Tag: joint assets
One of the consequences of having to probate a Will (now referred to in Ontario as applying for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee) is that the Will, along with the assets covered by the Will, are made public.
I was intrigued to read about the estate of the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. In addition to Allen’s Last Will being made public, multiple news articles have published a list of some of the amazing properties owned by him, including a:
- condominium in Portland, Oregon ($700,000 to &850,000)
- 20-acre property in Santa Fee purchased from Georgia O’Keefe’s estate ($15 million)
- 2,066-acre ranch in Utah ($25 million)
- Silicon Valley 22,005 square foot house ($30 million)
- New York City penthouse on 4 East 66th Street ($50 million)
- double property in Idaho totalling 3,600 acres ($50 million)
- 3 acre compound on the Big Island in Hawaii ($50 million)
- 18 bedroom mansion in the South of France ($100 million)
- 387 acre camp in Lopez Island, Washington ($150 million)
- 8 acres of land on Mercer Island, Washington ($130 million)
- 400 foot Octopus Yacht (up to $130 million)
While I have no intention to address the efficacy of Allen’s estate plan, I thought the publicity of his estate provides a reminder that careful estate planning can ensure that privacy is maintained, and the payment of probate tax be avoided. In Ontario, there are numerous options available including preparing a secondary (or tertiary) Will, placing assets in joint ownership with the right of survivorship, or simply gifting assets prior to death. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and each option carries certain advantages and disadvantages.
While I expect that few people have the impressive catalogue of properties that Allen had, it should by no means preclude careful estate planning.
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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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Many people are aware of the presumption which was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in Pecore v. Pecore that assets which are held jointly between the deceased and certain individuals (including their adult children) are presumed to be held by the surviving joint owner on a resulting trust for the deceased owner’s estate unless they can rebut the presumption and show evidence that the deceased intended them to receive the property by right of survivorship. While the application of such a presumption is clear when the property is owned jointly between a parent and an adult child, what about when the property is owned jointly between two married spouses? Does a similar presumption to that in Pecore apply, such that the surviving spouse is forced to show that the deceased spouse intended them to receive the asset upon their death, failing which it is presumed to form part of the deceased spouse’s estate?
The common law presumption that joint assets are held on a resulting trust for the benefit of the deceased owner’s estate has been altered in Ontario as it relates to married spouses by the Family Law Act. Section 14 of the Family Law Act provides:
“The rule of law applying a presumption of a resulting trust shall be applied in questions of the ownership of property between spouses, as if they were not marries, except that,
(a) the fact that property is held in the name of spouses as joint tenants is proof, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the spouses are intended to own the property as joint tenants; and
(b) money on deposit in the name of both spouses shall be deemed to be in the name of the spouses as joint tenants for the purposes of clause (a).”
As a result of section 14 of the Family Law Act, property which is held jointly between two married spouses is presumed to pass to the surviving spouse by right of survivorship. That being said, it is a rebuttable presumption, such that if there is evidence that the deceased spouse did not intend the property to pass to the surviving spouse upon death, the deceased spouse’s estate could seek a declaration that the asset in question is held on a resulting trust for the benefit of the deceased spouse’s estate. Section 14 of the Family Law Act effectively reverses the presumption as described in Pecore in the case of married spouses, whereby property held jointly between two married spouses is presumed to pass to the surviving spouse by right of survivorship unless there is evidence to the contrary such that the presumption can be rebutted.
Notably, section 14 of the Family Law Act only reverses the presumption as it relates to married spouses. As a result, an argument could be raised that in circumstances where common law spouses own property jointly, that the standard presumption as confirmed by Pecore would apply, such that the surviving common law spouse is presumed to hold the asset on a resulting trust for the benefit of the deceased spouse’s estate unless they can show evidence to rebut the presumption.
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Adult children of aging parents are often faced with important responsibilities. Ensuring that parents are adequately cared for is a task that many children lovingly undertake. As highlighted in this article in Forbes, key substitute decision planning ensures that the transition from independence to dependence, proceeds as smoothly as possible. Such steps should be taken immediately, and prior to the onset of dementia, or other incapacitating disorders, to ensure that one’s ability to provide instructions is unequivocal.
A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone else the right to act on the grantor’s behalf. With the onset of incapacity, not only may the understanding of finances become increasingly difficult, but vulnerability to financial predators may increase. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 10% of the 1.5 million seniors in Ontario experience elder abuse. As such, allowing an incapacitated parent to maintain the authority to sign cheques and manage finances may be dangerous.
To preserve some degree of control, it is often the case that bank accounts are transferred into joint ownership between an adult child and their parent. This is a common practical step taken to ensure that the child who provides care to their parent has sufficient access to their parent’s funds to satisfy expenses arising. However, given the seminal decision in Pecore v. Pecore (SCC), at the time the bank account is transferred into joint ownership, careful notes must be taken to ensure that the evidence of testamentary intention regarding the account is clarified.
Meeting with an experienced lawyer that can explain the types of powers of attorneys, and the associated responsibilities, ensures the adult child has the appropriate powers to assist their parent. As well, the taking of detailed notes by a lawyer or financial institution is a prudent step to avoid possible estate disputes at a later date. While often we focus our efforts on estate planning, substitute decision planning is equally important.
The Honourable Susan E. Greer has been involved in the world of estate law for many years, as both a lawyer and as a recently retired Superior Court Justice. During that time, and particularly during her 23 years as a Superior Court Justice, she has observed a number of changes as she observes in this article for Advocate Daily.
Some of the changes discussed by The Honourable Ms. Greer are relevant to the practice of law generally. In particular, she mentions civility, and the fact that counsel have become less courteous over time, including in interactions with court staff, each other, and witnesses. She also refers to the increasing use of emails as exhibits to affidavits. In this regard, of note is the concern that many emails are “sent in haste, without careful consideration as to how they read or how they could be misinterpreted” as opposed to the thought that usually goes into the drafting of letters. These comments are applicable to lawyers generally, not solely the estates bar, and are important points to consider.
Specifically with respect to estate law, The Honourable Ms. Greer notes that there have been changes in several areas, including sibling rivalry increasingly being brought to the courts, and increasingly heavy scrutiny of jointly held assets. One particularly interesting development discussed in the article is the increase in will challenges commenced by children prior to the death of their parent. As noted by The Honourable Ms. Greer, this is not an issue unique to Ontario or Canada, citing a French case in which the daughter of Liliane Bettencourt, heir to the L’Oreal cosmetics company, successfully challenged the validity of her mother’s will, while her mother was still alive.
Relevant to many of the changes that have been seen in estates, according to The Honourable Ms. Greer, is the issue that the “greed factor has become more pronounced, causing bitter divisions in families that seem impossible to heal.” That being said, given that courts have moved away from awarding all costs of litigation to be paid from the estate, the possibility of being responsible for one’s own costs, as well as the costs of other parties, may serve as a disincentive for potential litigants with more frivolous claims that may be driven by greed.
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The impact of Stone v. Stone will clearly have a lasting impact on the practice of family law. This case stands for the general proposition that a spouse can not deplete their assets with the effect of diminishing their spouse’s entitlement under the Family Law Act. Similarly, the estates bar has recently witnessed a similar effect as a result of the decision in Pecore v. Pecore: Transfers of assets into joint ownership between persons other than spouses are inevitably now subject to even greater scrutiny than before.
In the context of the estates practitioner, it can be seen that the principles raised in Stone clearly have some bearing on estates litigation. When a spouse transfers assets into joint ownership with his daughter from a first marriage, the surviving second spouse will no doubt argue that the presumption of resulting trust applies, having consideration to Pecore. But Stone may have relevance as well, particularly in circumstances in which the deceased and the second spouse enter into a Marriage Contract which provides for a guaranteed entitlement of the surviving spouse on the death of the other. To what extent is the spouse who promises such entitlement precluded from gifting assets or transferring assets into joint ownership? A complex overlay of contract, family, and estates law ensues. Unless the assets are significant, the costs of litigating such a dispute inevitably militate in favour of settlement.
David M. Smith
Listen to Madore-Ogilvie vs. Ogilvie Estate.
This week on Hull on Estates, Rick and Sean discuss the case of Madore-Ogilvie vs. Ogilvie Estate which was recently featured in the CCH periodical Will Power.
Separation Agreements in the Context of Estate Planning – Hull on Estate and Succession Planning Podcast #59
Listen to "Separation Agreements in the Context of Estate Planning"
Read the transcribed version "Separation Agreements in the Context of Estate Planning"
During Hull on Estate and Succession Planning Podcast #59, Ian and Suzana discuss Separation Agreements and the general elements of estate planning upon separation from a spouse.
They cover many important aspects of a separation agreement that should be considered when turning your mind to estate planning, including joint assets, joint debts, property, and disability planning.