As we know, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario has passed emergency legislation allowing for Wills and powers of attorney to be executed and witnessed virtually, and in counterparts. This legislation will remain in effect for the duration of the declared emergency. Although Premier Doug Ford recently announced a plan for reopening Ontario, the timeline for doing so is still vague, and it’s unclear when the emergency will be declared to be at an end. Once the emergency is over, the normal rules for execution of Wills and powers of attorney, as set out in the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26, and the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 30, will once again govern how such documents may be validly executed.
Before coronavirus became such a pressing concern, there was some discussion in the United States, of allowing Wills executed electronically to be considered valid testamentary documents. According to this article in The New York Times, entitled “A Will Without Ink and Paper”, at the time the article was published in October 2019, some states already had laws to allow e-signatures on Wills, and others were looking to adopt similar laws this year.
In the US, the Uniform Law Commission has proposed the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, which is intended to serve as a model for states who wish to enact such legislation. The law would allow testators to complete the entire Will-making and execution process online, without a lawyer or notary present. There are already online services, currently serving states that already have laws allowing electronic Wills, which provide a platform for the creation of these digital Wills.
According to The New York Times article, the process of creating an electronic Will involves a testator creating a Will online, and then having a video-conference call with a notary. The notary will review the document, ask questions of the testator, notarize it, and send it back.
Although the concept of electronic Wills seems convenient, the costs may ultimately outweigh the benefits. As one lawyer quoted in the article states, signing a Will “is not like getting toilet paper delivered by Amazon instead of going to a supermarket…This is a solemn thing that people don’t do every day.” The “inconvenience” of consulting a lawyer, having a Will professionally drafted, and executed in the traditional way, will likely be worth the trouble for most testators, particularly when you consider that this is not a task that needs to be done repeatedly, at frequent intervals (like going to the grocery store to buy toilet paper).
The article mentions a number of points as to why electronic Wills may not be such a great idea. Without a lawyer’s involvement, there is a heightened risk for undue influence to go undetected. Testators with significant assets that may be structured in complicated ways, or who have unique family situations, such as a blended family, are not likely to be well-served by the creation (let alone the execution) of a Will online, without estate planning advice from a lawyer.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and it is helpful to have alternate methods of executing Wills and powers of attorney in these unprecedented times. But when life goes back to normal, I think we can be comfortable with the return to the “old-fashioned” way of executing Wills and powers of attorney. Although some may consider the process to be cumbersome, the added protection for testators, and the comfort of an estate plan that takes into account each testator’s unique situation, is worth the price.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way in which we live our lives, with strict limitations on social gatherings of any kind, including funerals. However, deaths obviously continue to occur during this period, with death rates among certain population groups on the rise, and delaying memorials and funerals until after the current health crisis has ended, whenever that may ultimately be, may be impractical and/or prolong the grieving process.
A review of recent news articles suggests that several trends are beginning to emerge in respect of funerals as large in-person gatherings continue to be prohibited throughout Canada and much of the world:
- Some funerals are being held using video-conferencing software such as Zoom, with enhanced ability for family members living abroad to participate, with some funeral services continuing in-person, with very limited attendance (typically limited to five individuals, including the officiant) and distance of no less than six feet between attendees who are not members of the same household;
- Communities such as Flatrock, Newfoundland, have seen cars line up along the side of a street to blink their lights as the hearse passes by on its way to the cemetery as a way to show their respect without potential exposure to the virus;
- In Quebec, because of concerns over transmission, embalming in respect of the remains of a victim of COVID-19 is prohibited, there are restrictions as to the timing for visitations and interment, and funeral-related service providers are relying upon protective equipment (such as N95 masks and gloves) to stay safe while handing remains of COVID-19 victims;
- Funerals in Calgary and elsewhere are reportedly “going digital”, with funeral home directors citing the increased role of online photo gathering and live-streamed funeral services;
- Online visitations are gaining popularity (according to funeral workers in Windsor), while some Jewish families are sitting shiva on Zoom.
It will be interesting to see whether any of these trends survive the lessening of restrictions on social gatherings.
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In preparing my other blogs this week, I spent some time considering the issue of how we might see the increased access to medical assistance in dying (MAID) impact our practice area. As such, I thought that I would finish off this series of blogs focusing on MAID with a hypothetical question I have not yet encountered in practice, but which is inevitably going to be raised: what impact, if any, does MAID have on a will challenge?
Our regular readers will already be well aware that capacity is task, time, and situation specific.
Presumably, the standard of capacity applying to the decision to access MAID is that required to make other personal care decisions, such as receiving or refusing medical treatment. Section 45 of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, defines incapacity for personal care as follows:
A person is incapable of personal care if the person is not able to understand information that is relevant to making a decision concerning his or her own health care, nutrition, shelter, clothing, hygiene or safety, or is not able to appreciate the reasonably foreseeable consequences of a decision or lack of decision.
I have been unable to find any literature suggesting whether the standard may be somewhat heightened as a result of the significant impact of the decision to actually receive MAID.
The standard for testamentary capacity typically applied remains that set out in the old English authority of Banks v Goodfellow. While some have suggested that the standard of testamentary capacity be updated, we are generally concerned with the same, well-established criteria:
It is essential to the exercise of such a power that a testator shall understand the nature of the act and its effects; shall understand the extent of the property of which he is disposing; shall be able to comprehend and appreciate the claims to which he ought to give effect; and, with a view to the latter object, that no disorder of the mind shall poison his affections, pervert his sense of right, or prevent the exercise of his natural faculties—that no insane delusion shall influence his will in disposing of his property and bring about a disposal of it which, if the mind had been sound, would not have been made.
While, historically, standards of mental capacity were viewed as hierarchical, recent case law and commentary have strayed from this understanding, instead viewing the different standards of mental capacity as just that: different. Courts will consider whether an individual understood the nature of the decision being made and appreciated the reasonably foreseeable consequences of their decision.
Consent to MAID must be confirmed very shortly before it is administered, which restriction has been of considerable controversy. While possessing the capacity to confirm consent to obtain MAID may not correspond to testamentary capacity, it may nevertheless become evidence suggestive of a degree of mental capacity that is valuable (in conjunction with other evidence) in establishing that a last will and testament executed shortly before death is valid.
Whether the fact that MAID has been achieved will be important evidence on a will challenge in support of testamentary capacity or not remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see how the laws relating to MAID evolve and how incidents of MAID may impact estate law over time.
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In many respects the law of Quebec differs from that of other provinces. In terms of medical assistance in dying (MAID), however, a September 2019 decision of the Quebec Superior Court of Justice has the potential to spark change in legislation throughout the country.
In Truchon c Procureur général du Canada, 2019 QCCS 3792, the Court considered the constitutional validity of the requirement that the natural death of individuals accessing MAID be reasonably foreseeable. The applicants had been declared ineligible for MAID on the basis that their deaths were not considered to be reasonably foreseeable. The first applicant suffered from cerebral palsy and his condition had deteriorated significantly in 2012, when he became totally paralyzed, preventing him engaging in activities that he had previously enjoyed. The second applicant suffered from paralysis and severe scoliosis, with a significant change in her health in 1992 when she was diagnosed with degenerative muscular post-polio syndrome. Both applicants lived in constant pain with a poor prognosis of continued suffering and deterioration, but had been denied access to MAID on the basis that their natural deaths were not reasonably foreseeable and decided to seek the Court’s assistance.
The Court first reviewed the issue of whether the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement violated the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. While the restriction was noted to have the potential effect of prolonging the lives of some individuals who would otherwise request MAID, it was also considered to have the risk of encouraging some patients “to end things prematurely, and often in a degrading or violent manner, before being in mortal agony, or having completely lost their dignity or being in the final stage of life.” Due to the exposure of some Canadians seeking MAID to (1) a higher risk of death and (2) physical and psychological pain, “depriv[ing] them of the opportunity to make a fundamental decision that respects their personal dignity and integrity”, the reasonably foreseeable death requirement was ruled to infringe the right to life, liberty, and security under Section 7 of the Charter.
Next, the Court considered whether the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement violated the right to equality under Section 15 of the Charter. The Court found the applicants were prevented from accessing MAID on the basis of the nature of their disabilities, which notwithstanding being “serious and incurable” did not render death reasonably foreseeable, and that as a result the first applicant in particular was “deprived of the exercise of these choices essential to his dignity as a human being due to his personal characteristics that the challenged provision does not consider. He can neither commit suicide by a method of his own choosing nor legally request this assistance.”
The infringement of the applicants’ fundamental rights under Sections 7 and 15 of the Charter was not considered to be justified by Section 1 and the Court, accordingly, declared these provisions of Quebec and Canadian MAID laws unconstitutional. The declaration of constitutional invalidity of the reasonably foreseeable natural death requirement for accessing MAID was suspended for six months to provide an opportunity to address amendments to provincial and federal legislation.
Quebec has recently announced that it now intends to eliminate the parts of its MAID legislation that have been declared unconstitutional. Prime Minister Trudeau has advised that the government will be updating federal legislation to reflect the Truchon decision prior to March 11, 2020, when the judgment will take effect. Precisely how Canada and Ontario will amend the relevant provisions of MAID legislation has yet to be determined.
As yesterday’s blog mentioned, there has been recent scrutiny regarding the restrictive approach in respect of access to MAID and this decision out of Quebec and corresponding updates to the law may represent an important first step in the right direction in enhancing accessibility.
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Our blog has previously covered the developments in medical assistance in dying (MAID) since the prohibition against MAID ended in Canada in 2016.
Almost 230 thousand Canadians responded to a recent government survey on MAID, making it the largest public consultation in Canadian history. Although the complete survey results have yet to be released, respondents are reported to have shown great support for making it easier for Canadians to access MAID.
As MAID has gained recognition throughout the country, many have fought for increased accessibility and the expansion of eligibility criteria. Specifically, some believe that the criteria are too restrictive in excluding (1) individuals whose deaths are not imminent, and (2) those who cannot consent to receive MAID at the time at which it is administered. Because recipients of MAID are required to provide consent personally immediately prior to its administration (rather than in advance), health problems that may also impact mental capacity can render some of them ineligible.
In some parts of the country, MAID is already accessed at significant levels. In Vancouver Island, with the greatest access in Canada to MAID per capita, MAID accounted for over six percent of all deaths in 2019.
Given the clear engagement of Canadians regarding the issue of enhancing access to MAID, it will be interesting to see how legislation regarding MAID may be updated over time to address the potential introduction of advanced consent and/or the authority of substitute decision-makers to confirm consent.
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Earlier this year, Ian M. Hull, Suzana Popovic-Montag, and I were pleased to co-author the Canada Chapter of the 2019 Chambers & Partners Global Private Wealth Guide for the third consecutive year.
The guide provides an overview of the law as it relates to a number of issues relevant to financial planning and estate planning in jurisdictions throughout the world. Specifically, the following topics are covered (among others):
- tax regimes;
- succession laws;
- laws relating to the transfer of digital assets and other assets;
- family business planning;
- wealth disputes;
- elder law; and
- obligations of fiduciaries.
With chapters summarizing the state of the law and related trends in 34 countries, including the United Kingdom, United States, Switzerland, France, and Israel, the guide can be a great resource to be used as a starting point when assisting clients who have assets (or are beneficiaries of assets) in other jurisdictions.
A complete electronic copy of the 2019 Chambers & Partners Global Private Wealth Guide is available here: https://practiceguides.chambers.com/practice-guides/private-wealth-2019. The online version includes a “compare locations” feature, which allows readers to quickly review differences between two or more jurisdictions.
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Since the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark decision in Carter v Canada (Attorney General) and the subsequent decriminalization of medical assistance in dying (“MAID”) in 2016, there has been considerable debate regarding the accessibility of MAID.
Currently, MAID is available only to individuals able to satisfy the following test (set out in the Criminal Code):
- they are eligible — or, but for any applicable minimum period of residence or waiting period, would be eligible — for health services funded by a government in Canada;
- they are at least 18 years of age and capable of making decisions with respect to their health;
- they have a grievous and irremediable medical condition;
- they have made a voluntary request for medical assistance in dying that, in particular, was not made as a result of external pressure; and
- they give informed consent to receive medical assistance in dying after having been informed of the means that are available to relieve their suffering, including palliative care.
The criteria do not feature any mechanism for providing advance consent to MAID. Similarly, an attorney or guardian of personal care cannot consent on behalf of the patient at the time of the procedure, once he or she loses the capacity to consent him or herself.
As it currently stands, an individual who qualifies for MAID must consent at the time of the procedure, before he or she may suffer from diminished mental capacity that compromises the patient’s ability to provide informed consent. In some cases, this has resulted in individuals accessing MAID before they otherwise may have chosen to do so to ensure that they would not be exposed to prolonged suffering during a subsequent period of incapacity, during which MAID would not longer be accessible.
Some individuals and groups, including Dying with Dignity Canada, argue that the laws regarding MAID should be amended to provide for the option of providing advanced requests for MAID.
According to a recent Toronto Star article (“No rush to change assisted-death law”, published on February 17, 2019), Justice Minister David Lametti has stated that MAID laws will not be updated in advance of a five-year parliamentary review in 2021 of how the current MAID regime is operating. At that time, it will no doubt be difficult in considering any changes to balance the rights of those with grievous and irremediable medical conditions to die with dignity on one hand, and the protection of individuals who are vulnerable and whose capable wishes can no longer be confirmed on the other.
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Our blog has previously featured posts about the concept of aging in place. Survey results suggest that the vast majority (93% of respondents aged 65 or older) of Canadians wish to continue living at home for as long as possible as they age. Benefits of aging in place may include lower costs (relative to living in long-term care), increased comfort, slower advancement of memory loss, strengthening of social networks, and continued independence and self-determination.
For many, with old age comes physical limitations that may result in decreased mobility and expose seniors to an increased risk of accidents while living at home, whether they are living with or without the assistance of caregivers or other support, absent sufficient safety measures. We recently discovered a guide to making homes senior-safe, which is available online for free through the Senior Safety Reviews website.
The guide features the following:
- 34 practical tips to assist in preventing falls;
- Measures that may assist in the prevention of theft, elder abuse, burns and fires;
- Technology that can be used to promote at-home safety; and
- Preparing the home for extreme weather.
The guide reports that, notwithstanding the goal of many individuals to remain at home into old age, only 1% of homes are currently equipped to safely facilitate aging in place.
This user-friendly guide may be of assistance to older clients and supportive family members in allowing seniors to safely age in place.
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I think the coverage of George H.W. Bush’s recent funeral tweaked my interest in some of the things that make Canada unique. Once again, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was chosen to give a eulogy for a U.S. President (he spoke at the funerals for both Ronald and Nancy Reagan as well). And what a eulogy it was – personal, humorous at times and eloquent throughout.
The Globe and Mail described Mulroney as “emerging as something of the eulogist-in-chief for American commanders-in-chief.” That speaks very highly for Mr. Mulroney but also very highly for Canada. It’s clear that there was (perhaps still is?) a high level of respect for our country and the role we play in the world.
Aside from having a former Prime Minister who was clearly adept at fostering close international friendships, what else makes us unique? I think it starts with the country itself:
- We have about 20% of the world’s fresh water
- Almost one-third of the country is covered in trees – and we have 10% of the world’s forests
- We have the world’s longest coastline
- Along with the U.S., we share the longest demilitarized border in the world
We may not have the population size to match many other countries, but certainly have the physical size.
The quirky side
We also have character. Maybe that’s what the U.S. political elite love about us. Consider these:
- We love comfort: We eat more mac ‘n cheese than any other country in the world (I have no idea who measures this stuff)
- We’re sweet: One Canadian province (Quebec) makes more than 77% of the world’s maple syrup
- We’re inventive: Hawaiian pizza was invented by an Ontario man, not by the Hawaiians
- We’re procrastinators: We didn’t get our own flag until our country was nearly 100 years old
- We’re talkers: The famous Canadian interjection “eh”is listed in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as a valid word. Who knew?
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In Canada a person generally has the freedom to leave their estate to whomever they choose; known as “testamentary freedom”. However, in many of the civil code countries of Europe, a portion of the estate must be distributed to legitimate heirs; known as “forced heirship”. In Portugal, legitimate heirs include the spouse, biological descendants, adopted children, and ascendants of the deceased. The reserved portion covers up to two thirds of the whole estate, with division of the estate generally as follows:
Spouse’s portion in absence of descendants or ascendants: 50%.
Spouse and Descendants: The reserved portion is two thirds; normally distributed per capita, but in any case the spouse gets a minimum of one quarter of the reserved portion (which results in one sixth of the whole estate).
Only Descendants: The reserved portion depends on the number of children. For one child it is 50%, for two or more it is two thirds.
Spouses and Ascendants: two thirds, of which two thirds are intended for the spouse and one third for the ascendants.
Only Ascendants: 50% for those of first degree, for further degrees one third.
In the case of an intestacy and no spouse, ascendant or descendant, the estate passes to the siblings and their descendants, in their absence to the family up to the fourth degree of kinship, and then finally to the State.
The testator’s freedom to leave the remainder of the estate after the reserved portion is not generally restricted except in some cases like: the deceased’s last treating doctor if the testament was written during the illness which caused the death, the priest of the community where he attended, or a curator, tutor, or administrator of the deceased.
If you are interested in further information on the topic of international inheritance we are pleased to assist, along with our lawyer colleagues in Lisbon Portugal.
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