Trusts are generally divided into two categories; “inter vivos” or “testamentary” trusts. Inter vivos trusts are broadly defined as trusts that are established by a settlor while they are still alive, typically pursuant to a deed of trust, while testamentary trusts are established in the terms of a Will or Codicil. Generally speaking there is no overlap between an individual’s Will and any inter vivos trust, with any inter vivos trust existing separate and apart from the settlor’s “estate”. But does this have to be the case? Could you theoretically, for example, leave a bequest in a Will to an inter vivos trust that you previously established, thereby potentially increasing the assets governed by the trust upon your death, or must a trust which governs estate assets be a “testamentary trust” established by the Will? The short answer is “it depends”, although any individual considering such a bequest should proceed with extreme caution.
A clause in a Will that provides for the potential distribution of estate assets to a separate inter vivos trust is often referred to as a “pour over” clause, insofar as the assets of the estate are said to “pour over” into the separate trust. The availability and use of “pour over” clauses in Ontario is somewhat problematic.
The fundamental issue with the use of “pour over” clauses that allow a bequest to be made to a trust is that the formalities that are required to make or amend a trust are much lower than the formalities that are required to establish a Will, with trusts often containing provisions that will allow for their unilateral amendment or revocation after their establishments. The statutes which establish the parameters that are required for a Will to be valid are very strict, with a Will only being able to be later amended or altered if it too meets very strict criteria. The potential concern in allowing a distribution from a Will to a separate trust that can easily be amended after the execution of the Will is that it could create the scenario in which an estate plan could be altered after the Will was signed in a way that would not meet the strict formal requirements that would otherwise be required for a Will to be altered or amended.
In Ontario the formalities required for a Will to be valid is established by section 4(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act. A Will that has been signed in accordance with the formal requirements of section 4(1) can only be altered or amended by a Codicil that itself has been signed in accordance with the formal requirements of section 4(1), or if the alterations to the Will meet the requirements of section 18 of the Succession Law Reform Act. Unlike alterations and/or amendments to a Will, an alteration or amendment to a trust does not need to meet any formal statutory requirements for it to be valid, with the only requirements being those stipulated in the trust document itself and/or under the rules in Saunders v. Vautier. As a result, an inter vivos trust to which a bequest was directed using a “pour over” clause could theoretically be changed numerous times after the signing of the Will either with or without the involvement of the testator, thereby bringing into question whether the bequest actually represents the deceased’s testamentary intentions at the time the Will was signed.
In Quinn Estate v. Rydland, 2019 BCCA 91, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld the lower British Columbia Supreme Court decision, 2018 BCSC 365, which found that a “pour over” clause which purported to distribute certain estate assets to a trust that was settled by the Deceased during his lifetime was inoperable, with the funds that were to be distributed to the trust instead being distributed on an intestacy. In coming to such a decision the court appears to place great emphasis on the fact the trust in question could be amended unilaterally after the fact and in fact was amended in such a fashion after the execution of the Will.
The court in Quinn Estate provides an excellent summary of the considerations to make when determining whether a “pour over” clause can be upheld, including the concepts of “facts of independent significance” and “incorporation by reference”. I will discuss the concepts of “facts of independent significance” and “incorporation by reference” as they relate to pour over clauses in my remaining blogs this week.
Thank you for reading.
Handwritten Wills/Codicils are certainly quite rare, particularly for people with means. In certain circumstances, and particularly where the testator had made a pre-existing Will, the presence of a subsequent handwritten Will or Codicil can suggest the presence of suspicious circumstances.
As Paul Trudelle blogged last week, Larry King apparently executed a secret handwritten codicil in 2019 that divided his roughly $2 million estate amongst his five children, to the exclusion of his wife, Shawn King. Mrs. King apparently intends to challenge the validity of the 2019 codicil.
In Ontario, an amendment to a Will is referred to as a “codicil” and it is considered to be a Will, for the purposes of the Succession Law Reform Act. A handwritten Will, in Ontario, is referred to as a “Holograph Will” and the only requirement is that it be made wholly by the testator’s own handwriting and signature, without formality, and without the presence, attestation or signature of a witness. The fact that a Holograph Will is usually made without witnesses will often cause litigation, particularly if there are suspicious circumstances surrounding its execution and/or discord in the family of the deceased.
If Mr. and Mrs. King resided in Ontario, Mrs. King could pursue various claims in challenging the validity of the 2019 codicil (subject to the available evidence), including:
- Lack of requisite testamentary capacity on Mr. King’s part;
- Mr. King being subject to undue influence from any or all of his children (or other third parties);
- Presence of suspicious circumstances in the execution of the codicil; and
- Presence of fraud in the execution of the document (which is pleaded quite rarely, as there are serious costs consequences for those that make such an allegation but are unable to prove it).
It will certainly be interesting to see how this matter unfolds, particularly taking into account that $2 million is not a significant amount when the costs of litigation are taken into account.
Interestingly, some sources suggest that his Estate is actually worth $50 million, which sounds a lot more accurate!
Thanks for reading!
Find this blog interesting? Please consider these other related posts:
It is not uncommon for the lawyer who drafted a testator’s will or codicil to subsequently be retained by the Estate Trustees after the testator’s death to assist with the administration of the estate. The rationale behind the drafting lawyer being retained to assist with the administration of the estate appears fairly self-evident, for as the drafting lawyer likely has an intimate knowledge of the testator’s estate plan and assets they may be in a better position than most to assist with the administration of the estate.
While retaining the drafting lawyer to assist with the administration of the estate is fairly uncontroversial in most situations, circumstances could become more complicated if there has been a challenge to the validity of the testamentary document prepared by the drafting lawyer. If a proceeding has been commenced challenging the validity of the testamentary document, there is an extremely high likelihood that the drafting lawyer’s notes and records will be produced as evidence, and that the drafting lawyer will be called as a non-party witness as part of the discovery process. If the matter should proceed all the way to trial, there is also an extremely high likelihood that the drafting lawyer would be called as a witness at trial. As the drafting lawyer would personally have a role to play in any court process challenging the validity of the will, questions emerge regarding whether it would be proper for the drafting lawyer to continue to represent any party in the will challenge, or would doing so place the drafting lawyer in a conflict of interest?
Rule 3.4-1 of the Law Society of Ontario’s Rules of Professional Conduct provides that a lawyer shall not act or continue to act where there is a conflict of interest. In the case of a drafting lawyer representing a party in a will challenge for a will that they prepared, an argument could be raised that the drafting lawyer is in an inherent position of conflict, as the drafting lawyer may be unable to look out for the best interests of their client while at the same time looking out for their own interests when being called as a witness or producing their file. There is also the potentially awkward situation of the drafting lawyer having to call themselves as a witness, and the associated logistical quagmire of how the lawyer would put questions to themselves.
The issue of whether a drafting lawyer would be in a conflict of interest in representing a party in a will challenge was dealt with in Dale v. Prentice, 2015 ONSC 1611. In such a decision, the party challenging the validity of the will brought a motion to remove the drafting lawyer as the lawyer of record for the propounder of the will, alleging they were in a conflict of interest. The court ultimately agreed that the drafting lawyer was in a conflict of interest, and ordered that the drafting lawyer be removed as the lawyer of record. In coming to such a conclusion, the court states:
“There is a significant likelihood of a real conflict arising. Counsel for the estate is propounding a Will prepared by his office. The preparation and execution of Wills are legal services, reserved to those who are properly licensed to practise law. Counsel’s ability to objectively and independently assess the evidence will necessarily be affected by his interest in having his firm’s legal services found to have been properly provided.” [emphasis added]
Decisions such as Dale v. Prentice suggest that a lawyer may be unable to represent any party in a will challenge for a will that was prepared by their office as they may be in a conflict of interest. Should the circumstance arise where the drafting lawyer is retained to assist with the administration of the estate, and subsequent to being retained someone challenges the validity of the Will, it may be in the best interest of all parties for the drafting lawyer to indicate that they are no longer able to act in the matter due to the potential conflict, and suggest to their clients that they retain a new lawyer to represent them in the will challenge.
Thank you for reading.
People change their mind all of the time. When someone changes their mind about the terms of their Will however, things can become more complicated. Going to a lawyer to formally make a change to the Will may seem daunting. If the change to the Will is relatively minor, an individual may be tempted to forgo meeting with a lawyer to draw up a new Will or Codicil, and simply make the change to the Will themselves by crossing out or inserting new language by hand on the face of the old Will. But would such handwritten changes be valid?
Although the advice to any individual thinking of changing their Will would always be to speak with a lawyer about the matter, people do not always adhere to such advice. If someone has made handwritten changes to their Will after the document was originally signed, such changes can under certain circumstances alter the terms of the Will.
Section 18(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“) provides that unless any alteration to a Will is made in accordance with the requirements of section 18(2) of the SLRA, such alterations have no effect upon the provisions of the Will itself unless such an alteration has had the effect that you can no longer read the original wording of the Will. Section 18(2) of the SLRA further provides:
“An alteration that is made in a will after the will has been made is validly made when the signature of the testator and subscription of witnesses to the signature of the testator to the alteration, or, in the case of a will that was made under section 5 or 6, the signature of the testator, are or is made,
(a) in the margin or in some other part of the will opposite or near to the alteration; or
(b) at the end of or opposite to a memorandum referring to the alteration and written in some part of the will.”
As a result of section 18(1) and 18(2) of the SLRA, any handwritten change to a Will does not validly alter the terms of the Will unless the testator and two witnesses sign in the margins of the Will near the alteration (subject to certain exceptions listed). If the handwritten change is not accompanied by such signatures it is not a valid alteration and has no impact upon the original terms of the Will, unless the handwritten change has had the effect of “obliterating” the original language of the Will by making it no longer readable.
Thank you for reading.
In a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision, Holgate v Sheehan Estate, 2015 ONCA 717, the court was asked to consider an appeal from a motion for determination of an issue under Rule 21.01(1)(a) of the Rules of Civil Procedure. The Rule 21 motion arose in the context of a trial with respect to the interpretation of the will and codicil of John Holgate, and particularly the meaning of the word “use”. The appeal also dealt with the trial judge’s jurisdiction to hear the mid-trial Rule 21 motion, but this blog will deal with the former issue.
Mr. Holgate had passed away and was survived by two sons from his first marriage (the “sons”) and his second wife, (“Mrs. Holgate”). Mr. Holgate’s will and codicil provided for a life interest in two trusts to Mrs. Holgate. Following Mrs. Holgate’s death, Mr. Holgate’s children were entitled to the remainder of the two trusts. The wording of the two trusts provided that the trust assets were to be held for “the sole use and benefit of my wife MAY HOLGATE during her lifetime”.
The sons brought an action against their father’s estate, Mrs. Holgate’s estate and Mrs. Holgate’s daughter personally, claiming that Mrs. Holgate’s life interest allowed her to use the money but not save it. They alleged that Mrs. Holgate had not only used trust assets, but had also saved money, thereby depleting the capital of the estate to their detriment and contrary to their father’s intention.
Three days into the trial, the trial judge invited counsel to bring a mid-trial motion either for determination of an issue or for directions in order to determine this critical issue with respect to the interpretation of the will and codicil, namely the meaning of the term “use”. Counsel agreed to bring a Rule 21 motion and asked whether the wording of the will and codicil precluded Mrs. Holgate from accumulating wealth from the trusts in her own name.
The trial judge concluded that:
- nothing in the will or codicil prevented Mrs. Holgate from saving and accumulating wealth;
- the language of the will came as close as possible to conferring an absolute gift on Mrs. Holgate; and
- neither of the trusts included any limitations on the use of the assets by Mrs. Holgate.
On appeal by the sons, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judge’s interpretation, that the words and phrases used in the trusts indicate a clear intention on Mr. Holgate’s part to allow his wife unrestricted access to the funds. They also cited Dice v Dice Estate, 2012 ONCA 469, which held that “[t]he golden rule in interpreting wills is to give effect to the testator’s intention as ascertained from the language that was used”.
Thanks for reading.