A recent decision out of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice serves an important reminder of the difficulties that can arise in interpreting and implementing a will when the life circumstances of a testator change after preparing the will.
In Stuart v Stuart, 2019 ONSC 4328, the Court dealt with the interpretation of a will prepared by a testator in 1999. At the time of preparing the will, the testator was married and lived in a property he and his wife owned as tenants-in-common. Although they remained married and did not indicate any intention to separate, the testator eventually required placement in a long-term care facility.
The testator’s wife subsequently decided to sell the property she and her husband had lived in together and purchased a life lease housing interest (see here a guide from Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for more on these arrangements). The wife purchased the life lease as tenants-in-common with the testator, but he never resided there as he remained in long-term care.
The testator eventually died and sometime after his death, the wife sold the life lease interest and deposited half the proceeds of sale into the testator’s estate. After the wife’s death, Directions were sought by the Estate Trustee with respect to the interpretation of the following provision of the will:
3(h) To allow my wife, during her lifetime, the use and enjoyment of whatever interest I may own in any residence we may occupy at the time of my death. My Trustee may, at any time, with the consent of my wife, sell such interest with the proceeds of such sale assist in the purchase of another residence for the use and enjoyment of my wife as aforesaid and so on from time to time, always retaining the proportionate share in such residence for my estate. If my wife so prefers, my Trustee may sell such interest in the residence and hold the net proceeds of sale in trust for my wife as hereinafter set out. If, during any period, the whole or any part of the proceeds of any such sale be not so used, they shall be invested by my Trustee and my wife shall, during such period, be entitled to the net income therefrom. My Trustee in determining the proceeds of sale of any such interest in the residence with a view to providing another interest in the residence for my wife as aforesaid, shall not deduct the amount of any debts secured thereon.
Because the husband had still been alive at the time that the home he shared with his wife was sold, the questions was whether paragraph 3(h) of the will remained operative as the husband never resided in the subsequent property that he and his wife owned at his time of death.
The Court applied the armchair rule to “assume the same knowledge [the testator] had to the nature and extent of his assets, the makeup of his family, and his relationship to its members.” The Court found that the testator and his wife remained married and were separated only due to the testator’s health. Had he not been in long-term care, he would have resided with the wife. The Court then found that the testator’s primary intention, from his will, was that his wife was properly cared for after his death such that he “clearly wanted his wife to be able to remain living in whatever home she and he, but for his medical condition, would have been living in at the time of his death.” The Court therefore found that the terms of the will allowed the wife to reside in the subsequently purchased home, despite the testator never having lived there.
Thanks for reading!
In March of last year, I blogged on the decision in Hunt v Worrod which dealt with predatory marriages and an individual’s capacity to marry. There have been several developments in that case since then, most recently in a Court of Appeal decision released in June, concerning the issue of costs.
The facts of the case are set out in greater detail in my earlier blog, but a quick refresher may nonetheless be helpful. The application was commenced by the applicant, by his two litigation guardians, largely for the purposes of challenging the validity of his marriage to the respondent and its effect on her property rights as a spouse of the applicant. The respondent had been granted a legal aid certificate by Legal Aid Ontario (“LAO”), which funded her legal fees through trial. Importantly, LAO was not retained as counsel by the respondent. Rather, the respondent retained private counsel whose fees were funded by LAO.
The applicant was ultimately successful at trial and sought an order for costs against the respondent personally, the respondent’s counsel personally, and LAO. In his decision on costs, Justice Koke ordered the respondent was to pay the applicant’s costs on a full indemnity basis. However, he equally noted that, as a result of her limited means and tenuous financial position, it was unlikely that the respondent would be able to pay any amount of that costs award.
The trial judge then turned his mind to the request for costs payable by LAO. In reviewing the circumstances of LAO’s involvement in the case, the trial judge held that it had failed to carry out its mandate by continuing to fund the respondent’s fees notwithstanding the lack of merit. The trial judge ordered LAO to pay one-half of the amount of the costs award made against the respondent.
LAO appealed the costs award and was successful. In its reasons, the Court of Appeal plainly stated that the decision to award costs against LAO could not stand, as it had been made on a misapprehension of LAO’s role in the matter. While the trial judge had held that LAO purportedly failed to monitor the litigation that it had continued to fund, resulting in an abuse of process, the Court of Appeal took a markedly different view.
Notably, the Court of Appeal identified that LAO’s role was strictly limited to providing funding for the respondent to retain separate counsel in accordance with its statutory mandate. LAO itself did not act for the respondent, nor was it a party to the initial application.
Had LAO been a party to the litigation, the Court of Appeal held that they would properly have been exposed to a potential costs award, subject to the discretion of the trial judge. However, in the absence of evidence of any bad faith on the part of LAO in continuing to fund the litigation, the Court of Appeal held that a costs award against LAO was not appropriate in the circumstances.
Thanks for reading.
Summer is fleeting – and we often put pressure on ourselves to make the most of this 3-month sliver of warmer weather.
But here’s the issue. Day-to-day life doesn’t stop. You still have to work most weeks, kids need tending, dogs need walking, and meals need making. And expenses don’t go away – there’s a limit on what you can spend.
So, instead of focussing on big, time-consuming, or costly things that can make a summer special (trips, hot-air ballooning, cottage rentals), how about some small things that can rock your summer.
Here are five small activities that you can easily work into your summer plans.
- Jump in a fresh water lake: You actually don’t have to jump, but there is no summer experience that can match the feel of a Canadian freshwater lake. Even if you’re a non-swimmer, put on a life vest and wade in. Just once. I guarantee it will be memorable.
- Take in one outdoor concert or event: Shakespeare in the Park, a jazz concert, a baseball game – there are many ways to enjoy some sport or culture in the warmer weather. It’s a chance to sit, relax and let someone else do the entertaining.
- Eat ice cream on a hot night: Your diet is no excuse – there are sugar-free and vegan ice cream options everywhere these days. On a hot day, wait until dark then head out for ice cream. The combination of heat, cold and dark can make for some memorable moments.
- Plant a vegetable, somewhere: It can be in a garden or a pot, or secretly hidden in a park, but plant something that you can harvest later in the summer. You’ll get great satisfaction in eating a home-grown carrot, bean, tomato, or zucchini.
- Have a BBQ or patio dinner: If you have a BBQ, use it – the smell alone will bring back memories of summers past. If you don’t BBQ, make a point of having a patio dinner, at a restaurant or at home. And as you’re sitting there, remember: you can’t do this in January.
Here’s to better weather!
Ian M. Hull
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)
Sometimes, you are added as a party to a proceeding when you don’t really want to be. In other cases, a proceeding is started, and you are not a party, but want to be. What can be done about this? Intervention.
Under Rule 13.01(1) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, a person who is not a party to a proceeding may move for leave to intervene as an added party if the person claims:
- an interest in the subject matter of the proceeding;
- that the person may be adversely affected by a judgment in the proceeding, or
- that there exists between the proposed intervenor and one or more of the parties a question of law or fact in common with one or more of the questions in issue in the proceeding.
Rule 13.01(2) adds another consideration. The court shall consider whether the intervention will unduly delay or prejudice the determination of the rights of the parties to the proceeding.
Intervention was considered in the decision of Arnold v. Arnold, 2019 ONSC 3679. There, the proceeding involved a Power of Attorney dispute between 3 of the incapable person’s children. The issue was whether a 2011 Power of Attorney, which appointed children 1, 2 and 3 as attorneys, governed or whether a 2019 Power of Attorney, which only appointed children 2 and 3 as attorneys governed.
The proposed intervenor was child 4. He was not named as attorney in any of the Powers of Attorney, and was not a party to the proceeding. Child 4 was diagnosed with schizophrenia and lived in his mother’s, the incapable person’s, house. He was receiving support from her. He sought to intervene to ensure that his needs were protected.
The court considered the criteria for intervening, and refused to allow child 4 to intervene.
As to the first criteria, the court found that essence of the application was who was to be responsible for the management of mother’s property, not how it was to be managed. While child 4 may have an interest in how the property was being managed, he had not genuine interest in who.
Regarding the second criteria, child 4 acknowledged that he was not adversely affected by the management of mother’s property, as long as the responsible person fulfills that role properly. The court added that child 4 would benefit from the determination of the question raised in the proceeding, as he would then know with whom he is dealing.
With respect to the third criteria, child 4 argued that he had potential claims as against his father’s estate and his mother for child support. The court found that the questions raised in those potential proceedings were not the same as the questions raised in the existing proceeding regarding who was to care for mother. Further, child 4’s lack of intervenor status would not prejudice his claims.
The court also found that allowing child 4 to intervene would result in undue delay and prejudice. The proceeding was already being expedited, and was scheduled to be heard two weeks after child 4’s motion to intervene. Allowing child 4 to intervene would likely delay the proceeding. Had child 4 moved to intervene sooner, this might not have been the case.
Costs were awarded against child 4. However, due to his being on ODSP, costs were awarded against child 4 in the amount of $4,000 to each of the other groups of litigants. Payment was deferred until child 4 received his share, if any, of his mother’s estate.
Thanks for reading.
In 2014, just before a provincial election, the Ontario government (then Liberal) announced that a high-speed rail line would be built within 10 years, linking downtown Toronto, Pearson airport, Kitchener, and London.
As the CBC so adeptly noted later, the high-speed rail project soon “slowed to choo-choo speed.” But that didn’t stop the promises. In May of 2017, that same Liberal government announced that the high-speed rail project would be extended to Windsor.
It all sounded great, except there was no sign of action. We hit 2019 – five years into the “built within 10 years” promise – and not a single railway tie had been laid. And then the inevitable happened – the new Conservative government announced that all funding for the high-speed rail had been “paused.”
The downside of democracy
I like our democratic system, but the glacial pace of building key infrastructure projects highlights a huge downside. Politicians make quick headline-grabbing promises to get elected, they delay those promises once elected, and then the promises are cancelled when a new party comes to power.
The result? Nothing gets done, not even little improvements to what we already have. And this isn’t just an Ontario issue – it’s Canada-wide and often occurs when municipal, provincial and federal governments intersect on projects.
I would love to see a national Canadian transportation super-agency, staffed by smart people making good non-political transit decisions, and with the power and money to make projects happen.
But that’s unlikely to happen soon. As an alternative, I propose the Chinese model. Decree that projects be built, then build them fast. Anyone who’s been to Shanghai recently knows how quickly things can get built.
And back to trains for a moment. This one-minute, time-lapsed video shows how 1,500 Chinese workers built the railway tracks for an entire train station in just 9 hours.
Now that’s the way to get things done!
Thanks for reading … Have a great day,
When was the last time you slept (lying down) on a train? Or a better question: have you ever slept lying down on a train?
My guess is “no” , or, if you have, it was a long time ago. While overnight rail service played a role in Canada’s past, it’s no longer a preferred mode of travel. Multi-lane highways and cheap flights have replaced overnight rail service for most of us.
Still, there’s something alluring about the train. Maybe it’s the romance of exotic railway routes, like the Orient Express or the Trans-Siberian – trains that are still running today. Even if you’ve never slept on a train, you’ve likely read a book or article – or seen a movie – about these trains with their closed cabins and worlds of intrigue.
The sleeper train to Scotland
It’s this romantic nostalgia for something I’ve never done that hooked me on the news that Scotland is introducing a totally new sleeper service between London and many destinations north this summer. These totally new trains are made for the modern traveller. Some cabins have their own shower and bathroom, the mattresses are top notch, and all the mod-cons (like wifi) are onboard. You can read about it here.
The thought of leaving a world city like London at night and waking up in the morning to the Scottish Highlands whizzing by made me want to book an overnight journey. I haven’t yet, but it’s a trip that’s definitely on my list.
There’s a whole world of trains
Of course, the news of the new train in Scotland got me looking at other sleeper train journeys. There are many. Some are luxurious (there are some high-end ones in India and Africa), but many others are just interesting journeys by rail. This Lonely Planet guide to 10 amazing train journeys is worth a read.
And no matter your vehicle of choice, if you’re taking a trip this summer, happy travels!
Thanks for reading,
Ian M. Hull
In the Ontario Court of Appeal decision of R. v. Nurse, 2019 ONCA 260, the gestures of a dying man were relied upon to support a murder conviction.
In that case, N owed rent money to his landlord, K. Rather than pay, N lured K to his home, where K was repeatedly and viciously stabbed.
N denied that he was involved in the stabbing, and claimed that another unknown person had stabbed K.
While K was being treated by police on the scene, N approached K and the police. K, who was in obvious and extreme distress, pointed to his stomach stab wounds, and then pointed to N.
The trial judge found that the gesture fell within the “dying declaration” exception to the hearsay rule. The Court of Appeal agreed. They also agreed that evidence of the gesture was admissible under the principled approach to hearsay.
A dying declaration is usually a verbal statement or utterance. However, a gesture can also convey meaning, and may be considered to be a statement or utterance to which the dying declaration exception to the hearsay rule applies.
With respect to the dying declaration exception to the hearsay rule, the Court of Appeal said that the exception could be traced back to the 1789 decision of The King v. Woodcock. There, the court stated:
Now the general principle on which this species of evidence is admitted is, that they are declarations made in extremity, when the party is at the point of death, and when every hope of this world is gone: when every motive to falsehood is silenced, and the mind is induced by the most powerful considerations to speak the truth; a situation so solemn, and so awful, is considered by the law as creating an obligation equal to that which is imposed by a positive oath administered in a Court of Justice.
The trial judge was therefore correct in instructing the jury to consider the evidence of whether K was pointing to N, and if he was, what he meant by this.
Another ground of appeal was with respect to incriminating messages retrieved from N’s cell phone. When N was first arrested, his phone was seized. An analysis of the data on the phone revealed only limited interaction between N and his co-accused. However, about a year later, the analysis software was updated, and a further analysis of the phone revealed the plan to kill K. N argued that the second analysis was a fresh search that was not authorized by the first search warrant. This argument was rejected.
Have a great weekend.
We wrote several months ago about the declining value of household furniture and other items – especially antiques that were highly desired decades ago.
The general rule if you’re selling home assets (typically in an estate or when moving into a retirement home situation) is that you won’t get as much as you think. Tastes change (grandfather clock anyone?), artists fall out of favour (or never gain much market value) and items fall into disrepair. And you usually have to pay a firm to come in and assess and sell the contents. It may not leave you with much.
Mind the small stuff
What can often get overlooked in content sales is the little stuff. We all bring our personal biases when assessing what’s junk and what could be a little treasure. If you see a figurine or small carving and don’t like it, you’ll assume that others won’t like it either. Under the weight of all the other junk you have to dispose of, the item can end up in the trash.
That can be a costly mistake. I was recently visiting an estate home being prepared for sale, and the daughter of the deceased pointed to a small ceramic cat at the end of the mantle. It was, to me, nothing much of note. It was about 2 inches high and 3 inches long and had stripes. I wouldn’t have thought twice about trashing it if I was clearing out the house.
That’s what the daughter thought too, until they had a friend over who identified the cat as an original ceramic piece by Swedish artist Lisa Larson. What was going to end up in the trash was actually a small sculpture worth hundreds of dollars. Oops …
Be mindful of the art-savvy owner
If a homeowner had a good eye for art during their lifetime, there’s a good chance that even small knick-knacks were bought with purpose and could have value. So, before you clear the little stuff off the mantle of someone’s home, it may pay to have an art-savvy friend tour the house just in case.
Thanks for reading – enjoy your day,
Ian’s questions and answers from Wednesday’s blog on various topics, including death and golfing, led me to consider another issue: people dying on a golf course.
One of my favourite scenes from my favourite movie, Caddy Shack, involves a Bishop playing the best round of golf of his life in a raging rainstorm. When asked if play should continue, greens keeper Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) advises: “I’d keep playing. I don’t think, the heavy stuff’s going to come down for quite a while.” The Bishop plays on, misses his final putt, and turns to curse the sky, whereupon he is struck by lightning. See the clip, here.
Although the Bishop lived (but renounced God), many others have not been as lucky.
According to Golfsupport.com, golfing (with 1.8 injuries per 1,000 people) is more dangerous than rugby (only 1.5 injuries per 1,000). In the U.S., golf carts are responsible for 15,000 injuries per year. 40,000 golfers seek treatment each year for injuries caused by errant golf balls and flying club heads.
Golf Digest has published a list of “The 10 Worst Ways To Die On a Golf Course”. These include:
- A man who was fatally kicked in the chest when a group of golfers lost patience with the man while he was searching for a lost ball.
- A man in Ireland who died after a rat ran up his leg, urinated and bit him while the man was searching for his ball in a ditch. The rat carried the fatal Weil’s disease.
- A man who died after slamming his club against a bench after a poor shot. The club shattered, and a piece of the club pierced his chest.