I recently came across the decision in Campbell v Campbell, 2017 ONSC 2139. This is a recent decision with respect to two motions brought within an application for the interpretation of the last will and testament (the “Will”) of the late Howard Campbell (the “Deceased”). While the decision focuses on the various procedural matters at issue in the motions rather than the interpretation question at issue in the application, the decision also provides a brief summary of the facts which raised an interesting question for me regarding the admissibility of extrinsic evidence.
The interpretation concerns the Deceased’s Will, which contains three seemingly incompatible bequests, as follows:
- Paragraph 3(b) of the Will directs the estate trustee “to pay my debts, funeral and testamentary expenses, and to transfer the residue of my estate to my wife, if she survives me for a period of thirty days, for her own use absolutely”;
- Paragraph 3(c) of the Deceased’s Will directs the estate trustee “to deliver to my wife, for her use and enjoyment for life, all articles of personal domestic and household use or ornament belonging to me at the time of my death…and on her death, to divide all such articles among my children…”; and
- Paragraph 3(d) of the Will directs the estate trustee “to divide the residue of my estate equally between my wife (if she survives me for a period of thirty days) and my children, Kim, Howard, Rory, Cherie, Gina, Casey and Patrick, if then alive…”.
There appear to be four possible interpretations of the Deceased’s Will based on the above clauses:
- One hundred percent of the estate is left to the Deceased’s wife;
- The Deceased’s wife is given a life interest in personal property, which is later to be divided amongst the Deceased’s children;
- Fifty percent of the Deceased’s estate is to be left to his wife, and the other fifty percent is to be divided amongst the Deceased’s children; or
- The Deceased’s wife and the Deceased’s children are each to receive one-seventh of the estate.
In interpreting wills, Courts must first look to the language of the will to ascertain whether the testator’s intention can be discerned from the will itself. If the Court is unable to determine the testator’s intention from the will alone, it may then consider the surrounding circumstances known to the testator at the time that he or she made his or her will.
The surrounding circumstances that may be considered include only indirect extrinsic evidence, and not direct extrinsic evidence. Indirect extrinsic evidence consists of such circumstances as the character and occupation of the testator, the amount, extent and condition of his property, the number, identity, and general relationship to the testator of the immediate family and other relatives, the persons who comprised his circle of friends, and any other natural objects of his bounty. Direct extrinsic evidence would include, for example, instructions given by the testator to his solicitor in respect of the preparation of his will, or direct evidence from other third parties about the testator’s intentions.
As discussed in the decision of Rondel v Robinson Estate, 2011 ONCA 493, an exception to the general rule that direct extrinsic evidence is not admissible is in circumstances where there is an “equivocation” in the will, meaning that the words of the will in question apply equally well to two or more persons or things. Equivocation should not be equated with either ambiguity or mere difficulty of interpretation
One of our recent blog posts discusses a case where extrinsic evidence was not permissible. In that case, the court found that the language of the will in question was not equivocal, and accordingly, extrinsic evidence was not admitted. However, in the facts described above, it appears that the Deceased’s Will may provide an example of a situation where there is an equivocation, given that there seem to be four alternative interpretations.
As further discussed in the Rondel v Robinson decision, when direct extrinsic evidence, such as third party evidence of a testator’s intentions are admitted, this can give rise to reliability and credibility issues. Accordingly, it is important that the admissibility of direct extrinsic evidence be restricted, and permitted only when the rules of interpretation and construction are insufficient to interpret equivocal language.
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Other Blog posts that may be of interest:
A couple of weeks ago, Jonathon Kappy and I podcasted on a recent decision of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, which raises the issues of knowledge and approval and suspicious circumstances, and which provides an effective overview of the shifting evidentiary burdens within the context of a will challenge.
As many of our readers may already be aware, if a last will and testament or other testamentary document is executed in compliance with the formal requirements (that is, it is executed by the testator, duly witnessed, and testamentary in nature), it is presumed to be valid. However, if a party challenges the validity of a will and is able to establish that its execution was surrounded by suspicious circumstances, the presumption that the will is valid not longer applies, and the burden of proving the will shifts to the person asserting the validity of the document (its propounder). Even if suspicious circumstances cannot be established, the challenger may seek to have a will proved in solemn form by the propounder. In order to prove a will in solemn form, the propounder need only provide basic evidence in support of the due execution of the will and the testamentary capacity of the testator. If the Court accepts that suspicious circumstances existed at the time of the execution of the will, the evidentiary burden on the propounder can become relatively onerous.
In the recent Manitoba case of Garwood v. Garwood Estate, 2016 MBQB 113, 2016 CarswellMan 198, after the will had been proved in solemn form, Justice Bond reviewed the circumstances at hand in determining that they were suspicious and that the will, accordingly, needed to be proved by the propounder to be valid on a balance of probabilities. However, the Court considered the suspiciousness of the circumstances in determining the strength of the evidence in support of the validity of the will that would be required. Justice Bond found that, although the test for suspicious circumstances had been met (the drafting solicitor’s notes were sparse and his testimony was not found to be credible, the testator had been legally blind and incapable of reading the will herself, suggesting that she may not have had knowledge of and approved of the contents of the will, etc.), the circumstances were not so suspicious as to require the propounder to provide compelling evidence in support of the validity of the will. The Court was satisfied that the will was valid simply on the basis of the fact that the will had been prepared by a lawyer in accordance with the testator’s instructions, none of the major beneficiaries were involved in the testator’s estate planning, and the lack of evidence supporting the allegations that the will was procured by undue influence and/or that the testator was mentally incapable at the relevant time.
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As a part two of my blog from Tuesday, the Superior Court recently released a decision on the issue of disclosure for surveillance evidence.
The litigation in Bishop-Gittens v. Lim also arose from a motor-vehicle accident. In this particular case, the Plaintiff brought a motion, prior to opening submissions at trial, to exclude surveillance evidence that had been gathered by the Defendant. The issue before the Court was whether the Defendant should be allowed to rely on the surveillance and video footage for impeachment purposes under the following set of circumstances:
- there was no reference to surveillance in the Defendant’s affidavit of documents, as none had been conducted at that time;
- during the examination for discovery, the Defendant advised the Plaintiff that no surveillance had taken place;
- surveillance was conducted one month after the Defendant’s examination for discovery and over various days two years after the initial surveillance;
- the Defendant did not deliver a revised affidavit of documents in advance of trial; and
- there was no disclosure of the surveillance evidence until a letter disclosing the particulars of the surveillance, without a copy of the surveillance evidence itself, was delivered to the Plaintiff less than one month before trial.
Justice McKelvey concluded that the Defendant was in breach of the Rules, and
“In light of the defence’s failure to disclose the surveillance information in a prompt manner, it is apparent that this evidence may not be referred to during the trial unless leave is given by this court. The test for leave in connection with both a failure to disclose a document under rule 30.08 and the failure to correct an answer on discovery under rule 31.09 is governed by rule 53.08. This rule provides that where evidence is admissible only with leave of the trial judge, “leave shall be granted on such terms as are just and with an adjournment if necessary, unless to do so will cause prejudice to the opposite party or will cause undue delay in the conduct of the trial.”
The case law makes it clear that, in considering whether leave should be granted under rule 53.08, a trial judge must grant leave unless to do so will cause prejudice that cannot be overcome by an adjournment or costs. See Marchand (Litigation Guardian of) v. The Public General Hospital Society of Chatham (2000), 2000 CanLII 16946 (ON CA), 51 OR (3d) 97 (ON CA). As noted in the Iannarella decision, this mandatory orientation is understandable, since relevant evidence, including surveillance, is ordinarily admissible.”
Ultimately, Justice McKelvey allowed the Defendant to rely on the surveillance evidence only for the purposes of impeachment. The present circumstances before Court was distinguished with Iannarella because the trial not yet begun and neither party had taken any steps at trial which could result in prejudice by not knowing that this evidence may be introduced.
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Earlier this year, the Ontario Court of Appeal released a lengthy decision in respect of a party’s obligation to disclose surveillance evidence throughout the litigation process if one intends to rely on such evidence at trial.
The factual background of Iannarella v. Corbett arose from a personal injury claim relating to a rear-end collision that occurred on a snowy winter evening. The Plaintiff claims that he suffered a rotator cuff injury to his left shoulder when the Defendant failed to stop in time before he collided with the Plaintiff’s vehicle. According to the Defendant’s testimony,
“there was nothing further he could have done to avoid the collision and repeatedly said that the accident was caused by “mother nature”. He told Mr. Iannarella at the scene: “Sorry, but I don’t control mother nature.”
While the Defendant may not be in control of mother nature, he was in control of his conduct throughout the proceedings.
In defence of the Plaintiff’s claims for damages, the Defendant retained private investigators to conduct surveillance on the Plaintiff over various time periods between 2009 and 2012. As the result, 130 hours of surveillance was recorded after the accident on February 19, 2012. However, the existence of the surveillance was not disclosed to the Plaintiff in an affidavit of documents nor were its particulars made known to him.
At trial, the Defendant sought to use the surveillance footage as evidence of the functionality of the Plaintiff’s left arm after the accident. Ultimately, the Court of Appeal found that the use of surveillance evidence at trial to be improper as “a form of trial by ambush”. The Court of Appeal was adamant that the disclosure obligations required by the Rules of Civil Procedure must be followed to ensure fairness and prompt settlement discussions.
In essence, as a general rule of thumb, a party may not rely on surveillance evidence if it is not disclosed through an affidavit of documents. Disclosure must be made either in full or as a privileged document, depending on whether the evidence is relied upon substantively or for impeachment purposes.
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In one of my blogs earlier this summer, I discussed the new Rule 20 of the Rules of Civil Procedure with respect to summary judgment and the two approaches to its interpretation. One takes a narrow view that the test has not changed much, and the other, more expansive view, is that the new rule significantly expands the powers of the motion judge.
Pursuant to an order of the Honourable Associate Chief Justice for Ontario, the Ontario Bar Association (“OBA”) was appointed as Amicus Curiae to render assistance to the Court on the meaning and scope of Rule 20 in the group of five appeals heard by the Ontario Court of Appeal this summer. The Court’s decision will interpret Rule 20 and provide some guidance regarding the scope of the new powers and the implications for the rest of the proceeding.
In its factum, the OBA does not comment on the merits of the individual appeals but does address the following issues:
1. Whether the test for summary judgment has changed in that once a motion judge has exercised the powers under Rule 20.04 (2.1) & (2.2), is there any limitation on his or her ability to find facts and to grant or refuse judgment that would not apply to a judge who has conducted a full trial?
2. When is it appropriate for the motion judge to weigh evidence, evaluate and draw reasonable inferences in order to grant or refuse summary judgment under Rule 20.04(2.1)?
3. When is it appropriate to hear evidence under Rule 20.04(2.0)?
4. What are the principles to be considered in issuing orders under Rule 24.05?
For the answers to these questions and more, see the factum for yourself here.
We will be looking forward to hearing from the Court of Appeal itself on these issues. Stay tuned.
Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.
Medical Records are one of the most important categories of evidence available to the estate litigator. In most cases, medical records from health care providers who treated a testator in and about the time a Will was made will be seen as the most persuasive evidence available because the author of such records will be seen as both (i) possessing some degree of expertise related to the assessment of capacity and (ii) exhibiting complete objectivity as a witness (unlike the family members who may be contesting capacity).
In Ontario, the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Ontario (“CPSO”) has posted a policy on its website providing the public with information concerning medical records and what they are required to contain. Not surprisingly, security and privacy of medical records is one of the foremost concerns. Of particular interest is the fact that one of the “principles” of good record keeping as mandated by the CPSO is to maintain “information essential to others for a wide variety of purposes…including legal proceedings”
For its part, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has stringent requirements for the production of Claims Reference Files providing details of all health care providers who have provided services to a deceased client. Typically, a Certificate of Appointment of Estate trustee With a Will or a Court order will be required to obtain a Claims Reference File for a Deceased.
David M. Smith – Click here for more information on David Smith.
The Rules of Civil Procedure are the the Barrister’s Bible. While we may not keep them on our bedside tables, they can be found on every good litigator’s desk as well as scattered throughout the office in strategic locations.
As lawyers, we generally have good memories for anything logical or analytical – case names can be remarkably pulled out of a hat at a moment’s notice. Not quite so for the Rules. Why? Because they aren’t always self evident or logical, especially when they work in tandem with other legislation that qualifies or expands on them. For example, did you know that a person who is “incapable” can, nonetheless, be “competent”?
Under Rule 31.03 (5)(b) a person who has been declared incapable of looking after their property or personal care pursuant to the Substitute Decisions Act may be examined if he or she is competent to give evidence.
There is a prima facie right to examine an adverse party pursuant to Rule 31.03(1). All persons are presumed competent to give evidence pursuant to section 18 (1) of the Evidence Act. This presumption is rebuttable by sufficient evidence to the contrary. The onus rests on the party alleging incompetence to establish that the witness has no capacity to perceive, recollect and communicate evidence in the proceeding. (See R. v. Caron, 1994CanLII 8735 (ON CA) The evidence required for a determination of incompetence is medical evidence from a person qualified to speak with authority on the subject.
In Trypis v. Lavigne, 2008 CanLII 26266 the Ontario Superior Court sets out the general principles applicable to the issue of competency of a party to give evidence. Trypis is twist in the other direction whereby a person who was “capable”, in that there had not yet been a finding of incapacity under the SDA, was found “incompetent” to testify.
If you’d like to see more on the subject, see Natalia Angelini’s blog, The Right to Examine Incapable Persons and Minors.
Have a super weekend and thanks for reading this week.
Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.
Given the nature of estate litigation, a party to the dispute, and/or a witness that is to testify at trial, are at times elderly, in poor health, incapable of testifying or out of the jurisdiction, such that it is appropriate for their evidence to be given out of court in advance of the trial date. Rule 36 of the Rules of Civil Procedure regulates taking of evidence before trial.
A person may be examined under this Rule either by consent of the parties or with leave of the court. The court is to take into account several factors when determining whether to grant leave to order an examination before trial, which are particularized in Rule 36. These include the convenience of the witness and saving of costs. This permits the court to take a more broad approach, since previously these orders were limited to situations where it was established that the witness will likely be out of the jurisdiction or incapable of testifying.
Moreover, previously, leave of the court was necessary before the examination of a witness could be used at trial. Now, the transcript or videotape of the examination of a witness who is not a party may be used “unless the court orders otherwise”, and the witness shall not be called to give evidence at trial except with leave of the court. In contrast, the transcript or videotape of the examination of a witness who is a party may not be used except with leave of the court or the agreement of the parties.
While it seems to me that live testimony will likely have more impact then a transcript or videotape, if the circumstances warrant it, this is a handy tool to avoid difficulties and complications in attempting to get witnesses and/or parties on the stand when the trial date arrives, and ensures the evidence is preserved and gets before the court.
Have a great day,
Listen to Taking Evidence Before Trial
This week on Hull on Estates Bianca La Neve and Natalia Angelini discuss taking evidence before trial. They talk about the procedure for witnesses who may not be available at trial, which involves preserving their evidence beforehand so it is available prior to the trial.
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Listen to A Review of Dependant Support Claims
This week on Hull on Estates, David Smith and Jonathan Morse review some of the recent podcasts and hone in on some of the evidentiary requirements of a common-law spousal relationship as it relates to dependant support claims under the Succession Law Reform Act. They look at some recent case law and some of the requirements under the Ontario statute.
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