Tag: last will
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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Many estate solicitors are retained to draft Wills for elderly clients. Concerns over capacity are normal. As such, I am frequently asked how thoroughly a drafting solicitor should enquire into capacity.
Although there is no universal answer, the decision in Wiseman v Perrey, provides helpful insight. Referring to an earlier decision from the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, the Court set out the basic rules dealing with testamentary capacity where a professional, such as a drafting solicitor, is involved:
(a) neither the superficial appearance of lucidity nor the ability to answer simple questions in an apparently rational way are sufficient evidence of capacity;
(b) the duty upon a solicitor taking instructions for a will is always a heavy one. When the client is weak and ill and, particularly when the solicitor knows that he is revoking an existing will, the responsibility will be particularly onerous; and
(c) a solicitor cannot discharge his duty by asking perfunctory questions, getting apparently rational answers and then simply recording in legal form the words expressed by the client. He must first satisfy himself by a personal inquiry that true testamentary capacity exists, that the instructions are freely given, and that the effect of the will is understood.
There are a variety of tools a solicitor should employ, including having the testator take a Mini-Mental State Examination.
Depending on the severity of the solicitor’s concern, the use of a capacity assessor who specializes in assessing testamentary capacity should be considered. The assessor should be specifically instructed to assess whether a testator has the capacity to make a new Will. Although not an easy topic to broach with a client, these types of assessments can assist in ensuring the testator’s last ‘capable’ wishes are followed.
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Celebrities and Explosions.
Now that I have your attention, yes today’s estate blog is actually about celebrities and explosions.
Johnny Depp, the famed actor.
Now I really have your attention.
I recently came across this article in The Guardian, which highlighted the efforts made by Depp to plan Hunter S. Thompson’s funeral after his passing in February 2005.
Thompson, well known for authoring Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had made requests prior to his passing to Depp, a close friend, as to how he wanted his ashes to be scattered. Depp stuck to his word and took steps to ensure that Thompson’s last wishes came true and made sure that “his pal was sent out the way he wanted to go out”.
As such, Thompson’s ashes were fired from a cannon that was placed atop a 153-foot tower shaped like a double-thumbed fist, clutching a peyote button, on Thompson’s Colorado farm. Yes, apparently Thompson loved explosions.
The total cost of the funeral was $3 million, which apparently, was funded entirely by Depp.
The surviving spouse, Anita, Thompson, supported Depp’s decision and even went on to state that the grounds where the cannon stood, remains a meditation labyrinth that is used every day at Thompson’s Colorado farm.
In Ontario, an estate trustee has the paramount legal authority to determine the place and manner of burial. There is no legal requirement for the estate trustee to follow the wishes expressed by the deceased (or the family of the deceased). Where a Will includes burial instructions, such instructions are precatory and not binding on the estate trustee.
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- Who Has the Authority to Make Funeral and Burial Arrangements on an Intestacy?
- Ashes to Ashes in Bali: David Bowie’s Last Will and Testament
- Cryogenics and Funeral Arrangements
I recently came across an interesting article, found here, which highlights the fascinating story of Jane Haining, a Christian missionary from south Scotland, whose Last Will and Testament was recently unearthed in church archives in Scotland.
Despite requests to return home to native Scotland, Haining remained in Budapest during the height of World War II where she worked as a matron at a church-run school that provided safety to orphaned Jewish schoolchildren. She refused to leave Budapest stating that “if these children needed me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in these days of darkness?”
As Hungary’s Nationalist government acceded to the anti-Semitic laws imposed by Hitler’s regime, Haining was arrested by the Gestapo on suspicion of “espionage on behalf of England” and working among Jews.
Haining was eventually sent to Auschwitz where she died of “cachexia following intestinal catarrh”.
As a result of the care Haining provided to her students and the safety she provided, Haining is often referred to as Scotland’s Schindler.
Found within a box in the attic of the Church of Scotland World Mission Council’s archives in Edinburgh, Haining’s handwritten Last Will was dated July 1942 and read on its face that it should only be opened upon her death. The Last Will bequeaths, amongst other things, her typewriter, fur coat and watches.
Although the Last Will itself is nothing unusual, there is much excitement surrounding its discovery as historians suggest that it gives a sense that Haining was fully aware of the risks she was taking to protect the Jewish schoolchildren.
A co-worker recently passed along this ESPN article chronicling the storied life of Ted Williams, arguably one of the greatest baseball players to have ever played the game. While I must admit that my love for sports stems from hockey and the beautiful game of soccer, as Estates lawyers, my co-worker and I were drawn to the issues surrounding the Last Will of Ted Williams and his burial wishes.
According to this Daily Mail article, Williams executed a Last Will and Testament in 1996 apparently indicating that he wanted to have his body cremated and his ashes sprinkled around his Florida Keys fishing grounds “…where the water is very deep”.
Notwithstanding the contents of Williams’ Last Will, it appears that some of his children approved the decision to have Williams cryogenically frozen. It seems that the motivation in part was a result of the vast amount of literature read by Williams’ son including The Prospect of Immortality which promotes that the “freezer always trumped the grave”. In addition, after his passing, his children produced a note signed by Williams and dated November 2, 2000 that his children “…and Dad all agree to be put into bio-statis after we die. This is what we want, to be able to be together in the future, even if it is only a chance”. Nonetheless, it remains unclear as to what Williams actually wanted.
Upon the passing of Williams, his body was flown to a cryogenics facility where Williams head ($50,000) and body ($120,000) were separately frozen and stored.
As a result of these actions, one of Williams children commenced a petition seeking the return of her father’s body to comply with the wishes set out in the Last Will. This claim was later withdrawn and to this day, Williams body remains frozen.
At this point, any Ontario Estates lawyer is probably reminding themselves that in Ontario, burial instructions in a Last Will are merely wishes and not binding. As a refresher, see this Hull & Hull blog with respect to the burial decisions surrounding Nelson Mandela.
Also of interest, it appears that Williams created an insurance trust for the benefit of his children only to be paid on the 10th anniversary of his death. This trust has now been dissolved.