When most people reference a “limitation period” in Ontario, chances are that they are referencing the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act, 2002, which generally provides an individual with two years from the date on which a claim is “discovered” to commence a claim before it is statute barred. Although an individual is presumed under the Limitations Act to have “discovered” the claim on the date that the loss or injury occurred, if it can be shown that the individual did not “discover” the claim until some later date the limitation period will not begin to run until that later date, potentially extending the limitation period for the claim to be brought for many years beyond the second anniversary of the actual loss or damage.
Although the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act must be considered for situations in which an individual intends to commence a claim against someone who has died, individuals in such situations must also consider the much stricter limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act.
Section 38 of the Trustee Act imposes a hard two year limitation period from the date of death for any individual to commence a claim against a deceased individual in tort. Unlike the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act, the limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act is not subject to the “discoverability” principle, but is rather a hard limitation period that expires two years from death regardless of whether the individual has actually yet to “discover” the claim. If an individual starts a claim against a deceased individual in tort more than two years after the deceased’s individual’s death it is statute barred by section 38 of the Trustee Act regardless of when the claim was “discovered”.
The non-applicability of the “discoverability” principle to the two year limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act is confirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Waschkowski v. Hopkinson Estate, (2000) 47 O.R. (3d) 370, wherein the court states:
“As indicated earlier in these reasons, based on the language of the limitation provision, the discoverability principle does not apply to s. 38(3) of the Trustee Act. The effect of s. 38(3) is, in my view, that the state of actual or attributed knowledge of an injured person in a tort claim is not germane when a death has occurred. The only applicable limitation period is the two-year period found in s. 38(3) of the Trustee Act.” [emphasis added]
Although the Court of Appeal in Waschkowski v. Hopkinson Estate appears firm in their position that the court should not take when the claim was “discovered” into consideration when applying the limitation period from section 38 of the Trustee Act, it should be noted that in the recent decision of Estate of John Edward Graham v. Southlake Regional Health Centre, 2019 ONSC 392 (“Graham Estate“), the court allowed a claim to brought after the second anniversary of the deceased’s death citing “special circumstances”. Although the Graham Estate decision is from the lower court while the Waschkowski v. Hopkinson Estate decision is from the Court of Appeal, such that it is at least questionable whether it has established a new line of thinking or was correctly decided, the Graham Estate decision may suggest that the application of the limitation period from section 38 of the Trustee Act is not as harsh as it was once considered. More can be read about the Graham Estate decision in Garrett Horrocks’ previous blog found here.
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Social Media is not a fad and is fundamentally changing the ways we interact and communicate with others. Two of the more popular social networking websites, Twitter and Facebook, recently implemented policies that set out guidelines regarding a user’s account once they have died.
Under Twitter’s policy, a person can either request that the deceased user’s account be removed entirely or receive an archive of all the deceased user’s tweets offline once they have provided Twitter with the following information:
1. Your full name, contact information (including e-mail address), and your relationship to the deceased user;
2. The username of the Twitter account, or a link to the profile page of the Twitter account.
3. A link to a public obituary or news article.
By comparison, Facebook provides two options: either removing the deceased’s account, or "memorializing" it.
Memorializing a person’s account “means the account lives on in Facebook’s system, and other Facebook members can interact with the deceased member’s wall. What’s interesting about what Facebook put into place, compared to Twitter, is that there’s still a great deal of emphasis put on privacy and what can be done with the information that user has posted to the service. For instance, only that user’s friends can still visit the profile or find it in Facebook’s public search tool. And Facebook goes so far as to remove all status updates and contact information.”
It is hard to imagine that Facebook and Twitter will remain an important part of our lives many years from now, but Facebook has grown from 300 million to 500 million users in less than a year, with few signs of that slowing down. This is an indication that “policies about a user’s death can end up being just as important as those you agree to when you first sign up.”
Thank you for reading, and have a great day.
Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.
Often in the context of estate matters issues arise around real estate because it is often one of the largest assets comprising an estate. A recent decision in British Columbia is a case in point.
Last week the BC Court of Appeal overturned a lower Court decision that found a defrauded financial institution was to be reimbursed by the unsuspecting widow whose home had been fraudulently mortgaged.
A direct link to the BC Court of Appeal decision is helpful. The citation is Re Oehlerking Estate, 2009 BCCA 138.
This case is especially relevant to estate law in that the widow attempted to transfer the property, held in the name of her deceased husband, to her own name in 2006 and only then realized a fraud had occurred whereby a mortgage had been taken out on the property after it was transferred to someone else. The lower Court decided the property should be returned to the widow but she was liable for the mortgage. The Court of Appeal did not agree.
There are significant issues at stake, not least of which is the increased risk to financial institutions which may lead to an appeal to the Supreme Court. Similar cases have occurred in Ontario.
A web search on real estate fraud led me to a Criminal Intelligence Service Canada assessment of mortgage fraud, prepared in 2007. Further, the Ontario government provides tips on its website to protect against real estate fraud.
Estate Trustees ought to be vigilant regarding mortgage and real estate fraud especially because identity theft often occurs after a recent death.
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Listen to Developments in Will Changes.
This week on Hull on Estates, Ian and Suzana discuss developments in will changes. They reference cases from Key Developments in Estates and Trusts Law in Ontario ed. 2008.