Tag: Archived BLOG POSTS – Hull on Estates
Some interesting points Clare A. Sullivan of Aird Berlis made on this topic at the 2011 Six-Minute Estates Lawyer are:
· Conflicts – Consider whether the Trustee appointed in the Primary Will is the same as the Trustee appointed in the Secondary Will; if not, it may be that the solicitor can not act for both; it may also support the contention that the testator intended the assets under one Will to be dealt with separately from those governed by the other Will;
· Assets – Trustees should list the assets of each estate separately and confirm none of the assets of the secondary estate require probate; if such an asset requires probate, probate taxes will be payable on the total value of the secondary estate;
· Notification – The beneficiaries under each Will should be provided with formal notification of their interest in the estate and the probate application, and be given a copy of both Wills;
· Creditors – it the Trustees of each Will are the same one advertisement should suffice; separate ads or a joint ad should be considered if the Trustees are not the same; and
· Debts and Taxes –
· When there are different residuary beneficiaries under each Will, it is important for Trustees to ensure their actions cannot be construed as favouring one or over any other;
· If the Trustees and residuary beneficiaries are the same in each Will, and there is no doubt that there will be sufficient assets of both estates to pay all debts and taxes, there will be no issues regarding abatement; and
· If the residuary beneficiaries are different or there is not certainty that the residue of the two estates are sufficient to cover all debts and taxes, the Trustees will have to consider from which estate debts and taxes will be paid and which gifts will abate in which order. This may involve an interpretation of the Wills based on the testator’s intentions. If unsure or the beneficiaries disagree with the Trustees’ interpretation, it is advisable to seek the direction from the court.
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!
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Over the Christmas break, a news story out of Winnipeg captured national headlines. Samuel Golubchuk is 84 years old and on life support in Winnipeg’s Grace Hospital. He apparently suffered a brain-injury from an earlier fall and part of his brain was removed at the time. Tragically, Mr. Golubchuk cannot walk, speak, eat or breathe on his own. His treating physicians say Mr. Golubchuk has no chance of recovery and that his quality of life is negligible. They want the right to remove him from life support. The news stories don’t indicate whether Mr. Golubchuk left a power of attorney or end-of-life instructions.
Mr. Golubchuk’s family has gone to court to resist any attempt by the hospital’s doctors to remove him from life support. Mr. Golubchuk’s family claims that removing life support would violate Mr. Golubchuk’s orthodox Jewish belief and amount to an assault as it would hasten his death.
In early December, the family was granted a temporary court injunction while a local judge considered the case. In January, the family returned to court and presented two opinions from New York doctors. According to the family’s doctors, Mr. Golubchuk was not beyond hope.
The family has maintained throughout that it is a matter of self-determination and the right to live in a free and democratic society without an outside party making decisions for you. The hospital, on the other hand, maintains that it is up to the treating physician to make a judgment call as to whether or not life support should be removed.
As far as I can tell, the judge hearing the case has still not decided what will happen to Mr. Golubchuk. However, it is clear that the courts struggle with life and death decisions as much as guardians or family members do. There are simply no easy answers. In the end, I think it is difficult to say how any one of us would act or react when confronted with the ultimate decision.
Keep thinking and thanks for reading.
Mediation is a common occurrence in estate litigation. Mediation is also popular in other areas, including family law and even commercial litigation. When choosing a mediator, I look for the following characteristics:
- Knowledgeable (has to know the law)
- Experienced at mediating (too many “wannabes”)
- Litigation savvy (knows the true costs and challenges of litigation)
- Empathetic (a good, sympathetic listener is a must)
- Diligent (a mediator has to know the issues and subtleties)
- Firm (a mediator has to know when to read the “riot act”)
- Stamina (mediation is often a marathon)
- Adaptable (a mediator wears many hats)
If the other side suggests a mediator you’ve never heard of, ask around. What do your colleagues think and what is the mediator’s reputation like? To be honest, I’m never too quick to agree to a mediator suggested by opposing counsel if I don’t really know their style and reputation. Opposing counsel may have a comfort level with the mediator or know something you don’t that could work against your client.
By keeping the above characteristics in mind and doing your homework, you and your client will likely have a better chance of satisfactorily settling the dispute.
Thanks for reading, Justin
Welcome to my week of blogs. I hope you enjoy the eclectic mix of topics and issues that I will blog on this week.
I recently came across a case that considered the doctrine of abuse of process. While it was a family law dispute, the case nevertheless caught my attention as abuse of process cuts across all areas of the law, including estate litigation.
The Supreme Court of Canada had this to say about abuse of process:
The doctrine of abuse of process engages the inherent power of the court to prevent the misuse of its procedure in a way that would be manifestly unfair to a party to the litigation before it or would in some other way bring the administration of justice into disrepute. It is a flexible doctrine unencumbered by the specific requirements of concepts such as issue estoppel.
As can be seen from the above passage, the focus of the abuse of process doctrine is on the integrity of the judicial process and not on the motive, however dishonourable, or status of the parties.
In the context of estate litigation, where emotions are often raw and grievances long held, a party to an action cannot be blinded by perceived motives when considering whether to strike a claim as an abuse of process.
The best way to approach abuse of process is to consider claims that the court has held to be an abuse of process. A good example is where a party re-litigates a claim, however disguised, solely to achieve a more favourable judicial result or harass the other side. Such a case is both manifestly unfair to the defendant as well as bringing the administration of justice into disrepute.
The real attraction of the doctrine of abuse of process is its flexibility and the latitude it provides the court in its application. However, as with all procedural or early motions, it is often a difficult case to meet. The facts must be clear in order to successfully argue that a claim should be struck as an abuse of process.
Yesterday’s Breakfast Series was very informative (and the breakfast is always a nice treat!).
Suzana Popovic-Montag started off the seminar with an instructive talk on trust issues in an estates context. Her discussion of leading and recent case-law examining a trustee’s discretion to encroach on capital, including Gisborne v. Gisborne (1877), 2 A.C. 300 (H.L.) and Fox v. Fox Estate, included the following observations:
- the Court will not interfere with the exercise of a trustee’s discretion to encroach on capital in the absence of mala fides
- the term mala fides should be interpreted with some flexibility
- mala fides is more than just a category of fraud; it includes any act by an executor which is based on matters/considerations “extraneous” to the purposes of the testator
- the question as to the extent of a beneficiary’s personal resources should, at first instance, be irrelevant
Suzana gleaned from her review of the authorities that the Court’s overwhelming view seems to allow for the broad exercise of discretion on an unfettered basis (presuming the Will provides for it) and the Court will only reluctantly limit that discretion.
Craig Vander Zee followed with an interesting discussion on the removal and/or replacement of a trustee, and Ian Hull spoke about various estate law remedies applicable to estate administrations. Their papers contain a thorough consideration of these topics that I unfortunately do not have sufficient space in this blog to touch upon.
Have a great weekend!
In Reviczky v. Meleknia, a house was "sold" (unbeknownst to the true owner) by a person acting under a fictitious power of attorney and posing as the applicant’s relative. The purchaser, an innocent third party, financed most of the purchase price through a mortgage registered on title. Although the purchaser conceded that he did not have good title, the bank that financed the transaction nonetheless took the position before the Court that its mortgage was valid.
The lawyer representing the "vendor" sent a copy of the power of attorney to the lawyer acting for the buyer and the bank. The power of attorney was dated just one month before the sale closed, the donor was over 88 years old and it was only witnessed by one person. Both lawyers were unaware the document was forged.
The solicitor for the buyer and the bank did not take any steps to learn about the form, content or validity of the forged power of attorney. It was held that because the solicitor took no steps to scrutinize the document the bank’s mortgage was void.
It will be interesting to see how this case is applied. I wonder if it will impact on a solicitor’s duties to “go behind” a power of attorney i.e. where a power of attorney has been signed recently and/or the donor is elderly, must a solicitor ask about the donor’s whereabouts, mental capacity at the time of signing, mental capacity at the time the power of attorney is being acted on etc.?
Thanks for reading,
An offer to settle made pursuant to Rule 49 of the Rules of Civil Procedure can be an extremely effective mechanism to secure a better costs order (see Rule 49.10). Most offers made outside the ambit of the Rules can also be very helpful to the offeror from a costs standpoint, particularly if such offers (like Rule 49.10 offers) demonstrate that it would have been better for the recipient of the offer to have accepted it.
However, a low ball offer made at the last minute may have little or no beneficial impact whatsoever. In Volchuk Estate (Re), a contested passing of accounts application, where such an offer was made by the respondent, the court held that the offer did not have any influence on the quantum of costs that should be ordered to be paid.
Several factors in discretion under Rule 57.01 that are to be considered by a court when making costs decisions will also likely impact on the quantum of a cost award. In this case, for instance, the respondent was found not only to have failed to properly account for his activities as attorney for the deceased, but also to have misappropriated funds of the deceased during his lifetime. While the principal amount of the Judgment against him was in the amount of approximately $40,000, the costs Order rendered exceeded $100,000.
Thanks for reading,
In the spring, I blogged on the pending demise of the Law Society’s Certified Specialist Program, likely caused by there not being enough lawyers coveting the title. I am happy to report that Convocation approved a proposal to continue and improve the Program (announced in the Fall/Winter 2007 issue of the Ontario Lawyers Gazette).
I understand the changes are designed to encourage increased lawyer participation and enhance accessibility and awareness. The Program will reportedly operate as follows:
Specialists will be entitled to include the credentials “C.S.” after their names.
The number of CLE courses that specialists will be required to take has been reduced from 18 to 12 hours.
The threshold for eligibility for certification is reduced to 30% of practice in that area.
A lawyer will only be able to be certified in two specialty areas at any one time.
Applicants must demonstrate that they have completed 36 hours of CLE related to the area of specialty in the three years prior to application. Previously, 90 hours of CLE over three years was required.
As before, 50 hours of self-study in the specialty area per year in the three years prior to application are necessary.
The Program will operate on a self-funding cost-recovery basis from fees generated by lawyers applying for certification and from renewal certifications.
For more information about the Program you should visit the Resource Centre on the Law Society website at: www.lsuc.on.ca
Have a good day,
In guardianship disputes, unlike other estate litigation, you are dealing with a living person, whose needs and wishes must be kept in mind at all times. For this reason, thorough contemplation of how to approach the case is important to undertake at the outset.
Felice Kirsh recommended some early considerations to keep in mind at the 10th Annual Estates and Trusts Summit, which include the following:
- Think before you start – A guardianship application is a drastic step. Even a consent application will be scrutinized by a judge and medical evidence will likely be required, as the court is trying to protect a vulnerable person who, in effect, is having his/her independence taken away.
- Representation of the incapable person – The incapable person is deemed to have capacity to retain and instruct counsel (section 3(1)(b) Substitute Decisions Act). If this is not addressed at the outset by counsel, the court will often order representation for the incapable person prior to dealing with the substantive issues.
- ADR Options – It may be possible to resolve a guardianship dispute (relating to a person over 18 years of age) by having him/her sign a new Power of Attorney. Other means for resolving such disputes are for the parties to agree to attend a family meeting or mediation as early in the process as possible.
Given the cost and emotional nature of guardianship litigation, I hope these points provide helpful reminders of the caution that should be exercised in these matters.
Have a good day,