Re Crowley Estate, 2021 ONSC 582, raises an interesting question surrounding the potential impact of counsel missing a procedural deadline in association with a Notice of Objection to the issuance of a Certificate of Appointment (i.e. probate), and whether missing such a deadline is fatal to the Objector’s ability to generally proceed with a challenge to the Will.
The Notice of Objection process is governed by rule 75.03 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. It generally provides that at any time before the issuance of a Certificate of Appointment any individual who appears to have a financial in the estate may file a “Notice of Objection” to the issuance of a Certificate of Appointment. The impact of filing of the Certificate of Appointment is to in effect to pause the probate process, with the applicant Estate Trustee being required to vacate and/or deal with the Notice of Objection before probate can be issued. The process by which the Notice of Objection is generally dealt with is that upon being advised of the Notice of Objection the Estate Trustee is to serve a “Notice to Objector” upon the Objector in accordance with rule 75.03(4), which then provides the Objector with 20 days from the date on which they are served with the Notice to Objector to serve and file a “Notice of Appearance”. If the Notice of Appearance is served by the deadline, the matter proceeds to a motion for directions in accordance with rule 75.03(6), where the court would be asked to provide directions regarding how the objections that were raised are to be adjudicated before the court. If no “Notice of Appearance” is filed by the deadline the Notice of Objection is automatically vacated, and the probate application may proceed as if no Notice of Objection had been filed.
In Re Crowley Estate, the Objector filed a Notice of Objection to the issuance of probate, and was in turn served with a Notice to Objector by the Applicant. The date on which the Objector was served with the Notice to Objector was November 20, 2020, which would have resulted in a deadline of December 10, 2020 for the Objector to serve the Notice of Appearance. The Notice of Appearance was not served however by the Objector until December 15, 2020. The matter was directed by the Registrar to a Judge, who in turn asked the parties to make written submissions regarding the matter. The Applicant’s lawyer took the position that rule 75.03 was “unforgiving” with respect to its deadlines, and that as the Objector had missed the deadline to serve the Notice of Appearance the court was now required to proceed with the probate application as if no Notice of Objection had been filed. Objector’s counsel advised that the reason for the missed deadline was due to health related concerns surrounding COVID-19, appearing to note in any event that even if the Notice of Objection was vacated the Objector would be proceeding with a challenge to the validity of the Will, noting that the Objector had subsequently commenced a separate Application to address the concerns surrounding the validity of the Will on January 7, 2021.
The court ultimately extended the deadline for the Objector to file the Notice of Appearance under rule 3.02, which allows the court to extend any time prescribed by the rules on such terms as are just. In extending the deadline, Justice Boswell notes that the Objector clearly always intended to pursue the objection, and that there is no clear prejudice to allowing the extension. Perhaps interestingly however, although the comment does not appear to have played a decisive role in the final ruling, Justice Boswell references that even if the Certificate of Appointment was issued the Objector would likely have been at liberty to seek the return the Certificate of Appointment under rule 75.05, appearing to give credence to the Objector’s position that they would have been at liberty to proceed with their challenge to the validity of the Will regardless of the missed deadline for the Notice of Objection.
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