Tag: Rick

18 Jun

Smartphones and the Legal Profession

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There has been so much that has been recently written about the release of the iPad and more recently, the new iPhone 4G. Some may remember that an Apple Software Engineer who was working on the iPhone 4G accidentally forgot the Smartphone at a local bar, prior to its release date. Gizmodo, known as a leading technology weblog about consumer electronics, purchased the Smartphone from the finder and published exhaustive details about many of its new features, thereby stealing some of the thunder from the creators of the iPhone.

Smartphones are certainly the hottest thing going forward in social, business and technological circles, and its time for us to start thinking about the revolution it has had on our lives. 

Thanks to Smartphones, most lawyers are now mobile. I read an article in the most recent LawPRO magazine named “Essential Smartphone apps for Lawyers”. For those of us who are not familiar with technological jargon, an app is short for “application software”, which is downloaded to a Smartphone. Some essential apps described in this article were: “Documents To Go”, which, among other things, allows lawyers to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, and “Timr”, another app referred to in this article, allows a lawyer to track their time and mileage. 

Smartphones have certainly made life convenient, but as lawyers it is scary to think about the privacy issues associated with all of the personal and client data that we store on them. With just a push of a button or a poke at the touchscreen, pretty much anyone who got hold of your phone could read your email, see pictures of you, your family etc. Smartphone’s contain far more personal data than would ever have been accessible on older mobile phones, now coined as the “dumbphones”.

Most of our privacy concerns can be remedied, which is as simple as enabling your security passcode, thereby locking your phone so that anyone who steals it or finds it if you have misplaced it cannot gain access.

Thank you for reading and have GREAT weekend,

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.

17 Jun

The Need to Plan our Estates

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I recently read an article named “The Lessons of Famously Bad Estate Planning”, authored by Steven Morelli. This article looks at disasters that have followed celebrities because of the absence of a properly planned Will.

Jimi Hendrix died without a Will which started a family war that would end up in court for more than 30 years.

Sonny Bono, an American record producer, singer, actor, and politician, died without a Will. It is mind blowing that someone so successful would not have a carefully planned Will. Of course, numerous people lined up to advance claims against his estate, which included Cher, and the inevitable love child. Sonny could have saved his widow and everyone else involved a lot of grief and aggravation if he had taken the time to do some simple estate planning.

For those of us who have taken the time to prepare our Wills, Mr. Morelli reminds us of the importance of updating our Will. For instance, Anna Nicole Smith died with a Will; however, her Will contained a provision which specifically excluded “future children” from benefiting from her estate. This clause had the effect of leaving her entire estate to her now deceased son, and disinheriting her five month old daughter. A judge eventually fixed this estate mess, but it came at an unnecessary expense.

Mr. Morelli puts it perfectly: “The essence of estate planning: control. Whether it involves celebrities maintaining their image for all posterity, or wealthy land-owners keeping their families’ holdings intact, estate planning protects clients’ control. Quite often people don’t want to discuss estate planning because it involves their death. But clients should understand that it is essential to maintaining their family’s stability and dignity.”

Thank you for reading,

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.

16 Jun

The Valuation of Life Estates

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Recently, I was looking over some of the leading cases in life estates. One of the questions that stood out in my mind was whether or not a life estate has a quantifiable value.

Aho v. Kelly, was heard in British Columbia in 1998, but remains a leading Canadian case that is often referred to when the valuation of life estates are being considered.

In Aho v. Kelly the wife and two children of the deceased were each left a 1/3 interest in the matrimonial home of the deceased. The court confirmed that the wife of the Deceased also held a life interest in the same matrimonial home, as per the jurisprudence in British Columbia. The wife commenced an application seeking a court order that the property be sold and the proceeds be unequally divided amongst the three owners of the property.

The wife argued that the proceeds should be unequally divided because she was entitled to further compensation as she had to be paid out for her life interest.

The Court held that a life estate is a property interest that has “some value”. The Honourable Justice Bauman stated that at common law a life estate is alienable, and that upon its transfer to another party it becomes an “estate pur autre vie” (that other life being the original life tenant). The Court concluded that the life interest has a value capable of capitalization, and that this value should be paid out of the proceeds from the sale of the house.

Aho v. Kelly is not binding in Ontario, however it goes a very far way in establishing the framework by which the value of the life interest can be calculated.

Thank you for reading and have a great day,

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.

13 Apr

Dementia and the N.F.L.

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As an avid sports fan, I enjoy watching the physical nature of most sports. Recently, our media has reported on the severity of head injuries, which are caused by “head shots”, and the need to implement rules in professional sports to prevent catastrophic head injuries from happening.

Alan Schwarz, an author for the New York Times, recently wrote an article about a loophole in the California workers compensation system that allows retired professional athletes to file a claim for injuries sustained decades before, particularly retired N.F.L. players.  

Schwarz states, “Most states require workers’ compensation claims to be filed within one to five years of the injury; California’s statute of limitations does not begin until the employer formally advises the injured worker of his or her right to workers’ compensation.” Also, California’s workers compensation statutes “require a professional athlete to have played only one game of his or her career within state borders to file a full claim for cumulative injuries.” The logical policy reason behind this legislation is to protect outside workers who temporarily pass through the state, like truckers or flight attendants.

As you can imagine, this loophole has opened the flood gates for retired athletes to file their workers compensation claim. In fact Schwarz states that “about 700 former N.F.L. players are pursuing cases in California, according to state records, with most of them in line to receive routine lump-sum settlements of about $100,000 to $200,000.”

What makes Schwarz’s article interesting is the claim filed by Ralph Wenzel. Wenzel has filed a claim arguing that his dementia at 67 years of age is related to his career as an N.F.L. lineman between the years of 1966 to 1973. The theory of Wenzel’s case is that “hitting your head over and over on the football field causes certain conditions.” In fact, researchers at “at the University of North Carolina have recently linked pro football careers and concussions with heightened rates of depression, mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease.” 

As we continue to see a rise in those who are diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer’s, I think it will be interesting to see how the sporting industry reacts to this disease, particularly, the rules each professional league implements to eliminate “head shots.”

Thank you for reading.

Rick Bickhram-Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram


12 Apr

The Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test

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We repeatedly hear about the grim details behind Alzheimer’s disease. In a previous blog titled “The Grim Toll of Alzheimer’s, I touched on a reported study called The Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia in Canadian Society.   This study has cited that as our population continues to age, the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is expected to double to 1.25 million within 30 years. Again, another grim statistic.

Today, I blog on another Alzheimer’s study, which fortunately does not have such grim details. In a recent article, Lesley Ciarula Taylor states that specialists in Rochester, Minnesota have discovered “a cheap and easy memory test can predict who will develop Alzheimer’s disease with almost perfect accuracy.” The Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test is used to distinguish normal aging memory loss from a degenerative brain disease. 

Taylor states, “the cost is very low, much lower than an MRI. The hope is to be able to identify the disease as quickly as possible.”

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Diagnosing the likelihood of being vulnerable may not necessarily lead to a cure, but at least specialists in this area can now ask new questions that potentially could lead to different angles on handling this disease.

Thank you for reading,

Rick Bickhram-Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram


15 Mar

Succession Planning Crisis Looming Over Canadian Businesses

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Sara Crosbie, a writer with the Globe and Mail, recently published an article on the succession planning crisis looming over Canadian family businesses. In her article, Ms. Crosbie refers to a study completed by Deloitte and Touche, which indicates that two-thirds of Canadian families have no written contingency plans to guide them through a disability or death.

To understand the importance of family businesses to the Canadian economy consider the following study which was completed by Deloitte and Touche and found that “family businesses have 4.7 million full-time employees, 1.3 million part-time workers and sales of around $1.3 trillion.”

Ms. Crosbie states that the lack of succession planning could be attributed to the idea that most parents think, “there’s nothing here to pass on”, but the children think, “actually, I’m quite interested in taking it on.” 

Dr. Pramodita Sharma attributes the lack of succession planning to the fact that “money and mortality conversations don’t usually take place until the head of a business is gravely ill. By then, it’s too late to start talking.”

Regardless of the cause, the consensus on resolving this looming crisis is rather simple, communication. Dr. Sharma says “Succession planning is either passing to the next generation of your family, passing to employees … selling it, to be merged or acquired by someone or it could be closing the business down.  That needs preparation, too. You want to get the maximum value out of the business so it has to be a pro-active succession plan. You don’t want death to be the succession plan.”

Thank you for reading and have a great day.

Rick Bickhram

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.

17 Feb

The Role of the Children’s Lawyer in Settlements Involving Minors

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I recently read an article composed by The Children’s Lawyer, Debra Stephens, named Minor Settlements: How to Ensure Court Approval. I found this article to be particularly helpful as the article speaks to the role of The Children’s Lawyer in litigious matters and explains the common issues that arise during settlements involving minors.

Fundamentally, it is important to understand the role of The Children’s Lawyer with respect to their involvement in settlements concerning minors, which Ms. Stephens describes as: “The Children’s Lawyer is not a party to the proceeding and is not in an adversarial role with any of the parties. Rather, The Children’s Lawyer acts as an advisor to the court, making recommendations to assist the judge in determining whether to approve the proposed settlement”.

In her article, Ms. Stephens talks about a few issues that commonly arise during settlements involving minors. One of those issues that Ms. Stephens touches on is legal fees. Ms. Stephens states that legal fees are an important factor in determining whether to approve a settlement on behalf of a minor. Factors that are relied on when considering the reasonableness of a solicitor’s account are set out in the Court of Appeal decision Cohen v. Kealey and Blaney and include:

1.                  time spent;

2.                  legal complexity;

3.                  degree of responsibility assumed by the lawyers;

4.                  monetary value of the matter in issue;

5.                  the importance of the matters to the client;

6.                  degree of skill of the lawyers, results achieved;

7.                  ability of the client to pay; and

8.                  expectation of the client with respect to the fee. 

Also, another factor not mentioned in the case above is ensuring that access to justice is obtained for parties under a disability. I found Ms. Stephens’ article to be particularly useful in my practice and I would certainly recommend it to any practitioner who ordinarily runs into issues involving The Children’s Lawyer.

Thank you for reading.

Rick Bickhram

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.

16 Feb

Unworthy to Inherit

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As most of us return to our offices from a long weekend, I would like to share with you an interesting case, which I read over the weekend and deals with an Application to declare a family member unworthy to inherit. S.R. (Succession de), 2008 QCCS 4015, is a decision released by the Quebec Superior Court.

In, S.R. (Succession de), the Deceased was survived by his spouse and four children.    The Deceased was a savvy businessman who, during his lifetime, was quite successful. In 1995, the Deceased asked a notary to prepare a Will. A draft Will was sent to the Deceased for his review but it appears that he never executed the Will. In 2000, the Deceased was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently died in 2003.

After the Deceased died, the children looked for their father’s Will in the home and at the Deceased’s office with no success. We are given to understand that all of the children, searched, under the bed, every closet, every brief case belonging to the Deceased, but were unable to recover a Will.   

One of the daughters prepared a proposal requesting the siblings to acknowledge that the Deceased promised to transfer a certain property to her. This would have the effect of increasing her entitlement under the Deceased’s estate. Her siblings refused to sign the acknowledgement, which led to the ensuing dispute. The disgruntled daughter, subsequently informed everyone that she had in fact, located a Will of the Deceased in an old briefcase, which was allegedly in the bedroom closet of the Deceased’s residence.

The discovered Will was similar to the draft Will prepared earlier, except that it included two additional provisions which favoured the disgruntled daughter, in the amount of $2.4 million dollars and was apparently executed by two witnesses from New York. 

The disgruntled daughter tried to probate this Will, but it was contested by her siblings and it was ultimately ruled that the Will could not be probated by the Honourable Justice Gagnon. Justice Gagnon held that there were all the sorts of question marks surrounding the validity and execution of the Will. 

After the Application for probate was refused, the disgruntled daughter then produced a document which was a blank cheque allegedly signed by the Deceased and which purported to give the disgruntled daughter her share in a building that she coveted and various other monies for her home. The siblings refused to admit the authenticity of the blank cheque and commenced proceedings against the disgruntled daughter to have her declared unworthy to inherit under the Deceased’s estate. 

Under the section 621 of the Civil Code of Quebec, it states that a person “may be declared unworthy of inheriting where a person is guilty of cruelty towards the deceased, and where the person has concealed, altered or destroyed in bad faith the Will of the deceased, or a person who has hindered the testator in the writing, amending or revoking of their Will.” 

In relying on this provision, the children advocated that the disgruntled should be precluded from inheriting because she concealed and altered, in bad faith the alleged Will of the Deceased. 

The court held that the disgruntled daughter had likely altered the Deceased’s Will, had taken the draft prepared by the notary and added some typewritten additions that benefited her to the detriment of her siblings and mother. The court further held that the disgruntled daughter likely had taken the blank cheque from the Deceased’s home and also forged that after his death.

Accordingly, the disgruntled daughter was declared unworthy to inherit and her claims against the estate were dismissed.

An interesting point, in Ontario we do not have any similar case law or legislation that would actually allow someone to commence a proceeding, seeking to have someone else precluded from receiving their entitlement absent criminal activity such as murder.

Have a great day,

Rick Bickhram

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.


14 Jan

The Evolution of Reading

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I think it’s fair to say that the Internet has severely disrupted the traditional value chains in regards to how we obtain our media content. The value of content, starting with music, movies, TV shows, news and most recently books are being redefined for the Internet age.

I recently read an article published by the BBC News Magazine entitled “Page-turning Passion”, which details the culture of book reading and particularly how we have obtained and received the content from books. 

In the 1640s, books were more than just a tool to obtain information. It was a “treasured personal possession, and object whose loss would be keenly felt. To their privileged owners they were coveted objects, symbols of conspicuous consumption to be displayed alongside paintings, sculpture and silverware”.

Over time, manuscripts were replaced with printed books. Noticeably, printed books lacked that unique quality that gave each manuscript its touch of art. After all, printed books were simply copies produced on the production line. I am a product of the printed book era and have thoroughly enjoyed reading. I reject the idea that some have asserted indicating that printed books are impersonal volumes. As a reader, we find creative ways to make them ours, by underlining and highlighting in these books. I can dog ear pages if I want to.  I can rip out pages.  I can draw pictures in them

Now we have entered into a new era, the e-book era. If you have not yet heard of the Kindle, it is Amazon’s wireless reading device. The Kindle also has applications for most smart phones, which makes downloading and reading even more convenient and, unlike the 1640s, the Kindle is simply a tool to obtain information. 

Rush, scuttle and hurry seems to be the ear marks of today’s society. As an urban commuter, rarely do we have the time or the space to pull a book out while crammed onto a subway. Now it is as simple as purchasing a book while on my way to the subway and doing all of the reading off of the smart phone while I am on the subway.

There will always be advocates against the growth and importance of technology, but as an urban resident and a commuter, if it weren’t for phone reading, I wouldn’t be reading at all.

Thank you for reading,

Rick Bickhram

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.

13 Jan

The Grim Toll of Alzheimer’s

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The Toronto Star recently reported on Alzheimer’s disease, stating that “cases of the mind-robbing disease will more than double to 1.25 million within 30 years as baby boomers age”. 

With the numbers pointing upward as the population grays, a recent report by the Alzheimer Society, entitled Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society suggests the following steps to help reduce the impact of dementia:

1.                  Prevention programs based on healthy diet and physical activity that can delay the onset of dementia by two years, with a potential cost saving of $219 billion over the 30-year period.

2.                  Enhanced skill-building and support programs for family caregivers, many of whom suffer financial hardship because they must leave jobs to look after a relative with dementia.

3.                  Assigning a case manager to each newly diagnosed dementia patient and their caregivers, which could help the person remain at home longer and lessen the strain on the long-term-care system.

Today, annual funding for Alzheimer’s is approximately $24 million. The Toronto Star reports that if “nothing changes, this sharp increase in the number of people living with dementia will mean that by 2038, the total costs associated with dementia will reach $153 billion a year”. 

We have already seen a substantial influx with respect to Will challenges, particularly because there has been a big question mark about the testator’s capacity. The grim realty is that this will be a continuing problem that Estate Solicitors are going to have to tackle.

Thank you for reading.

Rick Bickhram

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.


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