One final note of caution arises from the Rooney (2007), CarswellOnt 6560 decision – a decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that I have referred to in my blogs earlier this week. This caution refers to the release that the Estate Trustee seeks from the beneficiaries.
In Rooney, the beneficiary was provided with a form of accounts, and was told that if she signed a release, she could receive a distribution from the estate. (The court was critical of this practice.) The beneficiary did so.
Later, the beneficiary sought to compel a passing of accounts. The court allowed the Application.
The trustee had asserted that because of the release, the beneficiary could not compel a passing. The court stated “It is not an answer to say that the beneficiary approved of the accounts and gave a release. One of the obligations of the solicitor acting for the trustee is to ensure that all beneficiaries have competent, independent advice in reviewing the accounts. There is no suggestion by the solicitor that he advised the [beneficiary] to obtain independent legal advice when reviewing the trustee’s accounts which he had prepared.”
Additionally, the court noted that the account rendered by the solicitor to the estate was a blended account, and included both solicitor’s work and trustee work. “The solicitor was in the best position to know what charges related to which services. He was also in the best position to know what portions of his fee account should be paid by the trustee out of her compensation or by the estate. There is no evidence that he gave any advice about these distinctions to the beneficiary so that she could consider them.”
The court concluded by stating that “There is no evidence that the beneficiary executed the release knowing that double charges for the trustee’s work had been made against the estate. There is no evidence that the beneficiary knew the solicitor charged the estate more for legal and trustee’s services than would arguably be allowed on quantum meruit basis. In these circumstances, the release was not a fully informed one; it cannot be enforced against the beneficiary.”
What is an Estate Trustee to do to protect himself or herself? The Estate Trustee might send out accounts that are as complete and informative as possible, so that the release can truly said to be an informed one. Solicitor’s accounts might be included, and these accounts could specify the nature of the services provided. Beneficiaries should be advised to obtain independent legal advice.
In many cases, an Estate Trustee may wish to obtain a court passing in any event.
Thanks for reading.
Yesterday, I referred to the Ontario Superior Court decision of Rooney Estate v. Stewart Estate (2007), CarswellOnt 6560, which addressed the distinction between the role of the Estate Trustee and the role of the estate solicitor.
One of the responsibilities of the Estate Trustee is to prepare a set of accounts for the approval of the beneficiaries or the court, as may be required.
The decision expands on this requirement. Citing an article prepared by Rodney Hull, Q.C. (“Fundamental Principles and Concepts Relating to Executors and Trustees’ Accounts” (1983), Estates and Trusts Quarterly 146), the duty of an Estate Trustee in keeping accounts is said to include the duty:
1. To keep clear and accurate accounts of the estate, rendered at appropriate intervals to the beneficiaries;
2. To keep the accounts distinct from other accounts;
3. To retain supporting documents for all accounts;
4. To produce to any beneficiary the accounts when requested. Income or revenue beneficiaries are entitled to have accounts at reasonable intervals; accounts must be presented to residuary beneficiaries when entitled to possession;
5. To make all beneficiaries fully aware of their rights;
6. To disclose any and all breaches of trust;
7. To allow all beneficiaries adequate time to investigate the accounts;
8. To ensure that all beneficiaries have competent, independent advice in reviewing the accounts; and
9. To notify all interested beneficiaries of any court audit.
In Rooney, the court held that a release signed by a beneficiary was not a bar to compelling a passing of accounts. The beneficiary was not advised to obtain independent legal advice when reviewing the trustee’s accounts, and the accounts did not disclose that there were double charges for the trustee’s work made against the estate, or that the solicitor charged more for legal and trustee’s services than would arguably be allowed on a quantum meruit basis. As such, there was a breach of one of the obligations associated with keeping accounts. Furthermore, the release was not a fully informed one. Accordingly, it was not enforceable as against the beneficiary.
Thank you for reading.
Today’s blog, which is part of my series this week addressing preparation for trial in a contested passing, deals with several issues regarding evidence at trial.
Rule 52.04 of the Rules of Civil Procedure deals with the marking and numbering of exhibits at trial. Where appropriate and practical, a joint book of documents simplifies the use of documents and the marking of exhibits during the trial. With a joint book of documents, the Judge, the Registrar, each counsel and the witnesses only need to refer to one set of documents, rather than to multiple sets of documents. Depending on issues of admissibility, exhibits can be dealt with by marking each volume as an exhibit or each specific document, within a volume, as it is dealt with.
Today’s blog is a continuation of my blogs this week addressing preparation for trial in a contested passing.
It is important in preparing for trial to prepare summaries of the transcripts of the examinations conducted to assist counsel with locating evidence in the transcripts during trial, including admissions and/or inconsistent statements made by a witness at trial. Having said that counsel should personally review the transcripts as part of trial preparation. By reviewing the transcripts, counsel can address issues involving: (i) the completeness and answers to undertakings/refusals, (ii) admissions made by the respective parties, (iii) incomplete answers provided by the respective parties to questions on the examinations, and (iv) whether additional discovery is needed before trial.
Listen to Preparing for Trials in the Context of Contested Passing of Accounts
In this podcast, Craig Vander Zee and Paul Trudelle discuss trial preparation considerations in the context of a contested passing of accounts.
While contentious passings of accounts are regularly resolved at a pre-trial stage such as mediation, and without the necessity for a hearing, in certain circumstances a contested passing of accounts may only be resolved by way of a trial. In many cases, a successful result at trial is the direct result of the trial preparation.
It is perhaps trite to say, but trial preparation does not begin between the pre-trial conference and the commencement of trial; rather, it begins with the formulation of a strategy for the case, the identification of the issues in dispute, the determination of the evidence required to prove the case and the marshalling of that evidence. As such, while the ultimate strategy for a trial cannot be finalized until the pre-trial stages of the passing have been completed, and counsel have the benefit of a thorough review of the case (before the pre-trial conference), parties ought to be mindful of the matters to be dealt with at trial throughout the litigation and how such matters can be dealt with or addressed during the pre-trial stages, including through documentary disclosure, examinations and by way of orders of the Court (such as an Order Giving Directions or otherwise).
Having said that, my blogs this week will include a series that considers preparation for a trial of a contested passing.
Have a great day.
It is widely assumed, and accepted for that matter, that a formal passing of accounts affords full protection to an estate trustee. The familiar mantra is that those with a financial interest in an estate are not only required to object to the accounts proffered, but must concurrently raise any other issue regarding the overall competency of the estate trustee (succinctly summed by the phrase “you snooze you lose”). However, I recently came across an Ontario Court of Appeal (“C.A.”) case that challenges that proposition.
By way of background, section 49(2) of the Estates Act states: “The judge, on passing the accounts of an executor… has jurisdiction to enter into and make full inquiry and accounting of … the whole property that the deceased was possessed of… [including] its administration and disbursement”. Section 49(3) authorizes a judge to order the estate trustee to pay damages if the estate trustee occasioned financial loss to the estate through misconduct, neglect, or default. It is worth noting that the language is permissive, not mandatory, seemingly providing a beneficiary with the opportunity to make a later complaint.
Read the transcribed version of "Joint Accounts"
During Hull on Estates Podcast #66, Ian Hull spoke about a conference he attended and spoke at, Podcasters Across Borders, and also discussed joint accounts, focusing on the resources found at jointasset.com, concerning joint accounts and their role in estate litigation.
Listen to "Joint Accounts"
Read the transcribed version of "Joint Accounts"
In Hull on Estates Podcast episode #59, David Smith and Jason Allan discuss the Supreme Court of Canada’s decisions on joint accounts in Pecore v. Pecore, 2007 SCC 17, and Madsen Estate v. Saylor 2007 SCC 18.
These two decisions concern joint bank accounts and the decision of right of survivorship, as well as the question of presumptions resulting trust and advancement.