The mysterious death of Jeffrey Epstein is generating a hubbub across the world. It reads like the beginning of an Agatha Christie detective novel and has a central figure who is reminiscent of a James Bond villain: a wealthy financier who is accused of operating a pedophilic sex trafficking ring. He has connections with scores of famous people: politicians, celebrities, royalty … In the early stages of his prosecution, he attempts to commit suicide; then, shortly afterwards, he is taken off suicide watch, the guards purportedly sleep through their checkups on him, and he is found dead.
In the aftermath, there have been conspiracy theories and much controversy, including an FBI investigation. The case has also prompted some questions regarding succession law, for it has just been reported that Epstein signed a new Will two days prior to his death. For the purposes of this post, we shall posit what would happen to the Will and the estate if this had all occurred in Ontario.
Validity of the Will
If Epstein indeed committed suicide, his suicidal mind would be considered in determining whether he had testamentary capacity, but it would not be conclusive (Topp Estate, 1983 CanLII 2329 (SKSU)). The applicable test is still the contextual factors set out in Banks v. Goodfellow.
If it comes to light that Epstein was murdered, then the Will could be attacked on the basis of undue influence. To achieve this, the objector would have to meet a fairly high evidentiary threshold, establishing “that what appears to be the testator’s will is not his or her will” (Kozak Estate (Re), 2018 ABQB 185).
As Epstein’s brother is named the sole beneficiary of the estate, if he is found to have murdered his brother, then public policy would likely bar him from benefiting from the estate (Papasotiriou, 2012 ONSC 6473).
It has been reported that the alleged victims’ lawyers are seeking to continue their action against the Epstein estate. One of these lawyers, Lisa Bloom, is demanding a freeze of the assets in the meantime. In Ontario, if the deceased dies during the time in which he or she is a defendant in litigation, Rule 11.02 of the Rules of Civil Procedure may allow for an action to be continued against the deceased’s estate.
If the alleged victims win their lawsuit against the Epstein estate, it is uncertain whether they will obtain their damages awards, for Epstein likely sheltered many of his assets. In Ontario, the claimants could launch claims of unjust enrichment and constructive trust in order to gain access to funds which have been sheltered amongst Epstein’s friends, family, and offshore accounts. Sadly for the accusers, the same dark cunning which enabled Epstein to evade justice was likely employed in securing his assets in inaccessible vaults. Just a little something to think about.
Thank you for reading … Have a great day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
In today’s podcast, Noah Weisberg and Sydney Osmar discuss Webb v Belway, 2019 ONSC 4602, a recent case from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, where the court had to consider whether a common law spouse’s conduct towards the end of the deceased’s life, which included misappropriating funds as attorney for property, should be taken into consideration in determining whether she is entitled to support.
If you would like to read more about the case, see Natalia Angelini’s recent blog here.
Should you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com or leave a comment on our blog.
I recently came across a case out of the Court of Appeals of Texas (Royce Homes, L.P. v. Neel, 2005 Tex.App.LEXIS 1514) where the Court of Appeal overturned a jury’s determination of damages that was based on weak evidence from a construction defect expert. Although apparently well qualified, the expert simply estimated the costs of repairs based on his experience: he did not take any notes or measurements.
The court rejected the evidence as “ipse dixit” (sometimes spelled “ipse dexit”). The term is latin for “he said it himself”. The fallacy of logic is that by baldly asserting a state of affairs without evidence to support it sidesteps the argument. It is an assertion without proof. The fallacy is similar to an argument from authority.
My kids used to call me out on the use of ipse dixit all the time. When I made an assertion, they would ask “Why?” My usual, lazy, response was “Because I said so.”
Ipse dixit has been recognized as a problem in litigation, particularly in the area of expert evidence. In General Electric Co. et al. v. Joiner et ux, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the problem of “opinion evidence which is connected to existing data only by the ipse dixit of an expert.”
The term has been used in several Canadian cases. For example, in Young v. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, 2017 BCSC 2306 (CanLII), an expert gave evidence that damages in a motor vehicle accident were not caused by a sideswipe-type collision. At trial, the plaintiff objected to the evidence, with counsel asking “where is the science”. The court agreed, and rejected the evidence. The expert did not refer to his own assessment of sideswipe-type collisions. He did not refer to any studies or tests involving sideswipe-type collisions. As stated by the trial judge, “Instead, what we are left with is an exercise in ipse dixitism: it is so because I say it is so.”
In Lord’s Day Alliance fo Canada v. Regional Municipality of Peel et al., the issue was whether an exemption from Sunday closing by-laws was “essential for the maintenance or development of a tourist industry”. Town council said the exemption was essential, without citing any evidence. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that something more was required beyond council merely saying so. The legislation required proof that the exemption was essential, not just council deeming it to be essential.
In Lewis v. The King, 1949 CanLII 376 (QC CA), the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned a conviction for keeping a common betting house. In a concurring judgment, the appeal judge states that “there is no evidence, except the ipse dixit of the police officer, that the accused was the keeper of the place in which the search was made”.
In Ontario, Rule 53.03 of the Rules of Civil Procedure require that an expert report shall contain, inter alia, “The expert’s reasons for his or her opinion”.
As we head into elections, both here and in the US, keep your eyes open for ipse dixit.
Further, in litigation, be wary of ipse dixit evidence. Simply saying something is so does not make it so.
Make it a great weekend ahead. No ipse dixit. Provide proof.
“What could be more Canadian than Toronto neighbours arguing about building an addition on a house? Home owners arguing about a maple tree, of course.”
And so begins the saga of Allen v. MacDougall, 2019 ONSC 1939, a decision of Justice Morgan.
There, the Allens wanted to build an extension to their Moore Park home. To do so, they wanted to remove a tree that was on the property line between their property and their neighbours, the MacDougalls.
The Allens had obtained municipal permits to cut down the tree. However, as the court noted, the permits were necessary as a matter of regulatory compliance: they did not reflect any adjudication of property rights.
The MacDougalls argued that as the tree was on the boundary line between the properties, it was the common property of both adjoining owners. This was confirmed by The Forestry Act.
The Allens countered with an assertion that the tree constituted a “nuisance”, and therefore should be removed. “The law of nuisance seeks to balance the competing rights of owners – one neighbour to do what he wants and the right of the other neighbour not to be interfered with”.
The court held that although the tree was interfering with the proposed addition, it was not interfering with the Allens’ current use and enjoyment of the property. Further, the court found that no reasonable alternative to destroying the tree was explored. The application for an order authorizing the destruction of the tree was dismissed.
On the issue of costs, reported here, the Allens were ordered to pay the MacDougalls $77,000 in costs. This was based on partial indemnity costs up to the time of an offer to settle by the MacDougalls, and substantial indemnity costs from the time of the offer.
So, it appears, the tree still stands. However, I expect that the neighbourly relations between the parties have been clear-cut.
To read about one expensive dock, see my blog, here.
Have a great weekend.
When we last blogged here on the issue of electronic devices at borders, a Toronto lawyer, Nick Wright, had had his phone and laptop seized by custom officials after he refused to provide password access because solicitor-client privileged information was on the devices.
The authority under which such searches are taking place is the Customs Act, by which courts have previously interpreted “goods” as including cellphones. However, the case law is dated, and there has yet to be a constitutional ruling on the issue.
This may soon change, as Mr. Wright has, together with another lawyer, taken the matter further by applying to the Federal Court seeking a result that would reportedly include declarations that (i) searches on electronic devices without probable cause or search warrant are a breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and (ii) searching lawyer-client privileged material similarly constitutes a Charter breach.
The significance of the issue is stressed in the following reported statement of Mr. Wright:
“Solicitor-client privilege is . . . of the utmost importance in the free and democratic society and a fundamental principle of justice, and it’s for the benefit of clients, so individuals,” he says. “In an adversarial system like we have, it’s important that the public be able to consult with their lawyers, in order to participate in the legal process and to have the federal government thieving solicitor-client privilege information undermines our legal system and undermines the adversarial process.”
Until the case is determined, lawyers should assume that information covered by solicitor-client privilege is not protected from search at a border. Accordingly, further to the suggestion of the Canadian Bar Association, using cloud technology and erasing all privileged information from devices is the safest course of action.
We will be keeping an eye on this litigation, and hope to see an updated and meaningful pronouncement on the issue of a reasonable expectation of privacy for lawyers at the border.
Thanks for reading,
The Olympics seemed a lot simpler when Montreal hosted the summer games in 1976. Yes, there were some bizarre sports that seemed better suited to ancient Greece (hammer throw anyone?). But at least these bizarre sports were ones we knew well from previous games – and we were very familiar with most of the other stuff (like cycling, rowing, swimming, and running).
Times have changed
While many sports have been added and dropped from the modern Olympic games over the years, some new additions for 2020 certainly catch the eye – namely sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding.
All of these sports have been added to the exclusion of a sport – played by 20 million people worldwide – that has been working to be recognized as an Olympic sport for decades: squash.
The most recent pitch by the World Squash Federation was for squash to be included in the 2024 games in Tokyo – and it was confident that it had met all the criteria. But in February, the International Olympic Committee chose another sport to be added instead of squash: breakdancing.
You can read about the reaction of the squash community here. In short, they were stunned. Millions play the game, television coverage has increased, and it’s recognized as one of the most demanding sports to play.
But Olympic organizers have stated that their agenda is more youth-focused and more urban, which is why skateboarding and breakdancing are in and squash is out.
On the one hand, I get it. Squash has an elitist history (there was a squash court on the Titanic, available to first class passengers) and it’s mostly played in expensive clubs. Breakdancing and skateboarding are available to all, for next to nothing in cost. And they are fun to watch too.
On the other hand, if the Olympics continues to include even more elitist sports like equestrian, it seems unfair to exclude an individual sport that has a storied history, gender balance, and active youth programs worldwide.
I look forward to watching the skateboarding and breakdancing competitions in coming Olympic games. Don’t get me wrong. But I’ll shed a tear for a sport I think deserves a place on the podium as well.
Now, if we could just get rid of that hammer throw…
Thanks for reading!
Ian M. Hull
Hull on Estates #578 – Grewal v Litt: The Issue of Testamentary Freedom and Potential Discrimination
In today’s podcast, Jonathon Kappy and Sayuri Kagami discuss Grewal v Litt, 2019 BCSC 1154, a recent case out of BC where 4 sisters sought to have the court vary their parents wills that left almost 96% of the parents’ estates to the applicants’ 2 brothers. The applicants claimed that the parents failed to make adequate provision for their proper maintenance and support as a result of cultural discrimination that favoured sons over daughters.
If you’d like to read more about the case, see Garrett Horrock’s recent blog here.
Should you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on our blog.
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.
Thanks for reading,
Oakland Rose is no ordinary child. He is special in more ways than one.
Oakland was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 2 years old and had no verbal communication until the age of 5.
Oakland is currently 20 years old. Although his verbal communication has drastically improved, he is not able to engage in abstract thinking. Oakland’s responses are often rehearsed and premeditated. He is not able to take public transportation alone. Although Oakland will graduate from a specialized high school program, he will never attend university. Oakland has the capacity of a young child.
Oakland will be dependent on his parents for the rest of his life.
Approximately 1 in 66 Canadian children were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2018. Autism is just one of many developmental disorders that children are diagnosed with each year.
Families with children with special needs are in a unique position when it comes to estate planning. Planning for one’s death and ensuring that your loved ones are supported is an overwhelming task for the average person. For parents with special needs children, the task becomes even more burdensome.
According to one author, a child with special needs includes any child who, at birth or as a result of an illness or injury, is physically, mentally or emotionally disabled. While some people with special needs have successful careers, many will be dependent on their parents for the rest of their lives. Not only will the person be physically and emotionally dependent on their parent, but they will also be financially dependent. As a result, parents of a special needs child face exceptional estate planning challenges.
The higher functioning a special needs person is, the more likely he/she will require assistance from a parent’s estate. This is because government funding typically only provides for basic necessities.
Estate planners must determine whether their clients have children or other immediate family members with special needs. They must also ascertain that individual’s level of functioning. Specialized planning will be required for these families.
A parent of a special needs child might wish to consider:
i) Providing financial compensation for future caregivers in their will
ii) Setting up a special needs trust to ensure their child is not disqualified from government benefits – this trust will supplement but not replace the government benefits
iii) Creating a life care plan for their child which includes educational, living and career planning
iv) Writing a letter of intent summarizing the child’s habits, likes and dislikes
v) Naming a guardian if your child is under the age of 18
It is important to remember that children with disabilities have evolving needs. Thus, parents should create an estate plan that allows for flexibility. The plan should be reassessed and updated regularly to ensure it is in line with the child’s current needs.
Although creating a will and considering your own mortality is a daunting experience, it is far better than the alternative of leaving your child without adequate support!
Thanks for reading!
David Morgan Smith and Tori Joseph
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.
Thanks for reading!