Tag: estate planning
A recent news article refers to the struggle of father of accused killer Bryer Schmegelsky to obtain video footage from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The father’s lawyer has referred to the video as the accused’s “last will and testament.” It was apparently recorded very shortly before death and expresses funeral and burial preferences.
Oral wills (also known as nuncupative wills) are recognized in select jurisdictions, including some American states:
- New York law provides that an oral will, heard by at least two witnesses and made by a member of the active military or a mariner while at sea can be valid and will expire one year after discharge from the armed forces or three years after a sailor, if the testator survives the situation of peril;
- In North Carolina, an oral will made while the testator’s death is imminent and in circumstances where the testator does not survive in the presence of two or more witnesses may be valid;
- In Texas, oral wills made in the presence of three or more witnesses on the testator’s deathbed before September 2007 are valid in respect of personal property of limited value.
As most state legislation is silent on the issue of videotaped wills, if the testator’s oral wishes are videotaped, they must generally meet the criteria for a valid oral will to be effective.
However, in Canada, a will must be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two people. Alternatively, a will that is entirely in the testator’s handwriting and unwitnessed may be valid. Because Ontario is a strict compliance jurisdiction, any inconsistency with the formal requirements, as set out in the Succession Law Reform Act, renders a will invalid.
While a videotaped statement intended to be viewed posthumously may not be a valid will in Ontario and other Canadian provinces, it can nevertheless be used to express the deceased’s final wishes, for example with respect to the disposition of his or her remains (which are typically precatory rather than enforceable, even if appearing within a written document), and may assist a family in finding closure following an unexpected loss.
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In a recent recording, “Money in the Grave”, Drake asks that he be buried with his money. He sings:
In the next life, I’m tryna stay paid
When I die, put my money in the grave.
Several issues come to mind.
First, Drake’s wish to be buried with his money is not binding on his estate trustee unless it is in a properly executed testamentary instrument.
Second, even if the money is buried with Drake, his estate trustee may have to pay Estate Administration Tax on the buried money if the will is to be probated. Drake may want to consider multiple wills. (Well-considered primary and secondary wills might also avoid the payment of Estate Administration Tax on the value of all of his chains, and other bling.)
Third, the act of destroying money is illegal in many jurisdictions. In Canada, under the Currency Act, it is illegal to “melt down, break up or use otherwise than as currency any coin that is legal tender in Canada”. The Criminal Code creates an offence for defacing a current coin. There is no similar prohibition on defacing or destroying paper money. However, in the US, burning money or any other act that renders a note “unfit to be reissued” is illegal. Arguably, the act of burying money is not the same as destroying money.
(Read Stuart Clark’s blog, here, about a woman who cut up the equivalent of $1.4m CDN to disinherit her heirs.)
Fourth, Drake’s estate trustee might be accused of waste. He or she may want to seek the opinion, advice or direction of the court before they “Bury my [expletive] Chase Bank.”
More on point, in the US decision of Eyerman v. Mercantile Trust Co., 524 S.w.2d 210 (1975), the testator directed that her house be burned down, the lot sold, and the proceeds added to the residue of her estate. A neighbour wasn’t too crazy about the idea, and applied for an injunction. The injunction was, at first, denied. On appeal, the court held that the direction in the will was against public policy.
The court in Eyerman cited the decision of In re Scott’s Will, 88 Minn. 386 (1903). There, the testator directed his estate trustee to destroy money belonging to the estate. The court there found that the clause was void. The court also quoted from Restatement, Second, Trusts, 124, at 267.
“Although a person may deal capriciously with his own property, his self interest ordinarily will restrain him from doing so. Where an attempt is made to confer such a power upon a person who is given no other interest in the property, there is no such restraint and it is against public policy to allow him to exercise the power if the purpose is merely capricious.”
In Restatement, an example is given of a bequest from A’s estate to B in trust to throw the money into the sea. (Query: more lyrical or less lyrical than Drake’s direction?) “B holds the money upon a resulting trust for the estate of A and is liable to the estate of A if he throws the money into the sea.”
In another, earlier Drake ditty, “Crew Love”, Drake boasted about spending $50K on a vacation, and needing restaurant reservations for twenty. “I never really been one for the preservation of money. Much rather spend it all while I’m breathing.” It seems that he now has so much money that he may not be able to spend it all while living, and he is turning his thoughts to succession planning. He may want to get some professional estate planning advice.
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The city of Toronto was abuzz this past weekend as we kicked off summer 2019 with wall-to-wall sunshine. There were so many wonderful things to celebrate this weekend. For some, celebrations continued over the Toronto Raptor’s historic NBA Championship win. Some were tapping their feet to the beat for the first weekend of Toronto’s Jazz festival. Others, like myself, were flooding the streets to celebrate one of the city’s largest, loudest, and most colourful parades of the year – the Toronto Pride Parade.
Pride festivities provide a great opportunity to come together with others to celebrate and promote the equal rights of all persons regardless of gender or sexual orientation. While there, I reflected on some key considerations for LGBTQ+ individuals to consider in the context of estate planning in Ontario.
1. The value of a will
A will is an invaluable tool to assist people in planning for the future. The Succession Law Reform Act, RSO 1990, c. 26 (“SLRA”) gives individuals the power to dispose of property post-death.
Provided that your will meets the statutory requirements to be valid (which are prescribed in Part I of the SLRA) testators are free to dispose of their property as they wish. This a right regardless of sexual orientation or gender and includes couples that are in common-law relationships and same-sex marriages.
Importantly, the will provides a testator with a level of control over how children are provided for post-death. This is especially important in scenarios where parents rely on assisted reproduction as a method of conceiving a child. Having a will allows a testator to specifically name children and outline how that child is to take under the will. For more information about this, click here.
2. Rules of Intestacy
If you die without leaving a will, your estate will be subject to the rules of intestacy which are governed by Part II of the SLRA. Under these rules, married couples are entitled to take their spouses property absolutely if the deceased is not survived by issue. On July 20, 2005 the Parliament of Canada enacted the Civil Marriage Act, which legalizes same-sex marriage and provides in section 2, that, “Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others”. This definition replaced the former definition which described marriage as the lawful union between a man and a woman. As a result, same-sex spouses are entitled to take from their spouses estate on an intestacy.
In contrast, common-law relationships do not share this privilege, regardless of whether it is a heterosexual or homosexual common-law relationship.
3. Incapacity During Lifetime
An important consideration for LGBTQ+ individuals is also what would happen in the event that they become incapable of making decisions regarding their health care and property. Although laws vary by jurisdiction, legal and biological family, such as spouses (sometimes including common-law partners), children and parents, will generally be favoured over other persons who may have a close but legally unrecognized, relationship with the incapable person. This could have a negative impact on an individual whose non-accepting family members step into a decision-making role for them.
4. Dependant Support Claim
If you fall under the definition of a “dependant” under Part V of the SLRA, which could apply to same-sex common-law relationships and spouses alike, you may be entitled to make a dependant’s support claim against your partner’s estate.
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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.
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It is often said that an Attorney for Property can do anything on behalf of the grantor’s behalf except make a will. This is on account of section 7(2) of the Substitute Decisions Act (the “SDA“), which provides:
“The continuing power of attorney may authorize the person named as attorney to do on the grantor’s behalf anything in respect of property that the grantor could do if capable, except make a will.” [emphasis added]
Although at first glance it would appear that the potential tasks that an Attorney for Property could complete on behalf of a grantor are almost absolute, with the Attorney for Property being able to do anything on behalf of the grantor except sign a new will, in reality the tasks that an Attorney for Property may complete relative to the grantor’s estate planning is more restrictive than this would suggest at first glance. This is because the definition of “will” in the SDA is defined as being the same as that contained in the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“), with the SLRA in turn defining “will” as including not only typical testamentary documents such as a Last Will and Testament or Codicil, but also “any other testamentary disposition“. As a result, the stipulation that an Attorney for Property can do anything on behalf of the grantor “except make a will” would include not only a restriction on the Attorney for Property’s ability to sign a new Last Will and Testament or Codicil on behalf of the grantor, but also a restriction on the Attorney for Property’s ability to make “any other testamentary disposition” on behalf of the grantor.
It is fairly common for individuals such as spouses to own real property as joint-tenants with the right of survivorship. When one joint-owner dies ownership of the property automatically passes to the surviving joint-owner by right of survivorship, with no portion of the property forming part of the deceased joint-owner’s estate. Although such an ownership structure may make sense when the property is originally purchased, it is not uncommon for circumstances to arise after the property was registered (i.e. a divorce or separation) which may make one of the joint-owners no longer want the property to carry the right of survivorship. Should such circumstances arise, one of the joint-owners will often “sever” title to the property so that the property is now held as tenants-in-common without the right of survivorship, making efforts to attempt to ensure that at least 50% of the property would form part of their estate should they predecease the other joint-owner.
Although severing title to a property is fairly straight forward while the owner is still capable, circumstances could become more complicated should the owner become incapable as questions may emerge regarding whether their Attorney for Property has the authority to sever title to the property on behalf of the grantor, or whether such an action is a “testamentary disposition” and therefor barred by section 7(2) of the SDA.
The issue of whether an Attorney for Property severing title to a property is a “testamentary disposition” was in part dealt with by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Champion v. Guibord, 2007 ONCA 161, where the court states:
“The appellants argue that the severing of the joint tenancies here constituted a change in testamentary designation or disposition and is therefore prohibited by s. 31(1) of the Substitute Decisions Act because it is the making of a will.
While we are inclined to the view that the severance of a joint tenancy is not a testamentary disposition, we need not decide that question in this case. Even if it were, we see no error in the disposition made by the application judge, because of s. 35.1(3)(a) of the Substitute Decisions Act.” [emphasis added]
Although the Court of Appeal does not conclusively settle the issue in Champion v. Guibord, the court appears to strongly suggest that they are of the position that an Attorney for Property severing a joint-tenancy is not a “testamentary disposition” within the confines of the SDA.
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One of the consequences of having to probate a Will (now referred to in Ontario as applying for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee) is that the Will, along with the assets covered by the Will, are made public.
I was intrigued to read about the estate of the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. In addition to Allen’s Last Will being made public, multiple news articles have published a list of some of the amazing properties owned by him, including a:
- condominium in Portland, Oregon ($700,000 to &850,000)
- 20-acre property in Santa Fee purchased from Georgia O’Keefe’s estate ($15 million)
- 2,066-acre ranch in Utah ($25 million)
- Silicon Valley 22,005 square foot house ($30 million)
- New York City penthouse on 4 East 66th Street ($50 million)
- double property in Idaho totalling 3,600 acres ($50 million)
- 3 acre compound on the Big Island in Hawaii ($50 million)
- 18 bedroom mansion in the South of France ($100 million)
- 387 acre camp in Lopez Island, Washington ($150 million)
- 8 acres of land on Mercer Island, Washington ($130 million)
- 400 foot Octopus Yacht (up to $130 million)
While I have no intention to address the efficacy of Allen’s estate plan, I thought the publicity of his estate provides a reminder that careful estate planning can ensure that privacy is maintained, and the payment of probate tax be avoided. In Ontario, there are numerous options available including preparing a secondary (or tertiary) Will, placing assets in joint ownership with the right of survivorship, or simply gifting assets prior to death. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and each option carries certain advantages and disadvantages.
While I expect that few people have the impressive catalogue of properties that Allen had, it should by no means preclude careful estate planning.
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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.
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!
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Traditionally, the transition from adolescence into formal adulthood has been marked by certain milestones: moving in with one’s partner, engagements, weddings, and the first purchase of a car or house, for example.
Today, however, as Dr. Steven Mintz notes in this Psychology Today article on modern adulthood, the journey to achieving adult status is “far slower and much less uniform” than it was in previous generations.
The Canadian Encyclopedia reports that in recent years, the average age of first marriage in Canada is close to 30 years old for women, and 32 years old for men. This contrasts sharply with the 1960s and 1970s, when young people in Canada were more likely to marry between the ages of 23 and 25 years old.
Similarly, while the average young adult in the sixties could expect to achieve such “emblems of adulthood” as home ownership, marriage, children, and a stable job by around the age of 24, far fewer young adults in the 2000s will have attained these markers by this same period. According to Statistics Canada, 54% of men and 43.4% of women in Canada have never married by their early thirties. In Mintz’s article, he notes that rates of childbearing, homeownership, and even car ownership for young adults have also distinctly declined from those of past generations.
Notably, many of the traditional adulthood markers relate to asset accumulation – whether it’s the paycheque associated with a steady and lucrative job, or an investment in a home or vehicle, for example. With fewer millennials travelling down these conventional paths to adulthood, and arguably having fewer assets to their names, should today’s young adults be concerned with formulating a plan for their Estate?
In my view, the answer is yes. This blog will address three of many reasons to set up an Estate Plan as a young adult today.
- Your assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries of your choice, instead of being determined by Intestacy
In Ontario, Part II of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) governs how one’s assets will be divided if a person dies “intestate” – namely, without a Last Will.
As many young millennial adults are unmarried and without children, I will focus on subsections 47(3)-(11) of the SLRA. These subsections delineate how an estate will be divided if one dies without a will and has neither a spouse nor children (notably, common law spouses are not included as a “spouse” on intestacy). These rules can be summarized as follows:
- If the Deceased has no spouse and no issue, the estate goes to the Deceased’s surviving parents, equally.
- If there are no surviving parents, the estate goes to the Deceased’s siblings equally (and if a sibling has predeceased, that sibling’s share goes to their respective children).
- If there are no siblings, the estate goes to the Deceased’s nephews and nieces equally.
- If there are no nephews or nieces, it goes to the next of kin of equal degree of consanguinity – in some cases, distant relatives can end up inheriting from the estate, despite otherwise having no relationship with the Deceased.
- If there are no next of kin, the estate escheats to the Crown.
Making an estate plan empowers a party to decide specifically to whom their assets – of both financial and sentimental value – will go.
Importantly, and as we have blogged on previously, any unpaid debts of the Deceased, in addition to the expenses and liabilities of the estate (e.g. funeral expenses, taxes, legal fees, etc.), are a first charge on the assets of the estate, and must be paid by the estate before assets will be distributed to beneficiaries.
- You can choose who will manage your assets, limited or not
By way of a Last Will and Testament, one can appoint an Estate Trustee (or Estate Trustees) of their Estate. Among many other critical duties, the Estate Trustee is responsible for securing the assets of the Estate; settling any of the of the Deceased’s debts and taxes; ensuring the Deceased’s assets are distributed in accordance with the Deceased’s wishes; and, often, tending to funeral arrangements.
When a person dies intestate and an Estate Trustee is not appointed, the process of the administration of their Estate becomes much more onerous, potentially more expensive, and can be significantly delayed. By executing a Will which appoints an Estate Trustee, one can ensure that a responsible and trustworthy person, who is up to the task, will give effect to their final wishes and manage their estate effectively after death.
- You can document your intentions for your intangible, digital assets
This recent Globe and Mail article sums it up succinctly: neglecting to plan for one’s online assets can create “huge headaches” for executors, especially in light of Canadians’ “expanding digital footprints”.
In addition to those online assets which have true financial value – such as cryptocurrency, Paypal accounts, and some loyalty rewards programs – many digital assets, like Facebook or Instagram accounts, can have significant personal and sentimental value. By stating one’s preferences for digital assets management in an estate plan, one can better ensure that their wishes for these assets are honoured, and potentially reduce conflicts between loved ones that might otherwise arise in this respect. The Globe and Mail cites Facebook profiles as a prime example:
” … some loved ones may want a family member’s Facebook profile to remain active after they pass away, for remembrance; while others might want to delete the account, for closure.”
If this article has inspired to start your estate planning process, we encourage you to meet with a trusted Estates Lawyer to assist with your planning needs.
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Karl Lagerfeld – the iconic German designer best known for his work as creative director of Chanel and Fendi’s fashion houses – died this past Tuesday, February 19, at the age of 85.
In the wake of his death, news outlets have reported on a variety of different aspects of Lagerfeld’s illustrious life, from his legendary influence in the fashion industry, to his penchant for controversial commentary, to the impact his work has had on various celebrities and other household names. The articles that caught my eye last week, however, were those with headlines stating that Lagerfeld’s beloved pet cat, Choupette, was set to inherit his approximate $200 million fortune.
Choupette, a seven-year-old, white Birman cat, was one of Lagerfeld’s most cherished companions during his lifetime. Lagerfeld would regularly speak of his pet in human terms, referring to her as “Mademoiselle”, a “chic lady”, and calling her his favourite travel partner (the two would often travel together by private jet). Choupette reportedly has her own sets of customized Louis Vuitton cat-carriers, several personal maids, and a bodyguard, amongst other luxuries. She and Lagerfeld also often ate together, with Choupette dining on caviar and croquettes at the table, opposite Lagerfeld. As Lagerfeld’s right hand cat, she lived a life of extravagance of which many can only dream.
While Lagerfeld has suggested in past interviews that Choupette would be an heir to his vast Estate, the headlines about Choupette’s alleged inheritance drew my attention specifically for reasons of semantics: in Canada, at least, pets cannot technically hold or inherit assets themselves.
Although one may view their adored pet as a fellow family member, Canadian Law has a different perspective. In Canada, pets are legally treated as property – they are a “living asset” which will form a part of a deceased’s estate at death. In the words of Justice Danyliuk, writing in the Saskatchewan case of Henderson v Henderson, 2016 SKQB 282 : “…after all is said and done, a dog is a dog… a domesticated animal that is owned. At law it enjoys no familial rights”.
Given that it is impossible to give property to other property, a testator must come up with an alternative strategy to naming their pet as a beneficiary. For example, a testator could include a provision in their Will to gift their pets to a successive owner, and could leave a specific cash gift to the successive owner to cover costs associated with caring for their pets or pet. A formal “pet trust” – typically being a sum of money, held in trust, to be used only for the purpose of a pet’s care – could also be established to finance a pet’s care after an owner’s death
While many article titles may suggest that Choupette is personally set to inherit a portion of Lagerfeld’s Estate, it is more likely that Lagerfeld has used one of these alternative strategies to ensure his dear Mademoiselle can live comfortably for the rest of her life.
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Henson trusts are a valuable estate planning technique to protect the interests of individuals receiving asset-dependant social assistance, such as ODSP. However, as discussed in the recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in S.A. v Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation, a Henson trust may be invaluable in preserving other forms of need-based assistance.
The appellant, S.A., was a disabled individual receiving monthly distributions under British Columbia’s Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act. S.A.’s father passed away in 2012 and S.A. was one-third residuary beneficiary of his Estate. In order to preserve her entitlement to assistance, her share was settled in a Henson trust in which S.A. was the primary beneficiary and a co-trustee.
In 2015, S.A. submitted an application (the “Application”) to the Metro Vancouver Housing Corporation (“MVHC”) in order to be eligible for subsidized rent. The Application required S.A. to disclose whether she held assets totaling in excess of $25,000. S.A. indicated that she did not. MVHC was made aware of the existence of the Trust as a result of prior correspondence with S.A. and, as a result of her failure to disclose her contingent interest, S.A.’s application for subsidized rent was denied.
S.A. commenced proceedings against MVHC seeking, among other relief, a declaration that her contingent interest in the Trust was not an asset for the purposes of the Application. Both the trial judge and the British Columbia Court of Appeal dismissed S.A.’s petition. S.A. appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
This case was the first instance in which the Supreme Court was tasked with considering the nature of a Henson trust. As such, the Court restated the central features of a Henson trust, namely:
- The beneficiary in question must not have a fixed entitlement;
- The trustees retain absolute discretion as to whether any distributions are made to the beneficiary, including the discretion to make no distribution; and
- The beneficiary must not retain the entirety of the beneficial interest in the trust such that he or she could collapse it pursuant to the Rule in Saunders v Vautier.
S.A. was ultimately successful at the Supreme Court level, but on the basis of contractual interpretation rather than the nature of her interest in the Trust itself. The central issue was whether S.A.’s beneficial interest in the Trust was an asset for the purpose of the Application.
The Court considered the Application and applied basic principles of contract law, namely, that the Application was to be read as a whole with the words to be given their ordinary grammatical meaning. The term “asset” was not specifically defined in the Application to include a contingent interest in a trust.
MVHC attempted to point to an Asset Ceiling Policy that it relied on to inform its definition of an “asset” for the purposes of the Application. This Policy was a separate document setting out a non-exhaustive list of assets that ought to be disclosed by applicants. However, the Court noted that the Policy was not referenced in the Application proper. The Court held that a “reasonable person” interpreting the Application would not consider a contingent interest in a trust to be an asset for the purposes of that Application.
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