A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Noah Weisberg and I did a podcast about the recent Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision Re Vaudrey, 2019 ONSC 7551. But for those who prefer to read rather than listen, I thought I would provide a brief summary on the blog as well.
The testator in Re Vaudrey died in September 2018. Prior to his death, he had been married to Ethel Vaudrey. The testator and Ethel had been separated for a number of years, but had not divorced. Ethel predeceased the testator, passing away in 2007.
The testator and Ethel had two daughters, Sheila and Kristin. Sheila also predeceased the testator in 2013. She had never married and had no children. After the testator and Ethel separated, Kristin became estranged from the testator. The decision notes that Kristin described the testator as emotionally and verbally abusive.
Kristin was the only surviving family member of the testator.
The testator left a Will executed in 2005. The court was of the view that, based on its format and content, the Will did not appear to have been prepared by a lawyer.
The Will provided that Sheila was to be appointed as estate trustee, and inherit the residue of the testator’s estate, provided that she survived the testator by 30 days. If Sheila did not survive the testator for 30 days, the Will provided that Ethel was to be appointed as estate trustee, and inherit the residue. Again, however, this was conditional on Ethel surviving the testator by 30 days. As mentioned above, both Sheila and Ethel predeceased the testator.
The Will was witnessed by Sheila and another witness.
Lastly, the Will also specifically stated that “under no circumstances is any part of [the testator’s] estate to be transferred to [his] estranged daughter, Kristin P. Vaudrey, or to any of her descendants.”
Unfortunately for the testator, he had not set out in his Will how the residue of his estate was to be distributed in the event that both Sheila and Ethel predeceased him, as they did. The court found that the residue of the estate was to be distributed pursuant to the intestacy rules set out in s. 47 of the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26 (the “SLRA”). On this basis, Kristin was determined to be the sole heir-at-law of the residue. Accordingly, despite the testator’s wish that Kristin not inherit any part of his estate, his failure to include a gift-over clause with respect to the residue resulted in her inheriting the entire residue.
It is also interesting that Sheila was a witness to the Will. Pursuant to s. 12 of the SLRA, where a beneficiary witnesses the execution of a Will, the bequest to that beneficiary will be void. Even if Sheila had survived the testator, the gift of the residue to her would have been void in any event.
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In contentious litigation, it is quite rare for a court to award complete indemnity costs to one of the parties. The decision to award costs, and the amount of such costs, is within the court’s discretion. There are a number of factors for the court to consider in exercising its discretion, as set out in Rule 57.01 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, including factors relating to the conduct of a party.
Where a party has made an offer to settle pursuant to Rule 49 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, there are certain costs consequences if that party is successful, including the scale of costs to which they are entitled. Rule 49 specifically sets out when a party is entitled to partial or substantial indemnity costs. But in what circumstances will the Court increase the scale of costs to complete indemnity?
The recent decision of Churchill v Churchill, 2019 ONSC 5137 considered this issue. There had been a dispute between children over their mother’s estate. The plaintiffs were virtually entirely successful at trial as against the respondent, their brother, and had made several offers to settle that were more favourable to the brother than the results at trial. The court concluded that the plaintiffs were entitled to substantial indemnity costs from the date of the offers made, but raised the additional question of whether the scale of costs should be increased to complete indemnity, in view of the brother’s conduct throughout the proceedings. Citing the Ontario Court of Appeal, the court stated that, in order to increase the scale “the conduct of the losing party would have to be based on their serious misbehaviour so, as to fall within the category of ‘reprehensible’ behaviour”.
The court considered the brother’s behaviour, including his misappropriation of estate assets, failure to comply with court orders, and perseverance with meritless claims despite a number of court hearing with rulings adverse to the brother and two adverse costs awards. Although the brother was self-represented, that did not justify his conduct.
The plaintiffs’ complete indemnity costs were approximately $77,000.00. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiffs were entitled to more than substantial indemnity costs, and awarded them costs in the amount of $75,000.00.
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We often encounter situations where the administration of an estate is complicated by the fact that the deceased was married multiple times, and there is a clash between children from a prior relationship and a subsequent spouse (and/or his or her children). Sometimes, a couple will be closer with one set of children, which may lead to disputes following both of their deaths. Estate of Ronald Alfred Craymer v Hayward et al, 2019 ONSC 4600, was one such case, in which Joan and Ronald had been closer for much of their 32-year marriage with Joan’s children from a prior marriage. After Joan and Ronald died in 2016 and 2017, respectively, a dispute arose between their adult children.
While Ronald’s will named his own children as beneficiaries of his estate, his Continuing Power of Attorney or Property (like Joan’s), named Joan’s daughter as alternate attorney for property, should his spouse be unable to act. Joan had acted as Ronald’s attorney for property from 2006, during which he had suffered a stroke, until her death. In 2011, Joan had transferred the couple’s matrimonial home, previously held jointly, to herself alone. During this period, however, there had been no request by Ronald’s children for an accounting. Joan’s daughter had subsequently acted as Ronald’s attorney for property and as estate trustee for Joan’s estate over the period of approximately eight months between the deaths of Joan and Ronald.
Ronald’s children sought a passing of accounts with respect to the management of their father’s property by Jane and her daughter and, specifically, challenged the change in title to the matrimonial home. The Court referred to Wall v Shaw, 2018 ONCA 929, in stating that there is no limitation period to compel an accounting. Accordingly, it considered the only bar to this relief to be laches and acquiescence. Justice C.F. de Sa commented that the there was nothing improper in the manner in which the plaintiff had sought the accounting and, furthermore, that the delay was not unreasonable in the circumstances. The Court permitted the claim regarding the matrimonial home to continue, but nevertheless declined to order a passing of accounts:
…[O]rdering the passing of accounts is discretionary. And in my view, to require an accounting at this point would result in a clear injustice as between the parties.
[Joan’s daughter,] Linda, as Estate Trustee, is hardly in a position to account for Joan’s spending while she was alive. Yet, to require a passing of accounts at this point would subject every line of Joan’s spending (as Attorney for Property) to the court’s scrutiny. Moreover, as the Estate Trustee, the Defendant would be liable to account for any unexplained expenditures.
Indeed, it is unclear that the spending was spurious given the nature of the relationship between Joan and Ronald. Joan would have been spending the money as his wife as much as his Attorney for Property. The failure to keep detailed accounts is hardly suspicious given the circumstances here.
…In the circumstances, I will not order a passing of accounts.
This decision is interesting in that it clearly considers the practicality of a passing of accounts and the inability of the deceased attorney’s estate trustee to properly account in the absence of relevant records in determining that it would be unjust to order a passing of accounts, despite there being no other apparent legal reason not to do so.
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In today’s podcast, Noah Weisberg and Sayuri Kagami discuss the problems caused by a beneficiary under a Will witnessing its execution in the context of the recent Saskatchewan decision of Mahin v Kolosnjaji, 2019 SKQB 32.
Should you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com or leave a comment on our blog.
Estate litigation can be costly both financially and emotionally. As a result, there is often a strong incentive for parties to try to reach a negotiated settlement. Although entering into a settlement which resolves the estate litigation may appear straightforward from the outside, it may become more complicated if all potential financially interested parties are not signatories to the settlement. It is not uncommon in estate litigation for all beneficiaries of the estate to not actively participate in the litigation, leaving it to people such as the Estate Trustee or the other beneficiaries to defend a claim. As a settlement is in effect a contract between parties, if a settlement is reached which affects the interests of a non-signatory to the settlement can such a settlement bind the interests of the non-signatory?
I have previously blogged about section 48(2) of the Trustee Act, and an Estate Trustee’s ability to settle claims on behalf of the estate which can bind the interests of the beneficiaries. While section 48(2) would allow the Estate Trustee to bind the interests of all beneficiaries to the settlement, the Estate Trustee does so at their own potential liability, as it is possible that one or more of the beneficiaries may later challenge the decision of the Estate Trustee to enter into the settlement, potentially seeking damages against the Estate Trustee if they are of the position that the settlement was not reasonable or in the best interest of the estate. As a result of such a risk, it is not uncommon for an Estate Trustee to be hesitant to enter into a settlement on behalf of the estate in contentious situations, not wanting to potentially expose themselves to personal liability if one or more of the beneficiaries should later object to the terms of the settlement. If an Estate Trustee is hesitant to enter into a settlement on behalf of all beneficiaries, but all actively participating parties are otherwise in agreement with the settlement, is there a way to bind the interests of non-participating parties to the settlement?
The Rules of Civil Procedure provide the court with the ability to “approve” a settlement on behalf of parties who are not signatories under certain limited circumstances. This is done in accordance with rule 7.08 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows the court to approve a settlement on behalf of a party who themselves cannot consent to the settlement on account of being under a legal disability (i.e. a minor). Perhaps importantly however, the court only has the authority under rule 7.08 to “approve” a settlement on behalf of a party under a legal disability, and rule 7.08 is not available in circumstances where the non-signatory is fully capable.
The Rules of Civil Procedure do not otherwise appear to provide any mechanism by which a settlement can be approved on behalf of a party who is not under a legal disability. As a result, if the non-signatory who you are you attempting to bind to the settlement is not under a legal disability, the court likely does not have the authority to “approve” the settlement on their behalf under the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Although the court likely does not have the ability to “approve” a settlement on behalf of an individual who is not under a legal disability in accordance with the Rules of Civil Procedure, this does not necessarily mean that there are no other ways to potentially bind the individual to a settlement. One potential solution may be to seek an Order “in accordance” with the terms of the settlement on notice to all interested parties. Should the court issue such an Order, which in effect repeats the terms of the settlement but as an Order of the court, the non-signatories would arguably then be bound to the terms of the settlement as it would now be in the form of an Order of the court.
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In the past, in estate litigation matters, it was often the case that some or all of the litigating parties’ costs would be paid out of estate assets. However, in more recent years, the courts have been moving away from this general practice, and increasingly making costs awards providing for the payment of costs by one of the parties, personally. In particular, if the court views a party, including an estate trustee, to have behaved improperly or unreasonably, it may decide that such a party must pay the other party’s costs, personally. We have blogged about instances of such an outcome before.
A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has reaffirmed this general trend. The decision in Ford v Mazman, 2019 ONSC 542, involved a motion to pass over the named estate trustee, and appoint the two sole beneficiaries of the estate in question, as estate trustees. Although the named estate trustee and the beneficiaries were initially on good terms, within several months of the testator’s passing, the relationships began to break down, with the estate trustee beginning to make accusations towards the beneficiaries, in relation to the testator. The court found that it was “not a case of mere friction—this is a case of outright hostility from [the estate trustee] to the beneficiaries”, also commenting that it was difficult to fathom why the estate trustee acted as she did, and that her accusations were unwarranted. Ultimately, the court made an order passing over the estate trustee.
After the parties were unable to reach an agreement as to costs, the court made an endorsement in this regard in Ford v Mazman, 2019 ONSC 1297. After a discussion of the costs principles applicable to estate litigation, the court stated as follows:
“I am mindful that an estate trustee should be fully compensated for any reasonable costs incurred in the administration of the estate. However, the actions of the [estate trustee] are far from reasonable. I was not provided any rationale as to why her animus became necessary in the administration of her good friend’s estate.”
Ultimately, the court made a costs award in favour of the beneficiaries, payable by the estate trustee, personally.
This costs decision serves as an important reminder that parties entering into estate litigation proceedings should not count on their costs being paid out of the estate. Additionally, even though the estate trustee’s conduct in this case appears to be extreme, litigants should still keep in mind the importance of acting reasonably.
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I recently blogged about the growing use of home DNA tests and what impact an unexpected result could have upon your rights as a beneficiary of an estate. While such a blog was from the perspective of an individual who discovered through a home DNA test that their biological father was not in fact the individual they previously believed it to be, and the potential impact such a finding could have upon their status as a beneficiary of their “father’s” estate if their interest was based on their status as a “child”, questions would also emerge in such a scenario if you were the Estate Trustee of such an estate regarding what you should do.
If you are the Estate Trustee of an estate in which a bequest is based on parentage (i.e. an intestacy or a bequest to a testator’s “issue” or “children”), and you discover that one of the beneficiaries has voluntarily taken a home DNA test which revealed that they were not in fact related to the deceased, could you still make a distribution to such a beneficiary? If you have already made a distribution to such a beneficiary, is there a risk that the other beneficiaries could now make a claim against you as Estate Trustee, alleging that you distributed the estate to the incorrect individuals and that they have suffered damages as a result?
In response to whether an Estate Trustee could potentially be liable to the other beneficiaries for historically paying out amounts to a beneficiary who it is later discovered was not actually related to the deceased, it would appear that the Estate Trustee likely would not be liable under such a scenario. In my previous blog I discussed the provisions of the Children’s Law Reform Act (the “CLRA“) which establish a person’s legal parentage in Ontario, and the various presumptions establishing an individual’s father. While sections 13(1) and 14(1) of the CLRA allow the court to make a subsequent different declaration as to a person’s parentage, section 14(2) of the CLRA provides that such an Order “does not affect rights and duties that were exercised or performed, or interests in property that were distributed, before the order was set aside“. As a result, it would appear, arguably, that if an Estate Trustee historically made a payment to an individual based off of parentage, and a subsequent declaration is made by the court that the individual in question was not actually the parent of the beneficiary, the historic payment to the beneficiary could not be put in issue or reclaimed provided that at the time the payment was made the beneficiary was still presumed and/or declared to be the child of the deceased.
The issue of what an Estate Trustee is to do if a payment has not yet been made and they discover that an individual who they previously believed to be a beneficiary is not in fact related to the deceased could be more complicated. In the event that the other beneficiaries who could be affected by the distribution do not unanimously consent to continue to allow the distribution to the individual notwithstanding the results of the DNA test, it is possible that one or all of the other beneficiaries may later bring a claim against the Estate Trustee for negligence, alleging that the Estate Trustee knew about the results of the DNA test before making the distribution and that they have suffered damages as a result of the distribution. To offset such a risk, it may be wise for the Estate Trustee in such a scenario to bring an Application for the opinion, advice and direction of the court pursuant to section 60(1) of the Trustee Act and/or rule 14.05, asking the court to determine whether the distribution may still be made to the potential beneficiary in light of the results of the home DNA test.
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It is not uncommon for a trust or a Will to provide a trustee with broad and unfettered discretion in the administration of the trust or estate. We have previously blogged about the powers and duties of estate trustees, stating that it can be difficult to determine how such discretion should be exercised. Often, a trustee is given broad discretion to encroach on the capital of a trust or estate, for the benefit of a beneficiary. The issue then is: what factors can a trustee consider in determining whether to exercise their discretion to make a capital encroachment?
Broadly speaking, if a trustee is given unfettered discretion by a settlor or testator, the court will only intervene in the trustee’s decision-making if the trustee has exercised his or her discretion on the basis of mala fides, or bad faith. While there are a number of specific factors that a trustee may properly consider, for the purpose of this blog I will focus on one, namely the extent to which a trustee can consider a beneficiary’s income and/or assets.
Where a trustee is being asked to encroach on capital for the benefit of an income beneficiary, the trustee must consider the application of the even hand rule (briefly discussed in this blog). In doing so, a trustee may be tempted to consider the income beneficiary’s financial circumstances, as this information could illuminate how the trustee’s decision may affect the income beneficiary as compared to the capital beneficiary. However, the case law seems to indicate that this would not be a proper consideration.
In Re: Luke,  O.W.N. 25, the court considered whether the income beneficiary, who was also the trustee, should first look to her own financial resources before exercising her power to encroach on capital for her own benefit. The court determined that she did not have to first exhaust her own resources, as the testator had not expressed an intention in his Will that she do so. Similarly, in Hinton v. Canada Permanent Trust Company, (1979), 5 E.T.R. 117 (H.C.), a corporate trustee requested information from an income beneficiary as to the beneficiary’s own financial resources in the context of the trustee exercising its discretion to encroach on capital. Again, the court found that the testator had not indicated an intention in his Will that the income beneficiary’s income should be a factor in determining whether to encroach on capital, and the income beneficiary’s resources were, accordingly, not relevant.
The foregoing principle has been followed in a number of other decisions over the years, thus appearing to support the impropriety of considering a beneficiary’s personal financial resources as a factor in making capital encroachments, absent an intention by the testator in this regard.
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People can become upset when they find out that they have been written out of a Will. This frustration can often become multiplied when the individual in question received a significant bequest under a prior Will, believing the that the prior Will in which they received a more significant interest should govern the administration of the estate. In looking for recourse or answers, the “disappointed beneficiary” can often lash out against the drafting lawyer who was retained to prepare the new Will, believing that it was somehow improper or negligent for them to have prepared the Will, and that they have suffered damages in the form of the lost bequest. Some “disappointed beneficiaries” will even go as far as to commence a claim against the drafting lawyer for having seen to drafting the new Will. But can such claims be successful?
In order for the “disappointed beneficiary” to successfully have a claim against the drafting lawyer, the court must find that the drafting lawyer owed a “duty of care” to the beneficiaries under the prior Will. Generally speaking, the only individual to whom a drafting lawyer owes a duty of care when seeing to the preparation of a Will is the testator (and the beneficiaries listed in the new Will by extension). Although the court will sometimes in limited circumstances extend a duty of care to “disappointed beneficiaries”, such circumstances typically exist when the testator advised the drafting lawyer of an intention to benefit a certain individual, however as a result of the actions of the drafting lawyer such an individual did not end up receiving the intended bequest (see White v. Jones and Hall v. Bennett Estate). Such circumstances appear notably distinct from bequests to beneficiaries under a prior Will, for by creating a new Will the testator is in effect communicating to the drafting lawyer an intention to no longer benefit the individuals under the prior Will.
The Alberta Court of Appeal in Graham v. Bonnycastle succinctly summarizes why the court is typically not willing to extend a duty of care from the drafting lawyer to the beneficiaries listed in a prior Will, stating:
“There are strong public policy reasons why the solicitors’ duty should not be extended. The imposition of a duty to beneficiaries under a previous will would create inevitable conflicts of interest. A solicitor cannot have a duty to follow the instructions of his client to prepare a new will and, at the same time, have a duty to beneficiaries under previous wills whose interests are likely to be affected by the new will. The interests of a beneficiary under a previous will are inevitably in conflict with the interests of the testator who wishes to change the will by revoking or reducing a bequest to that beneficiary…” [emphasis added]
In noting that there are other avenues available to such “disappointed beneficiaries”, including challenging the validity of the new Will, the court in Graham v. Bonnycastle goes on to state:
“As noted above, several decisions have recognized the untenable situation that would be created by extending solicitors’ duty of care to include beneficiaries under a former will. Beneficiaries under a former will have other remedies available to them, and may block probate of the will where testamentary capacity is not established. The estate also has a remedy available where it suffers a loss as a result of solicitor negligence. There is no justification for imposing a duty on solicitors taking instruction from a testator for a new will to protect the interests of beneficiaries under a former will. There is not a sufficient relationship of proximity and there are strong policy reasons for refusing to recognize the existence of a duty. It is not fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty.” [emphasis added]
As cases such as Graham v. Bonnycastle suggest, the court appears unwilling to extend a duty of care from the drafting lawyer to a beneficiary listed under a prior Will. If no duty of care exists, no claim may now be advanced by the disappointed beneficiary against the drafting lawyer for any perceived “damages” they may have suffered on account of the new Will having been drafted. This appears true even if it is ultimately found that the testator lacked testamentary capacity at the time the new Will was signed.
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A recent decision from the Royal Court of Jersey was recently discussed here with respect to a beneficiary’s right to disclosure from a trust. This blog by lawyers from Ogier is an insightful read on this particular area of trust law.
According to the authors at Ogier, M v W Limited and Others was a case that considered a beneficiary’s broad request for documents, such as copies of all trust instruments, latest accounts, financial statements for the corporations owned by the trust, and details about all past distributions from the trust. While Court’s decision was grounded in an interpretation of the relevant Jersey legislation, some of its commentary remains instructive for those of us who practice outside of Jersey.
In M v W Limited and Others, the nature and immediacy of the beneficiary’s interest is salient to the inquiry. For example, a contingent beneficiary may not be entitled to as much disclosure as a beneficiary who is entitled to the assets of the trust at that point in time. By extension, it is also relevant to consider whether the disclosure at issue would negatively affect another class of beneficiaries as well as the proportionality of the request.
As for the law in Canada, I have blogged on a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision about a trustee’s duty to disclose the existence of a trust to the beneficiaries. Justice Brown for the majority in Valard Construction Ltd. v. Bird Construction Co., 2018 SCC 8, has stated the following at paragraph 19,
“In general, wherever “it could be said to be to the unreasonable disadvantage of the beneficiary not to be informed” of the trust’s existence,  the trustee’s fiduciary duty includes an obligation to disclose the existence of the trust.”
This notion of whether a beneficiary would be unreasonably disadvantaged by the non-disclosure is important to keep in mind because the right to disclosure is grounded in a beneficiary right to hold trustees accountable and to enforce the terms of the trust.
Practically speaking, issues of disclosure often leads to a request for the trustee to commence an application to pass accounts. While the trustee will have the benefit of a court order approving his/her administration for that period (if and when Judgment is obtained), an application to pass accounts must be served on all beneficiaries with a contingent or vested interest pursuant to Rule 74.18 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure. In turn, these beneficiaries will have the right to object to the trustee’s accounts and seek relevant disclosure from the trustee in the course of this process.
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