Tag: In the News
A baby in a swimming pool reaching for a $1 bill. Music lovers would instantly recognize this description as the album cover of Nirvana’s 1991 album “Nevermind.”
Until recently, Spencer Elden – the baby in question – embraced the fame that came with being on the cover of one of the most recognizable albums of all time. Elden even recreated the notorious photo several times over the last 30 years to mark the album’s 10th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries. In those photos, Elden is wearing swimming trunks.
Earlier this week, Elden made headlines when the media learned that he was suing the parties involved for sexual exploitation. Elden argues that his parents never authorized the use of his photograph for the Nirvana album, and that the band used the image to promote their music at his expense. Elden is seeking $150,000.00 USD in damages from each of the 15 defendants, which include the photographer Kirk Weddle, the surviving band members, and Kurt Cobain’s Estate.
Elden’s lawsuit has many people wondering: can an Estate be sued 30 years after an incident took place?
In California, where Elden began his lawsuit, victims of sexual abuse crimes who were children at the time of the alleged incident have until their 40th birthday or 5 years from the date that they discovered their abuse to file a civil action.
What if this claim had been commenced in Ontario? On March 9, 2016, the Limitations Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 24 Sched. B was amended to remove all limitation periods for civil claims based on sexual assault. Therefore, assuming that a judge would find that Elden’s lawsuit can be properly classified as sexual abuse, Elden would be well-within his rights in bringing this claim.
However, if a judge ultimately found that Elden’s claim is not a civil claim based on sexual assault, different limitation periods would apply. Generally, the Limitations Act, 2002, provides an individual with two years from the date on which a claim is “discovered” to commence a claim before it is statute barred. However, individuals intending to commence a claim against someone who has died, such as Kurt Cobain, must also consider the much stricter limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. T.23.
Section 38 of the Trustee Act imposes a strict two year limitation period from the date of death for any individual to commence a claim against a deceased individual in tort. This limitation period is much more strict, as it is not subject to the same “discoverability” principle as the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act. We have previously blogged about the limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act here.
It remains to be seen whether Elden will be successful in his claim. However, this case should serve as a reminder to Estate Trustees and solicitors that Estates may be held accountable for events that took place well before the Deceased’s death, depending on the nature of the claim.
Thank you for reading,
Handwritten Wills/Codicils are certainly quite rare, particularly for people with means. In certain circumstances, and particularly where the testator had made a pre-existing Will, the presence of a subsequent handwritten Will or Codicil can suggest the presence of suspicious circumstances.
As Paul Trudelle blogged last week, Larry King apparently executed a secret handwritten codicil in 2019 that divided his roughly $2 million estate amongst his five children, to the exclusion of his wife, Shawn King. Mrs. King apparently intends to challenge the validity of the 2019 codicil.
In Ontario, an amendment to a Will is referred to as a “codicil” and it is considered to be a Will, for the purposes of the Succession Law Reform Act. A handwritten Will, in Ontario, is referred to as a “Holograph Will” and the only requirement is that it be made wholly by the testator’s own handwriting and signature, without formality, and without the presence, attestation or signature of a witness. The fact that a Holograph Will is usually made without witnesses will often cause litigation, particularly if there are suspicious circumstances surrounding its execution and/or discord in the family of the deceased.
If Mr. and Mrs. King resided in Ontario, Mrs. King could pursue various claims in challenging the validity of the 2019 codicil (subject to the available evidence), including:
- Lack of requisite testamentary capacity on Mr. King’s part;
- Mr. King being subject to undue influence from any or all of his children (or other third parties);
- Presence of suspicious circumstances in the execution of the codicil; and
- Presence of fraud in the execution of the document (which is pleaded quite rarely, as there are serious costs consequences for those that make such an allegation but are unable to prove it).
It will certainly be interesting to see how this matter unfolds, particularly taking into account that $2 million is not a significant amount when the costs of litigation are taken into account.
Interestingly, some sources suggest that his Estate is actually worth $50 million, which sounds a lot more accurate!
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I recently blogged about Biogen Inc. and the drug in development that is said to be the first treatment that could show decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Since I wrote about this in November, 2020, Biogen has continued working towards the coveted regulatory approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Despite a panel of experts at the FDA voting against the drug in November, 2020, the FDA has extended the review period of the drug by three months. For reference, the panel voted “no” to three questions related to whether a single successful large trial of the drug was sufficient evidence of the drug’s effectiveness, given the clear failure of a second large study.
Although the FDA is not obligated to follow the recommendations of the panel, it usually does.
Notwithstanding the FDA’s history of following the panel’s recommendations, this extension raised some hopes that the drug may still be approved which reflected in an increase of Biogen’s shares by 8% premarket.
Obtaining regulatory approval would certainly be of benefit to the shareholders of Biogen. However, if the drug is actually effective, it would certainly change the lives of many people afflicted with Alzheimer’s today.
Stay tuned for more updates!
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I was heartened last week to see Ontario’s Premier pushing for personal protection equipment (PPE), and to read here that he has joined forces with Hayley Wickenheiser and many volunteers to obtain, organize and distribute PPE to front-line workers. This equipment is desperately needed in hospitals and health care facilities, and especially for residents and workers in Long-Term Care Homes (LTCH) who have been vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sadly, half of our country’s deaths are noted as connected to LTCH.
More needs to be done to protect those in LTCH, as many of the elderly and their families are suffering greatly as a result of the rapid spread of the disease. It is heartbreaking to regularly see media reports of yet another outbreak and more deaths. Pinecrest Nursing Home is Bobcaygeon, Ontario has sustained tremendous loss, with nearly half of its residents reportedly succumbing to the disease. Another tragic loss of life has taken place in a Montreal LTCH, where 31 residents have died in the last month. Some deaths are from the virus, and staff not reporting to work may also have contributed to the devastation. Police and public health investigations are ongoing in that case, as reported here.
Increased staff absences in an already strained system are surely aggravating the suffering, in addition to staff mobility between facilities. Many staff are part-time workers, and also work in other homes or hospitals to supplement their income. Ontario has not yet clamped down on the issue, but here it is reported that British Columbia has learned a hard lesson after an outbreak at one of its LTCH and upon obtaining evidence that care staff were potentially carrying the virus from home to home. As a result, an Order of the Provincial Health Officer was issued to restrict the movement of staff by ensuring that they work in only one facility.
In Ontario, the Chief Medical Officer of Health has released a Directive for LTCH. However, we have yet to see a firm commitment to mandate working at a single facility. This is particularly worrisome when coupled with the relaxed screening measures recently implemented by way of O. Reg. 95/20: Order Under Subsection 7.0.2 (4) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. E.9 – Streamlining Requirements for Long-Term Care Homes. I support the government taking urgent measures intended to help our most vulnerable elderly Ontarians, but hope that soon we can receive assurance that immediate action is being taken to support the new measures, including adequate testing, tracking, tracing, isolation, quarantine, PPE and training.
Thanks for reading and stay safe,
We’ve blogged quite a bit recently on the various technologies and breakthroughs that are being made in Alzheimer’s, including the use of Artificial Intelligence in detecting early signs of the disease and research on new treatment methods. As anyone who has worked with affected individuals and their caregivers can attest, Alzheimer’s and dementia are extremely challenging and will increasingly affect more families. It’s no surprise then that researchers and governments are taking steps to address Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Last month, the Canadian Federal government announced its comprehensive dementia strategy (for news coverage, see this CBC article). The release of the strategy comes on the heels of the passage of the National Strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias Act in 2017 which allowed the government to take steps to begin developing a national dementia strategy.
The strategy aims to broaden awareness of dementia and advance the following “national objectives”:
- Prevent dementia by advancing research and expanding awareness of and support in adopting lifestyle measures that can increase the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia;
- Advance therapies and find a cure by supporting and implementing research; and
- Improve the quality of life of people living with dementia and caregivers by eliminating stigma, promoting early diagnosis and care, and better supporting caregivers.
As part of the national strategy, the Federal budget (released on March 19, 2019) allocated $50 million over five years towards implementing the dementia strategy. The release of the national strategy and funding to address this issue has been welcome news to organizations in Canada dedicated to tackling Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Hopefully, the release of this strategy will promote the continued advancement of breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s and dementia research.
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A few weeks ago, I received a voicemail from a robotic sounding voice that had me chuckling. According to the robot, court proceedings had been started against me for failure to pay my taxes. If I didn’t immediately call them back, they would issue an arrest warrant to “get [me] arrested”. While I laughed at the absurdity of the message, the sad reality is that many people fall prey to scammers.
Elderly people can be especially appealing targets for scammers and abusers due to a mix of factors, including social isolation. A recent CBC news article out of Moncton highlights the type of financial abuse to which elderly people may fall prey. The CBC reported that two real estate agents entered into a listing agreement in 2013 with an elderly man. They eventually entered into a further agreement allowing the real estate agents to purchase the home for three quarters of the listing price and requiring the victim to provide an interest-free loan to the agents along with credits towards the purchase price. Overall, the victim received approximately $17,000.00 in exchange for his home.
Not only were the real estate agents able to scam the victim on the sale of his home, the victim also named the two agents as his attorneys for property and as trustees and sole beneficiaries of his estate under his Will.
Eventually, the abuse was discovered when doctors determined the man lacked capacity to make decisions and contacted New Brunswick’s public trustee office. The public trustee’s office, in turn, passed along news of what happened to New Brunswick’s regulator for real estate agents, who have now suspended the licences of the agents for at least one year.
This story showcases just one of the ways in which a person might become a victim of financial abuse. Elderly people without the social support of family members or strong community ties may be especially vulnerable to this abuse. This story also highlights, however, the important role 3rd parties can play in catching and preventing elder abuse. This can be seen by the intervention of hospital staff, the public trustee office, and the professional regulators.
While the article doesn’t explain whether the victim had his power of attorney and will drafted by a lawyer, this article will hopefully also serve as a reminder to drafting solicitors to probe these issues when retained by clients who may be vulnerable to undue influence and abuse.
Thanks for reading!
Earlier this week, the controversy surrounding the estate of American real estate developer and multi-millionaire John Chakalos dominated the headlines.
Issues Surrounding Mr. Chakalos’s Estate
Mr. Chakalos, who left a sizeable estate, was found dead at his home in 2013. Pursuant to the terms of Mr. Chakalos’s Will, his daughter Linda was one of the beneficiaries of his estate. Linda went missing and is presumed dead after a boat carrying her and her son, Nathan, sank during a fishing trip.
According to media reports, Linda’s son Nathan was also a suspect in the death of his grandfather, but was never charged. Nathan has denied the allegations regarding his involvement in his grandfather’s death and his mother’s disappearance.
According to an article by TIME, Mr. Chakalos’s three other daughters have now commenced a lawsuit in New Hampshire wherein they have accused Nathan of killing his grandfather and potentially his mother. The plaintiff daughters have asked the Court to bar Nathan from receiving his inheritance from Mr. Chakalos’s estate.
Public Policy and the Law in Ontario
It is important to note that Mr. Chakalos’s grandson has not been charged in the death of Mr. Chakalos, and the allegations against him have yet to be proven. However, there have been similar cases in Ontario where the accused beneficiary has ultimately been found to have caused the death of the testator.
Generally speaking, in Ontario, a beneficiary who is found to have caused the death of the testator is not entitled to benefit from their criminal act. This common law doctrine, often referred to as the “slayer rule,” stands for the proposition that it would be offensive to public policy for a person to benefit from the estate of a testator if the Court concludes that they have caused the death of the testator.
Thank you for reading,
Umair Abdul Qadir
It’s 8:30 am, you’ve just entered your office, and you get a call from the common-law spouse of one of your long-term clients. It’s bad news – your client is in palliative care and has a will from 2001 that he urgently needs to update. Time is of the essence.
You and your assistant can squeeze in time late in the day to see the client at the hospital. But you know it’s a tricky situation that’s fraught with potential problems. Here are a few steps to consider that could protect you and your client before you head bedside.
- Make sure you have the expertise they need: On the initial call, be sure to ask specific questions about what the client needs done. If there are trusts or other complex arrangements involved, assess whether you have the expertise to assist. If death is imminent, the last thing your client can waste is time in trying to line up another lawyer. So do your due diligence up front.
- Assess capacity: Capacity issues could be front and centre for clients who are close to death. If possible, contact an attending doctor, explain the legal test for capacity and ask them to confirm his or her opinion in writing as soon as possible, even on an interim basis by email.
Learn more about capacity issues here: https://estatelawcanada.blogspot.ca/2010/12/when-is-doctors-opinion-on-capacity.html
- Talk one-to-one: You need, and must insist on, time alone with your client, both to do your own capacity assessment and to minimize any unsubstantiated allegations of undue influence. If the situation is at all suspicious, you have a duty to inquire to satisfy yourself that the client is fully acting on their own accord. This is especially important if the client has had multiple marriages or common-law partners, or has been estranged from family members. If you are not satisfied, you may choose to decline to act.
- Take notes and/or video: Your notes could potentially be used as evidence in a will challenge or solicitor’s negligence action, so be sure to set out the basis for your opinion on issues such as capacity and undue influence, rather than simply stating a conclusion. Consider having a junior lawyer attend with you, to provide a more complete base of evidence. Videotaping the interview may also be helpful, as it can provide important evidence if the will is ever challenged.
Finally, if you have older clients who have indicated a need to revise their will, be proactive. Send them this link and encourage them to act now to avoid the potential drama and perils of a deathbed will: http://globalnews.ca/news/1105176/the-mortality-of-deathbed-wills/
Thanks for reading,
In Ontario, if two people die at the same time or in circumstances rendering it uncertain which of them survived the other, the property of each person shall be disposed of as if he or she had survived the other (see s. 55(1) of the SLRA). In short, each person’s Will is administered as if the spouse predeceased. This outcome can be particularly problematic in various circumstances, a few of which I touch upon below.
Spouses with mirror wills. Without a common disaster clause that would address circumstances where both spouses die simultaneously, there may be certain bequests that are triggered twice. For instance, mirror wills may provide that (i) the residue of the testator’s estate is to be transferred to the spouse if he/she survives the other by 30 days, and (ii) if the spouse predeceases or fails to survive the other by 30 days, a specific bequest is gifted to Child #1, with the residue going to Child #2. Since neither husband nor wife survived the other for30 days, Child #1 would get two specific bequests, one from each of the parents’ estates, reducing the entitlement of the residuary beneficiary, Child #2.
No alternate executor. Spouses often name the other as their executor. If no alternate is named and they die simultaneously, the executor appointment would go on an intestacy (see s. 29 of the Estates Act), and the testator has lost the power to control who administers the estate.
Joint assets. Where joint tenants die at the same time, unless a contrary intention appears, the joint tenants are deemed to have held the property in question as tenants in common (see s. 55(2) of the SLRA).
Insurance proceeds. If the insured and the beneficiary die at the same time, the proceeds of a policy are to be paid as if the beneficiary predeceased the insured (see SLRA s. 55(4), and Insurance Act ss. 215 and 319). If there is no alternate beneficiary, and unless the insurance contract provides otherwise, the proceeds would be payable to the estate and subject to probate fees.
These examples serve to illustrate the value in having simultaneous deaths form part of your checklist when advising estate-planning clients. For more on this topic, I encourage you to read this article and to watch/listen to my recent podcast with Rebecca Rauws.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
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Last week, Ian blogged on the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority, financial abuse of the elderly, and the competency of elderly individuals to make financial decisions. As stated last week, it is unclear what the responsibilities are of a retirement home in cases where there have been loans between a resident and the licensee.
The recent Licence Appeal Tribunal decision of 2138658 Ontario Ltd. ola Seeley’s Bay Retirement Home v. Registrar, Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority is the first case to look at financial abuse in the context of the Retirement Homes Act, 2010, S.O. 2010 Chapter 11 (the “Act”). This case involved the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority’s revocation of Seeley’s Bay Retirement Home’s licence on the basis of the alleged financial abuse of three residents, and a former resident.
The Tribunal determined that the former resident offered to grant the licensee a second mortgage, however, the resident had independent legal advice and a proper written mortgage, and as such, no financial abuse was found.
The Tribunal found financial abuse of one out of the three residents. For the first two residents, the Tribunal did not find financial abuse as they were a couple that had a long-term 25-30 year relationship with the licensee. The couple offered a loan to the licensee but he had counted the loan toward the couple’s rent and had paid off the loan at the time of the hearing. The Tribunal found that this was a trade-off, and that people who are competent to manage their own affairs ought to be allowed to make independent financial decisions, and found the loan to be “a matter of friendship and faith”.
The Tribunal found financial abuse of the third resident. Resident three lived in the home for 6 years prior to her death, and was determined to be capable. She managed her own finances and had no close family. The licensee began approaching her for money, which he applied to her rent, yet continued to borrow money beyond the amount paid of rent. There was nothing in writing, no records of the payment, and the resident had no independent legal advice. In 2016, the resident’s health began to deteriorate and she was worried that she would not be able to cover her expenses due to the amount of money she had lent to the licensee. She approached the licensee about repayment and the licensee took no action. The loans were outstanding upon the resident’s death. The Tribunal found this amounted to financial abuse as it was found to be “misappropriation” of resident money under the Act, pursuant to Regulation 166/11 and section 67.
In considering all of the claims against the residence, the Tribunal found that the loans raised concerns about the licensee’s ability to operate the home with honesty and integrity. This was exemplified due to the third resident’s dependency on the home. Moreover, the Tribunal noted that in the third case, there was harm to the resident’s peace of mind along with a risk that she would not be able to pay for her own long-term care.
Thanks for reading,