in the amount of money that can be paid to a parent of a child when money is owed to the child.
As a starting point, it must be kept in mind that a parent of a minor is not the guardian of the child’s property unless specifically appointed as such by the court. A parent is not authorized to deal with a child’s property.
However, if a person is under a duty to pay money or deliver personal property to a minor (such as an Estate Trustee where there is a bequest to the minor), the person may pay the amount owing or deliver the property to a parent with whom the child resides, per s. 51(1) of the Children’s Law Reform Act (“CLRA”). However, s. 51(1.1) of the CLRA presently limits the amount payable to the parent to $10,000. If the amount payable is more than $10,000, other steps will have to be taken, such as the appointment of a guardian for the child, or the payment of the funds into court.
Under the proposed revisions to the CLRA and its regulations, this amount is to be increased to $35,000. Further, the provision will specifically apply to money payable under a judgment or court order or on an intestacy. Currently, amounts payable under a judgment or court order were specifically excluded.
Under the CLRA, a parent who receives funds on behalf of a minor has all of the responsibilities of a guardian for the care and management of the money or property. The parent may be required to account, and must transfer the money or property to the minor when they turn 18.
Thank you for reading. Have a great weekend.
Some Solace for Surviving Married Spouses: Ontario Increases “Preferential Share” to Spouse on Intestacy
Ontario has increased the preferential share payable to a spouse on intestacy from $200,000 to $350,000.
A recent amendment to the regulations under the Succession Law Reform Act prescribes the preferential share as being $350,000 for the estate of a person who died on or after March 1, 2021. The preferential share remains at $200,000 for estates of a person who died before March 1, 2021.
The last change to the value of the preferential share was in 1995, when it was increased from $75,000 to $200,000.
Under the Succession Law Reform Act, where a person dies without a will, but with a “spouse” and children, the spouse is entitled to the “preferential share”, and ½ of the balance of the estate if there is one child, or 1/3 of the balance if there is more than one child.
The provision applies to married spouses only, including married but separated spouses. However, other recent proposed amendments to the Succession Law Reform Act may change this. The proposed legislation provides that the intestacy rules that provide for a spouse do NOT apply if “the spouses are separated at the time of the person’s death”. “Separated” is defined as meaning either (i) they lived separate and apart for three years as a result of the breakdown of their marriage; (ii) they entered into an agreement that is a valid separation agreement; (iii) a court made an order settling their affairs arising from the breakdown of the marriage or (iv) a family arbitration award was made settling their affairs. Further, there must have been no reconciliation: they must have been living separate and apart as a result of the breakdown at the time of death.
Cue the litigation.
On October 30, 2020, I blogged on the preferential share. In that blog, I asked whether it was time to reconsider the value of the preferential share. It looks like the time has come.
Have a great weekend.
The Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021 (“the Act”) or Bill 245, intends to usher forward significant, and welcome, changes to the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”), if passed.
This blog is not intended to be a comprehensive review of the proposed changes, and only seeks to provide an overview of some of the most significant changes.
Making Virtual Witnessing, Execution and Counterpart Execution Permanent
The Act repeats the content of the emergency orders passed by the Ontario government, initially intended to provide for a temporary solution to the difficulties posed by social distancing. In doing so, the new section 4 of the SLRA will provide for the permanent option to have Wills witnessed and executed through the use of audio-visual technology, and, for the execution of Wills in counter-part.
Eliminating Revocation by Marriage
The Act proposes to revoke section 15(a) and section 16, thereby eliminating the automatic revocation of Wills as a consequence of marriage. This particular amendment comes as a result of calls to provide greater protection against predatory marriages.
Treating Separated Spouses more similar to Divorced Spouses
Section 17(2) of the SLRA sets out that, unless a contrary intention appears in the Will, where a marriage is terminated by divorce or declared a nullity, a devise or bequest to a former spouse, an appointment of a former spouse as estate trustee, and the conferring of a general or special power on a former spouse, are revoked, and the Will is construed as if the former spouse had predeceased the testator. This particular provision does not include reference to separated spouses, and the proposed amendments intend to address this gap.
New subsection 17(3) will make it such that section 17(2) will apply to spouses separated at the time of the testator’s death, with necessary modification. The new section 17(4) defines when a spouse is considered to be separated, including that if, before the testator’s death:
- they lived separate and apart for three years as a result of a breakdown in marriage;
- they entered into a valid separation agreement under Part IV of the Family Law Act,
- a court made an order with respect to their rights and obligations in the settlement of their affairs arising from the breakdown of their marriage, or
- a family arbitration award was made with respect to their rights and obligations as a result of their marriage breakdown, and
- at the time of the testator’s death, they were living separate and apart as a result of marriage breakdown.
The Act also proposes new section 43.1 which will eliminate a separated spouse’s entitlements on intestacy. The section relies on the same definition as set out above, to define “separated spouses.”
Moving from Strict Compliance to Substantial Compliance
The Act proposes new subsection 21.1 which provides for the court-ordered validity of a testamentary document. The proposed section sets out that if the Superior Court of Justice is satisfied that a document that was not properly executed or made under the SLRA sets out the testamentary intentions of a deceased, or an intention to revoke, alter or revive a Will of the deceased, the court may, on application, order that the document is a valid and fully effective Will.
The proposed provision does not expand to electronic Wills, which will continue to be considered invalid testamentary instruments.
The Act provides that substantial compliance, as set out in section 21.1 will only apply if the deceased died on or after the date in which the proposed amendments come into force.
To learn more about the Act, and its proposed amendments, please see the below:
Thanks for reading!
Handwritten Wills/Codicils are certainly quite rare, particularly for people with means. In certain circumstances, and particularly where the testator had made a pre-existing Will, the presence of a subsequent handwritten Will or Codicil can suggest the presence of suspicious circumstances.
As Paul Trudelle blogged last week, Larry King apparently executed a secret handwritten codicil in 2019 that divided his roughly $2 million estate amongst his five children, to the exclusion of his wife, Shawn King. Mrs. King apparently intends to challenge the validity of the 2019 codicil.
In Ontario, an amendment to a Will is referred to as a “codicil” and it is considered to be a Will, for the purposes of the Succession Law Reform Act. A handwritten Will, in Ontario, is referred to as a “Holograph Will” and the only requirement is that it be made wholly by the testator’s own handwriting and signature, without formality, and without the presence, attestation or signature of a witness. The fact that a Holograph Will is usually made without witnesses will often cause litigation, particularly if there are suspicious circumstances surrounding its execution and/or discord in the family of the deceased.
If Mr. and Mrs. King resided in Ontario, Mrs. King could pursue various claims in challenging the validity of the 2019 codicil (subject to the available evidence), including:
- Lack of requisite testamentary capacity on Mr. King’s part;
- Mr. King being subject to undue influence from any or all of his children (or other third parties);
- Presence of suspicious circumstances in the execution of the codicil; and
- Presence of fraud in the execution of the document (which is pleaded quite rarely, as there are serious costs consequences for those that make such an allegation but are unable to prove it).
It will certainly be interesting to see how this matter unfolds, particularly taking into account that $2 million is not a significant amount when the costs of litigation are taken into account.
Interestingly, some sources suggest that his Estate is actually worth $50 million, which sounds a lot more accurate!
Thanks for reading!
Find this blog interesting? Please consider these other related posts:
A recent question on Jeopardy! led me to look into the phrase “last will and testament”.
We all know what a will is. It is a legal document that sets out the testator’s wishes with respect to the disposal of his or her property upon his or her death. A testament is the same thing.
Commonly, a will is referred to as a “last will and testament”. Why the apparent redundancy?
The phrase is a historical reference to a period when English law and French law language were both used for maximum clarity. The phrase is a “legal doublet”. Other legal doublets include “cease and desist”, “part and parcel”, “terms and conditions” and “break and enter”. The list goes on and continues.
Diving deeper, the legal doublet “last will and testament” is an “irreversible binomial”: words that must be used together in a certain order. One would never refer to a “testament and last will”, much as one would never refer to “cheese and macaroni”, “abet and aid” or “void and null”.
Another theory as to why we refer to a “last will and testament” is that, historically, a will dealt with real property while a testament dealt with personal property. This theory has been debunked.
Still another theory is that, historically, lawyers and clerks were paid by the word. Why use one word when you can get paid for several?
Thank you for reading. Have a safe long weekend. As a client told me, stay positive and test negative!