A testator appointed you as Estate Trustee of an Estate and a beneficiary filed a Notice of Objection to your appointment. What to do?
Typically, a Notice of Objection to an appointment of an Estate Trustee means that their authority is challenged such that before the administration of the Estate can be addressed, the Notice of Objection must be resolved, first and foremost.
Whereas in the case of a Notice of Objection, the party having filed it, is likely to commence a court proceeding to substantiate his or her claims, that is not always the case. As such, there are a couple of things that an Estate Trustee can do to force the Objector to move forward, in order to ultimately address the resolution of the objection.
- File a Notice to Objector
In accordance with Rule 75.03(4), an Estate Trustee can serve a Notice to Objector and file it with proof of service with the Court.
If the Objector does not serve and file a Notice of Appearance within 20 days of being served with a Notice to Objector, the Estate Trustee’s Application for a Certificate of Appointment is to proceed as if the Notice of Objection had not been filed.
If a Notice of Appearance is served on the Estate Trustee, they have 30 days to bring a motion for directions before the Court and if they do not do so, the Objector may seek directions, as well.
Essentially, the effect of a Notice to Objector is forcing the Objector to commence a claim or else abandon his or her objections.
- Commence an Application or Motion to propound the testator’s Will
Another option that exists for an Estate Trustee is simply skipping the steps that would follow the service of a Notice to Objector and seeking the directions of the Court, in accordance with Rules 14.05 and 75.06 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
In this case, the Estate Trustee becomes the party commencing a court proceeding such that the costs associated with such a step ought to be considered, before proceeding. It is important to note, however, that proceeding with the first option will not necessarily save on legal costs to be incurred, if the Objector ultimately proceeds with a claim.
The option that is selected by an Estate Trustee will depend on the circumstances of each individual case such that it is important to consult with a lawyer as to which option is best.
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The reduced hours and filing capabilities of the court during the COVID-19 pandemic have raised some interesting questions surrounding the filing of probate applications. Although the court’s direction to file court materials by mail is likely of no concern for a majority of matters, as a probate application could contain the original executed copy of a Will as well as a potentially significant bank draft for any estate administration tax, you would likely be rightly hesitant to place such documents in the mail under the current circumstances for fear that they may be lost.
The potentially good news for those needing to file probate applications with the Toronto court is that it is our current understanding that the Toronto court is allowing probate applications to be filed in person at the court office daily between the hours of 10:00 am and 12:00 noon, and again from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm. Although these filing capabilities and times are of course subject to change, at least for the time being those in Toronto appear to be able to file probate applications in person without having to concern themselves with the possibility of the application being lost in the mail. Those needing to file probate applications in jurisdictions outside of Toronto should check to see if they too are making an exception to allow probate applications to be filed in person and not by mail.
In the event that it does not appear that it will be possible to file the probate application in person, such that the probate application would likely need to be filed by mail, the individual wishing to file the probate application should seriously consider whether there is an urgent need to file the probate application or whether it could wait until the courts have fully re-opened. If you are advising a client in such a situation, you should clearly explain what would happen in the event that the original Will was lost, and that an application to prove a copy of the lost will would be necessary (together with the added time and expense). Although the presumption that the lost will was destroyed by the testator with an intention of revoking it could likely easily be overcome by the fact that the possession of the Will could be traced to after the testator’s death, there would still be added time and expense of needing to bring the lost will application.
In the event that the client does still decide to proceed with filing the probate application by mail, one way to potentially reduce some of the risk may be to have any probate fees paid by trust cheque from the law firm and not by bank draft. Although in the event that the application materials were lost in the mail the lost will application would likely still be required, at least the concern associated with losing an original bank draft (and potentially the associated funds) is lessened as a trust cheque should more easily be cancelled. Multiple notarial copies of the original Will should also likely be made prior to placing it in the mail.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
Recently, Stuart Clark blogged on the procedural differences between Applications and Actions in the context of civil litigation. In his blog, he aptly describes key differences between the two proceedings, which rests largely on the manner in which evidence is heard. Applications are determined on a written record, meaning that evidence before the court is contained in affidavits sworn by the parties in advance of the hearing date. In contrast, actions are heard by way of viva voce evidence (i.e. parties are examined, and cross-examined in open court).
As parties inch towards their final hearing date, the benefits and disadvantages of proceeding by way of application versus action may sharpen into focus. As Stuart noted, parties may decide that there are strategic benefits to converting their application into an action, such as having a sympathetic witness. Parties are free to take steps necessary to effect that change.
However, if parties don’t convert their proceedings in advance of their hearing, Judges have the discretion to convert applications to actions, and can order a conversion at the hearing of an application. In other words, if a Judge decides that justice would best be served by hearing a matter by way of trial, they can order the conversion of a proceeding at the hearing of an application.
Such was the case in Halar v Bacic, wherein the court determined that there were significant and material facts in dispute relating to capacity, and that a trial was necessary to assess the credibility of the witnesses.
In that case, a mother appointed her son and daughter to act as her attorneys for property and personal care in 2017. Following execution of the POAs, she was diagnosed with moderate Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Shortly thereafter, the mother and her husband sold their home and moved back to Croatia. The proceeds of sale of their home were deposited in their Canadian bank account, with the understanding that the son and daughter would send money from the Canadian bank account when funds were requested by the mother.
The daughter and son ran into some conflict with respect to how the Canadian bank account was managed, resulting in the mother executing a new Power of Attorney in 2018, which raised questions regarding whether the mother had capacity to execute the new Power of Attorney.
The Judge was not satisfied that the medical evidence before him supported the position of the applicants and was not satisfied that he was in a position to make the findings and orders requested of him on the evidentiary record before him.
Ultimately, the Judge converted the application to an action and ordered that a trial be directed pursuant to Rule 38.10(6).
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In today’s podcast, Stuart Clark and Garrett Horrocks review some of the main procedural differences between the two primary types of legal proceeding in Ontario: the application, and the action.
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Consider yourself warned. Notwithstanding the relatively mundane title referenced above, the within blog contains a (somewhat mild all things considered) rant about something that troubles me to my very core (more of a mild annoyance really). Individuals who confuse and conflate the procedural steps and processes of Applications and Actions. Turn back now ye of mild stomachs.
There are two basic ways that civil matters proceed before the court in Ontario, either by Application or by Action. The Action is the more common of the two, and is the stereotypical image that most people probably have when thinking of something being heard before the court. Evidence is put before the court in an Action by witnesses sitting in the witness box, with the lawyers cross-examining and putting questions to the witnesses much like they do in your favourite legal television show. Applications, on the other hand, proceed only on a written record, with any evidence that is put before the court being contained in affidavits that were sworn by the various parties before the hearing date. To the extent that there are any cross-examinations on these affidavits they will generally have taken place before the hearing, with the Judge only being provided with copies of the transcripts and not witnessing the cross-examinations first hand as they would with an Action.
The estates litigation world exists in this somewhat unique corner of the civil litigation world, as many of the statutes under which our claims are advanced provide that the claims are to be commenced by way of Application and not Action. Although this in theory should result in these proceedings advancing on affidavit evidence alone, as parties often believe that there may be a strategic advantage to having the matter heard by way of Action (i.e. a sympathetic witness appearing in person before a Judge rather than simply in writing) parties will often seek to convert their proceedings from an Application to an Action at an early stage. I imagine that this is probably where most of the confusion stems from when individuals conflate the procedural steps of Applications and Actions, with the Order Giving Directions often being issued at a time the matter is still an Application yet providing directions for how an Action is to proceed.
The procedural process and obligations imposed upon parties participating in an Application are very different than those participating in an Action. There are no “Affidavit of Documents” or “Discoveries” in an Application, with the only evidence and documentation that is generally produced being that contained in the affidavits (subject to any undertakings or further directions from the court). Conversely, once a matter has been converted into an Action from an Application the affidavits that may have historically been filed are in a way irrelevant, as the Judge should in theory no longer have them available at the ultimate hearing of the matter with any evidence now being produced “viva voce” (i.e. in person). Once a matter has been converted into an Action from an Application the process that is to be followed is that of an Action, with the parties no longer being expected to serve and file any responding affidavits, but rather the more typical pleadings and documentation required for an Action such as a Statement of Defence or an Affidavit of Documents.
So please. I beg of you. Do not ask me when my client will be producing their Affidavit of Documents in an Application to Pass Accounts or when my client will be producing their responding affidavit after a matter has been converted into an Action.
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Rule 48.14 Interpreted! When will the Registrar Dismiss an Action for Delay? How Does it Apply to Estate Matters?
As recently as November 25, 2016, the Associate Chief Justice of the Superior Court, the Hon. Justice Marrocco, released a written endorsement in Daniels v. Grizzell, 2016 ONSC 7351, interpreting portions of Rule 48.14 since administrative dismissals may now occur from and after January 1, 2017.
The Registrar will Not Dismiss for Delay When…
According to the Hon. Justice Marrocco, “the Registrar will not dismiss an action for delay if the following events take place at least 30 days before the expiry of the applicable period:
- a party files a timetable signed by all the parties; and
- a party files a draft order establishing the timetable;
In addition, if a consent timetable signed by all the parties, and a draft order is filed, the Registrar shall not dismiss the action pursuant to Rule 48.14.”
Motion for Status Hearing and Motion to Set Aside the Dismissal
If the parties are unable to reach a consent, a motion for a status hearing may brought before the expiry of the applicable period pursuant to Rule 48.14(5). The Hon. Justice Marrocco clarified that “the Registrar shall not dismiss the matter until the motion is heard even if the matter is heard after the dismissal date prescribed by the Rule.”
Moreover, “the dismissal of an action by the Registrar can be set aside under Rule 37.14”.
Rule 48.14 Does Not Apply to Applications and Applications Converted to Actions
As it pertains to those of us engaged in estates, trusts, and substitute decision making matters, Rule 48.14 “does not apply to proceedings commenced by an application. Accordingly, estate matters which are commenced by way of an action are subject to the Rule; estate matters commenced by application are not. For practical reasons grounded in the coding of actions and applications in the court’s information management system, the application of Rule 48.14 is determined at the time the proceeding is commenced. For the same reason, applications which are converted to actions are not subject to Rule 48.14.”
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This week on Hull on Estates, Paul Trudelle and Noah Weisberg discuss the recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision of Keller v. Wilson, 2015 ONSC 6962, pertaining to applications for directions by Attorneys and passing of Attorney accounts pursuant to the Substitute Decisions Act.
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As of January 1, 2015, the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure were amended such that all actions not set down for trial will be automatically dismissed within five years of their commencement. Pursuant to Rule 48.14(1), unless the court orders otherwise, the Registrar shall dismiss an action for delay if the action has not been set down for trial or terminated by the fifth anniversary of the commencement of the action (or by January 1, 2017 if the action was commenced prior to January 1, 2012) subject to a list of statutory exceptions.
The Applicant in Michie v. Turalinski, 2015 ONSC 5491, brought an application to require an Estate Trustee Without a Will to file a Statement of Assets of the Estate on March 17, 2011. Notwithstanding the court ordered timetable for next steps, cross-examinations did not occur and counsels’ attempts to schedule cross-examinations appears to have ceased in or about 2012.
Ultimately, the Court ruled against the Respondent’s motion for dismissal for delay and provided the following comments in respect of the statutory authority for this relief:
 Ronald has framed his motion under rule 24.01 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. That rule sets out the circumstances in which the court may dismiss an action for delay. The rule does not apply here, since the rule applies to actions but not to applications. Since this case is an application, r.24.01 does not apply.
 Ronald also relies on rule 48.14 to support his positon. Rule 48.14 deals with the circumstances when the Registrar is required to dismiss an action for delay. The rule was amended effective January 1, 2015, and now provides that the Registrar shall dismiss an action for delay if it has not been set down for trial within five years after the first defence is filed. Again, the rule deals with actions not applications, but even if it did, Susan’s application was commenced in March of 2011. Five years have not elapsed since then, and thus cannot have elapsed since delivery of any response to it. If this application were an action, rule 48.14 would not require the Registrar to dismiss it. In any case, Ronald has never really delivered a response to the application itself, which would be equivalent to a defence.
Please click here if you are interested in our podcast of the recent Regulations amending the Rules of Civil Procedure.
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In estates matters, geography can become a challenge. The Estates Act provides at section 7 that an application for a certificate of appointment of estate trustee with respect to the will of a person resident in Ontario shall be filed in the court office for the county or district in which the deceased had “a fixed place of abode” at the time of death.
Sometimes, the deceased’s last place of residence is inconvenient for the parties to proceedings involving the estate and their lawyers. The deceased may have retired to a small town or a rural setting that is far away from Bay Street in Toronto. This can mean additional travel time, added cost, and other logistical issues in any legal proceedings relating to the estate.
In Re Pearsall Estate, the deceased had lived in Leamington at the time of her death. One of the deceased’s daughters sought to bring an application to compel another daughter to pass her accounts for her dealings with the deceased’s property as attorney for property and as estate trustee. The applicant encountered difficulty with the Toronto Region Estate Office, who argued that the notice of application should be filed in the court responsible for Leamington.
The matter was referred to Justice D. M. Brown, as he then was. He directed the Estates Office to issue the application.
Justice Brown’s decision looked to the Trustee Act, which had once required that an application to pass accounts by an estate trustee must be filed in the office of the surrogate court by which probate of the will was granted. However, this provision was amended in 1990 and no longer contains this requirement. Similarly, Justice Brown held that a guardian of property may commence an application to pass accounts in a county different from the one in which the guardianship proceedings took place. The result is that generally, aside from an application for a certificate of appointment, most estates proceedings can be brought in any region in Ontario.
The rules are different for motions. When considering a motion within an existing application, the motion should be heard in the county where the application is taking place.
If a proceeding is already taking place, rule 13.1.02 of the Rules of Civil Procedure sets out the criteria and the process for bringing a motion to transfer the proceeding to another region.
The rules about where to start various kinds of estates proceedings can be somewhat tricky. The Pearsall case, together with the relevant statutory provisions and the Rules of Civil Procedure, do allow for some flexibility.
We have blogged previously on section 35 of Ontario’s Trustee Act, which relieves a trustee who has committed a technical breach of trust but has otherwise acted honestly and reasonably. This provision may not be available to a trustee who, confronted with an ambiguous situation, fails to seek the advice and direction of the court, as is the trustee’s right under section 60(1) of the Trustee Act. Section 60(1) states:
60. (1) A trustee, guardian or personal representative may, without the institution of an action, apply to the Superior Court of Justice for the opinion, advice or direction of the court on any question respecting the management or administration of the trust property or the assets of a ward or a testator or intestate.
Justice Cullity describes the applicable principles in Merry Estate v. Plaxton, 2002 CanLII 32496 (ON S.C.) at paragraph 35:
" On the question of costs, I am satisfied that no criticism can properly be directed at Mr. Meredith for bringing this application. Section 60 of the Act entitles trustees to seek the opinion, advice and direction of the court with respect to the administration of a trust and, in cases where significant doubt exists as to the scope of their powers and responsibilities, they may not be protected under section 35 if they fail to do this. Although such applications must not be made frivolously – and not merely to relieve applicants from making decisions that are part of their responsibilities under the terms of the trust – they are entitled to have their costs paid out of the trust property if, in the opinion of the court, the application was properly brought. I believe this is such a case."
Merry Estate v. Plaxton also contains a discussion of a trustee’s right of indemnity with respect to costs properly incurred, and the relationship between this right of indemnity and litigation cost awards for trustees from trusts. In that application for the court’s advice, the trustee Mr. Meredith was awarded full indemnity for his legal expenses in bringing the application.
Have a great day,
Chris M. Graham – Click here for more information on Chris Graham.