Earlier this week, I blogged about the Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Neuberger v. York, 2016 ONCA 191, and the first lesson from this case. The second lesson from this case is that the doctrine of estoppel is not permitted to bar challenges to the validity of wills.
As a short recap of the facts from my prior blog, the late Chaim Neuberger was Edie’s father. Edie and, her sister, Myra, were the named Estate Trustees of the 2010 Wills. Between the death of Edie’s father on September 25, 2012, and the commencement of Edie’s challenge of the validity of the 2010 Wills on December 19, 2013, Edie was found by the lower court to have taken steps as an Estate Trustee. Such steps were, for example, the payment of taxes and the redemption of preference shares. This led the lower court to apply the doctrine of estoppel by representation to stop Edie from challenging the 2010 Wills (see Neuberger v. York, 2014 ONSC 6706).
On this point, the Court of Appeal disagreed. The Court of Appeal unanimously took the view that estoppel by representation and estoppel by convention do not lie to bar a challenge to the validity of a will (at paragraph 103).
The Hon. Justice Gillese found that the test for estoppel, as articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada in Canadian Superior Oil Ltd. v. Paddon-Hughes Development Co.,  S.C.R. 932, is not applicable in probate matters. Canadian Superior Oil was found to deal with promissory estoppel in the context of a private lease agreement between two individuals, which is “fundamentally different than is the question of the validity of a will” (at paragraphs 104 to 108).
As a matter of public policy, the Hon. Justice Gillese stated as follows (at paragraph 118):
“estoppel is animated by the goal of creating transactional certainty between private parties in civil disputes. A will, however, is more than a private document. As explained above, a dispute about a will’s validity engages interests that go beyond those of the parties to the dispute and extend to the testator and the public. Once a testamentary instrument is probated, it speaks to society at large. Probate is an in rem pronouncement that the instrument represents the testator’s true testamentary intentions and that the estate trustee has lawful authority to administer the estate. Because of this, the court has a responsibility to ensure that only wills that meet the hallmarks of validity are probated. It owes that duty to the testators, whose deaths preclude them from protecting their own interests, to those with a legitimate interest in the estate, and to the public at large. If the doctrine of estoppel were available to bar a party from having the validity of a will determined, the court’s ability to discharge that responsibility would be in jeopardy.”
Thanks for reading!
Lessons from Neuberger Part 1: Does an interested person have an automatic right to proof in solemn form?
The Ontario Court of Appeal released not one, but two, decisions last week in relation to a Will Challenge proceeding. In addition to Spence v. BMO Trust Company, 2016 ONCA 196 (which is well covered by the media, and by our blog here), the Court of Appeal also released the decision of Neuberger v. York, 2016 ONCA 191.
The case of Neuberger v. York involves the Estate of Chaim Neuberger. The late Chaim Neuberger was a holocaust survivor, and Toronto real estate mogul, whose success equated to a fortune of over $100 million on his death according to the National Post. Chaim was predeceased by his wife, Sarah Neuberger, and he was survived by his daughters, Edie Neuberger, and Myra York, and the adult children of Edie and Myra. Edie and Myra were the named Estate Trustees of Chaim’s 2010 Wills, as well as his prior 2004 Wills.
Chaim passed away on September 25, 2012, and Edie brought an application to challenge the validity of Chaim’s 2010 Wills on December 19, 2013. In January, 2014, Edie’s son, Adam, also brought a motion to challenge the validity of Chaim’s 2010 Wills, amongst other relief. Edie’s Will Challenge was dismissed at first instance, along with Adam’s Will Challenge.
On appeal, Adam argued that an “interested person” is entitled, as of right, to have a Will proved in solemn form, prior to a grant of probate. Adam argued that this right stems from Rule 75.01 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which reads as follows:
FORMAL PROOF OF TESTAMENTARY INSTRUMENT
75.01 An estate trustee or any person appearing to have a financial interest in an estate may make an application under rule 75.06 to have a testamentary instrument that is being put forward as the last will of the deceased proved in such manner as the court directs.
On this point, the unanimous Court of Appeal disagreed. The Hon. Justice Gillese considered a plain reading of Rule 75.01, in conjunction with Rule 75.06, and determined that an “interested person” may request proof in solemn form but cannot require it (at paragraph 84). Moreover, “the court has a discretion whether to order that a testamentary instrument be proved, as well as a discretion over the manner in which the instrument is proved” (at paragraph 87). The correct approach to Rule 75.06 requires an applicant, or moving party, to “adduce, or point to, some evidence which, if accepted, would call into question the validity of the testamentary instrument that is being propounded” (at paragraph 89).
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned this week for more lessons from Neuberger.