Tag: estate law blog

14 Nov

An ingenious coping tool for stress?

Natalia R. Angelini In the News Tags: , 0 Comments

No doubt our youth must navigate an increasingly complex world, and so it isn’t any surprise to see a growing focus on mental health issues and novel ways to address them. This is a very serious issue, yet I couldn’t help but chuckle when reading an article discussing a Dutch university’s new and original stress-management tool. Wait for it…lying in a grave!

Just when life’s challenges are getting you down, you ditch your electronic devices (for 30 minutes to 3 hours), lie in a grave, contemplate the alternative and put your problems into perspective. One student is reported to have said the following after her experience:

“When you think about death, you automatically also think about life. That is because you realize that life isn’t endless and that we are all going to die at one point. It makes you think about what do I want to do in life, and what do I think is the most important, what does my heart feel, what does my mind want to do.”

Maybe it’s the yogi in me, but this feels like a new form of mediation, as one author put it “an invitation to listen to yourself”. I would love to see this service available to students, and adults, locally. Getting into nature is cathartic in its own right, and the option of literally getting into the ground (with the added comfort of a pillow and mat) to reflect seems like a very peaceful and relaxing experience. There are lots of other ways we can let nature give us a boost. I dare you – when summer returns, channel your inner child and roll down a grassy hill!

 

Have a great day,

Natalia Angelini

12 Nov

Holograph Wills – A Recent Interpretation Case

Natalia R. Angelini Estate & Trust, Estate Litigation, Estate Planning, Wills Tags: , 0 Comments

In Kirst Estate (Re), the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta had before it an interpretation case involving a holograph will of William Kirst (“K”). The will was a short handwritten document that divided the estate equally amongst K’s surviving children, with some qualifying language allowing Whitehorn (“W”), one of K’s children, to live in the family home. W had almost always lived in the home, which was the primary estate asset.

The phrase the Court was tasked with interpreting reads: “Whitehorn can live in the house for awhile, to be determined by Him and his brothers + sisters.”

The sole issue was the interpretation of the words “for awhile”.

The testimony of four of K’s children was considered (although ultimately of little assistance), with two of them believing K’s intention was that W remain in the house indefinitely, and the other two viewing their father’s intention as simply to permit W to stay in the home until he could get his affairs in order. As K discussed his estate with his children separately, each of them had his/her own understanding of K’s intentions. Notably, although K made the will in 1995, none of the kids had previously known about it or discussed its terms with K.

The Court cited and reviewed the following four general principles of interpretation recently set out by the Alberta Court of Appeal to assist in ascertaining K’s intention:

“First, a will must be interpreted to give effect to the intention of the testator. No other principle is more important than this one.

Second, a court must read the entire will, just the same way an adjudicator interpreting a contract or a statute must read the whole contract or statute.

Third, a court must assume that the testator intended the words in the will to have their ordinary meaning in the absence of a compelling reason not to do so.

Fourth, a court may canvas extrinsic evidence to ascertain the testator’s intention.”

The Court concluded that it could determine K’s intention by giving the words in his will their natural and ordinary meaning, and, in so doing, it was satisfied that the intention was to allow W to stay in the home subject to an enforceable condition that he and his siblings agree on how long he can continue to live there. The Court further found that as the siblings could not agree, the condition had not been fulfilled, such that W’s entitlement has ended.

The circumstances in this case are unfortunate, as the siblings had apparently been involved in protracted litigation since K’s death in 2010, including a dispute over the validity of the will. Although holograph wills can be helpful estate planning tools, I wonder if these same contentious circumstances would have developed if K had made his will with effective legal advice.

Thanks for reading,

Natalia Angelini

11 Nov

Can there be unexpected financial consequences of retroactive proof of death?

Kira Domratchev Estate Litigation Tags: , 0 Comments

In Threlfall v. Carleton University, the Supreme Court of Canada held that a deceased’s estate must repay pension payments received post-death. Although paying back a windfall seems like a common-sense outcome that would not require the analysis of the highest court in Canada, the 50-page 6/3 split-decision tells us it is not as simple as one would think.

In this case, Mr. George Roseme (“R”), a retired Carleton University professor who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, disappeared from his home in Quebec in 2007 after going for a walk. R’s remains were not found until almost six years later. During that passage of time, pension payments he had been receiving from the University at the time of his disappearance continued to be paid. Notably, the University did attempt to cease payments within a year or two after R disappeared, but R’s surviving spouse objected, since under the Quebec Civil Code one is presumed to be alive for seven years unless proof of death is obtained. The University reluctantly continued the payments.

After discovery of R’s death in 2013, and a determination that he died just one day after his disappearance in 2007, the University sought to recover the overpayment from R’s estate and surviving spouse. It was successful throughout. The Supreme Court of Canada decision, although lengthy and multifaceted, seemed to largely turn on the following findings:

  • On the plain language of the pension plan, benefits were to end upon R’s actual death, not the date that it was discovered or officially recognized;
  • The rebuttal of the presumption of life must be assessed retroactively, meaning that payments should only continue during lifetime. Given R’s date of death, this extinguished the entitlement to the pension payments made while R was an absentee. A prospective approach to the rebuttal of the presumption of life would generate a windfall not intended by the absence regime; and
  • The payments were treated, with a retrospective view, as having been made in error, which obliges the recipient to make restitution.

The impact of the decision is weighty, with R’s surviving spouse being required to reimburse the University almost $500,000 in pension payments.

Considering this from the Ontario perspective, I look to the Declarations of Death Act. In this statute, once the seven-year absentee period expires, an application seeking a declaration of death can be brought. I note, though, that the Act contains provisions permitting the court to amend or revoke the order, as well as to make orders regarding the preservation or return of property.  So if you find yourself in the unique circumstance of receiving assets post-absenteeism, perhaps setting them aside would be a good idea, because when things seem too good to be true, they usually are.

Thanks for reading,

Natalia Angelini

P.S. A good summary article can be found here. Our blogs below also touch on some intriguing declaration of death cases:

https://hullandhull.com/2017/10/doppelgangers-declarations-death-act/

https://hullandhull.com/2014/03/premature-declarations-of-death/

https://hullandhull.com/2007/12/interest-not-payable-on-insurance-proceeds-until-declaration-of-death/

12 Aug

Dependant Support and Repudiation of the Spousal Relationship

Natalia R. Angelini Common Law Spouses, Estate Litigation, Power of Attorney Tags: , 0 Comments

In dependant support cases, the court shall consider many factors and circumstances in determining the amount and duration of support, pursuant to a non-exhaustive list detailed in section 62 of the Succession Law Reform Act. If the dependant is a spouse, the considerations also include a course of conduct by the spouse during the deceased’s lifetime that is so unconscionable as to constitute an obvious and gross repudiation of the relationship. In Webb v. Belway, we see this consideration taking center stage.

The Facts

The deceased, Mr. Belway, suffered a stroke. He died approximately six months later at age 82.  In the months prior to his passing, Mr. Belway was in the hospital and in long-term care. Ms. Webb assisted in in his care, and was acting as Mr. Belway’s attorney for property and personal care.

Mr. Belway died intestate. He was survived by his daughter, who stood to inherit the entire estate of almost $3.0 million. He was also survived by his long-time common-law spouse, Ms. Webb, age 73. Ms. Webb brought a dependant support claim seeking half of the estate.

Mr. Belway’s daughter opposed the application, arguing that due to Ms. Webb’s abhorrent behaviour she should not be entitled to any assets from the estate. Such behaviour included:

  • Webb, acting as attorney for property, transferring more than $570,000 from Mr. Belway’s accounts for her own benefit, when Mr. Belway was hospitalized and incapable;
  • Webb did not call Mr. Belway’s daughter to advise of her father’s stroke, of his hospitalization or of his having undergone surgery. She further refused to provide a phone number to reach Mr. Belway; and
  • Webb took active steps to isolate Mr. Belway during his final months of life, including instructing caregivers to call the police should his daughter and family members attempt to visit.

The Decision

The court ultimately found that Ms. Webb’s actions were “improper” but that all things considered she should still receive support, stating:

“Ultimately, I am not persuaded that Ms. Webb’s actions were egregious or malicious, nor do I find her actions to have been so unconscionable as to constitute an obvious and gross repudiation of the relationship.

Moreover, after being a common law couple for at least 18 years, though Ms. Webb’s actions are problematic, I do not find they negate her moral and economic claims against the estate.”

This decision suggests that one may need a greater strength and breadth of evidence to establish a course of conduct sufficient to repudiate the relationship, particularly in a long-term spousal relationship that substantially appears to be fairly typical (at least, in this case, until the pivotal health crisis late in life).

Thanks for reading,

Natalia Angelini

16 May

Justice for Victims of Obituary Piracy?

Natalia R. Angelini Uncategorized Tags: , 0 Comments

Thomson v. Afterlife Network Inc. is a recent class-action case where success was achieved for victims of obituary piracy, reported on here.

The facts are saddening. The applicant and other class members, after losing loved ones, discovered that their loved ones’ obituaries (often with a photo) had been duplicated and posted on Afterlife’s website without permission. Many class members had written the obituaries in a personal way, adding to the emotional blow. The class members were also outraged at Afterlife’s conduct in seeking to profit from their bereavement through sales of candles and other advertising, and in conveying to the public that the families were benefiting from such sales.

The Court granted much of the relief sought, including $10 million in aggravated damages, given its agreement with the applicant that “…Afterlife’s conduct, aptly characterized as “obituary piracy”, is high-handed, reprehensible and represents a marked departure from standards of decency.”

It is heartening to know that justice was done in this case, with the award including injunctive relief preventing the website to operate, as well as a total damage award of $20 million. However, this optimistic feeling is tempered by the fact that Afterlife did not defend the lawsuit and shut down its website shortly after the class proceeding was commenced. It may thus be that enforcement of the Judgment will present a challenge, which would be an unfortunate outcome in an otherwise encouraging decision.

Thanks for reading,

Natalia Angelini

13 May

Estate Taxes and the 2019 Budget

Natalia R. Angelini General Interest, News & Events, Trustees Tags: , , 0 Comments

An estate trustee has several responsibilities, including paying tax liabilities arising from the deceased’s death.  There are multiple deadlines to remember, including:

  • Prior Year’s T1 Return – If the death is between January and April, the return for the prior year must be filed within six months after the date of death.
  • Terminal T1 Return – If the death is between January and October, the return for the year of death is due April 30th of the next year. If the death is in November or December, the return must be filed within six months.
  • T3 Tax Return – If there is income received by the estate after the date of death, the T3 tax return must be filed within 90 days after the end of the calendar year or the estate year (365 days post-death), whichever period the estate trustee elects.

In addition to the above income tax-related deadlines, should the executor apply for a Certificate of Appointment (probate), Estate Administration Tax (“EAT”) will be owed upon filing the application. EAT is calculated on the value of the assets of an estate:

  • $5 per $1,000.00, or part thereof, is owed on the first $50,000.00; and
  • $15 per $1,000.00, or part thereof, is owed on the value of the estate over $50,000.00.

Once probate is granted, an Estate Information Return (“EIR”) must be filed with the Ministry of Finance.  An EIR requires the executor to provide an inventory and particulars of each type of asset of the estate, including fair market values at the date of death. The deadline to file the initial EIR is within 90 days after probate is granted. If the executor discovers incorrect or incomplete information, an amended EIR must be filed within 30 days of the discovery.

The 2019 Budget of Ford’s Ontario government proposes certain changes that would impact both the EAT and EIR.

EAT – The 2019 Budget proposes to eliminate the payment of EAT on the first $50,000.00 of the estate value. This change would spare modest estates from having to pay EAT, which may be particularly impactful in circumstances with limited available monies. It will also result in a savings of $250.00 for larger estates, as no EAT will be payable on the first $50,000.00.

EIR – The 2019 Budget proposes to extend the EIR initial filing deadline from 90 days to 180 days, and the amended filing deadline from 30 days to 60 days. The change to the initial filing deadline may be especially helpful for executors, as it can be a challenge to obtain particulars and date of death valuations of all estate assets within just three months of death.

Thanks for reading and have a great day,

Natalia Angelini

25 Mar

Calling All Philanthropists: Thinking of Donating Your Art?

Christina Canestraro Uncategorized Tags: , , , , 0 Comments

Whether art, history, science, or fashion is your thing, a trip to the museum is a sure-fire way to  marvel at the ingenuity of humankind, spark new inspiration, or escape to a different time and place. It’s no wonder one of the world’s most popular museums, the Louvre, welcomed 10.2 million visitors in 2018 from all over the world.

Whether motivated by the desire to preserve heritage and culture, or a passion for education, according to this New York Times article, philanthropists have been instrumental in the exponential growth in museums that we have observed, particularly in the last 50 years.

Some donors gift their collectibles to an institution while alive, with conditional terms to the acceptance of their donation. Take, for example, philanthropist Wendy Reves who donated more than 1,400 works from the collection of her late husband to the Dallas Museum of Art, with the stipulation that they recreate five rooms from the couple’s villa in the South of France, including furnishings from the villa’s original owner, Coco Chanel. 

Other donors gift their collections from beyond the grave. In other words, they include specific provisions in their will donating their works to a particular institution, also known as a bequest. In 1967, the late Adelaide Milton de Groot, bequeathed her entire art collection (which contained more than 200 paintings) to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

While American museums are beholden to important donors, they are also running out of space to properly store and preserve items not on display. In fact, many American museums only showcase approximately 4% of their inventory, with the balance held in climate-controlled storage spaces. To address this issue, many American museums have taken to formally disposing of part of their inventory, a term also known as deaccessioning.

 

Institutions such as the Canadian Museums Association are hopeful that the new changes will mean more tax incentives for donors and more artwork being donated.

Conversely, Canadian museums are facing challenges on the acquisition side. For the last 30 or so years, the Cultural Property Export and Import Act (CPEIA) earned Canadian donors tax credits for the market value of their donated art as long as it fell within the scope of “national importance”. This incentivized Canadian donors to bequeath their art to Canadian museums, which ensured that important cultural property remained in Canada for the benefit of Canadians.

Recently, the federal court decision in Heffel Gallery Limited v Canada (AG) narrowed the definition of national importance in the CPEIA, meaning millions of dollars in artwork donations to museums and art galleries were halted. As explained in this article, the newly proposed Budget 2019, “proposes to amend the Income Tax Act and the Cultural Property Export and Import Act to remove the requirement that property be of ‘national importance’ in order to qualify for the enhanced tax incentives for donations of cultural property.” This is good news for both donors and museums.

It is still too early to know how these changes will manifest in practice, given that Heffel Gallery Limited v Canada (AG) is still under appeal, and Budget 2019 has not yet passed. Institutions such as the Canadian Museums Association are hopeful that the new changes will mean more tax incentives for donors and more artwork being donated.

All this to say, if you have a Basquiat or Degas yearning to be seen by the masses, it may just have its chance to shine, with significant tax breaks to your estate!

Thanks for reading!

Christina Canestraro

14 Feb

Elder Law Litigation Needs to Increase?

Natalia R. Angelini Elder Law, Litigation Tags: , , 0 Comments

In the last couple of decades we have seen a rise in estate, capacity and trust litigation due in large part to the aging demographic.  One would think that elder law disputes – disputes involving retirement residences, nursing homes and/or long-term care facilities – would similarly be on the rise.  What was highlighted for the attendees at a recent Personal Injury and Elder Law CLE presentation, however, is that there is limited case law in the elder law area. Although the knee-jerk reaction may be to see few cases litigated through to a final hearing as a positive state of affairs, that is not so. Rather, it seems that there are an insufficient number of claims being made, and an even fewer number that are pursued all the way to trial.

The panel sees ageism as contributing to this set of circumstances. Damage awards are typically lower for the elderly, the rationale seemingly that they have already lived most of their lives and are going to die anyway. The converse “Golden Years Doctrine” was cited as a means to argue for the better protection of elderly plaintiffs, grounded in the argument that the elderly suffer more and are more severely impacted from an injury than their younger counterparts.

Taking such cases to trial and increasing awareness (e.g. media coverage) is a way to create progress and change in this area of the law. The panel advocated for this approach, as well as stressed the importance of electing to have such cases heard in front of a jury, who may be more willing to award larger sums to litigants.

If this advice is followed, we can hope to see more decisions that can build upon the few noted cases in the area (this article references some of them), and more just outcomes for the elderly, their families and/or their estates.

Thanks for reading and have a great day,

Natalia R. Angelini

12 Feb

Can Typography Expose a Sham Trust?

Natalia R. Angelini Estate & Trust, Litigation, Uncategorized Tags: , , 0 Comments

In estate litigation it is not uncommon to have reason to engage handwriting experts to attest to the authenticity of a signature on a testamentary document. However, the need to engage a typography expert to speak to the font used on such a document is a much rarer occasion. In McGoey (Re) such an expert was used to expose a sham trust.

In this case, upon Mr. McGoey’s assignment into bankruptcy, the trustee in bankruptcy sought to realize on the assets, seeking a declaration that Mr. McGoey’s interest in two properties held jointly with his wife were assets of the estate and subject to creditor claims. Mr. McGoey and his wife argued that they held title to the properties in trust for their children and, thus, outside the reach of creditors. They asserted that the trust documentation was executed in 1995 for one property and in 2004 for the other.

Upon examination by a typography expert, it was revealed that the dates of execution of the documents were not accurate, as neither Cambria (the typeface on the 1995 document), nor Calibri (the typeface on the 2004 document), were available for use by the general public until 2007. The court accepted the expert’s evidence. However, the issue was not fully resolved, since Mr. McGoey’s financial predicament was not apparent until 2010. He and his wife may have lawfully created trusts for their children between 2007 and 2010.

The court turned its scrutiny to the other circumstances of the case. Although several red flags or “badges of fraud” were found and are cited in the decision, most notable was the fact that nothing distinguished the McGoey’s use of the properties from that of an owner – they used the properties as they desired, encumbered them when they wanted and described themselves as the owners in legal papers. Accordingly, the court concluded that the trusts were shams.

Although both the expert testimony and the surrounding circumstances contributed to the court’s ruling, it seems the evidence of the typography expert would have been definitive on the question had the factual timeline been different. I expect with the ongoing creation of new fonts that we can expect to see increased use of such expert testimony in estate litigation.

Thanks for reading and have a great day,

Natalia R. Angelini

11 Feb

Getting Frozen out of Cryptocurrency?

Natalia R. Angelini Estate & Trust, Estate Planning, Executors and Trustees, General Interest, In the News, News & Events Tags: , , 0 Comments

Cryptocurrency is  aptly described in a recent post as “digital cash stored on an electronic file and traded online… like online banking but with no central bank or regulator. It also has virtual wallets which store the cryptocurrency.”

As with any online assets, access to a deceased person’s cryptocurrency is vital. Without it, heirs will not receive their intended entitlements and the cryptocurrency will remain dormant.  A stark example of such a problem can be found in the QuadrigaCX debacle.

QuadrigaCX is Canada’s biggest cryptocurrency exchange. Its’ founder, Gerald Cotton, died unexpectedly and prematurely at age 30. He was the only one who knew the password to access the holdings of the company’s clients. Once news of his death got out, thousands of clients were rushing to withdraw millions in funds. They have not yet been successful, the reason being, as one author explains, is that “…Cotten was the sole person responsible for transferring QuadrigaCX funds between the company’s “cold wallet” — secure, offline storage — and its “hot wallet” or online server…Very little cryptocurrency was stored in the hot wallet for security purposes. Cotten’s laptop was encrypted, and his widow, Jennifer Robertson, and the expert she hired have been unable to access any of its contents.”

QuadrigaCX is evidently now in financial straits. It has filed for creditor protection in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. Further, Ms. Robertson has reportedly sought the appointment of Ernst & Young to oversee the company’s dealings while attempts to recover the lost holdings continue.

This unfortunate situation highlights the risk that may accompany cryptocurrency’s lack of regulation. It also serves as a reminder to us that with ownership of digital assets growing, we need to think about how to ensure that gifting such assets is effected, including making sure to inform our intended estate trustees of how to access the assets. Doing so is helpful because, as the above case demonstrates, it is a must in the case of cryptocurrencies to have the password relevant to the wallet where the currency is held. Further, with an asset as volatile as cryptocurrency can be, a fully informed estate trustee will be in a better position to avoid delays in the administration of an estate and/or allegations of mismanagement if he/she is able to quickly access and distribute such assets.

Thanks for reading and have a great day,

Natalia R. Angelini

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