Yesterday I blogged about the Notice of Contestation of Claim, which is a process that in essence provides the Estate Trustee with the ability to require individuals with a potential claim against the estate to commence such a claim within 30 days of being served with the Notice of Contestation of Claim failing which they are deemed to have abandoned the claim such that they can no longer pursue it before the court.
The power given to an Estate Trustee by the Notice of Contestation of Claim coupled with the relatively short timeframe by which the claimant must respond could appear attractive to an Estate Trustee, potentially enticing the Estate Trustee to use such a process to flush out all potential claims at the early stages of the administration of the estate. This is turn raises questions about the kinds of claims that the Notice of Contestation of Claim can be used for, and whether it can be used for all potential claims against an estate or whether the claims against which it can be used are more limited. Could you, for example, serve a possible dependant with a Notice of Contestation of Claim, and in doing so require the alleged dependant to bring their claim for support forward within 30 days failing which they are deemed to have abandoned their claim?
The issue of whether a Notice of Contestation of Claim can be used against a potential dependant of the estate was dealt with by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Omiciuolo v. Pasco, 2008 ONCA 241, wherein the court confirmed that the Notice of Contestation of Claim could not be used in relation to a potential claim for support by a dependant under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act. In coming to such a decision the Court of Appeal notes that historically the “claim or demand” referenced in sections 44 and 45 of the Estates Act had been interpreted to mean a “claim or demand against the estate by a ‘creditor’ for payment of money on demand“, and that it could not be used for claims such as declaratory relief or a claim for judicial sale or foreclosure.
From the Court of Appeal’s rationale in Omiciuolo v. Pasco it would appear that the “claims” against which a Notice of Contestation of Claim can be used are likely limited to claims of potential creditors of the estate (i.e. claims that the deceased owed an individual money), and that it cannot be used against other more nuanced or equitable claims such as a potential claim from a dependant for support or declaratory relief.
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You are the Estate Trustee of an estate currently involved in a dispute with the deceased’s former business partner. In the context of such a dispute, the former business partner puts forward what you believe to be a reasonable settlement proposal which you are inclined to accept. Before accepting such a proposal however you ask yourself whether you, as Estate Trustee, unilaterally have the authority to settle such a dispute on behalf of the estate, or if you are required to involve the beneficiaries of the estate as part of any settlement?
An Estate Trustee’s authority to settle claims on behalf of the estate is established by section 48(2) of the Trustee Act, which provides:
“A personal representative, or two or more trustees acting together, or a sole acting trustee, where, by the instrument, if any, creating the trust, a sole trustee is authorized to execute the trusts and powers thereof may, if and as they may think fit, accept any composition or any security, real or personal, for any debt or for any property, real or personal, claimed, and may allow any time for payment for any debt, and may compromise, compound, abandon, submit to arbitration or otherwise settle any debt, account, claim or thing whatever relating to the testator’s or intestate’s estate or to the trust, and for any of these purposes may enter into, give, execute, and do such agreements, instruments of composition or arrangement, releases, and other things as seem expedient without being responsible for any loss occasioned by any act or thing done in good faith.” [emphasis added]
While an Estate Trustee has the authority to settle any claim on behalf of the estate without the involvement of the beneficiaries, this does not necessarily mean that the Estate Trustee will be insulated from liability for their decision to have done so. The Trustee Act provides that the Estate Trustee shall not be liable for any loss associated with the settlement so long as the settlement was entered into in “good faith”. To this effect, whether or not the Estate Trustee will later be liable to the beneficiaries for any settlement will turn on whether any such settlement was entered into in “good faith”, with such a determination often being made within the context of a later Application to Pass Accounts. If the court concludes that the settlement was entered into in “good faith”, the Estate Trustee will not be liable to the beneficiaries. If the court concludes that it was not entered into in “good faith”, the Estate Trustee may be liable to the beneficiaries for the settlement.
In order to reduce any concern that the beneficiaries may later take issue with any settlement, many Estate Trustees will reach out to the beneficiaries to seek their prior approval. While such a route is often the safest option for the Estate Trustee to take, it is not necessarily mandatory, and the Estate Trustee may unilaterally enter into any settlement on behalf of the estate so long as they are prepared to justify any such settlement to the beneficiaries on a subsequent passing of accounts.
This week on Hull on Estates, Paul Trudelle and Nadia Harasymowycz discuss whether or not estates can pursue charter claims. Specifically, they discuss Grant v. Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and a blog post written by Diane Vieira titled, "An Estate Cannot Pursue Charter Claims."
Please leave us a comment or send us an email at email@example.com if you have any questions.
Click here for more information on Nadia Harasymowycz.
Estate Trustees have the authority to settle claims against the estate. Claims may be asserted by a creditor, often in response to an Advertisement for Creditors.
An Advertisement for Creditors typically runs for three consecutive weeks in a daily newspaper in the area where the deceased lived and worked at the time of death. The date by which all claims must be submitted to the estate solicitor is usually one month after the first date that the advertisement is published whereafter, once the time period for filing claims has expired, the newspaper will provide an Affidavit of Proof of Publication.
While there is no statutory requirement to advertise for creditors, there are several reasons why it is prudent practice:
- to confirm that there are no outstanding creditors (especially if the deceased carried on an active business) and thereby eliminate liability with respect to such a claim if it arises after the estate has been distributed;
- if the estate trustee wants to pass his accounts it is usually required on the first passing of accounts; or
- on an intestacy, if the estate trustee wants to distribute the estate prior to the expiration of one year after the death of the intestate.
David Morgan Smith – Click here for more information on David Smith.
A claim of devastavit may be made against an estate trustee where mismanagement of estate assets is suspected. Black’s Law Dictionary (seventh edition) provides the following definition for devastavit:
A personal representative’s failure to administer a decedent’s estate promptly and properly, especially by spending extravagantly or misapplying assets. A personal representative who commits waste in this way becomes personally liable to those having claims on the assets, such as creditors and beneficiaries.
In the case of Commander Leasing Corp. v. Aiyede, 16 E.T.R. 183 (1984), an estate trustee distributed an estate even though there was an outstanding claim by a company, Commander Leasing, as a creditor of the estate. The estate trustee did not plead that there were no (“plene administravit”) or insufficient (“plene administravit praetor”) assets in the estate to satisfy the company’s claim. Instead, she stated at her discovery that all of the assets had been distributed.
The effect of the estate trustee’s failure to plead plene administravit or plene administravit praeter was that she must be taken to have admitted that there were assets to satisfy the judgment. The Court ultimately held that in distributing the estate, the estate trustee acted in clear disregard of the company’s outstanding claim as a creditor. Her conduct constituted a devastavit for which she was personally liable to the company creditor.
Have a great day!
Bianca La Neve
I recently read an article regarding the most common claims against lawyers, which is authored by Dan Pinnington who is the director of practicePro, LawPro’s risk and practice management program (click here for the article). I found it particularly interesting that only a small portion of LawPro claims account for a lawyer’s inability to know or apply the substantive law.
The most common claim involves communication between lawyer and client. Dan breaks down the type of communication errors into three categories. According to the article, the most common communication related error, is the failure to follow the client’s instructions. The second type of communication error is the lawyer doing work or taking steps on a matter, but failing to obtain the client’s consent or to inform the client. The third type of communication error involves the failure to explain to the client simple administrative things (i.e. timing of steps on the matter, fees and disbursement). Dan states that you can reduce your exposure to this type of claim by managing your client’s expectations from the very start of the matter and actively communicating with the client at all stages of the matter.
The second most common claim is missed deadlines and time management related errors. The most common time-related error is a failure to know or to ascertain a deadline (i.e. limitation period). There is a concern that procrastination-related errors are on an upwards trend. Dan states that these types of errors are easily preventable with better time management skills and the proper use of tickler systems.
The third most common error is the inadequate investigation or discovery of facts. To avoid these types of claims lawyers have to “dig deeper”, take the time to read between the lines so that all of the appropriate issues and concerns associated with the subject matter can be identified.
I hope my final blog will assist all of us in our practise.
Listen to The Question of Compensation and Complaints.
This week on Hull on Estates and Succession Planning, Ian and Suzana discuss the question of compensation and complaints regarding compensation.
Listen to Dependant Relief.
This week on Hull on Estates, Natalia Angelini and Craig Vander Zee discuss dependant relief and reference a variety of cases that utilized the Succession Law Reform Act.
Yesterday I talked about Section 13 of the Evidence Act (Ontario), which mandates that before someone can bring a claim by or on behalf of an Estate, he or she must have some corroborative evidence. The standard of evidence required was dealt with by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Burns Estate v. Mellon.
The Estate Trustees, who were arguing that a transfer to a friend of the deceased during lifetime ought to be reversed because it was subject to a resulting trust, argued that the recipient’s defence that the transfer was a gift ought to be defeated because her corroborative evidence did not remove all reasonable doubt that she had received a gift. The Court of Appeal agreed with the recipient, finding that the strength of evidence need only succeed on a balance of probabilities:
In principle, I see no justification for applying the criminal standard in a civil action. A criminal prosecution differs fundamentally from a civil action, and the criminal standard serves different ends and operates on different assumptions from the civil standard. (See R. v. Schwartz,  2 S.C.R. 443 (S.C.C.), at 462, per Dickson C.J.C. and Lamer J.) Moreover, nothing in s. 13 itself suggests that the Legislature intended to displace proof on a balance of probabilities with proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Thanks for reading.
This week on Hull and Estates, Rick Bickhram and David Smith discuss how changes in the definition of marriage have impacted Estate Law and Estate Administration.