I recently blogged about the growing use of home DNA tests and what impact an unexpected result could have upon your rights as a beneficiary of an estate. While such a blog was from the perspective of an individual who discovered through a home DNA test that their biological father was not in fact the individual they previously believed it to be, and the potential impact such a finding could have upon their status as a beneficiary of their “father’s” estate if their interest was based on their status as a “child”, questions would also emerge in such a scenario if you were the Estate Trustee of such an estate regarding what you should do.
If you are the Estate Trustee of an estate in which a bequest is based on parentage (i.e. an intestacy or a bequest to a testator’s “issue” or “children”), and you discover that one of the beneficiaries has voluntarily taken a home DNA test which revealed that they were not in fact related to the deceased, could you still make a distribution to such a beneficiary? If you have already made a distribution to such a beneficiary, is there a risk that the other beneficiaries could now make a claim against you as Estate Trustee, alleging that you distributed the estate to the incorrect individuals and that they have suffered damages as a result?
In response to whether an Estate Trustee could potentially be liable to the other beneficiaries for historically paying out amounts to a beneficiary who it is later discovered was not actually related to the deceased, it would appear that the Estate Trustee likely would not be liable under such a scenario. In my previous blog I discussed the provisions of the Children’s Law Reform Act (the “CLRA“) which establish a person’s legal parentage in Ontario, and the various presumptions establishing an individual’s father. While sections 13(1) and 14(1) of the CLRA allow the court to make a subsequent different declaration as to a person’s parentage, section 14(2) of the CLRA provides that such an Order “does not affect rights and duties that were exercised or performed, or interests in property that were distributed, before the order was set aside“. As a result, it would appear, arguably, that if an Estate Trustee historically made a payment to an individual based off of parentage, and a subsequent declaration is made by the court that the individual in question was not actually the parent of the beneficiary, the historic payment to the beneficiary could not be put in issue or reclaimed provided that at the time the payment was made the beneficiary was still presumed and/or declared to be the child of the deceased.
The issue of what an Estate Trustee is to do if a payment has not yet been made and they discover that an individual who they previously believed to be a beneficiary is not in fact related to the deceased could be more complicated. In the event that the other beneficiaries who could be affected by the distribution do not unanimously consent to continue to allow the distribution to the individual notwithstanding the results of the DNA test, it is possible that one or all of the other beneficiaries may later bring a claim against the Estate Trustee for negligence, alleging that the Estate Trustee knew about the results of the DNA test before making the distribution and that they have suffered damages as a result of the distribution. To offset such a risk, it may be wise for the Estate Trustee in such a scenario to bring an Application for the opinion, advice and direction of the court pursuant to section 60(1) of the Trustee Act and/or rule 14.05, asking the court to determine whether the distribution may still be made to the potential beneficiary in light of the results of the home DNA test.
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One of the most gifted items this past holiday season were apparently the home DNA tests which can reveal your genetic ancestry or even if you are predisposed to certain health conditions. As anyone who has taken one of these tests (myself included) can tell you, the test results also contain a long list of other individuals who have also taken the test who you are related to, allowing you to reconnect with long lost relatives.
While my own test results did not reveal any family secrets, the same cannot be said for other individuals who have taken the test, as there have been a growing number of articles recently about how home DNA tests have revealed family secrets which otherwise may never have come to light. Although not all of these secrets are necessarily negative, such as finding a long-lost sibling, others, such as finding out that the individual who you believed to be your father was not in fact your biological father, could be life changing. For the latter, the phenomena is apparently common enough that the Atlantic has reported that self-help groups have formed around the issue, such as the Facebook group “DNA NPE Friends”, with “NPE” standing for “Not Parent Expected”.
In reading through these stories I couldn’t help but wonder if having such a result could impact your potential entitlements as a beneficiary of an estate. What happens if, for example, the individual who you previously believed to be your biological father but the test reveals was not in fact your father should die intestate, or should leave a class gift to his “children” in his Will without specifically naming the children. Could finding out that you were not actually biologically related to your “father” result in you no longer being entitled to receive a benefit as a beneficiary? Could you potentially be disinherited as a beneficiary of an estate by voluntarily taking a home DNA test if your right to the gift is founded upon you being related to the deceased individual?
Who is legally considered an individual’s “parent” in Ontario is established by the Children’s Law Reform Act (the “CLRA“). Section 7(1) of the CLRA provides that, subject to certain exceptions, the person “whose sperm resulted in the conception of a child” is the parent of a child. Section 7(2) of the CLRA further provides for a series of presumptions regarding the identity of the individual’s “whose sperm resulted in the conception of a child“, including, for example, that there is a presumption that such an individual is the birth parent’s spouse at the time the child is born, or the individual in question certified the child’s birth as a parent of the child in accordance with the Vital Statistics Act (i.e. signed the birth certificate). To the extent that there are any questions about parentage, section 13(1) of the CLRA provides that any interested individual may apply to the court at any time after a child is born for a declaration that a person is or is not the legal parent of the child.
In applying these presumptions to our previous questions about the home DNA test, if, for example, the individual who you previously believed was your biological father was your birth mother’s “spouse” at the time you were born, or signed the birth certificate, it would appear that, subject to there being a declaration under section 13(1) of the CLRA to the contrary, there would continue to be a presumption at law that the individual who you previously believed to be your biological father would continue to be your legal “parent” in accordance with the CLRA. To this respect, in the absence of a formal declaration under section 13(1) of the CLRA that the individual was no longer your legal “parent”, there would appear to be an argument in favour of the position that the individual who you previously believed to be your biological father would continue to be your legal “parent”, and that you should continue to receive any benefits which may come to you as a “child” on the death of your “father”, whether on an intestacy or a class bequest to his “children” in his Will.
This presumption, of course, is subject to the ability of any interested person (i.e. the Estate Trustee or one of the other beneficiaries) to seek a formal declaration under section 13(1) of the CLRA that you were not in fact a “child” of the individual you believed to be your biological father. If such a formal declaration is ultimately made by the court, you would cease to be the legal “child” of the individual who you previously believed to be your biological father, and would likely lose any corresponding bequests which may have been made to you on an intestacy or as a member of the class “children” in the Will.
The use of DNA tests to establish the potential beneficiaries of an estate is not a new phenomenon (see: Proulx v. Kelly). What is new, however, are people voluntarily taking such tests en masse in a public forum, potentially voluntarily raising questions about their rights to receive an interest in an estate when such questions would not have existed otherwise.
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There’s a lot to like about Paul Allen – the Microsoft co-founder who died on October 15 at age 65. He was a brilliant man, whose perfect SAT score of 1600 during his college years foreshadowed his financial success.
Few can match this success. Allen died with an estate estimated at $26 billion. But it’s not just the size of the estate that’s impressive, it’s the scope of his interests that are remarkable, most of which played a role in building the value of his holdings. At his death, Allen ownership interests included:
- Three professional sports teams – the Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Seattle Sounders
- A space-travel company, Vulcan Aerospace
- A film production company, Vulcan Productions
- A real estate company, Vulcan Real Estate, with a large focus on the redevelopment of land in the Seattle area; and
- An extensive fine art collection.
In 2010, he signed the Giving Pledge , a commitment by billionaires around the world to donate at least half of their fortune to philanthropic causes. He also invested in, or donated money to, a number of other initiatives, from artificial intelligence research to elephant conservation in Africa. More locally, he played in a band, Paul Allen and the Underthinkers, and was an accomplished guitar player.
The life lessons
Admittedly, we aren’t all billionaires with perfect SAT scores. So, what can we learn from Paul Allen? This quote from him says it all:
“You look at things you enjoy in your life, but much more important is what you can do to make the world a better place.”
Here are three takeaways that I think are worth considering:
- He enjoyed life: He owned homes in several countries, owned two of the largest yachts in the world, and surrounded himself with people accomplished in the art, sport and film world. He rarely courted media attention – and he remained low-key until the end – but he seemed to thoroughly enjoy his life. So many people in every wealth bracket forget this important part of the equation.
- He followed his interests in making the world a better place: He saved sports franchises from relocation, movie theatres from demolition, and ensured that important stories were preserved and told. He knew intuitively that following personal interests was critical to his active involvement in projects and ultimately each project’s success.
- Much of his focus was local: We can likely do our most effective work if we focus locally, on the area of the world we know best. Paul Allen’s initiatives certainly had a global reach, but many of his projects were Seattle-based and he transformed the city and the U.S. north-west in significant ways.
Paul Allen’s estate is, not surprisingly, complex – and could take years to settle as this article explains. But it appears that the family business structure he left behind will continue to make the world a better place for many years to come.
Happy New Year – and thanks for reading!
A recent decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal considered whether s. 7 of the Limitations Act, 2002 applies to extend the time within which an estate trustee can bring a claim that arose prior to a deceased person’s death.
Section 7 of the Limitations Act, 2002 provides as follows:
7 (1) The limitation period established by section 4 does not run during any time in which the person with the claim,
(a) is incapable of commencing a proceeding in respect of the claim because of his or her physical, mental or psychological condition; and
(b) is not represented by a litigation guardian in relation to the claim.
(2) A person shall be presumed to have been capable of commencing a proceeding in respect of a claim at all times unless the contrary is proved. 2002, c. 24, Sched. B, s. 7 (2).
(3) If the running of a limitation period is postponed or suspended under this section and the period has less than six months to run when the postponement or suspension ends, the period is extended to include the day that is six months after the day on which the postponement or suspension ends.
In Lee v Ponte, 2018 ONCA 1021, the estate trustee of the deceased person commenced a claim more than 2 years after the date on which the limitation period began to run, as determined by the trial judge. As a result, the action was statute barred.
The estate trustee appealed, taking the position that section 7 of the Limitations Act, 2002 should be “liberally construed”. The estate trustee argued that a deceased person is incapable of commencing a proceeding because of “his or her physical, mental or psychological condition”. He also argued that policy reasons support allowing additional time for an estate trustee or litigation guardian to be appointed and take over the management of the affairs of the incapable/deceased person.
The Court of Appeal disagreed and did not allow the appeal. In its view, the “grammatical and ordinary sense of the words of s. 7 are simply not elastic enough to apply to a deceased person and to construe an estate trustee to be a litigation guardian.”
Although the outcome is not surprising, it does serve as a reminder that limitation periods can be unforgiving. Estate trustees would be well-advised to act swiftly in reviewing the affairs of a deceased person in order to determine whether any claims may have arisen prior to death, and whether the expiry of any limitation periods are looming.
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It is not uncommon for a trust or a Will to provide a trustee with broad and unfettered discretion in the administration of the trust or estate. We have previously blogged about the powers and duties of estate trustees, stating that it can be difficult to determine how such discretion should be exercised. Often, a trustee is given broad discretion to encroach on the capital of a trust or estate, for the benefit of a beneficiary. The issue then is: what factors can a trustee consider in determining whether to exercise their discretion to make a capital encroachment?
Broadly speaking, if a trustee is given unfettered discretion by a settlor or testator, the court will only intervene in the trustee’s decision-making if the trustee has exercised his or her discretion on the basis of mala fides, or bad faith. While there are a number of specific factors that a trustee may properly consider, for the purpose of this blog I will focus on one, namely the extent to which a trustee can consider a beneficiary’s income and/or assets.
Where a trustee is being asked to encroach on capital for the benefit of an income beneficiary, the trustee must consider the application of the even hand rule (briefly discussed in this blog). In doing so, a trustee may be tempted to consider the income beneficiary’s financial circumstances, as this information could illuminate how the trustee’s decision may affect the income beneficiary as compared to the capital beneficiary. However, the case law seems to indicate that this would not be a proper consideration.
In Re: Luke,  O.W.N. 25, the court considered whether the income beneficiary, who was also the trustee, should first look to her own financial resources before exercising her power to encroach on capital for her own benefit. The court determined that she did not have to first exhaust her own resources, as the testator had not expressed an intention in his Will that she do so. Similarly, in Hinton v. Canada Permanent Trust Company, (1979), 5 E.T.R. 117 (H.C.), a corporate trustee requested information from an income beneficiary as to the beneficiary’s own financial resources in the context of the trustee exercising its discretion to encroach on capital. Again, the court found that the testator had not indicated an intention in his Will that the income beneficiary’s income should be a factor in determining whether to encroach on capital, and the income beneficiary’s resources were, accordingly, not relevant.
The foregoing principle has been followed in a number of other decisions over the years, thus appearing to support the impropriety of considering a beneficiary’s personal financial resources as a factor in making capital encroachments, absent an intention by the testator in this regard.
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Although knowledge and understanding of the issue of elder abuse is growing, I don’t think we have yet arrived at a point where it is openly discussed among different groups of people, or where victims of abuse feel completely comfortable coming forward.
In New Brunswick, the Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults Research Team (ANOART) is conducting research into abuse of older adults, and specifically looking at how abuse affects older men and women differently. This article discusses ANOART’s work and an upcoming conference on this topic.
According to the ANOART, older men more often suffer abuse from their children, but older women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence. This specific type of abuse in relation to older women is not mentioned in discussions of elder abuse as often as other types of abuse, such as financial abuse, or general physical abuse. However, ANOART has found that intimate partner violence against women earlier in life does not stop later in life, but rather evolves.
Although the aggressor of intimate partner violence may be less physically capable of physical abuse as they age, the older woman who is being abused may still feel pressure not to speak out, as to do so may create tension or conflict within their family. Older women may also be financially dependent on their partner, which can be a significant barrier to reaching out.
Services for intimate partner violence are usually focused and targeted at younger women, leaving a gap when it comes to older women. ANOART is working to break the stigma surrounding intimate partner violence against older women, to spread information, and to raise awareness. The hope is that this will assist in reaching out to those who need help more effectively, and make it easier for olden women to seek help.
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Although there are certainly some benefits that may result from making ownership of a property or other asset joint with another individual (e.g. avoiding payment of estate administration tax in relation to that property upon the death of one of the joint owners), there can also be risks associated with jointly-held property.
In the recent British Columbia Supreme Court decision in Gully v Gully, 2018 BCSC 1590, a mother added her son as a joint tenant on real property that she owned (the “House”). Her decision to do so was based on estate planning advice that she had received. The mother did not tell her son that she had added him as a joint tenant, and the son did not contribute to the House in any way, either before or after it was transferred into joint tenancy. Contemporaneously with the registration of title to the House in joint tenancy, the mother also executed a last will and testament specifically setting out that in naming her son as a joint owner, she intended that the asset would belong to him upon her death.
A couple of years after the mother had added the son as a joint tenant on her House, the son and his software company consented to judgment in favour of a creditor in the amount of $800,000.00. At the time he consented to judgment, the son was still not aware that he was a joint owner of his mother’s House. The creditor subsequently registered a certificate of judgment on the son’s undivided half interest in the House.
The mother brought an application seeking a declaration that the son held his interest in the House on a resulting trust in her favour. The court stated that the proper evidence of a transferor’s intention is at the time of the transfer, because a transferor can change his or her mind subsequent to the transfer, but may not retract a gift once it has been made. In this case the court concluded that the mother did intend to gift an interest in the House to her son at the time the joint tenancy was registered on title, and that the son did not hold his interest on a resulting trust in favour of the mother.
Further, the court stated that even if it had found that the mother had not intended to gift the House to the son, the fact that the joint tenancy was registered on title to the House meant that the creditor could rely on title to enforce its judgment against the son’s interest in the House. Although the issue of whether or not a resulting trust arises in the circumstances may be relevant as between family members or beneficiaries of an estate, it is not applicable in the case of a third party creditor claiming against a registered interest in land. As a side note, the creditor in this case did advise the court that it did not intend to execute the judgment against the House while the mother was still living there.
Before making any changes to ownership of an asset, it is crucial to obtain comprehensive advice as to all of the possible consequences of doing so—both positive and negative. Communication regarding joint tenancy is also important. This will help ensure that all parties are aware of the assets in which they may have an interest and the nature of any such interest, so they are in a position to manage their affairs accordingly.
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Last year I blogged about some possible changes to the CRA’s Voluntary Disclosure Program (“VDP”). The new VDP rules came into effect March 1, 2018.
One of the concerns that had been raised in relation to the VDP changes in advance of them coming into effect, is that it seemed the CRA was attempting to make the VDP less accessible for taxpayers. For example, the changes created a “tiered” system for VDP applications, meaning that applications would fall under either the “general program” (for more minor non-compliance) and the “limited program” (for major non-compliance). Another example is the apparent elimination of the “No-Name” method for submitting disclosure (which allows the taxpayer to gain some understanding of how their situation may be treated by CRA in advance of officially submitting his or her application).
According to this article, in July and August 2018, the CRA responded to the first round of disclosure applications that had been filed under the new rules. The CRA’s approach in practice was troubling to the article’s authors.
In particular, the CRA appears to be taking the position that it will be rejecting VDP applications if the relevant tax returns aren’t enclosed. This seems to be contrary to the guidelines set out in CRA’s Information Circular IC00-1R6. While CRA takes the position that it will reject applications that do not enclose tax returns, the Information Circular seems to indicate that a taxpayer may submit additional information or documentation to complete the VDP application up to 90 days from the day that the CRA receives the application. The article’s authors are of the view that the language of the Information Circular in this regard would include the relevant tax returns, as these are clearly documents required to complete the disclosure. The position taken by CRA provided confirmation to the authors that CRA was seeking to make the VDP inaccessible for taxpayers.
As we previously set out in this blog, the VDP can be relevant to an Estate Trustee if the deceased was not in compliance with his or her obligations to the CRA, such as failure to file income tax returns, or reporting of inaccurate information. The VDP may allow an Estate Trustee to voluntarily disclose such non-compliance and avoid penalties. Unfortunately, with the new VDP rules in effect, and the apparent uncertainty regarding how the CRA will apply its guidelines, it may be tricky for Estate Trustees to make effective use of the VDP. It will be interesting to see how the new VDP rules develop, and any further feedback to their practical application.
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A recent decision from the Royal Court of Jersey was recently discussed here with respect to a beneficiary’s right to disclosure from a trust. This blog by lawyers from Ogier is an insightful read on this particular area of trust law.
According to the authors at Ogier, M v W Limited and Others was a case that considered a beneficiary’s broad request for documents, such as copies of all trust instruments, latest accounts, financial statements for the corporations owned by the trust, and details about all past distributions from the trust. While Court’s decision was grounded in an interpretation of the relevant Jersey legislation, some of its commentary remains instructive for those of us who practice outside of Jersey.
In M v W Limited and Others, the nature and immediacy of the beneficiary’s interest is salient to the inquiry. For example, a contingent beneficiary may not be entitled to as much disclosure as a beneficiary who is entitled to the assets of the trust at that point in time. By extension, it is also relevant to consider whether the disclosure at issue would negatively affect another class of beneficiaries as well as the proportionality of the request.
As for the law in Canada, I have blogged on a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision about a trustee’s duty to disclose the existence of a trust to the beneficiaries. Justice Brown for the majority in Valard Construction Ltd. v. Bird Construction Co., 2018 SCC 8, has stated the following at paragraph 19,
“In general, wherever “it could be said to be to the unreasonable disadvantage of the beneficiary not to be informed” of the trust’s existence,  the trustee’s fiduciary duty includes an obligation to disclose the existence of the trust.”
This notion of whether a beneficiary would be unreasonably disadvantaged by the non-disclosure is important to keep in mind because the right to disclosure is grounded in a beneficiary right to hold trustees accountable and to enforce the terms of the trust.
Practically speaking, issues of disclosure often leads to a request for the trustee to commence an application to pass accounts. While the trustee will have the benefit of a court order approving his/her administration for that period (if and when Judgment is obtained), an application to pass accounts must be served on all beneficiaries with a contingent or vested interest pursuant to Rule 74.18 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure. In turn, these beneficiaries will have the right to object to the trustee’s accounts and seek relevant disclosure from the trustee in the course of this process.
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A recent decision of the Hong Kong Court of Appeal addresses the importance of the solicitor’s role in preparing and attending to the execution of a Will, particularly in the context of a Will challenge. The decision is discussed in this article. Although the decision is from Hong Kong, the test applied in respect of testamentary capacity is, as it is in Canada, the classic criteria from Banks v Goodfellow. In this regard, I found it interesting to consider the Hong Kong Court’s decision.
In Ontario, when a Will has been duly executed, meaning that it has been executed in accordance with the requirements set out in the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26, there is a presumption that the Will is valid. However, where suspicious circumstances are shown to exist surrounding the preparation and execution of a Will, this presumption will be spent, and the propounder will be required to prove that the testator had the requisite testamentary capacity to execute the Will. We have previously blogged about which party must prove certain elements in a Will challenge.
According to the article, the same presumption arising from due execution appears to exist in Hong Kong. In the decision of Choy Po Chun & Anor v Au Wing Lun (CACV 177/2014), the Hong Kong Court of Appeal places some additional responsibility with respect to the “due execution” of Wills on solicitors preparing them. In particular, the Court of Appeal sets out that a solicitor should undertake proper groundwork and make proper enquiries, such as following a checklist from the British Medical Association regarding the assessment of mental capacity, and the “golden rule” that a Will for an elderly or ill testator should be witnessed or approved by a medical practitioner who has examined the testator.
In this decision, the Court of Appeal set aside the lower court’s decision that the Will in question was valid. As the solicitor had not taken the additional steps noted above (namely following the checklist and the “golden rule”), it could not be presumed that the Banks v Goodfellow criteria had been met, and therefore each element of the test should have been asked, and proven by the propounder of the Will.
In reviewing the guidelines set out by the Court of Appeal, as summarized in the article, it seems as though the solicitor is being asked to consider whether suspicious circumstances may appear to exist, and to take additional steps if that may be the case. In particular, the Court of Appeal suggests the following:
- Where Will instructions are given by the children of an elderly testator who is not in good health, the lawyer should meet with the testator personally to confirm instructions;
- In the case of an elderly or infirm testator, the solicitor should follow the checklist noted above; and
- The solicitor should follow the “golden rule” when preparing a will for an aged or seriously ill testator.
While this decision is not binding in Canada, it nevertheless raises some interesting points, which a prudent solicitor may wish to consider and implement in their practice. For instance, it may be advisable to confirm instructions directly with the testator if initially provided by another individual, and take steps to confirm whether a testator has the requisite capacity in circumstances where he or she may be elderly and/or in poor health.
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