A new Saskatchewan Court of Appeal case sheds more light on the law of standing with respect to will challenges. In Adams Estate v. Wilson, the Appellant executor appealed an earlier decision in which it was held that the Respondent, Mr. Wilson, had legal standing to bring an application to have the deceased’s will proved in solemn form. Mr. Wilson purported to be the deceased’s long-time friend and employee, and he submitted that the deceased had promised to leave him her “ranching operation”; despite this claim, the deceased did not name Mr. Wilson in her will. Instead, she imbued her executor with the discretionary power to distribute the estate to deserving parties, including “certain persons who have been trustworthy and loyal”.
The Chambers judge reasoned that since the statute, Rule 16-46, allows an application by a person who “may be interested in the estate”, Mr. Wilson, as potentially both a creditor and beneficiary, may have been an interested party and therefore had standing. Mr. Wilson succeeded in qualifying himself as a potential creditor because of a related action against the estate. His claim to be a potential beneficiary, though murkier, also succeeded; the claim was that since Mr. Wilson had been “trustworthy and loyal”, the executor could choose to give him a part of the estate in adherence with the will – making him a potential beneficiary.
The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, finding that Mr. Wilson was a mere “stranger to the will” and, as such, did not have standing. Rather, only the following classes of persons, with specific financial or legal interests in the estate, have standing to challenge a will: (1) Those named as beneficiaries or otherwise designated in the will or other testamentary documents; (2) those to whom the estate would devolve under an intestacy; and (3) those with claims pursuant to The Dependants’ Relief Act, The Family Property Act, and The Fatal Accidents Act. The Court explained that creditors, as Mr. Wilson claimed to be, do not have standing because they have no gain in “interfering with the devolution of property”.
The Court also found fault with Mr. Wilson’s claim to be a potential beneficiary, which was described as disingenuous, circular, and disconnected:
“He ignores that his purpose in requesting standing is to challenge the validity of the Will and the very bequest upon which he based his claim of standing. This is perverse logic because, if successful, Mr. Wilson will have eliminated any chance that he would take under the Will.”
Mr. Wilson was trying to derive rights from a will he was repudiating and suggesting that he might receive a gift from an executor whose legitimacy he denied and against whom he was litigating. He was attempting to win on a legal technicality – on form in spite of substance. In addition to reiterating the parties who may challenge a will, the Court in Adams Estate v. Wilson has put another brick in the wall between those seeking to exploit legal technicalities and the successful results they seek.
Thank you for reading – have a wonderful day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Devin McMurtry.
An important and useful tool in any estate planning toolkit is the ability to transfer title to real property between spouses, which typically occurs for nominal consideration and/or natural love and affection. These types of transfers are recognized at law. In certain circumstances, transfers of this nature may be used by spouses seeking to defeat, hinder, delay, or defraud creditors. The Fraudulent Conveyances Act (“FCA”) provides the legislative authority to set aside transfers of property that are entered into with the intent to defeat the claims of a creditor.
Such was the case in Anisman v Drabinsky, 2020 ONSC 1197. On September 11, 2015, Mr. Drabinsky and his wife, Ms. Winford-Drabinsky, transferred their joint ownership of their home to Ms. Winford-Drabinsky alone (the “Drabinsky Property”). At the time of said transfer, Mr. Drabinsky had several unpaid judgments against him as well as ongoing monthly debt payments that were nearly double his monthly income. One such judgment, dated November 2018, was in favour of the Plaintiff for monies owed by Mr. Drabinsky.
In an effort to recover monies owed to him, the Plaintiff obtained a Certificate of Pending Litigation against the Drabinsky Property. It was not until April 2019 that the Plaintiff testified that he learned of the transfer through a title search conducted on Mr. Drabinsky in preparation for his examination in aid of execution respecting the unpaid judgment. On June 18, 2019, some three years and nine months after the impugned transfer of title, the Plaintiff commenced an action seeking to reverse the transfer of title in the Drabinsky Property.
In his defence, Mr. Drabinsky argued that the transfer itself was not fraudulent, but that in any event, the Plaintiff’s claim was statute barred given that the 2-year limitation period provided for in the Limitations Act, 2002, SO 2002, c. 24 (“Limitations Act”) had expired.
In considering the validity of Mr. Drabinsky’s limitation defence, the court considered two key principles regarding limitation periods: discoverability of claims and the applicable statutory authority. With respect to the latter, the court considered whether it was the 2-year limitation period pursuant to the Limitations Act, or the 10-year limitation period in the Real Property Limitations Act (“RPLA”), that applied. The RPLA applies to actions to “recover” land. The question then became, does an action to set aside a conveyance of real property fall within the category of claims to “recover land”?
The court ultimately found that it was the 10-year limitation period in the RPLA that applied to the present action. In reaching its decision, the court relied on the case of Conde v Ripley, 2015 ONSC 3342, which found that claims made to set aside a conveyance of real property under the FCA are on their face, a claim to recover land. The court went further to say, “the Legislature has seen fit to… differentiate between actions involving recovery of land and other types of actions” given that the Limitations Act addresses claims in contract or tort, while the FCA addresses the recovery of real property.
However, as identified in this article, this line of reasoning contradicts earlier decisions that differentiated between the recovery of land itself and the recovery of debts connected to that land (see Wilfert v McCallum, 2017 ONSC 3853 and the Ontario Court of Appeal case of Zabanah v Capital Direct Lending Corp, 2014 ONCA 872), leaving the law in a state of uncertainty.
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