Tag: estate trustee
When there is a Last Will and Testament the question of who is going to act as Estate Trustee is usually fairly straightforward, with the Will typically naming an individual to such a role. In the event the individual who is originally named as Estate Trustee is unable or unwilling to act, the Will often provides for an alternate individual to be appointed. But what happens when the Will does not name an Estate Trustee or an individual dies intestate? Who gets to be the Estate Trustee under such a circumstance?
The order of priority for who gets to act as Estate Trustee when there is no one appointed is governed by section 29(1) of the Estates Act, which provides:
“Subject to subsection (3), where a person dies intestate or the executor named in the will refuses to prove the will, administration of the property of the deceased may be committed by the Superior Court of Justice to,
(a) the person to whom the deceased was married immediately before the death of the deceased or person with whom the deceased was living in a conjugal relationship outside marriage immediately before the death;
(b) the next of kin of the deceased; or
(c) the person mentioned in clause (a) and the next of kin,
as in the discretion of the court seems best, and, where more persons than one claim the administration as next of kin who are equal in degree of kindred to the deceased, or where only one desires the administration as next of kin where there are more persons than one of equal kindred, the administration may be committed to such one or more of such next of kin as the court thinks fit.”
Although the court retains the power to select amongst this group as it “thinks fit”, generally speaking the individual entitled to be appointed as Estate Trustee is the Deceased’s spouse followed by their next of kin (or some combination of these individuals). Section 29(3) of the Estates Act contemplates that the right of these individuals to be appointed as Estate Trustee is not absolute, with the court having the ability to select a different person if it thinks fit. The position of a majority of the beneficiaries can also be taken into account in selecting the individual under section 29(2).
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Hull on Estates #614 – Validity of a Handwritten Will and Appointment of an Estate Trustee in Conflict
This week on Hull on Estates, Doreen So and Arielle Di Iulio discuss the recent decision of Langrandeur Estate (Re), 2021 ONSC 3447, where the court addresses the validity of a will containing both typewritten and handwritten instructions, and the appointment of an estate trustee in conflict with the estate’s potential beneficiaries.
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This week on Hull on Estates Jonathon Kappy and Sanaya Mistry discuss the recent decision of Munro v. Thomas, 2021 ONSC 3320, which considers an Estate Trustee’s obligation to account for the assets of the Estate and those which may not form part of the Estate.
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It is trite law that an estate trustee has an obligation to account for his or her dealings with the assets of the estate. However, questions often arise with respect to the extent of an estate trustee’s duties to account for assets that may or may not be part of the estate.
Such questions arose in the recent decision of Munro v. Thomas, 2021 ONSC 3320 (CanLII). As stated by Gibson J. in the opening paragraph of the decision, “This is ultimately a dispute about trust which, as seems so often to be the case, involves at its heart a dispute amongst siblings about a family cottage.”
In Munro, a beneficiary and child of the deceased brought an application to compel the estate trustee to produce full bank records going back to 2013 (the deceased died in 2019), to produce full and complete medical records of the deceased, to submit an affidavit explaining all gifts made and substantial transactions entered into by the deceased (notably, the deceased gifted her cottage to 2 of her 4 children in 2011 and sold her home in 2013), and to submit to cross-examination.
The estate trustee resisted the relief being sought, arguing that it was overbroad, and not consistent with his obligations to account for assets falling within the estate.
The court heard evidence presented by the trustee on the deceased’s capacity at the time of the cottage transfer and home sale. The court concluded that the allegations of incapacity, undue influence and resulting trust were unsupported by the applicant’s evidence and accordingly, the relief sought was not to be granted.
The court dismissed the application, but allowed the estate trustee to apply, if he wanted to, to pass his accounts. Further, the court noted that a beneficiary could compel a passing of accounts. Arguably, in the context of a passing of accounts, the beneficiary could raise an issue there as to whether an asset was appropriately part of the estate or not. The court cautioned that a beneficiary who challenged a trustee’s accounting without good reason or who tries to force the trustee to pursue assets that fall outside of the estate can be held liable for costs.
It should be noted that the applicant did not seek a passing of accounts. The court held that the estate trustee may apply to pass his accounts, notwithstanding the fact that no Certificate of Appointment was granted. Although not referred to in the Munro decision, the decision of Haley J. in Re Silver Estate, 1999 CarswellOnt 4217 is clear authority that an estate trustee does not need to probate the will in order to pass accounts.
Thank you for reading. Have a great Mother’s Day weekend.
If you are asked to be someone’s estate trustee/executor, you may wonder what liability you are assuming. That is on top of the regular workload, as settling the testator’s financial affairs and distributing the remaining assets to their beneficiaries usually takes a year, involving visits to banks, lawyers and other relevant parties. Much can happen in that time, and beneficiaries may be pressuring you to quickly pass along their share of the estate.
Here are some important points to keep in mind with personal liability.
Many Last Wills and Testaments contain phrasing meant to protect loved ones as they carry out their executor duties, usually along the lines of: “No trustee acting in good faith shall be held liable for any loss, except for loss caused by his or her own dishonesty, gross negligence or a wilful breach of trust.”
That type of clause is important, but there is still some liability that comes with the position.
First, let’s make it clear that an executor does not incur personal liability for the debts and liabilities of the deceased. However, it is the executor’s duty to ensure that financial obligations are paid from the estate before any money goes to beneficiaries.
The potential liability here is particularly significant with respect to taxes. Most estates will have taxes owing, so it is the executor’s duty to ensure that all outstanding tax matters are resolved. Section 159 of the Income Tax Act requires executors to obtain a clearance certificate. This document confirms that the taxes of the deceased have been paid in full. If the executor does not obtain this certificate and the funds from the estate have already been distributed, they will be personally liable for taxes owed.
There is always a chance that an executor could discover the testator was not meeting their tax obligations to the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). There are a number of reasons this may arise, ranging from simple carelessness to deliberate tax evasion. No matter the situation, the executor is responsible for rectifying that shortcoming using the estate’s funds, before money is given out to beneficiaries.
The CRA has created a Voluntary Disclosure Program that allows executors to come forward and voluntarily correct any errors or omissions without being subject to penalties or prosecution.
Personal liability for executors also arises if they spend money on professionals to help with the administration of the estate. That could include such people as lawyers, accountants, investment advisors, real estate agents, or art appraisers. Estates can be complex, so it is well within the scope of diligent executors to seek professional guidance. Accordingly, the cost for these services will be borne by the estate, not by the executor.
Detailed records must be kept of any money spent, as executors have a duty to account to the beneficiaries. These records must show all expenses paid by the estate and what money the estate received, from insurance benefits, banks or other sources.
In most cases, beneficiaries of an estate will approve, or consent to, the accounts as kept by the estate trustee. But if they feel finances were not properly managed, they can ask for court approval of the records, known as a “passing of accounts.”
Since executors have a duty to maximize the recovery, and value, of estate assets, they are personally liable for any losses they cause. That could include being reckless with the assets, which causes a loss in monetary value. Examples of this would be if an estate has to pay penalties on a tax return that the executor filed extremely late for no good reason, or if a home was sold for much less than market value.
The good news is that if an executor performs their duty diligently and honestly, any financial liability they assume will be paid by the estate.
Be safe, and have a great day.
Estate litigation can be expensive. Sometimes a court may award costs to be paid personally by a party in an estates matter. Parties should always try to act reasonably throughout the litigation, as anything less may attract such adverse costs consequences. A recent example of this is the case of Dewaele v. Roobroeck, 2021 ONSC 1604.
The underlying application arose from the inability of three siblings to agree on how the estates of their late parents should be administered. The siblings were the sole beneficiaries and co-estate trustees of their parents’ estates. The daughter of the deceased parents brought an application against her two brothers seeking various relief, including an order removing them as co-estate trustees and appointing her as the sole estate trustee. Her application was successful and she sought costs against her brothers. Specifically, the applicant sought an order that her substantial indemnity costs be paid by her brothers and that the balance of her full indemnity costs be paid by the estates.
The decision on the issue of costs was given by the Honourable Justice Sheard, who held in favour of the applicant. In her written reasons, Justice Sheard provides a concise summary of the law governing the determination of cost awards in estates matters. First, she cites s.131 of the Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43 as amended, which provides that, subject to the provisions of an Act or rules of court, the court has discretion to determine by whom and to what extent costs should be paid. The factors set out in Rule 57.01 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 194 guide the court’s exercise of this discretion. The overriding objective in a cost award is that it be fair and reasonable, which is, in part, determined by the reasonable expectations of the parties concerning the quantum of costs.
Justice Sheard further explains that in estate litigation, the general rule is that estate trustees are entitled to be indemnified for costs reasonably incurred in the administration of the estate. However, the “loser pays” costs regime applies to estate matters, and a blended cost award – in which a portion of the costs is paid by the litigants and a portion from the estate – is within the court’s discretion.
In this case, the applicant asked for substantial indemnity costs from her respondent brothers. Justice Sheard affirms at paragraph 19 of her decision that such an award may be made “where the losing party has engaged in behaviour worthy of sanction”. Moreover, elevated costs should only be awarded where “there has been reprehensible, scandalous or outrageous conduct on the part of one of the parties”. Here, the respondents failed in their obligations as estate trustees, deliberately interfered with the applicant’s ability to complete the administration of the estates, and failed to comply with previous court orders made. Justice Sheard found that this conduct was worthy of sanction and can be characterized as reprehensible and outrageous. As such, an elevated costs award was appropriate. Justice Sheard ultimately decided that the applicant was entitled to be fully indemnified for the costs she incurred in respect of the application, with the respondents liable to pay the majority of these costs (and the balance to be paid from the assets of the estates).
This costs decision is an excellent reminder of the importance of acting reasonably in estate litigation. If any party, including an estate trustee, chooses to act unreasonably then they may pay for it in the end.
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The commencement of an Application for support as a dependant under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) can be an extremely stressful event for the Applicant. Not only is the Applicant likely commencing court proceedings against fellow family members and/or close friends of the deceased, but there may also be a sense of urgency to the Application to ensure that steps are taken before the estate has otherwise been administered and/or distributed to those who would be entitled to the estate but for the support Application. As a result of these concerns it is not uncommon for the Applicant in the early stages of the Application to seek some form of court intervention to stop and/or stay the administration of the estate until the Application has been adjudicated, thereby ensuring that there are assets remaining in the estate to satisfy any support award should it ultimately be made. But is such court intervention actually necessary?
Under section 67 of the SLRA, once an Estate Trustee has been served with an Application for support under Part V they are automatically required to cease all distributions from the estate unless certain conditions are met. Specifically, section 67(1) provides:
“Where an application is made and notice thereof is served on the personal representative of the deceased, he or she shall not, after service of the notice upon him or her, unless all persons entitled to apply consent or the court otherwise orders, proceed with the distribution of the estate until the court has disposed of the application.”
Section 67(3) provides that any Estate Trustee that makes a distribution in violation of section 67(1) once they have been served with an Application under Part V of the SLRA is personally liable to pay any shortfall should a support order ultimately be made. As a result, any distribution made by the Estate Trustee once an Application for support has been commenced would be at great potential personal liability, as they could personally be required to pay any support order.
Although section 67 of the SLRA automatically stops any external distributions being made once an Application for support has been commenced, it does not stop the internal administration of the estate itself. As a result, the Estate Trustee would, for example, still be at liberty to collect and/or liquidate any estate assets, including any real estate. They just could not distribute those funds to the beneficiaries once the assets had been liquidated. In the event the Applicant should seek a particular asset as part of their support order, such as the transfer and/or use of particular real property, additional steps would need to be taken by the Applicant to ensure that the Estate Trustee did not dispose of the asset while the Application remained before the court. These additional steps would likely be in the form of an order under section 59 of the SLRA, while allows the court to issue an order “suspending” the administration of the estate either in whole or in relation to a particular asset (i.e. the real estate) for such time as the court may decide.
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One of the primary and often urgent duties of an Estate Trustee is to dispose of the deceased’s body. Often, issues arise with respect to the proper disposal of the deceased’s remains: how it is to be done, and by whom. These issues are exacerbated when the deceased dies intestate. No one has the immediate authority to make the necessary decisions.
The difficulties that can arise are illustrated in the companion decisions of Re Timmerman Estate, 2020 ONSC 3424 (CanLII) and Re Timmerman Estate, 2020 ONSC 3425 (CanLII).There, Marguerite died on October 16, 2019. She was survived by a daughter, Shannon and a son, Craig. Craig died shortly thereafter, on November 12, 2019. Both died without a will and with only nominal assets.
Marguerite’s sister (Craig’s aunt) applied for a Certificate of Appointment as Estate Trustee for both estates. However, she did not have Shannon’s consent or a Renunciation from Shannon, as required by the Rules of Civil Procedure. She applied to the court to dispense with these formalities.
There was evidence before the court that Marguerite wished to be cremated. Shannon objected to this. However, there was evidence that Shannon may have had capacity issues. After raising her objection to the cremations, Shannon appears to have disappeared.
The judge hearing the applications noted that the bodies had remained in a hospital morgue for over 7 months, a delay that was “unconscionable” and “intolerable”, and due for the most part to difficulties in contacting Shannon despite reasonable efforts.
The court granted the applications notwithstanding the lack of consent or a renunciation from Shannon, citing Rules 2.01 and 2.03, which allow a court to dispense with the strict compliance with the Rules of Civil Procedure where it was necessary and in the interest of justice. “It is in no-one’s interests to delay the administration of this estate and, hence, the removal of the bodies and their cremation or burial, because of Shannon Timmerman’s failure or inability to take any steps herself to address the need to attend to these formalities.”
In both estates, the court directed the Estate Trustee to make best efforts to bring the Certificate of Appointment to the attention of Shannon before the bodies were finally laid to rest. However, this requirement was not to unduly delay things further. If Shannon could not be located using best efforts, the Estate Trustee was to proceed with the disposal of the remains as she saw fit.
See here for our blog on The Duty to Dispose of the Body.
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Are you an estate trustee? Is the estate being sued? Are there no, or insufficient, assets left in the estate to satisfy any judgment that may be obtained? Then plene administravit (or plene administravit praeter) is the doctrine for you!
Plene administravit is Latin for “fully administered”. It is pleaded where there are no assets remaining in the estate to satisfy any judgment and costs award that may be obtained. Plene administravit praetor means “fully administered except”, and is pleaded when there are some but insufficient assets in the estate to satisfy any judgment and costs.
Failure to plead plene administravit could lead to personal liability on the part of the estate trustee for the claim. As stated in Commander Leasing Corp. Ltd. v. Aiyede (1983) CanLII 1649 (ON CA):
It has long been established that if an executor or administrator has no assets to satisfy the debt upon which an action is brought, in the absence of a plea of no assets or plene administravit, he will be taken to have conclusively admitted that he has assets to satisfy the judgment and will be personally liable for the debt and costs if they cannot be levied on the assets of the deceased. If the executor has some, but insufficient, assets to satisfy the judgment and costs, a plea of plene administravit praetor will render him liable only to the amount of assets proved to be in his hands as executor”.
Where the doctrine is pleaded, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff to show that assets existed or ought to have existed in the hands of the estate trustee at the time the action was commenced.
In Commander Leasing, the estate trustee distributed the proceeds of the estate to the beneficiary (herself), with knowledge of the claim. The Court had no difficulty in finding that as the doctrine was not pleaded, the estate trustee was personally liable for the judgment.
In Commander Leasing, the Court of Appeal also discussed the companion doctrine of devistavit. Devistavit, or a wasting of assets, is defined to be “mismanagement of the estate and effects of the deceased, in squandering or misapplying the assets contrary to the duty imposed on them, for which the executors or administrators must answer out of their own pockets, as far as they had, or might have had, assets of the deceased.” In Commander Leasing, the court found that in distributing the estate the estate trustee breached her duty as estate trustee, rendering her personally liable.
However, all is not lost if the estate trustee fails to plead plene administravit. In Brummund v. Baumeister Estate, 2000 CanLii 16988 (ON CA), the Court of Appeal upheld a trial judge’s decision to allow the defendant to amend the defence at trial to plead the doctrine. The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff was not prejudiced by the amendment, as the facts underlying the application of the doctrine were fully canvassed at trial.
Have a great, plenus weekend.
What do you do as a lawyer when you represent someone who is waiting to receive money from an estate, but the Estate Trustee will not pay? An interim distribution can commonly be made. The Estate Trustee can hold back some of the funds for potential liabilities and distribute some of the money immediately. Potential liabilities can involve delayed tax filings related to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) procedures being slow, or other estate liabilities. Final distribution can be delayed for a matter of 2-3 years, or even longer. As an example, on a $1,000,000 estate, the hold back might be $200,000 on $50,000 of estate liabilities that are known or can be knowledgeably estimated. This safely leaves $800,000 for immediate interim distribution, without waiting years until concluding administration of the estate. However, the practice of the Office of Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT) in Ontario is not to do interim distributions. They take the position that even if there is the remotest potential for liability they will not take the risk. As a government entity there is certainly no incentive to take any risk. The following rhetorical question illustrates the problem – What civil servant in a bureaucratic government agency is going to move quickly to take on liability and risk?
A recent decision clearly directs the Office of Public Guardian and Trustee (OPGT) of Ontario to make an immediate interim distribution as Estate Trustee.
It is unfortunate, in my view, that anyone would have to take steps to seek an Order in these circumstances. This is what happened in Foundation for Human Development and Jack Benson v The Estate of Keith Irwin-Reekie, 2020 ONSC 299, with the decision released on January 15, 2020. The court directed an interim distribution by the OPGT, to distribute the inheritance to which the moving parties were entitled. The court found that it was appropriate to exercise discretion under rule 74.15 (1) (i) “Orders for Assistance” of the Rules of Civil Procedure, Courts of Justice Act. The reasoning was that it was usual practice for estate trustees to make interim distributions out of estates, “once the Estate Trustee has a good understanding of the taxes and other liabilities of the estate, holding back sufficient funds in the estate to satisfy those expenses / liabilities”.
Thanks for reading!