There are constantly new studies suggesting different ways to slow both physical and mental aging. This month alone, the news has featured research suggesting the following:
- Aging with pets in place can increase life satisfaction overall, and research suggests that pets may be associated not only with less loneliness, stronger social support systems, and increased participation in the community, but also better cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.
- A study from the University of Leeds suggests that tickling may slow down aging. The study involved the use of electrodes on the participants’ ears to simulate a tickle-like tingling sensation. Two weeks of 15-minute daily tickling therapy were believed to improve the balance of the autonomic nervous system.
- People who are optimistic may live longer. For groups of both women and men, those who were optimistic long-term had a better chance of living to age 85 (and beyond). Optimism has been linked with goal-setting and healthier habits and, accordingly, fewer optimistic people are believe to die prematurely from stroke, heart disease, or cancer.
- Consistent with previous research, a new study by the University of Iowa has linked exercise to a healthy aging brain. Even a single bout of exercise was considered to improve cognitive function and working memory in older participants.
While there may be nothing to prevent aging altogether and/or to totally eliminate the risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or other age-related cognitive decline (absent any major scientific breakthrough), in general, taking health and wellness more seriously from an earlier age may improve quality of life and independence down the road.
Thank you for reading.
Other blog posts that may be of interest:
I recently came across this article on the Financial Times Adviser discussing estate litigation in the UK in general, and, in particular, a situation relating to the estate of Tracey Leaning. I thought the article was interesting as it touched upon a couple of topics that raised some thought-provoking points for me.
To briefly summarize, Ms. Leaning died in 2015 leaving a Will which provided that her entire estate was to be transferred to her partner, Richard, on the condition that he look after her three dogs. However, she had also made a prior Will leaving her entire estate to four charities. Somehow, the charities learned that, while they had previously been included as beneficiaries of Ms. Leaning’s estate, her last Will did not gift anything to them. They wrote to Richard to advise him that they intended to challenge the later Will. According to the article, it is not clear whether any proceedings have yet been commenced by the charities.
The first thing I wanted to touch on was the “pet trust” aspect of this situation. This topic was recently discussed in a paper by Jenny Pho of Dale & Lessmann LLP for the Law Society of Upper Canada’s Practice Gems: Probate Essentials program on September 29, 2017. The arrangement made by Ms. Leaning appears to be in the form of a cash legacy to a pet guardian, namely Richard, together with the condition precedent that Richard take care of her dogs. Generally this option for leaving money for the care of one’s pets would only be recommended if the testator trusts the chosen pet guardian to properly care for the pets, as once the funds have been bequeathed to the pet guardian, the testator loses control over how the funds can be used.
In this particular situation, Ms. Leaning not only left a specific legacy to Richard, but rather her entire estate. It is likely that, in doing so, she did not intend that her entire estate be used solely for the care of her dogs, but rather, she put her trust in Richard to care for the dogs generally, using funds from her estate as needed. According to the article, Ms. Leaning’s later Will had been prepared by Ms. Leaning herself, without seeking legal advice. However, had she not had a trusted individual to care for the dogs, the pet trust arrangements would likely have been much more complicated, and may have required legal advice in order to properly implement.
Secondly, I also found one of the alleged bases for the charities’ challenge to Ms. Leaning’s will interesting. As noted above, Ms. Leaning had allegedly prepared her later Will herself, without seeking legal advice. Additionally, the signature page of the Will, which had been stapled to the remaining pages, had apparently become detached, leading to questions as to whether there had been any additional pages that were missing at the time of Ms. Leaning’s death. If such a situation arose in Ontario, it’s not clear what the ultimate outcome would be. If the court could not determine how the Will should be interpreted based on the available pages of the Will itself, it could also consider indirect extrinsic circumstances that were known to the testator at the time the Will was made. However, as it is ultimately a question of interpretation, it would likely be up to the court to decide whether, taking all the facts into consideration, it is satisfied that the Will is complete and should govern the distribution of Ms. Leaning’s estate.
Had Ms. Leaning sought legal advice and assistance with respect to the preparation of her Will, this question would likely have been avoided by the standard use of simple page numbering to indicate that all pages are present and accounted for.
Thanks for reading,
Other blog posts that you may enjoy:
During a recent drive, I tuned into an episode of CBC Radio’s Tapestry, an interesting program that focuses on issues of faith, spirituality and religion. This particular episode featured stories and interviews on the subject of ashes and cremation. As an estate litigator, a profession that is intrinsically linked to death and dying, the episode grabbed my attention.
Of particular interest was a segment called “Ashes Through the Ages.” This portion of the show was comprised of an interview with Professor Douglas Davies of the University of Durham in England. Professor Davies is an authority on the history, theology and sociology of death and co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Cremation.
The interview deals mostly with the cultural history of cremation, a practice that goes back to ancient times and one that differs immensely across cultures and geographic locations. In India for instance, cremations are often very public outdoor rituals. In the West however, cremations are extremely private affairs. The body is burnt indoors in a private facility and the ashes are provided to loved ones so that they may perform a variety of personal rites and rituals.
In our society, ashes are usually either kept in an urn in a surviving loved one’s home or scattered in a place that holds some personal significance to the deceased. I’ve heard many touching stories of ashes being scattered in places such as a body of water where the person who has passed liked to fish, a golf course where they spent many hours playing golf, or simply a park where they liked to sit and enjoy nature.
Professor Davies mentioned one particular cremation practice I had never heard of before: turning a loved one’s ashes into gemstones. Because ashes are essentially carbon, they can be compressed into gemstones and turned into jewelry for a surviving loved one to wear as a reminder of or physical link to the deceased.
While you might think that this is a new idea, Professor Davies pointed out that people have been putting deceased loved ones’ locks of hair into lockets worn as necklaces for centuries. In my mind, this is merely a more modern and technologically advanced version of that practice. It’s also much more expensive. These “memorial diamonds” can range from $3,500 – $20,000 depending on the desired size of stone. Also, for animal-lovers, they can be made from a beloved pet’s ashes as well.
To my surprise, when I mentioned to a colleague that I had just heard about this practice, he informed me that his mother had in fact requested that her ashes be made into a “memorial diamond” upon her passing. She likes the idea of her ashes being turned into a shiny diamond as opposed being in an urn or in nature.
While I don’t see this practice becoming as commonplace as other cremation rituals, it is an option that some might want to consider when planning for their deaths. If you do find yourself wearing a ring made from a loved one however, make sure to be extra, extra careful around sinks and toilets.
A recent US article, Curiosity Saved The Cat: Judge Blocks Execution of Feline, caught my attention as it dealt with a testator who loved animals so much, that she not only bequeathed all of her $1.3 million estate to animal charities, but also included a clause that her cat, Boots, was to be euthanized. It turns out that the testator left this provision on the basis that “[the testator] was so afraid that if something happened to her that the cat would not be taken care of and she’d go to another abusive home…”.
Digging a little bit deeper, it turns out that judges closer to home have had to deal with similar types of issues. In the New Brunswick decision of Wishart Estate (Re),  N.B.J. No. 547; 46 E.T.R. 311, a case which should be read by any horse lover, Riordon J., was faced with a similar provision pertaining to the testator’s four horses: Barney; Bill; Jack; and King. In his Will, the testator included the following term:
“I DIRECT AND DECLARE that my Executors have my horses shot by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and then buried".
It turns out that the intention of the testator was also premised on the basis that he was afraid that his horses might fall into the hands of anyone who might abuse them. There was ample evidence to indicate that the testator loved his horses.
As judges must base their decision on the law, as opposed to their free will, the question of whether the above-noted testators’ wishes should be carried out is a question of public policy, a topic that has recently been blogged about here and here. Put rather succinctly, Riordon J. states, “[t]he term ‘public policy’ cannot be comprehensively defined in specific terms but the phrase ‘against public policy’ has been characterized as that which conflicts with the morals of the time and contravenes any established interest of society”.
Riordon J., went on to hold that, “[o]bviously public policy is a very general term, difficult to define and a determination of what is against public policy can of course be subjective. In my opinion, the destruction of four healthy animals for no useful purpose should not be upheld and should not be approved”. Animal lovers rejoice, both the clauses pertaining to the four horses, as well as those pertaining to Boots, were struck down.
What I find interesting about this judgment is not so much the decision to save the animals, but the recognition by Riordon J., of the subjective nature of public policy. Although many, I am sure, are happy that the animals were saved, it does raise questions as to how other animals would be viewed by the Courts if they were not deemed to be pets. Having a philosophy background, I always find it interesting to see how these subjective areas of law are grappled with by the Courts.
I would also like to note the link kindly provided to us by Lifeinsurancequotes.org, 7 Famous People With Controversial Wills, which may be of interest to our readers.
Would it occur to you if you had nearly 200 reptiles living with you, that you really should make a Will? Recently in Ontario, this issue slithered into the Courts.
The National Post this week reported the story of a Welland, Ontario man who died, as a result of an unexpected stroke, in May at the age of 52. Uniquely, he was survived by 200 exotic reptiles. Unfortunately, he did not leave a Will. Without a Will, there was no named executor for his estate and no directions with respect to the division of his assets or care of his exotic pets. This resulted in litigation, which only recently settled.
If you die without a Will, you are considered to have died "intestate." Simply put, this means that statutory provisions decide how your assets will be divided. Any intentions you may have had for your assets, which technically include any animals you own, are not factored into the statutory distribution scheme.
In Ontario, if a person dies intestate, Part II of the Succession Law Reform Act governs who is entitled to their estate. As regular readers of our blog know, the order in which relatives of a deceased are entitled to inherit in an intestacy is, as follows:
- If there is a spouse (defined as a married spouse only) and no children, the spouse takes all.
- If there is a spouse and any children, the spouse gets the first $200,000.00 (the preferential share) of the estate. If there is only one child, the balance of the residue is divided between the spouse and the child equally. If there is more than one child, the spouse gets one-third of the balance of the residue and the children share the other two-thirds equally.
- If there is no spouse, the estate goes to the children equally.
- If there are no children, the estate goes to the deceased’s parents equally.
- If there no surviving parents, the estate goes to the deceased’s siblings equally; if a sibling has predeceased, that sibling’s share goes to his or her children.
- If there are no siblings, the estate goes to the deceased’s nephews and nieces equally.
- If there are no nephews or nieces, it goes to the next of kin of equal degree of consanguinity – in some cases, distant relatives who may have had no relationship with the deceased can end up inheriting.
- If there are no next of kin, the estate escheats to the Crown.
Having a thoughtfully considered and up-to-date Will is necessary not only to ensure that your intended beneficiaries share in your estate in a manner that it is appropriate and reflects your wishes, but also to ensure that your menagerie, should you have one, is provided for too.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy the weekend,
My blog posts this week have been inspired by a Globe and Mail article that a summer student handed to me about the late Gail Posner’s trust provisions for her dogs, Conchita, April Maria and Lucia.
In yesterday’s blog I noted that while Wills are an opportunity for individuals to provide for their loved ones, there is no guarantee that our stated wishes for our beloved companion animals will be sacrosanct. For example, the late Leona Helmsley’s $12-million trust for her dog Trouble was reduced to $2-million by a Manhattan Judge on the ground that the deceased lacked capacity with regard to her Will and the Trust Agreement.
In the Globe and Mail article that inspired my posts this week, Barry Seltzer noted that Canadian legislatures may wish to consider “ante-mortem” probate as a way to ensure capacity does not become an issue in these cases. Ante-mortem probate is a technique used in certain states, including Arkansas, North Dakota, and Ohio, to validate a will while the person is still alive so that it cannot be contested once the person passes away.
In some cases, the wishes of a testator regarding his pets are contrary to public policy and, thus, are held to be void. For example, some pet owners have included clauses in their wills directing that their pets be euthanized upon their death (perhaps because they feel that their animals will be distraught without them).
In one such case a testator (Mr. Clive Wishart) directed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (“RCMP”) shoot four of his horses. The RCMP refused and the matter was brought to a New Brunswick Court where it was held that the direction to shoot “four healthy animals” was contrary to public policy because doing so would serve “no useful purpose” and “would be a waste of resources and estate assets even if carried out humanely.”
For those of you interested in reviewing the case, the citation is: Wishart Estate (Re),  N.B.J. No. 547.
Thank you for reading!
Kathryn Pilkington – Click here for more information on Kathryn Pilkington.
There has been a great deal of discussion about the late Leona Helmsley who, when she died, left 12 million dollars in Trust for her beloved Maltese Trouble, while leaving nothing to 2 of her grandchildren for “reasons that are known to them.”
Well it’s happened again…another estate is going to the dogs! Our summer student forwarded me a Globe and Mail article discussing the provisions that the late heiress Gail Posner made for the benefit of her fabulously famous Chihuahua Conchita and her 2 other dogs, April Maria and Lucia. These pampered pooches are to receive an $8.3 million mansion and a $3-million trust fund under her estate while the deceased’s only son, Bret Carr, takes a meagre $1-million in comparison.
According to the terms of a Trust Agreement (amended by the late heiress in 2008), so long as she had dogs at the time of her death, the trustees:
1. are to retain the mansion property (located in Miami Beach) plus a sum of money not more than $3-million to cover the carrying costs of the mansion.
2. shall pay $5-million to Elizabeth Beckford to care for Conchita, April Maria, and Lucia. I note that the deceased provided that they are to be cared for with “the same degree of care” they received while Posner was alive (which, I suppose, will mean the continuance of their weekly doggie spa appointments).
Upon the death of the dogs, the mansion is to be sold and the proceeds are to go to charity. The remainder of the estate (after certain specific bequests) goes to animal shelters, breast cancer prevention, and suicide-prevention centres.
Those are some lucky dogs (shhhhh – don’t tell my dogs, Digger and Nicky. They’re spoiled enough)
Thank you for reading!
Kathryn Pilkington – Click here for more information on Kathryn Pilkington.
The Superior Court of Justice (at Toronto) ruled Tuesday that the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche be appointed to monitor the finances of the Toronto Humane Society. In his ruling (which does not yet appear to have been put online), the Honourable Mr. Justice Brown also ordered that the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals retain the control and care of the pets currently housed at the Humane Society.
As some of you may recall, this past November the president of the Humane Society (who announced this week that he would resign) and four senior managers were arrested and charged with animal cruelty. In addition, the organization’s board of directors faces non-criminal charges. The matter is currently ongoing and no finding of guilt has been made against anyone involved.
Apparently, in his ruling Justice Brown raised particular concern about legal fees the organization had incurred for seemingly non-essential reasons, unpaid hydro bills, incomplete financial statements, a decline in the value of its investments, and the fact that it had refused to disclose particulars regarding the liability insurance it carried for its directors and officers.
For those interested in the decision, generally court decisions are available on the website Canlii within a week or so of their release.
In a statement, the Humane Society pledged to cooperate with the financial monitor and provide assistance in compiling the necessary financial information.
Next up, Deloitte & Touche will provide the court with a preliminary report regarding the Humane Society’s finances and the court will hear argument about whether the organization’s board of directors should be removed and whether The Public Guardian and Trustee should conduct a formal investigation.
Have a great day!
Megan F. Connolly
Megan F. Connolly – Click here for more information on Megan Connolly.
The Leona Hemsley’s estate saga continues.
Last month, three animal protection groups filed a petition requesting that the court appeal a previous decision that allowed the trustees of Helmsley’s estate sole discretion to determine how charitable trust funds would be distributed. Rick Bickhram’s previous blog provides a background to this decision.
The animal rights groups allege that Helmsley’s money is not being spent the way she intended and contrary to her expressed intentions to care for the welfare of dogs. The groups object that only $1 million of the $136 million paid out to charitable organizations this year went to organizations that assist with animal welfare. A New York Times article outlines some of the hurdles the animal rights groups face. We will see how this new development plays out.
Of course, Helmsley’s Will caught the media’s attention because she left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble. Yet, Trouble’s fortune seems small compared to Gunter III, a German Shepherd who was left $80 million by Karlotta Liebenstein, an Austrian countess. If you think that’s unusual, this blog post outlines these two dogs’ fortunes and some additional “interesting” Will bequests. Estate law is almost never boring.
Thanks for reading,
As, no doubt, everyone is aware, Wednesday was National Dog Day in the United States. In Atlanta, they celebrated the day with a special groundbreaking ceremony to mark the beginning of the construction of the latest addition to the Deceased Pet Care family.
For those who do not know, Deceased Pet Care operates funeral homes and crematories with the mission being to allow people to “celebrate, honour, remember, and cherish” their deceased pets.
Operating out of Georgia, Deceased Pet Care offers pet funeral home ceremonies, cremations, and the opportunity for the pet to be buried in one of the pet cemeteries the company owns. It also offers various funeral “accessories”, such as caskets and grave markers. For those who want to avoid the stress of grieving a pet while trying to plan the funeral, the company offers “pre-need planning” for those who wish to plan in advance.
The extent of the services the company offers is really quite impressive and its website is easily as sophisticated, if not more so, than many of the more traditional funeral homes (i.e. those who offer services for dead people).
Although it might seem like the emphasis on pets (either through commemorating them or for providing for them in the estate planning process) is relatively recent, Deceased Pet Care has obviously been well ahead of the curve – it is a family run business which has been operating for thirty five years.
And this year, it surely should be proud – that funeral home they’ve just broken ground on in Atlanta will be the largest of its kind in the United States.
Have a great weekend!
Megan F. Connolly