Estate litigation exists in a somewhat unique corner of the litigation world for as a Will can potentially have numerous beneficiaries, each of whom could receive differing amounts from the estate, the potential individuals who could be impacted by any court decision can often extend beyond the parties actively participating in the litigation. As estate litigation can be both emotionally and financially expensive, if you are a beneficiary who only was to receive a relatively modest bequest of say $5,000, you may question whether it can be financially justified for you to retain a lawyer to actively participate in the litigation or whether you should just throw your hands up and not participate. Although the final decision of whether to participate will be case specific to the beneficiary in question, there may be a third option other than actively participating or simply not responding, being that you can formally “submit” your rights to the court.
The concept of “submitting” your rights to the court is in effect a formal declaration to the court that you will not be actively participating in the litigation but that you would still like to be provided with notice of certain steps. By formally submitting your rights to the court the plaintiff is required to provide you with written notice of the time and place of the trial, as well as a copy of the eventual Judgment. You are also personally insulated from any costs award that may be made in the proceeding (other than incidentally as a beneficiary of the estate should costs be awarded out of the estate).
The potentially most attractive incentive to formally submitting your rights to the court however may be that in the event any settlement is reached amongst the other parties that no Judgment may be issued implementing the settlement unless the court is provided with your consent to the settlement or an affidavit confirming that you had been provided with a copy of settlement and had not served and filed a “Rejection of Settlement“. Such a requirement could provide you with the opportunity to object to any settlement before it is implemented, potentially sidelining any settlement that you believe unfairly impacted your interest in the estate.
The process by which an individual can “submit” their rights to the court is governed by rule 75.07.1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, with the individual submitting their rights to the court being required to serve and file a “Statement of Submission of Rights to the Court“.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
Yesterday I blogged about the recent Deleon v. Estate of Raymond DeRanney (“Deleon“) decision wherein an individual who was not the Deceased’s biological or adopted child was declared to be a dependant “child” of the Deceased in accordance with Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“) due to the Deceased having shown a “settled intention” to treat the Applicant as their child during their lifetime. Although my blog from yesterday went into some of the detail of what the court considered when determining that the Applicant was in fact a “child” of the Deceased who was entitled to support, it did not get into the quantum of support that the Applicant was entitled to receive as a “dependant child”.
The factors that the court is to consider in determining the quantum of support for a dependant are established by section 62 of the SLRA, and include:
- the dependant’s current assets and means;
- the assets and means that the dependant is likely to have in the future;
- the dependant’s capacity to contribute to his or her support;
- the proximity and duration of the dependant’s relationship with the deceased; and
- the dependant’s needs, in determining which the court shall have regard to the dependant’s accustomed standard of living.
In Deleon the Deceased died intestate with one biological child leaving an estate valued at approximately $1.5 million, which under normal circumstances would be distributed solely to the biological child on an intestacy. Upon being declared a dependant “child” of the Deceased in accordance with Part V of the SLRA, the Applicant attempted to argue that she should equally share the Deceased’s estate with the biological child akin to if she was a biological child of the Deceased on an intestacy, an argument which, if accepted, would result in the Applicant receiving approximately $750,000 from the Deceased’s estate.
In support of her position that she should be entitled to receive 50% of the Deceased’s estate in support, the Applicant cites to Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Tataryn v. Tataryn Estate, in which the court confirms that it can consider “moral” obligations and what is “adequate, just and equitable” under the circumstances when determining the quantum of support, and that the court is not necessarily limited to the factors delineated in section 62 of the SLRA. The Applicant also pointed to the accustomed standard of living which she had enjoyed while previously living with the Deceased.
Upon reviewing the jurisprudence in reference to the Applicant’s circumstances, Madam Justice Dietrich ultimately determines that the appropriate sum of support to be paid to the Applicant is the lump sum of $40,955, with such an amount being justified as being enough to get the Applicant through the remainder of her University degree, with the Applicant being required to be independent thereafter. Such an amount is of course notably less than the approximate $750,000 sought by the Applicant in the Application.
The Deleon case provides an excellent reminder that just because you are a “dependant” of the Deceased it does not necessarily follow that you will receive a significant sum in any support payment, as the court will consider your specific circumstances when setting the quantum of support.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
The average “family unit” (if such a thing ever truly existed) is becoming harder to define in 2020. With the rise of concepts such as “co-parenting“, as well as the growing ubiquity of step-parents from second (or third, or fourth) marriages, the expectations and reality associated with the parent/child relationship is evolving. Although such an evolution is almost certainly predominantly for the better, it can create some unique complications should one of the “parents” die unexpectedly, particularly should they die without a Will. Such a scenario is exactly what was recently before the court in Deleon v. Estate of Raymond DeRanney (“Deleon“).
In Deleon, the Deceased died intestate with no married spouse and one biological child, such that the entirety of their estate would under normal circumstances be distributed to their biological child. The Applicant, who was not the Deceased’s biological child but was rather the child of the Deceased’s ex-girlfriend from approximately 20 years prior, commenced an Application for support under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“) alleging that the Deceased had treated her as his “child” and had provided her with support during his lifetime. In support of such a claim, the Applicant cited to the fact that the Deceased had allowed her and her mother to reside with him for several years prior to his death even though the Deceased and her mother were no longer romantically involved, and that, although she was not residing with him at the time of his death, the Deceased was subsidizing her rent to the tune of approximately $500 per month. She also cited to the fact that the Deceased had historically paid for things such as the Applicant’s extra-curricular activities, summer school, groceries and vacations throughout the Applicant’s childhood, and had encouraged her to attend University which she was in the process of attending.
The definition of “child” within Part V of the SLRA includes someone who the deceased individual had a “settled intention” to treat as their child. As a result, if an individual can show that a deceased individual had a “settled intention” to treat them as their child, and the individual otherwise meets the remainder of the factors required to be a “dependant” of the deceased, the individual can receive support as a dependant child notwithstanding that they are not biologically related to or legally adopted by the deceased.
In considering whether the Applicant met such a “settled intention” definition in Deleon, Madam Justice Dietrich considers the factors delineated in Hyatt v. Ralph, which include:
- did the “parents” pool their income into a joint account?
- did the “parents” pay the expenses for all children out of this same account?
- did the child in question refer to the man as “daddy” or the woman as “mommy”?
- did the “parents” refer to themselves as “mommy” and “daddy”?
- did the “parents” share the task of disciplining the child?
- did the child participate in the extended family in the same was as a biological child?
- was there a change in surname?
- did the “parent” express to the child, the family and the world, either implicitly or explicitly, that he or she is responsible as a parent to the child?
Perhaps interestingly in the Deleon decision, although Madam Justice Dietrich found that the relationship between the Deceased and the Applicant did not generally meet any of the factors to be considered from Hyatt v. Ralph (the Applicant referred to the Deceased as “Uncle Raymond” who undoubtedly spoiled her but did not necessarily fulfill the “typical” parental role), Madam Justice Dietrich nonetheless found that the Deceased’s conduct in relation to the Applicant demonstrated a “settled intention” on the part of the Deceased to treat the Applicant as a “child”, and that as the Applicant otherwise would receive nothing from the Deceased’s estate on an intestacy she was entitled to support from the Deceased’s estate as the Deceased’s dependant “child”. In coming to such a conclusion Madam Justice Dietrich states:
“In my view, [the Deceased’s] support of [the Applicant] in these ways rises above affection and generosity. Despite the atypical family relationships between [the Deceased, the Applicant’s mother, the Deceased’s biological child, and the Applicant], [the Deceased’s] support of [the Applicant] demonstrates his settled intention to treat her as a member of his unconventional family. I find that [the Applicant] is therefore a dependant for the purposes of the SLRA.”
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.
If you’ve been keeping up with pop-culture and the array of new Netflix shows recently released, then the name “Tiger King” should ring a bell. The outlandish and quirky Netflix mini-series documents eccentric Oklahoman former big-cat zookeeper, Joe Exotic, and his bitter rivalry with his arch-nemesis, Carole Baskin, owner of the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Florida. The series concludes with Joe Exotic receiving a 22-year prison sentence for attempting to murder Baskin. Surprisingly, that is not the narrative that caught people’s attention. Rather, viewers took to social media platforms with memes, tweets, and TikTok’s of fans wondering, “Did Carole Baskin kill her husband?”.
Throughout the series, Joe Exotic alleges that Baskin murdered her first husband, Don Lewis, and fed him to the tigers housed in their shared tiger sanctuary (yes, you read that correctly). The mini-series certainly raised suspicions regarding Lewis’ disappearance. Lewis was a millionaire, who disappeared some months after having filed a restraining order against his wife. Baskin ultimately inherited all of Lewis’ assets to the exclusion of his former wife and their two children. Due to the show’s popularity, and the public’s demand for answers, the case of Lewis’ disappearance was reopened by the Hillsborough County Police.
The latest development in the investigation of Lewis’ disappearance came from the Sheriff of the Hillsborough County Police, who advised that experts have determined that Lewis’ last will, under which Baskin was the sole beneficiary, was forged. Apparently, the forgery had been alleged when this case was first brought before Florida courts, although the judge preferred the evidence of Baskin’s expert who found that the signature was not forged. This blog is not intended to explore the veracity of these allegations. However, this news did spark my curiosity with respect to forged wills and their treatment in Ontario courts.
In Ontario, a will can be forged by tracing or forging a person’s signature on a will, removing pages from a will or substituting pages to change the will’s contents, or making amendments to a will after it has been signed without the knowledge or consent of the testator.
If an objector to a will alleges forgery, courts will rely on the evidence of expert examiners. Such was the case in Bayford v Boese, 2019 ONSC 5663, wherein the court relied on the expert evidence of a document examiner who had previously worked in state crime laboratories in the USA and for the FBI. The expert examined and compared several other documents that were known to be signed by the testator to determine whether they had been forged, and ultimately concluded that they had not.
If a will is found to be a product of forgery then it would be declared invalid and the court would seek to rely on the most recent prior will. There could also be criminal consequences that flow from a finding of forgery, pursuant to section 380(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.
It will be interesting to see if anything comes of this new allegation of forgery.
Thank you for reading!
A special thanks to Sean Hess for his contributions to this post.
After consulting with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the Ontario government has extended all emergency orders that are currently in effect until June 19, 2020.
For a list of the emergency orders under s. 7.0.2(4) of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (“EMCPA”) that have been extended, see here.
Ontario has also announced that it is extending the suspension of limitation periods and time periods in proceedings pursuant to O. Reg 73/20 until September 11, 2020, which is the maximum renewal period allowable under the EMCPA. O. Reg. 259/20 implements the extension and can be found here.
Furthermore, to address concerns raised by the bar, the Lieutenant Governor in Council has amended O. Reg. 73/20 to provide for further clarity. O. Reg. 258/20 amends the language of O. Reg. 73/20 such that the suspension of limitation periods is no longer tied to the “duration of the state of emergency,” allowing the duration of the order to be based on all relevant factors, and not just the state of emergency. As reported by the Ontario Bar Association, “decoupling” the duration of the suspension from the state of emergency was implemented to address the bar’s request for reasonable predictability and notice.
With regard to the suspension of deadlines and procedural steps set out in any statute, regulation, rule, by-law, or order of the Ontario government, O. Reg. 73/20 provides that the suspension is subject to the discretion of “the court, tribunal or other decision-maker responsible for the proceeding…” O. Reg. 258/20 has clarified that this discretion may be exercised by:
- the person or persons who have jurisdiction to make orders in the proceeding;
- the Chief Justice of Ontario, in respect of proceedings before the Ontario Court of Appeal;
- the Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Justice, in respect of matters before the Superior Court of Justice;
- the Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice, in respect of matters before the Ontario Court of Justice; and
- the chair of a tribunal, in respect of proceedings before the tribunal.
Finally, O. Reg 258/20 provides for the resumption of enforcement under Part V of the Family Responsibility and Support Arrears Enforcement Act.
With court closures, limited filings, suspensions of limitation periods, and a likely period of “post-pandemic austerity” on the horizon, Ontario’s justice system is changing, and will need to continue to change to effectively meet the needs of the public. Limitation periods may be on pause, but peoples’ lives continue. For many, this means having some form of interaction with the justice system. Ontario’s Chief Justice, the Honourable Justice George Strathy, has provided his thoughts on what changes may be needed, and questions whether oral advocacy is necessary in every case. For more on Justice Strathy’s comments, see here.
Thanks for reading!
As the province of Ontario slowly emerges from the strict measures in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19, businesses and organizations alike are considering what workplaces will look like moving forward. Modernizing technology in workplaces is a fundamental aspect of these considerations, and Ontario courtrooms are no exception.
On Thursday, May 28, 2020, Chief Justice Geoffrey Morawetz, Senior Family Justice Suzanne Stevenson and Regional Senior Justice Michelle Fuerst answered questions posed by members of the legal profession on the Superior Court’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the future of the courtroom as we know it. The overarching message conveyed by Chief Justice Morawetz was that the courts have acknowledged the need to modernize and that great efforts are being made to adapt to new technologies and integrate those technologies into our justice system.
I will briefly highlight some of the key takeaways from the Ontario Bar Association’s (OBA) webinar, although I encourage all those who are interested to watch the full webinar, which is free and accessible to the public on the OBA website. To watch the webinar, click here.
- Currently, the Superior Court of Justice has suspended in-person hearings until July 6, 2020, at the earliest. It is expected that the next phase of modernization will see a hybrid of both in-person and video or telephone conferencing. Courts will likely not return to “normal” operations (i.e. in-person hearings of all matters) until a vaccine is widely available.
- It was acknowledged that the courts moved quickly to allow for remote hearings of matters that were easily suited to a virtual hearing, such as matters that were unopposed, on consent, or in writing. Over the course of the pandemic, the courts have twice expanded the scope of matters it will hear. Moving forward, it is expected that the courts will continue to expand the virtual courtroom to be able to hear contentious matters that require oral advocacy.
- In conjunction with the Minister of the Attorney General’s office, the courts are aiming to increase availability to video conferencing across all regions.
- Given that the courts have not been operating at their full capacity since mid-March, and the backlog that existed prior to Covid-19, it is expected that there will be a significant backlog of matters that will have to be heard. In an effort to resolve this issue, judges from different regions will likely hear matters virtually in order to bring the court system back up to speed.
- We can expect to see an expansion of matters that that are being overseen by a case management judge.
- It is expected that eventually, there will be electronic scheduling platforms in place that will allow counsel to schedule attendances online.
Thank you for reading!
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, pursuant to the Notice to the Profession, the courts are presently restricted to hearing mainly urgent matters. For civil and commercial matters, this includes “urgent and time-sensitive motions and applications in civil and commercial list matters, where immediate and significant financial repercussions may result if there is no judicial hearing.” There is also a broad ability for the court to hear any other matter that it deems necessary and appropriate to be heard on an urgent basis, but these matters will be strictly limited.
In a recent decision, Weidenfeld v Parikh-Shah, 2020 ONSC 2401, the court considered two urgent motions brought by the plaintiff and the defendants, respectively. The defendants sought to have monies that had been paid into court several years ago, paid out from court. The plaintiff sought, among other things, an order prohibiting the payment out of the monies. The decision did not provide details of the background of the litigation between the parties.
The court stated that the parties’ first step is to establish that their respective motions are, in fact, urgent. The court provided some guidance as to what is needed in this regard:
“The obligation is on the moving party to provide cogent, particular and specific evidence to show the court that the relief requested is urgent. Speculative, supposition or theoretical evidence is not good enough. The present environment and limited use of judicial resources mandate that the urgency must be real and immediate.”
Unfortunately for the parties in this case, the court found that their affidavit evidence did not provide cogent evidence to satisfy the court that the relief sought was urgent. The reason for which the defendants had brought the motion seeking to have money paid out of court was not set out in the decision.
The court did consider the category of urgent matters where “immediate and significant financial repercussions may result”, and specifically mentioned (a) matters that may put a person in financial jeopardy; (b) the funding of a business, business venture or construction project, failing which the financial viability of the project is in jeopardy; and (c) the necessity of a person to have resources to pay expenses or an order for the health and safety of a person; as issues that would meet the test of “immediate and significant financial repercussions”.
In the current circumstances, we are continually adjusting to new ways of doing things. This includes bringing court proceedings. Based on the Weidenfeld v Parikh-Shah decision, it is clear that parties will need to provide clear and sufficient evidence to satisfy the court as to the urgency of the matter in order for the court to hear the proceeding while court operations are restricted.
Thanks for reading,
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As we know, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario has passed emergency legislation allowing for Wills and powers of attorney to be executed and witnessed virtually, and in counterparts. This legislation will remain in effect for the duration of the declared emergency. Although Premier Doug Ford recently announced a plan for reopening Ontario, the timeline for doing so is still vague, and it’s unclear when the emergency will be declared to be at an end. Once the emergency is over, the normal rules for execution of Wills and powers of attorney, as set out in the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26, and the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 30, will once again govern how such documents may be validly executed.
Before coronavirus became such a pressing concern, there was some discussion in the United States, of allowing Wills executed electronically to be considered valid testamentary documents. According to this article in The New York Times, entitled “A Will Without Ink and Paper”, at the time the article was published in October 2019, some states already had laws to allow e-signatures on Wills, and others were looking to adopt similar laws this year.
In the US, the Uniform Law Commission has proposed the Uniform Electronic Wills Act, which is intended to serve as a model for states who wish to enact such legislation. The law would allow testators to complete the entire Will-making and execution process online, without a lawyer or notary present. There are already online services, currently serving states that already have laws allowing electronic Wills, which provide a platform for the creation of these digital Wills.
According to The New York Times article, the process of creating an electronic Will involves a testator creating a Will online, and then having a video-conference call with a notary. The notary will review the document, ask questions of the testator, notarize it, and send it back.
Although the concept of electronic Wills seems convenient, the costs may ultimately outweigh the benefits. As one lawyer quoted in the article states, signing a Will “is not like getting toilet paper delivered by Amazon instead of going to a supermarket…This is a solemn thing that people don’t do every day.” The “inconvenience” of consulting a lawyer, having a Will professionally drafted, and executed in the traditional way, will likely be worth the trouble for most testators, particularly when you consider that this is not a task that needs to be done repeatedly, at frequent intervals (like going to the grocery store to buy toilet paper).
The article mentions a number of points as to why electronic Wills may not be such a great idea. Without a lawyer’s involvement, there is a heightened risk for undue influence to go undetected. Testators with significant assets that may be structured in complicated ways, or who have unique family situations, such as a blended family, are not likely to be well-served by the creation (let alone the execution) of a Will online, without estate planning advice from a lawyer.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and it is helpful to have alternate methods of executing Wills and powers of attorney in these unprecedented times. But when life goes back to normal, I think we can be comfortable with the return to the “old-fashioned” way of executing Wills and powers of attorney. Although some may consider the process to be cumbersome, the added protection for testators, and the comfort of an estate plan that takes into account each testator’s unique situation, is worth the price.
Thanks for reading,
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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,
The way that we practice law has shifted rapidly over these past couple of weeks as we social distance ourselves. This includes the adoption of electronic means of communication such as video conferencing for things that would have seemed impossible only a couple of weeks ago such as the witnessing of Wills or the commissioning of affidavits. There has also been a significant expansion of the courts hearing matters virtually, with the court currently hearing urgent matters virtually through the use of video conferencing or conference calls with the scope of what is being heard appearing to be expanded.
Although, generally speaking, I believe that most legal practitioners would likely be in agreement that the court and/or the various administrative bodies have responded fairly quickly to implementing new electronic methods and means of practicing law under trying times, this does not necessarily mean that the shift to the more virtual form of practicing law is not without its hiccups or concerns.
One of the areas that may need further consideration is the application of the “open court” principle if hearings are to shift to being heard virtually. It is generally accepted that a fundamental principle of our justice system is that the courts are open to being attended by anyone in the general public, with the court only restricting the general public’s access to attend and/or review a matter under very limited circumstances. As matters shift to being heard virtually, with a potential attendee to a video and/or telephone conference likely needing an access code to attend the matter, is there the risk that the “open court” principle could be impacted?
The Toronto Star recently reported about the steps and efforts that they were having to take to still be provided with electronic access to matters before the court during the pandemic. Although the article notes that they were having difficulty being provided with access for certain matters, it noted that they had been successful in obtaining electronic access to matters in others. Hopefully as time progresses any issues are able to be worked out.
One unknown element is whether any of these changes will become permanent after the pandemic has subsided. If elements such as virtual hearings should become more permanent steps will likely need to be taken to ensure that as part of the more permanent shift to virtual and electronic hearings that the “open court” principle is not lost.
Thank you for reading and stay safe and healthy.