Tag: estate trustee compensation
When is it appropriate for a court to reduce estate trustee compensation? The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia addressed this issue in Atlantic Jewish Foundation v Leventhal Estate (“AJF”).
Before getting into the AJF decision, it is worthwhile to include the caveat that determination of estate trustee compensation in Ontario (a summary of which can be found in my paper here) differs somewhat as compared to Nova Scotia. Nonetheless, both provinces use 5% of the value of the estate, subject to the discretion of the court, as the starting point in determining the quantum of compensation. As such, AJF remains informative in Ontario.
The deceased left a Will naming his friend, who was also a lawyer, as his Estate Trustee. AJF was named as the residuary beneficiary. The Will was silent as to estate trustee compensation. As the estate was valued at over $15 million, the Estate Trustee sought compensation in the approximate amount of $896,000, being 5% of the gross adjusted value of the estate. AJF maintained that the amount was excessive and proposed compensation in the amount of $300,000.
In determining how much compensation the Estate Trustee should be entitled to, and applying an approach similar to Ontario’s ‘five factors’, the court made the following observations: the level of responsibility is often greater for higher value estates; the increasing level of responsibility does not necessarily rise in direct proportion to the size of the estate; the Estate Trustee arranged and supervised the funeral and burial, which was mainly handled by telephone; the Estate Trustee acted promptly in selling the house; many of the assets were already in the form of cash, and the Estate Trustee knew the banks the deceased used; the Estate Trustee was diligent, wise and prudent and had to be a hands-on executor; the Estate Trustee made no mistakes; a large part of the estate was made up of investments that were readily converted into cash for distribution; and, the estate was larger rather than complex.
The court noted that 5% should be reserved for estates where there are complicating features that require more than wise and careful planning to maximize the value of the estate. Therefore, the court awarded compensation in the amount of $450,000, being slightly more than 50% of the maximum amount that could be awarded. A larger amount of compensation would have the effect of reading into the Will a bequest to the Estate Trustee that the deceased did not intend to make.
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Although beneficiaries have a right to compel an accounting from an Estate Trustee, it is not always advisable to do so. The decision of Pochopsky Estate provides an example of such a situation.
Here, practically all of the deceased’s assets passed outside of the estate. Although, there was some concern as to whether a joint account held between the deceased and his sister was an estate asset, subsequent evidence was given to the Estate Trustee, including an affidavit from the bank, indicating that the account was not an estate asset. Accordingly, the Estate Trustee, a friend of the deceased, concluded that there was no money that passed through the estate.
The residuary beneficiaries nevertheless requested that the Estate Trustee proceed against the sister for the joint account and obtain a Certificate of Appointment. In addition, a formal passing of accounts was sought.
The Estate Trustee thought none of these steps were appropriate given the size of the Estate, and indicated that if forced to formally pass his accounts, he would seek his costs from the residuary beneficiaries.
The residuary beneficiaries obtained an ex-parte Order for the Estate Trustee to pass his accounts. Although not mentioned in the decision, for an interesting read on the appropriateness of ex-parte motions, Justice Brown’s decision in Ignagni Estate (Re), is a good one.
On the passing, the Court found that the objections raised by the residuary beneficiaries were ‘ill-founded’, and that they fell into a pattern of aggressively criticizing the Estate Trustee no matter what he did. Given the size of the estate, the Court ordered that the residuary beneficiaries personally pay the costs of the Estate Trustee in the amount of $17,445.60, and that no costs would be payable to these beneficiaries.
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