Tag: Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act
Like many in the estates world, we have been closely following the evolvement of Bill 245, the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021. Initially introduced in February of 2021, Bill 245 significantly alters Ontario’s estate laws. Bill 245 was proposed by the government in an effort to modernize an outdated system – a proposal that was welcomed by those in the estates community. The Estates Bar welcomes these developments and commends the Attorney General’s office for taking these significant steps in updating our legislation to better reflect the realities of life in the 2020s.
On April 19, 2021, Bill 245 received royal assent. The changes to Ontario’s estate laws are enumerated in Schedule 9 of Bill 245 and include the following:
- The Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) is amended to provide for the remote witnessing of wills through the means of audio-visual communication technology for wills made on and after April 7, 2020. The execution of a will in counterparts will now be permitted.
- Section 16 of the SLRA, which provides for the revocation of a will upon marriage, except in specific circumstances, is repealed.
- Subsection 17(2) of the SLRA is amended to include separated spouses. As such, any gift bequeathed to a spouse will be revoked upon separation.
- Section 21.1 is added to the SLRA and provides the Superior Court of Justice with the authority to, on application, make an order validating a document or writing that was not properly executed or made under the Act, if the Court is satisfied that the document or writing sets out the testamentary intentions of a deceased or an intention of a deceased to revoke, alter, or revive a will of the deceased.
- Section 43.1 is added to the SLRA to exclude separated spouses from inheriting on an intestacy.
Bill 245 does not, however, affect the rights of common-law spouses.
The repeal of the provision under the SLRA with respect to the automatic revocation of any pre-existing wills by marriage is an important first step in protecting vulnerable older Ontarians from predatory marriage scenarios. Similarly, the updated rights of separated spouses will, in most cases, result in a more appropriate treatment of separated spouses who do not take the step of obtaining a formal divorce.
The new will validation provision to be added to the SLRA will provide the courts with a mechanism to allow the intentions of individuals who may not be aware of the formal requirements for a valid will to be honoured. In the past, we have seen technicalities prevent what was clearly intended to be a will from functioning as one from a legal perspective.
These changes also have the potential to improve access to justice. In particular, the permanence of virtual witnessing provisions for both wills and powers of attorney has the potential to increase access to justice while preserving necessary safeguards in the will execution process. The emergency measures introduced during the pandemic will allow Ontarians improved access to legal assistance in their estate planning, regardless of where in the province they may be located.
The amendments relating to the remote witnessing of wills and counterpart execution are currently in effect. The remaining legislative amendments will not come into force until a day proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor, which will not be earlier than January 1, 2022.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph
In the Estate of Oliver (Re Oliver Estate, 2021 ONSC 2751) decision on April 12, 2021, the applicant, who was treated as a stepdaughter by the deceased, had her motion seeking appointment as Estate Trustee dismissed. William Oliver died intestate on July 14, 2020, and had no spouse, children, parents, siblings, nieces or nephews survive him. The applicant was the daughter of the person with whom the deceased cohabited in a common-law relationship in the 1980s and she had remained close to him, even being appointed attorney for him on a TD bank account in 2017.
Justice Macleod found that the daughter of a partner with whom the deceased co-habited, does not fall within any class of person recognized as an heir on an intestacy pursuant to the Succession Law Reform Act, RSO 1990 and Letters of Administration could not be issued under the Act. It was possible to make an order appointing the applicant as administrator of the property of the deceased under s. 29 (3) of the Estates Act, RSO 1990. Instead however, the court referred the matter to the Public Guardian and Trustee to investigate. Such investigative authority can be found in the Crown Administration of Estates Act, RSO 1990 where the “Public Guardian and Trustee is authorized to, (a) identify and locate, (i) persons who may have an interest in the estate, and (ii) other persons, but only for the purpose of locating persons who may have an interest in the estate; and (b) identify the estate’s assets.”
The court can refer a matter to, but cannot order the Public Guardian and Trustee to be appointed as a result of the provisions of Public Guardian and Trustee Act RSO 1990, where, “The Public Guardian and Trustee shall not be appointed as a trustee, by a court or otherwise, without his or her consent in writing”. Given staffing issues and limited resources as well as pandemic restrictions it is perhaps not entirely moot to ask what happens to the estate if the Public Guardian and Trustee does not consent to be appointed Trustee in a case like this.
Thanks for reading.
There are some important milestones in life when it is imperative for a person to update their will. A later-in-life second marriage certainly is one of them.
If your first marriage ended in divorce, the provisions in your will that refer to your spouse are automatically revoked, as provided by s. 17(2) of the Succession Law Reform Act. Your former spouse will no longer be your executor or trustee or even a beneficiary of your estate unless there is an explicit reference in your will to this.
Keep in mind the same is not true for beneficiary designations relating to assets, such as RRSPs, RRIFs, life insurance policies and pensions. Those will still flow to the individual named in those plans unless you take steps to name new beneficiaries.
If you are separated but not divorced, your will remains entirely valid upon death, in the absence of a separation agreement delineating a married spouse’s entitlement. Therefore, any bequests previously made by a spouse to a surviving spouse remain valid. This situation is not ideal either, since you want to avoid having assets flowing to a person when you are no longer involved with them.
A complicating factor with later-in-life marriages is that they can bring together children from previous relationships. From an estate-planning perspective, this can create complexities.
Perhaps the children from a first relationship resent a step-parent and feel that their step-siblings are now unfairly in line for the estate. Conversely, a step-parent may welcome a spouse’s child as their own or the couple may have a child of their own or adopt one. Where does that leave the other children from previous marriages from an estate distribution perspective?
Aside from the financial implications of having your family members squabble over your estate, there is an emotional component to consider. Children may feel slighted if they do not inherit what they consider to be their fair portion of the estate, even if the intention is that the surviving spouse, in turn, leaves assets to the children upon their death. This approach leaves room for uncertainty, which is the last thing you want to create when drawing up an estate plan.
A common practice for estate planning when it comes to second marriages is to provide a “life estate” to the surviving spouse and a “gift over” to the testator’s children. If the father were to die in this scenario, the matrimonial home and all of his money would be held in trust for his widow for life. She could then make use of these assets but would not have the right to gift them to beneficiaries of her own estate, as the assets would be given to his children upon her death.
Almost any blended-family situation creates tension that can explode into estate litigation if the will is not carefully drafted to address the family’s circumstances. It is important to be clear about your wishes with the lawyer revising your estate plan, taking into account how everyone in your blended family will react to the arrangement.
To sum up, it is crucial to seek the advice of legal counsel about wills before entering into a late-life marriage. Those that do will discover estate planning will be much different than with a first marriage when they had fewer assets and beneficiaries.
Thanks for reading … have a great day,
Some Solace for Surviving Married Spouses: Ontario Increases “Preferential Share” to Spouse on Intestacy
Ontario has increased the preferential share payable to a spouse on intestacy from $200,000 to $350,000.
A recent amendment to the regulations under the Succession Law Reform Act prescribes the preferential share as being $350,000 for the estate of a person who died on or after March 1, 2021. The preferential share remains at $200,000 for estates of a person who died before March 1, 2021.
The last change to the value of the preferential share was in 1995, when it was increased from $75,000 to $200,000.
Under the Succession Law Reform Act, where a person dies without a will, but with a “spouse” and children, the spouse is entitled to the “preferential share”, and ½ of the balance of the estate if there is one child, or 1/3 of the balance if there is more than one child.
The provision applies to married spouses only, including married but separated spouses. However, other recent proposed amendments to the Succession Law Reform Act may change this. The proposed legislation provides that the intestacy rules that provide for a spouse do NOT apply if “the spouses are separated at the time of the person’s death”. “Separated” is defined as meaning either (i) they lived separate and apart for three years as a result of the breakdown of their marriage; (ii) they entered into an agreement that is a valid separation agreement; (iii) a court made an order settling their affairs arising from the breakdown of the marriage or (iv) a family arbitration award was made settling their affairs. Further, there must have been no reconciliation: they must have been living separate and apart as a result of the breakdown at the time of death.
Cue the litigation.
On October 30, 2020, I blogged on the preferential share. In that blog, I asked whether it was time to reconsider the value of the preferential share. It looks like the time has come.
Have a great weekend.
We have previously blogged on the discussion between Ontario Attorney General, Doug Downey, and the Estates Bar regarding legal policy reform. This discussion occurred on August 6, 2020, and was facilitated by the Ontario Bar Association. Our post focused on virtual witnessing of wills as a result of Covid-19 and considered the possibility of making this provision more permanent.
The focal point of today’s post will be s. 16 of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act and whether it should be repealed.
Section 16 provides for the revocation of a will upon marriage. At the August 2020 meeting, many participants were in favour of repealing this provision. Both British Columbia and Alberta have already amended their legislation to repeal this exact provision. Proponents of legislative change associate this provision with the rise in predatory marriages. The devastating consequences resulting from a predatory marriage generally impact the vulnerable elderly and their heirs.
The rationale underlying the provision’s enactment dates back hundreds of years to a time where the father of the bride was required to pay a dowry to the groom. Revocation of a prior will was required in order to protect the bride from any previous obligations laid out in the groom’s will and to ensure a “clean slate.” There are concerns by some that a new spouse might not be protected if a prior will remains valid after marriage. For example, if a valid will is upheld at marriage, a current spouse might not inherit if he/she is not included in that will.
Section 16 is debatably antiquated and historically redundant as there are now additional statutes in place to protect a new spouse in the event of a death, including the Family Law Act. Furthermore, s. 58 of the Succession Law Reform Act allows a spouse of a deceased to claim appropriate and adequate support as a dependant. It is apparent that revoking a will upon marriage is not the only protection available for a subsequent spouse.
With the demographics in our society rapidly changing and the obvious need to protect those most vulnerable, now is as good a time as ever to reconsider the necessity of s. 16.
Thanks for reading!
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph
On November 25, 2020, the beautiful game lost one of its greatest legends, Diego Maradona. The famous Argentine footballer passed away at the young age of 60 years old, leaving behind millions of admirers around the world to mourn his death.
Maradona also left behind many children. In addition to his eight recognized children, there are supposedly at least two others claiming to be his offspring. The net worth of Maradona’s estate remains to be determined, as does the question of whether he made a Will. Nevertheless, should any opportunistic long-lost children succeed in proving paternity, they may have a claim to a share of Maradona’s estate.
In Ontario, a long-lost child could likewise benefit from their parent’s estate. A child has a statutory entitlement to a share of their parent’s estate where the parent dies without a Will. Pursuant to Part II of the Succession law Reform Act, those who have a right to inherit on an intestacy include the surviving spouse and the “issue”, or descendants, of the deceased.  The courts have confirmed that for the purposes of intestate succession, descendants are restricted to blood relatives (with the exception of adopted children, who have the same rights as a biological child). Thus, any purported child seeking an interest in an intestate estate must prove that they are the biological child of the deceased. If an illegitimate child can establish parentage, then they are entitled to share equally in an intestate estate with those born inside of marriage.
In the case of a testate estate, an alleged child of a deceased person may have a right to any bequest made in the deceased’s Will that is based on parentage. For example, a Will may provide for a gift to the testator’s “issue” or “children”. Unless a contrary intention is included in the Will, any person born outside of marriage who successfully proves parentage could be considered a part of the class of “children” or “issue” entitled to the gift.
Those purporting to be a child of the deceased can prove their familial relationship by presenting documentation like an Ontario Birth Certificate from a Vital Statistics Agency. If this documentation is not available or further evidence of kinship is requested by the estate trustee, DNA testing can also be used. Courts have recognized DNA testing as a reliable, efficient, and effective method of establishing parenthood in probate matters. Section 17.2 of the Children’s Law Reform Act and section 105(2) of the Courts of Justice Act grant Ontario courts the jurisdiction to order DNA testing to assist in determining a person’s parentage.
Thanks for reading!
 Joshua Nevett. Maradona: Why the football icon’s inheritance could be messy (December 6, 2020), online: BBC News <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-55173630>
 Peters Estate (Re), 2015 ABQB 168 (CanLII), <http://canlii.ca/t/ggmgg>; Child, Youth and Family Services Act 2017, S.O. 2017, c. 14, Sched. 1, s. 217 <https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/17c14#BK297>
 Children’s Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.12, s. 17.2 <https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90c12#BK23>; Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43, s.105(2) <https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90c43#BK146>
In Ontario, if a person dies without a will, the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”) dictates how the person’s estate is to be distributed. Part II of the SLRA provides that if the person dies with a married spouse, that spouse receives a share of the estate. If there are no children, the spouse receives the estate outright. If the deceased has children, may be entitled to receive a share of the estate. If there is only one child, the spouse receives the “preferential share”, and half of any estate in excess of the preferential share goes to the spouse and the other half goes to the child (or the child’s issue, if the child has predeceased). If there is more than one child, the spouse gets the preferential share and one-third of the excess and the other children share the remaining two-thirds. Again, if a child has predeceased the deceased, the child’s issue enjoys that child’s share.
Things get a little more complicated where there is a partial intestacy. If the spouse receives assets under the will, the spouse’s preferential share is reduced by the value of the property received under the will.
Note that the intestate provisions pertaining to spouses in Ontario apply to married spouses only. Common-law spouses are not entitled to a share of the estate on an intestacy. However, they may be entitled to dependant support under Part V of the SLRA.
In Ontario, the value of the preferential share is not referred to in the SLRA. The value of the share is set by regulation: O. Reg 54/95. Since 1995, the value of the preferential share has been $200,000.
British Columbia intestacy legislation is somewhat different. The relevant legislation is the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, SBC 2009, c 13.
Firstly, in B.C., a spouse is defined as including a married spouse AND a person with whom the deceased lived in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years immediately before the death.
Secondly, in B.C., there are different calculations of the “preferential share”. If all of the children are children of BOTH the deceased and the surviving spouse, then the preferential share is $300,000. If all of the children are NOT “common” to the deceased and the surviving spouse, then the preferential share is only $150,000.
Thirdly, in addition to the preferential share, the surviving spouse is entitled to the “household furnishings”, which is defined as being the “personal property usually associated with the enjoyment by the spouses of the spousal home”. In Ontario, the value of the preferential share presumably includes the value of any household furnishings.
Fourthly, the B.C. legislation provides that if the estate is greater than the preferential share, then the surviving spouse gets half, and the deceased’s descendants get the other half, regardless of how many children there are.
Fifthly, the WESA provides for situations where there are more than one “spouse’. In such a case, the surviving spouses are to share the preferential share in the portion to which they agree, or failing agreement, as may be determined by the court. The WESA does not appear to give any guidance as to how that determination is to be made.
If you are short of things to think about this weekend, consider:
- Whether it is time to reconsider the value of the preferential share?
- Whether it makes sense to allow the spouse to have the household furnishings in addition to the preferential share. This personal property usually has nominal resale value, is difficult to evaluate, and often has sentimental or practical value to the surviving spouse.
- Whether Ontario should adopt a definition of “spouse” that includes common-law spouses for intestacy purposes, or whether resort to dependant support provides sufficient protection for common-law spouses?
- Whether the fact that the surviving children of the deceased are also the surviving children of the surviving spouse should impact on the value of the preferential share, as it does in B.C.?
- Whether the percentage of the estate in excess of the preferential share that the surviving spouse gets should vary depending on how many children the deceased had (that is, 50% if only one child, but only 33% if more than one child)?
Thank you for reading. Have a great weekend.
Few histories are as rich and riveting as the history of Ancient Rome, from the uncertain rise of the Roman Republic to the terrible civil wars that brought its ruin, and from the mad reigns of all-powerful Caesars to the eventual collapse of the Roman Empire, owing, generally, to invasions from without and corruption from within. Its history also shows us many of the roots of our legal traditions, including – as will be the focus of this blog – some precursors to modern-day estates law.
“It was customary with the Romans of that age, when they were moving into battle array, and were on the point of taking up their bucklers, and girding their coats about them, to make at the same time an unwritten will, or verbal testament, and to name who should be their heirs, in the hearing of three or four witnesses.”
Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act only requires two witnesses for proper execution of a will (section 4), although soldiers on active service may proceed by writing their wills without witnesses (section 5).
In Ontario, we have instruments at our disposal to prevent or reverse dispositions tainted by incapacity. One may challenge an incapable testator’s will, or one may pre-empt abuse or needless loss with a guardianship application. In Ancient Rome, similarly, those individuals who attempted to give away everything they possessed (what we might call a “spendthrift” the Romans called a “prodigus”) were dealt with as though they suffered from a distemper of the mind.
Under Augustus – of whom it was justly said that he “made a desert and called it peace” – an inheritance tax of 5% was introduced (with some restrictions, such as that it applied only to well-off individuals). A little over a century later, the Emperor Severus increased this inheritance imposition to 10%. While these figures may seem high (or not high enough, depending on where you stand), they may be much lower than inheritance taxes elsewhere, such as in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Japan and South Korea. In Ontario we do not have an inheritance tax, but there are inheritance-like taxes, like capital gains taxes and probate taxes.
There is a marked difference between Ancient Rome and our common law system with respect to gifting between spouses. Unlike modern Ontario, wherein couples often use joint tenancy as a tax-saving estates planning strategy, Roman spouses were prohibited from gifting to one another. While the rationale for this law is moot, it was likely intended to keep apart the property of each spouse’s bloodline.
The Romans, as well as their civil-law descendants of today, operated under what has become known as “forced heirship”, whereby testators are legally required to give to their children. As a previous blog notes, in modern France, a parent with one child must give that child one-half of his or her property. In Rome, the historian Gibbon says that “if the father bequeathed to his son the fourth part of his estate, he removed all ground of legal complaint”. This is in stark contrast to the common law, in which testators may plan their estates with near-total freedom.
Thank you for reading and enjoy the rest of your day!
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Devin McMurtry
Recently, Stuart Clark blogged about the film Knives Out and its relation to estate law. Another popular movie, Murder Mystery, which aired on Netflix last year, also offered some thoughtful considerations for those interested in estate law. The film, starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, was the most popular title on Netflix in 2019. In its first three days on the streaming service, it was viewed by 30,869,863 accounts.
Just as Stuart gave a spoiler alert in his blog, this blog also contains spoilers.
In Murder Mystery, Nick Spitz and his wife, Audrey Spitz, embark on a trip to Europe. On the plane, Audrey meets billionaire Charles Cavendish, who invites them to join him on his family’s yacht for a party to celebrate Malcolm Quince’s (Charles’ elderly billionaire uncle’s) upcoming wedding to Charles’ former fiancée. While on the yacht, Malcolm announces that he will be changing his will to leave everything to his soon-to-be wife. After this surprise announcement, the lights suddenly go out, a scream is heard, and when the lights come back on, the guests are surprised to see that Malcolm has been killed. Nick and Audrey are framed for Malcolm’s death. To prove their innocence, they must find Malcolm’s real killer.
Throughout the movie, French inheritance law is heavily emphasized. As summarized by Nick in the film: “The French law states that a man’s estate must be divided equally amongst his children.” This type of estate plan is referred to as a “forced heirship.” France’s succession law is based on the Napoleonic Code introduced in the 1800s. Under France’s succession law, children are reserved a certain portion of their parents’ estate. If a parent has one child, at least one-half of the estate must be reserved for them. If a parent has two children, at least two-thirds of the estate must be reserved for them and if a parent has three or more children, at least three-quarters of the estate must be reserved for them.
Those who have watched the film may find themselves wondering if the succession laws in Ontario are similar to that of France. Unlike French inheritance law, in Ontario, a testator does not have an obligation to leave a share of their estate to an adult, independent child. Under subsection 58(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”), a testator is only under an obligation to provide support for their “dependants”.
According to subsection 57(1) of the SLRA, a “dependant” includes the deceased’s spouse, parent, child, brother or sister “to whom the deceased was providing support or was under a legal obligation to provide support immediately before his or her death.” Therefore, if a testator was not under a legal obligation to provide for an adult child, that child may not have an entitlement to share in their parent’s estate.
Just something to think about the next time you watch the film.
Thanks for reading!
Ian Hull and Celine Dookie
Most people know that if a person dies without a Will, the laws of intestacy govern the division of his or her estate. Specifically, it is Part II of the Succession Law Reform Act, RSO 1990, c S.26 (the “SLRA“) that is titled “Intestate Succession” that comes into play.
The question of who inherits where there is no Will is easily answered in some of the following scenarios:
- Where there is a surviving spouse (limited to married spouses, by the way), said spouse is entitled to the entirety of the property of the deceased (section 45(1));
- Where there is a surviving spouse and one child, spouse receives a preferential share of the estate of the deceased (i.e. $200,000.00 as of today) and if anything is left over, it is divided equally between spouse and child (section 46(1));
- Where there is a surviving spouse and two or more children, the spouse is entitled to a preferential share of the estate of the deceased and 1/3 of what is left over. The remainder is then divided between the issue of the deceased (section 46(2)).
The SLRA further addresses how the division of assets is to take place where the only surviving relatives are parents, brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews (in respective order of preference). If the deceased has no surviving parents, brother/sisters or nieces/nephews, the next of kin provision (section 47(6)) applies.
Despite the fact that the SLRA attempts to bring clarity to the division of one’s intestate estate, it appears that certain situations may arise that would lead to confusion, absent case law that would provide some guidance.
In Farmer Estate v Karabin Estate, an executor of a niece who predeceased the deceased commenced an application in respect of her alleged share in the estate of the deceased. The Ontario Court of Appeal found that the SLRA is confined to nieces or nephews who do not predecease the deceased and does not extend to more remote issue. The Court of Appeal relied on section 47(4) of the SLRA which is worded as follows:
“Where a person dies intestate in respect of property and there is no surviving spouses, issue or parent, the property shall be distributed among the surviving brothers and sisters of the intestate equally, and if any brother or sister predeceases the intestate, the share of the deceased brother or sister shall be distributed among his or her children equally.” [emphasis added]
In interpreting this provision, the Court relied on the definitions of “child” and “issue” as defined in the SLRA, namely the definition of “child” includes a child conceived before and born alive after the parent’s death and the definition of “issue” includes a descendant conceived before and alive after the person’s death.
In another matter, Kiehn v Murdoch, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found that grandnieces and grandnephews are excluded from sharing in the estate of a deceased by operation of section 47(4).
Unfortunately in the circumstances where a particular scenario arises that has not been clearly addressed by the SLRA and subsequent case law, an application for directions may need to be commenced to receive some clarity from the Court as to how a particular intestate estate is to be divided.
Thanks for reading!
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