Building on this idea of judicial discretion is the recent case of Dobis v Dobis recently heard and decided by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, whereby the court ordered a passing of accounts by a party who was deemed to have misappropriated funds from an estate asset.
Elizabeth commenced an application in her role as the estate trustee of her late husband’s estate. She sought, among other things, certain orders that would allow her to gain and maintain possession and control over one of the estate assets, a four unit rental property. She also sought an order requiring her son, Mark, to pass his accounts in respect of funds she alleged were misappropriated from the rental property.
Mark resided in one of the units of the rental property with his spouse, and alleged that it was his father’s intention that he maintain a life interest in the property. During the lifetime of the deceased, Mark acted as a manager/superintendent of the rental property in exchange for reduced rent. He also collected rent from one of the tenants and deposited the funds into a bank account owned jointly by his parents. Following his father’s death, Mark began diverting rent from the rental property to himself rather than depositing it in the joint account.
Despite requests from Elizabeth, Mark failed to properly account for the rental income. The accounting that was provided to Elizabeth was not supported by vouchers, and contained no detail of the expenses incurred. Elizabeth submitted that Mark had no legal or beneficial interest in the property, that he was holding the property hostage while unlawfully benefiting personally from the funds generated by the property, and that he failed to account for those funds.
In arriving at its decision, the court relied on the 2016 Ontario Superior Court decision in Net Connect Installations Inc. v. Mobile Zone Inc., which held that a court has jurisdiction to order an accounting where a party is deemed to have misappropriated funds.
Ultimately, Mark was compelled to pass his accounts for all monies received by him in connection with his management of the property. All this to say, watch what you do, because you may be held accountable.
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Hull on Estates #558 – Fica v Dmytryshyn: Costs Consequences of Failing to Comply with Rules of Civil Procedure
On today’s podcast, Jonathon Kappy and Rebecca Rauws discuss the Ontario Superior Court decision in Fica v Dmytryshyn, 2018 ONSC 2034, which addresses a fiduciary’s duty to comply with the Rules of Civil Procedure in accounting matters.
Should you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on our blog.
The duties owing by an Estate Trustee are plentiful and onerous. It is important for an Estate Trustee, as soon as stepping into office, to understand their obligations and prioritize the steps to be completed.
There have been concerns rising out of Australia where firms have been billing clients, now deceased, for services that they are no longer providing. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, as well as Bloomberg, have reported that many financial institutions have been billing clients notwithstanding their own internal documents confirm that services are not being provided and that their client is dead. In some instances, clients who had passed away ten years prior, were still being charged.
This serves as a helpful reminder that Estate Trustees should immediately take steps to cancel the deceased’s numerous accounts/subscriptions that are no longer needed and that may automatically renew. These include, telephone, internet, magazine/newspaper, and the gym. And of course, the bank! An estate account should also be opened in order to deposit income and to pay any necessary expenses that may arise.
An Estate Trustee does not want to deliver an accounting, replete with payments for services that are no longer necessary. This would certainly impact a claim for compensation.
Solicitors assisting an Estate Trustee with the administration of an estate often provide checklists to ensure such obligations are met.
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The duties of a fiduciary must be performed diligently, with honesty and integrity and in good faith, for the benefit of the recipient. Whether a fiduciary can prove that he or she has complied with these duties will depend to a great extent on the ability of the fiduciary to account. While the duty to account is not debatable, the Court may consider the specific circumstances of the fiduciary when evaluating whether their actions are appropriate.
In Christmas Estate v Tuck  OJ No 3836, the executor disputed numerous cheques for the benefit of the attorney for property and other cash gifts that she was unable to substantiate with receipts or vouchers. The Court held that it would be inappropriate to impose strict accounting requirements where the parties had a “close family relationship”, in this case, mother and daughter.
The Court further declined to draw a negative inference when the attorney was unable to produce records to account for all transactions: the grantee had helped the grantor “in a multitude of ways” and, accordingly, the burden of strict accounting practices was inappropriate.
In Laird v Mulholland  OJ No 855, the Court noted that the overall credibility of an attorney for property is an important factor in determining whether that attorney’s informal accounts are satisfactory. The Court was unable to conclude that the attorney had acted dishonestly with a view to misappropriating the grantor’s assets, notwithstanding that his “record-keeping practices [left] much to be desired.
The Court pointed to the “abundant evidence” that the Attorney had performed “a multitude of services” which were entirely for the benefit of the grantor. The Court held that the fiduciary had acted “honestly and reasonably in all the circumstances” and should therefore be “relieved from personal liability.”
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Today on Hull on Estates, Jonathon Kappy and Noah Weisberg discuss the decision on Ghor and Steele and specifically when an attorney can be compelled to account.
Our population is aging but living longer. This has resulted in an increase in the prevalence of dementia and other aging-related conditions associated with cognitive decline, and a corresponding increase in the use and activation of powers of attorney.
As estate litigators, our firm is beginning to see a rise in power of attorney disputes between siblings and other family members. These types of disputes are often emotionally fuelled by longstanding sibling rivalry or distrust among family members, and can result protracted litigation and expensive legal bills.
Often a sibling or other family member will have concerns that the appointed attorney is acting improperly or is failing to fulfill his or her duties. In these circumstances, the sibling or family member may have concerns with respect to a lack of transparency or feel that they are being left out of the decision-making process.
It is useful for these individuals to know that the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 (the “SDA”) imposes certain obligations upon an attorney, which may assist in addressing these concerns.
The SDA states that an attorney has a duty to consult with family members and keep them informed as to the incapable person’s health and wellbeing (ss. 32(5)) and that an attorney has a duty to foster personal contact between the incapable and his or her supportive family members (ss. 32(4)).
The SDA also states that an attorney has a duty to keep proper records and to provide updates regarding the incapable person’s financial circumstances (ss. 32(6)).
The SDA also states that an appointed attorney must also obtain and review a copy of the incapable person’s Will (s. 33.1). If the Will provides that a specific item of property is to be given to a particular beneficiary, the attorney must retain that property for that beneficiary unless it is essential to sell the item in order to satisfy the incapable person’s legal responsibilities or otherwise provide for the incapable person (ss. 35.1(1)).
These duties are ongoing and an attorney can generally be held personally liable for any damages that results from a breach of his or her duties.
The Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee has published a brochure that outlines the duties and powers of an appointed attorney for property in greater detail, which can be viewed here.
Communication is often the key to resolving these types of disputes between family members. However, where there is a breakdown in communication, the assistance of a litigator or mediator who specializes in this practice area is often helpful.
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When a trustee breaches his or her fiduciary duties, there are various remedies available to the beneficiaries. For instance, if a trustee makes an unlawful disbursement of trust funds and these funds are traceable, there may be a proprietary remedy. In other cases, when the funds are not recoverable, the beneficiaries may have recourse to a personal remedy against the trustee.
These types of claims are most often channeled through the obligation to account. In requiring a trustee to provide a full and complete accounting, the beneficiaries are able to review transactions and determine whether any of them go beyond the trustee’s parameters. This is why a trustee must always be prepared to provide records and account details if requested by the beneficiaries.
In reviewing a trustee’s accounts, the beneficiaries are accorded with a great deal of discretion with respect to accepting or rejecting any unlawful transactions. For instance, if a trustee breaches his or her fiduciary duty by engaging in an unlawful act which results in a financial loss, the beneficiaries can disallow the disbursement and it will not form part of the trust accounts. They can then seek a remedy to have the missing funds replaced – either through tracing or by the trustee personally. This may occur in a situation where a trustee uses trust funds to make an imprudent investment that s/he did not have the authority to make. If the investment does not succeed, the beneficiaries can strike it from the accounts.
Alternatively, if the same investment results in a profitable outcome, the beneficiaries can choose to adopt the act and reap the benefits, notwithstanding the fact that the initial act itself was unlawful. In this case, the proceeds of the transaction are treated as trust property or if the trustee no longer has the funds, he or she can be required to restore the value of the proceeds to the trust.
This mechanism provides the beneficiaries with the best of both worlds. Even if there is one profitable act and another that is not (resulting in the trust assets breaking even by cancelling one another out), the beneficiaries can choose to adopt the profitable act and disallow the other. This can cause a windfall gain in some situations. The fact that the beneficiaries have this choice showcases that the law in this area can be very beneficiary-oriented.
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Today on Hull on Estates, Jonathon Kappy and Noah Weisberg discuss administration and accounting obligations with respect to digital assets and digital accounts. Although much attention of late has been targeted towards the gathering of these assets, and the determination of the rightful owner, attention must also turn to the inclusion of these assets in administration and accounting.
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The time line in passing of accounts proceedings is being changed. Recent amendments to the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure extend the time period for service of the Notice of Application to pass accounts, and move up the time within which to deliver a Notice of Objection.
The amendments also increase the costs allowable upon an unopposed passing of accounts.
The amendments, found in Ontario Regulation 55/12, come into effect on July 1, 2012.
With respect to timing, the amendments make the following changes:
- Notice of Application: Ontario respondent: 60 days notice (up from 45)
- Notice of Application: Outside Ontario respondent: 75 days notice (up from 60)
- Notice of Objection: 30 days before hearing (up from 20 days)
- Response from Children’s Lawyer or Public Guardian: 30 days before hearing (up from 20 days)
The amendments also codify what is required where a request for increased costs is being made, and the time frame for making and opposing such a request.
The tariff for costs allowable on an uncontested passing allows for greater costs. The costs range from $2,500 for an estate having a value of less than $300,000, to $7,500 for an estate having a value of $3,000,000 or more (up from a range of $800 to $5,000).
Have a great weekend.
Paul Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle.
In a recent decision out of the Supreme Court of B.C., Re Thomasson Estate, the Honourable Justice Gerow considered the circumstances where the court may pass over an executor, on an application by a co-executor/beneficiary.
The two Deceased (collectively referred to as the “Deceased”) had been married and had four children together, all of whom survived the Deceased. In their Wills, they named two of their children, as their executors, and directed the executors to distribute the estate to three of their four children.
One son commenced this application to obtain an order that would pass over the other son as his co-executor for the Estates. The Applicant argued that it is necessary for the Estates to make a proper enquiry into the nature of inter-vivos transactions between the co-executor Respondent and the Deceased and such an inquiry must be made independent of the co-executor Respondent as he would be in a conflict of interest.
The co-executor Respondent opposed the Applicant’s application, and argued, amongst other things, that the court should not interfere with the testator’s right to nominate his or her executor and removing him would be prejudging the case.
In her decision Justice Gerow states:
In the circumstances of this case, it is my opinion that there is a perceived conflict of interest between the co-executor Respondent in his role as an executor and his interest in his personal capacity. If an action is instituted by the executors as a result of the transfer of the Property, it would be against the co-executor Respondent. In my opinion, the co-executor Respondent, in his capacity as executor, cannot attack the transfer of the Property to himself while at the same time maintaining, in his personal capacity, that the transfer of the Property was proper. By making such a finding I am not prejudging the case. I am simply of the view that, in the circumstances of this case, if an action is commenced as a result of the enquiries into the transfer, the co-executor Respondent cannot conscientiously act as a plaintiff in his capacity as an executor in a case where he will be the defendant.
B.C. legislation is unique compared to the legislation that governs estate trustees in Ontario; however, if a similar situation arose, an application seeking similar relief could be brought under Rule 14.05(3) of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.