Tag: estate trustee
In Tyrell v. Tyrell, 2017 ONSC 4063, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice was faced with a situation in which the testator died domiciled in Nevis, having drafted a Last Will and Testament which was executed in Nevis, which itself dealt with estate assets the vast majority of which were located in Nevis. The Will named the testator’s sister, who normally resided in Ontario, as Estate Trustee. Letters probate were issued to the Estate Trustee from the Nevis court following the testator’s death.
When concerns arose surrounding the Estate Trustee’s conduct following the testator’s death, certain of the beneficiaries brought an Application before the Ontario court seeking, amongst other things, the removal and replacement of the Estate Trustee, as well as an accounting from the Estate Trustee regarding the administration of the estate to date. The beneficiaries who brought such an Application were themselves located across several jurisdictions; being located in Nevis, Ontario, and New York.
In response to being served with the Application, the Estate Trustee took the position that the Ontario court was not the proper jurisdiction to seek such relief as against the Estate Trustee, maintaining that Nevis, being the jurisdiction in which the testator died domiciled, was the proper jurisdiction in which to adjudicate such disputes. The beneficiaries disagreed, arguing that the jurisdiction in which the Estate Trustee was normally resident was the proper jurisdiction in which such disputes should be adjudicated.
In ultimately agreeing with the beneficiaries, and ordering the Estate Trustee to complete certain steps regarding the administration of the estate within 60 days, the Ontario court provides the following commentary regarding Ontario’s jurisdiction over the matter:
“For the purpose of administering the Will, the most significant connecting factor is the residence of the estate trustee. Therefore, the Will is most substantially connected to the province of Ontario and the applicable law on matters relating to the administration of the Will is the law of Ontario. Thus, the Courts of Ontario have jurisdiction over matters relating to the administration of the Will.” [emphasis added]
The court’s rationale in Tyrell v. Tyrell appears to be in contrast to the Alberta Court of Appeal’s previous decision in Re: Foote Estate, 2011 ABCA 1. Although Re: Foote Estate dealt with a determination of domicile for the purpose of deciding which jurisdiction’s laws would apply in the context of a dependant’s support case, the court provided general commentary regarding what jurisdiction’s laws governed the administration of an estate. Indeed, in the opening paragraph of the Court of Appeal’s decision in Re: Foote Estate, the following comment is made:
“This appeal arises from a trial finding that the late Eldon Douglas Foote was domiciled on his death in Norfolk Island. The domicile of the deceased determines the applicable law for estate administration purposes.” [emphasis added]
Re: Foote Estate appears to suggest that it is testator’s domicile that determines which jurisdiction’s laws are to govern the administration of an estate, making no reference to the location of the Estate Trustee. Tyrell v. Tyrell appears to suggest the opposite, with the court concluding that, notwithstanding that the testator died domiciled in Nevis, the laws of Ontario governed the administration of the estate on account of the Estate Trustee being located in Ontario.
The contrasting decisions of Tyrell v. Tyrell and Re: Foote Estate likely leave more questions than answers. Whether the fact that Tyrell v. Tyrell is a decision of the Ontario court, while Re: Foote Estate is from Alberta (although from the Court of Appeal), could also potentially play a role. An interesting hypothetical would be what would happen if a testator died domiciled in Ontario with an Estate Trustee located in Alberta. In accordance with Tyrell v. Tyrell, notwithstanding that the testator died domiciled in Ontario, the laws of Alberta would apply to the administration of the estate on account of the location of the Estate Trustee. In accordance with Re: Foote Estate however, Alberta law dictates that it is the law of the jurisdiction in which the testator died domiciled which governs the administration of the estate, which could have Alberta send the matter back to Ontario. Confusion abounds.
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Submissions from the Joint Committee on Taxation Regarding Proposed Changes to Voluntary Disclosure Program
Last month, I blogged about some changes proposed by the CRA to the Voluntary Disclosure Program. It was noted that the CRA would be accepting comments with respect to the proposed changes until August 8, 2017.
The Joint Committee on Taxation of The Canadian Bar Association and Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (the “Joint Committee”) made submissions in this regard in a letter to the Minister of National Revenue dated August 8, 2017.
In their letter, the Joint Committee recommends that the Minister reconsider a number of points, including, among other things, the introduction of a multi-tier system including the “general program” and the “limited program”. The Joint Committee states that part of the success of the Voluntary Disclosure Program is due to the fact that taxpayers applying to the Program are able, to a certain extent, to predict the consequences of initiating a voluntary disclosure. This allows non-compliant taxpayers to assess the benefits of the Program as opposed to the ongoing uncertainty of non-compliance and the risk of assessment and/or prosecution. The Joint Committee submits that the proposed changes may lead to uncertainty, and therefore, may encourage non-compliance, which would be inconsistent with the objectives of the Voluntary Disclosure Program and with encouraging non-compliant taxpayers to become compliant.
The submissions from the Joint Committee also comment that the draft Information Circular setting out the proposed changes apparently provides that the No-Name method of disclosure, wherein certain information may be provided to a Voluntary Disclosure Program officer without identifying the taxpayer, in order to obtain a better understanding of how the taxpayer’s disclosure may be addressed, will no longer be available for disclosures commencing after December 31, 2017. In the Joint Committee’s experience, non-compliant taxpayers are more likely to proceed with a voluntary disclosure if the process is perceived as transparent and predictable. If they are correct and the Minister of Revenue proposes to eliminate the No-Name disclosure method, the Joint Committee urges the Minister of Revenue to reconsider this proposed change.
The letter from the Joint Committee makes a number of other submissions that are beyond the scope of this blog, but can be read in full here.
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Today on Hull on Estates, Natalia Angelini and Umair Abdul Qadir discuss Justice Myer’s recent decision in Mayer v Rubin, 2017 ONSC 3498, regarding the Court’s discretion to appoint an Estate Trustee During Litigation.
A question that I am often asked by both beneficiaries and Estate Trustees, is whether the Court can compel an Estate Trustee to make an interim distribution.
Beneficiaries and Estate Trustees are often at odds as to how quickly they wish to proceed with an interim distribution. A beneficiary is generally eager to receive their entitlement from an Estate as soon as possible. Estate Trustees, however, carry significant personal liability should they too hastily pay out Estate funds, and therefore tend to exercise caution before distributing.
In the decision of Parson v McGovern, a motion by a beneficiary (who had a one-half interest in the Estate) sought to compel the Estate Trustees to make an interim distribution of almost all of the remaining assets of the Estate to the beneficiaries. The beneficiary requested that this distribution be made before the Estate Trustees passed their accounts (and obtained Court approval).
The Court considered the prior decisions in Re Blow, Brighter v. Brighter Estate, and others, and concluded that the following factors should be considered by the Court when deciding whether to compel an Estate Trustee to make an interim distribution to a beneficiary:
- are the Estate Trustees deadlocked;
- have the Estate Trustees acted with mala fides;
- have the Estate Trustees failed to exercise their discretion to make an interim distribution;
- have the Estate Trustees behaved unreasonably or breached their fiduciary duty and duty of good faith and fairness to the respondent (the beneficiary); and,
- would a beneficiary suffer under undue prejudice.
In applying these factors to the case at hand, the Court considered, in part, that the Estate Trustees were not deadlocked, had proceeded to pass their accounts in an expeditious fashion, did not extort the beneficiary into signing a waiver/release, did not cause delay in administering the Estate, and there was no evidence the beneficiary would be unduly prejudiced if an interim distribution was not made. Based on this, the Court did not compel the Estate Trustees to make an interim distribution, and the motion by the respondent beneficiary was dismissed.
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This week on Hull on Estates, Ian Hull discusses the role of the Estate Trustee During Litigation and the impact of case law over the last 50 years.
Beneficiaries of a Trust who have a vested interest in the capital can sometimes assign their entitlement to another. But to protect the Trustee, it is critical that any such assignment be properly documented.
Section 11 of the Ontario Statute of Frauds states: “all grants and assignments of a trust or confidence shall be in writing signed by the party granting or assigning the same, or by his or her last Will or devise, or else are void and of no effect.”
Section 11, unlike the rest of the Statute of Frauds, applies to both realty and personalty. The section, moreover, requires that the grant or assignment of the equitable interest be itself in writing, not merely evidenced in writing. Where the beneficiary of a trust of pure personalty directs the trustees hold the property in trust for another person, the direction must be in writing to be valid.
This is a good reminder of how strictly the law considers the relationship between beneficiary and trustee. The fiduciary duty owed to a beneficiary by a trustee requires that any voluntary assignment of the beneficiary’s entitlement be carefully documented to protect both parties. In the unusual circumstance where a beneficiary assigns his or her interest, the trustee needs to be protected. The beneficiary, in turn, needs to clearly convey to the trustee the nature of any assignment and understand (ideally with independent legal advice) the ramifications of such a decision.
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This week on Hull on Estates, Paul Trudelle and Nick Esterbauer discuss the state of the law in Canada regarding fiduciary access to digital access, as well as the potential for the Uniform Access to Digital Assets by Fiduciaries Act to provide clarity in respect of the authority of estate trustees and guardians/attorneys of property.
Canada’s model legislation regarding digital assets, the Uniform Access to Digital Assets by Fiduciaries Act (the “Canadian Model Act”), was introduced in August 2016, and borrows heavily from its American predecessor, the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (the “American Model Act”).
The Canadian Model Act defines a “digital asset” as “a record that is created, recorded, transmitted or stored in digital or other intangible form by electronic, magnetic or optical means or by any other similar means.” As with the definition appearing within the American Model Act, this definition does not include title to an underlying asset, such as securities as digital assets. Unlike the American Model Act, the Canadian Model Act does not define the terms “information” or “record.”
In the Canadian Model Act, the term “fiduciary” is also defined similarly as in the American Model Act, restricting the application of both pieces of model legislation to four kinds of fiduciary: personal representatives, guardians, attorneys appointed under a Power of Attorney for Property, and trustees appointed to hold a digital asset in trust.
One challenge that both pieces of model legislation attempt to address is the delicate balance between the competing rights to access and privacy. The American Model Act is somewhat longer in this regard, as it addresses provisions of American privacy legislation to which there is no equivalent in Canada. Canadian law does not treat fiduciary access to digital assets as a “disclosure” of personal information. Accordingly, under Canadian law, the impact on privacy legislation by fiduciary access to digital assets is relatively limited.
The Canadian Model Act provides a more robust right of access to fiduciaries. Unlike the American Model Act, the Canadian Model Act does not authorize custodians of digital assets to choose the fiduciary’s level of access to the digital asset. Section 3 of the Canadian Model Act states that a fiduciary’s right of access is subject instead to the terms of the instrument appointing the fiduciary, being the Power of Attorney for Property, Last Will and Testament, or Court Order.
Unlike the American Model Act, the Canadian equivalent has a “last-in-time” priority system. The most recent instruction concerning the fiduciary’s right to access a digital asset takes priority over any earlier instrument. For example, an account holder with a pre-existing Last Will and Testament, who chooses to appoint a Facebook legacy contact is restricting their executor’s right to access their Facebook account after death pursuant to the Will.
Despite their differences, both pieces of model legislation serve the same purpose of facilitating access by attorneys for or guardians of property and estate trustees to digital assets and information held by individuals who are incapable or deceased and represent steps in the right direction in terms of updating estate and incapacity law to reflect the prevalence of digital assets in the modern world.
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Later this week, House Bill 432 will come into effect in Ohio to update state estate and trust administration law. One of the most notable updates is the adoption of the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act, along with corresponding updates to Ohio’s Power of Attorney Act.
The American Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act is intended to formalize the authority of attorneys for property and estate trustees to obtain access to digital assets for deceased or incapable users. Prior to its implementation in American states (and in other jurisdictions in which comparable legislation has not yet been introduced), the intervention of the courts has often been required to grant fiduciaries with access to information and assets stored electronically. There continues to be some debate as to whether an attorney for property or estate trustee, authorized to administer tangible property, also has the authority to manage digital assets without legislation and/or terms of the Power of Attorney or Will explicitly extending this authority.
Interestingly, the Revised Uniform Act has been endorsed by Google and by Facebook, both platforms on which a great deal of the world’s digital assets are stored. In 2016, 13 states introduced the Revised Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act. With the introduction or enactment of the Revised Act in another 24 states since the beginning of 2017 alone, it is clear that state legislatures and online service providers alike agree that amendments to the law in recognition of the growth of technology is required to clarify the state of the law of digital assets and fiduciaries.
The Uniform Law Conference of Canada introduced the Uniform Access to Digital Assets by Fiduciaries Act (2016) this past summer. While the uniform acts of Canada and the United States share a number of similarities, there are several important distinctions, which will be highlighted in Thursday’s blog post.
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If an estate trustee is not fulfilling their duties and is not acting in the best interests of the estate, it is possible to commence an application for removal.
When seeking to remove an estate trustee in Ontario, anyone with a financial interest in an estate can apply to have an executor passed over or removed, pursuant to s. 37(3) of the Trustee Act. Rule 14.05(3)(c) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, allow an application to be commenced for the purpose of “the removal or replacement of one or more executors, administrators or trustees, or the fixing of their compensation.” The applicable principles for the removal of an executor have been established in Letterstedt v Boers (1884), 9 App Cas 271 (South Africa PC) and have been summarized in Johnston v Lanka Estate, 2010 ONSC 4124:
- The court will not lightly interfere with the testator’s choice of estate trustee;
- Clear evidence of necessity for removal is required;
- The court’s main consideration is the welfare of the beneficiaries; and
- The estate trustee’s acts or omissions must be of such a nature as to endanger the administration of the estate/trust.
A recent British Columbia Court of Appeal decision, Al-Sabah v Al-Sabah, 2016 BCCA 365, upheld the removal of an estate trustee of an estate on the basis that she did not comply with the notice provisions of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, and was not acting in the best interests of the estate.
In this case, the deceased died in 2003, intestate, and left 15 beneficiaries, including his two sons, two wives, and seven daughters. One of his daughters was the appellant and the estate trustee of the estate. The respondents on the appeal comprised 79% of the beneficiaries to the estate.
Upon the death of Mr. Al-Sabah, estate litigation was commenced across several countries, as he had held property in many different locations. The appointment of the estate trustee by British Columbia was successful, however, the appellant had also applied to be the estate trustee of the estate in London, and had her position revoked, and she commenced at least 4 actions in Kuwait against other beneficiaries, all of which were unsuccessful.
In chambers, the estate trustee was removed, and appealed that ruling. On appeal, it was upheld that the estate trustee did not exercise reasonable diligence in providing notice to the other beneficiaries of her intention to apply for the position, and that she failed to disclose relevant information to the beneficiaries.
The British Columbia Wills, Estates and Succession Act section 121, and the British Columbia Supreme Court Rules establish the requirements for notice of the beneficiaries. It was established that the estate trustee did not provide notice to the proper addresses required by the rules, as the addresses to which she forwarded notices were almost all incorrect. The judge also noted that the application was made amidst “hotly contested” and “acrimonious” estate litigation, and that when she applied for her grant of administration, she did not disclose that there was significant litigation surrounding the estate in other countries.
If this case were to have taken place in Ontario, it is likely that the Ontario courts may have come to the same decision as the British Columbia court, in applying the principles as established in Letterstedt v Boers. The court would not have been interfering with the testator’s choice of estate trustee as he died intestate, and it is clear that the removal was required due to her dishonesty and her lack of consideration of the welfare of the beneficiaries, thereby endangering the administration of the estate.
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