Tag: succession law reform act
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.
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Many of our readers will be aware that on an application for dependant’s support under Part V of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, certain property that may not be considered an asset of the deceased’s estate can be “clawed back” into the estate for the purposes of considering and funding an award of dependant’s support. Subsection 72(1)(d) provides that “a disposition of property made by a deceased whereby property is held at the date of his or her death by the deceased and another as joint tenants” shall be deemed to be part of the estate.
Whether jointly-held property is caught by s.72(1)(d) depends on whether there was a “disposition” into that joint tenancy. When a property is initially purchased by a deceased person and another in joint tenancy and remains as such at the time of death, it can not be said that there was a disposition into joint tenancy: s. 72(1)(d) would not appear to apply.
However, when the ownership arrangement of a property is more intricate, whether or not jointly-held property will be deemed to be an asset of the estate within the context of a dependant’s support application becomes less clear.
Consider the following scenario:
- At first instance, title to a property is taken as follows:
- 50% held solely by A; and
- 50% held jointly by A and B, who are common law spouses.
- Years later, A conveys the 50% held by her alone to herself and her common law spouse jointly.
- Therefore, immediately preceding A’s death, 100% of the property is held in joint tenancy by A and B.
Now, after A’s death, A’s minor children assert a dependant’s support claim. Does section 72(1)(d) apply, such that the property can be made available to fund a payment of dependant’s support?
The decision in Modopoulos v Breen Estate,  O.J. No. 2738 interpreted section 72(1)(d) of the Succession Law Reform Act to mean that, only if the property was owned solely by the deceased and later transferred into joint tenancy prior to death, would there be a “disposition” into joint tenancy.
In the unique set of circumstances described above, it could be argued that A never solely owned the property and, therefore, the later disposition is not captured by section 72(1)(d). However, another perspective is that the 50% interest held initially by A as a tenant in common (with A and B jointly as to the other 50%) would have formed part of her estate if the subsequent disposition to B as a joint tenant did not take place. This interpretation strongly supports that section 72(1)(d) of the Succession Law Reform Act would in fact apply to make the 50% interest in the property available in satisfaction of a dependant’s support claim. Certainly such an argument is consistent with the remedial intent of the legislation.
To our knowledge, there has yet to be a decision in Ontario that addresses whether section 72 would apply to a disposition out of a tenancy in common and into a joint tenancy, such as that featured in our hypothetical example. It will be interesting to see how a court would interpret similar transactions if encountered in the future.
Thank you for reading.
Other blog entries that you may enjoy reading:
- SLRA Dependant Awarded Entirety of Estate
- Priority of Claims for Dependant’s Support Over Other Claims Against an Estate
- The Risks of Joint Tenancy
- Joint Accounts Between Spouses
As anyone who has ever watched the show Friends can attest, “breaks” can happen in any relationship. For those attempting to claim common law spousal status however, what impact, if any, do such “breaks” have upon the length of time that the couple has to be together? Do you have to re-set the clock of the relationship after every “break”, or can the “breaks” be ignored?
Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act incorporates the definition of “spouse” from section 29 of the Family Law Act. Section 29 of the Family Law Act in turn defines “spouse” as including “two persons who are not married to each other and have cohabited continuously for a period of not less than three years“. This definition is often what is being referred to when someone says that a relationship is “common law”, with significant corresponding legal rights potentially being given to the two individuals if they are found to be “spouses”.
As the word “continuously” is included in the definition, one would be forgiven for thinking that there cannot be any “breaks” in the relationship, and that you must have a continuous three year period of “cohabitation” for two people to be considered spouses. As we will see below however, this may not necessarily be the case.
I have previously blogged about the factors that the court may look to in determining whether two people are “cohabitating”, with the Supreme Court of Canada in M. v. H. having confirmed that you look to the factors listed in Molodowich v. Penttinen to determine whether to individuals are “cohabitating” to the extent that their relationship becomes spousal. For the purpose of this blog however, the interesting question which follows is whether a couple who otherwise meets enough of the factors from Molodowich to be considered to be “cohabitating”, but had a “break” in their relationship during the three year period, could still be considered “spouses”.
In Boothe v. Gore,  O.J. No. 4376, the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division) provides the following commentary regarding the effect of a “break” on a relationship:
“The law in Ontario recognizes that a man and a woman are considered to have continuously cohabitated, despite that while living together, there might have been separations for varying periods of time before reconciling. Cohabitation does not terminate until either party regards it as being at an end, and, demonstrate convincingly that this is the party’s intent. A brief cooling off period does not convincingly show a settled state of mind that cohabitation has terminated…
The effects of temporary separations depends on the intention of the parties. When one party leaves the other and provides an objective basis to believe that they do not intend to resume cohabitation and the separation lasts for a meaningful period of time, the period of cohabitation could well have been interrupted.” [emphasis added]
As Boothe v. Gore suggests, a “break” in a relationship should not necessarily preclude a finding that two persons are common law spouses. Rather, the court is to attempt to ascertain the intentions of the parties at the time of the “break”, with the spousal status only coming to a close if either of the parties regards the relationship as being “at an end“, or the period of separation lasts for a “meaningful period of time“.
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Does an attorney, or guardian, have the power to change a grantor’s estate plan?
According to section 31(1) of the Substitute Decisions Act, a guardian of property (or attorney for property) has the power to do on the incapable person’s behalf anything in respect of property that the person could do if capable, except make a will.
The statute, however, is deceptively simple. Can a guardian transfer property into joint tenancy? Can a guardian sever a joint tenancy? Can a guardian change a beneficiary designation on a RRSP, RRIF or insurance policy? Can an inter vivos trust be established or an estate freeze undertaken to save taxes? There are numerous cases which have tested these issues.
For instance, in Banton v Banton, Justice Cullity found that although the grantor’s attorneys had the authority to create an irrevocable inter vivos trust, they nonetheless breached their fiduciary obligations owing to the grantor, in creating the trust.
The irrevocable trust provided for income and capital at the trustee’s discretion for the grantor’s benefit during his lifetime and a gift over of capital to the grantor’s children, who were also the attorneys. The scheme of distribution of the irrevocable trust was the same as provided for in the grantor’s will. However, the court found that the fact that the remainder interest passed automatically to the grantor’s issue defeated the grantor’s power to revoke his will by marriage and would deprive his common law spouse of potential rights under Parts II and V of the Succession Law Reform Act and Part I of the Family Law Act. The court found that the gift of the remainder of the interest went beyond what was required to protect the grantor’s assets.
Justice Cullity stated:
“I do not share the view that there is an inviolable rule that it is improper for attorneys under a continuing power of attorney to take title to the donor‘s assets either by themselves or jointly with the donor . This must depend upon whether it is reasonable in the circumstances to do so to protect or advance the interest, or otherwise benefit, the donor.”
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People change their mind all of the time. When someone changes their mind about the terms of their Will however, things can become more complicated. Going to a lawyer to formally make a change to the Will may seem daunting. If the change to the Will is relatively minor, an individual may be tempted to forgo meeting with a lawyer to draw up a new Will or Codicil, and simply make the change to the Will themselves by crossing out or inserting new language by hand on the face of the old Will. But would such handwritten changes be valid?
Although the advice to any individual thinking of changing their Will would always be to speak with a lawyer about the matter, people do not always adhere to such advice. If someone has made handwritten changes to their Will after the document was originally signed, such changes can under certain circumstances alter the terms of the Will.
Section 18(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“) provides that unless any alteration to a Will is made in accordance with the requirements of section 18(2) of the SLRA, such alterations have no effect upon the provisions of the Will itself unless such an alteration has had the effect that you can no longer read the original wording of the Will. Section 18(2) of the SLRA further provides:
“An alteration that is made in a will after the will has been made is validly made when the signature of the testator and subscription of witnesses to the signature of the testator to the alteration, or, in the case of a will that was made under section 5 or 6, the signature of the testator, are or is made,
(a) in the margin or in some other part of the will opposite or near to the alteration; or
(b) at the end of or opposite to a memorandum referring to the alteration and written in some part of the will.”
As a result of section 18(1) and 18(2) of the SLRA, any handwritten change to a Will does not validly alter the terms of the Will unless the testator and two witnesses sign in the margins of the Will near the alteration (subject to certain exceptions listed). If the handwritten change is not accompanied by such signatures it is not a valid alteration and has no impact upon the original terms of the Will, unless the handwritten change has had the effect of “obliterating” the original language of the Will by making it no longer readable.
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When is it Appropriate to Extend the Time Granted in Favour of Equalization under the Family Law Act?
Applications for an extension of time (beyond six months from date of death) to elect under the Family Law Act (“FLA”) are regularly brought before the Court. Decisions with respect to that are often dealt with by way of short endorsements.
Justice Dunphy, in Aquilina v Aquilina, 2018 ONSC 3607, a recent court decision, made some interesting comments regarding applications for an extension of time in such circumstances.
The Deceased passed away in December, 2017, leaving the Applicant (his wife) and their three adult children. The Applicant was primarily a homemaker and as such, her level of information regarding the family financial affairs was imprecise. The Estate was not a simple one to administer, in part due to a number of business interests the Deceased had in the family’s native country, Malta, held through various corporations, real estate holdings and an active business.
At the time of the hearing, the Estate did not have an administrator. It was determined that the Deceased did not leave a Will.
The Applicant in this matter had two options – making a claim under the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”) or the FLA.
Under the SLRA, in the event of an intestacy, the beneficiaries of the Deceased’s estate are the Applicant and their three adult children. Under s. 46(2) of the SLRA, where there is no Will and there is more than one child of the Deceased, the surviving spouse is entitled to 1/3 of the Estate plus the “preferential share” prescribed by s. 45 of the SLRA.
In contrast, s. 5(2) of the FLA provides that the surviving spouse will receive 1/2 of the difference between the value of the net family property of each of the spouses where the Deceased had the higher of the two amounts.
The Applicant has a period of six months from the date of death to make the election as per s. 6(10) of the FLA. Absent an election, the surviving spouse takes under the SLRA.
Criteria for Extension
The Applicant requested that the court: (i) extend the time to make an election until two years from the date of the application; (ii) extend the time for the deemed election to the same date; and (iii) extend the time during which distributions from the Estate are suspended until the same date.
In making a finding, the Court must consider:
- Whether there are apparent grounds for relief;
- Whether delay, if any, was incurred in good faith; and
- Whether anyone will be substantially prejudiced by the delay.
It is important to note, that the surviving spouse does not have to have precise and accurate information but that he or she must have sufficient information to make an informed choice. Justice Dunphy noted that extensions are intended to be the exception and not the rule.
Analysis and Decision
Justice Dunphy held that it was going to take a period of time – very likely a year or more – to be able to gather the facts necessary to understand the value of this Estate and the Applicant’s intersecting interests within (meaning the consequences flowing from her different roles as a shareholder, widow and spouse). Therefore, Justice Dunphy held that there are some grounds for relief in the circumstances of this case.
In considering whether there was any delay that was not incurred in good faith, though Justice Dunphy noted that the Application was brought very close to the six month anniversary of the Deceased’s date of death, he placed weight on the fact that the death was “sudden, unexpected and shocking” and the relative complexity of the Estate. He held that the delay was incurred in good faith.
Justice Dunphy found that there would be no substantial prejudice in this case if an election was granted because the only other beneficiaries of the Estate are the three adult children of the Deceased and the Applicant, who confirmed that they did not oppose the motion. He did balance against that finding, however, the inherent prejudice in having all or a substantial portion of the Estate frozen. In making this consideration, Justice Dunphy found that any prejudice in this matter was slight.
Based on the facts, Justice Dunphy held that more time would be required to consider the rights of the Applicant, as the surviving spouse, under the SLRA as compared to the FLA. As such, he granted the Applicant all the relief sought, but reduced it to one year from the date of the Application instead of the two years that the Applicant was seeking.
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Assume that you are given real property in someone’s will, but the property is subject to a mortgage. Do you get the real property free and clear, or do you take it subject to the mortgage? Is the estate liable for paying off the mortgage?
The answer lies in s. 32 of the Succession Law Reform Act, and the terms of the will.
Pursuant to s. 32, the real property is primarily liable for satisfying the mortgage, unless there is a contrary or other intention in the will.
Section 32(1) provides:
Where a person dies possessed of, or entitled to, or under a general power of appointment by his or her will deposes of, an interest in freehold or leasehold property which, at the time of his or her death, is subject to a mortgage, and the deceased has not, by will, deed or other document, signified a contrary or other intention,
(a) the interest is, as between the different persons claiming through the deceased, primarily liable for the payment or satisfaction of the mortgage debt; and
(b) every part of the interest, according to its value, bears a proportionate part of the mortgage debt on the whole interest.
Thus, you take the property subject to the mortgage.
But, you may ask, what about the general direction to pay debts that is found in many wills? Isn’t that a “contrary intention”?
Section 32(2) states that a testator does NOT signify a contrary intention by a general direction for the payment of debts. Something more is needed.
While the property is subject to the mortgage, the mortgagee does not have to take action against the real property. Section 32(3) provides that nothing in s. 32 affects the right of a person entitled to the mortgage debt to obtain payment or satisfaction either out of the other assets of the deceased or otherwise.
When taking instructions for a will for a testator who owns property subject to a mortgage, the drafting lawyer should discuss the effect of s. 32 of the Succession Law Reform Act, and confirm whether this outcome is in keeping with the testator’s intentions. If it is not, and the testator wants the beneficiary to receive the property free of the mortgage, wording should be put into the will to set out this intention.
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Today on Hull and Estates, Stuart Clark and Umair Abdul Qadir discuss the recent decision in Cohen v Cohen, 2018 ONSC 1613, in which the Honourable Justice Maranger discussed the Ontario Superior Court of Justice’s jurisdiction to consolidate applications for equalization commenced pursuant to the Family Law Act with applications for dependant’s relief under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act. You can read more about the Cohen decision on our blog.
Should you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on our blog.
The practice of injecting policy considerations into court decisions has long been a tenet of the Ontario judiciary. However, such considerations may arguably raise questions that go beyond the scope of the decision. Cotnam v Rousseau, 2018 ONSC 216, is one such case.
In Cotnam, the Court was tasked with determining whether a pre-retirement death benefit received by a surviving spouse was available to be clawed back into an Estate pursuant to section 72 of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”). The Respondent took the position that section 48 of the Pension Benefits Act (the “PBA”) sheltered the death benefit from being clawed back given that she was the spouse of the Deceased. The Court disagreed and held that such benefits ought to be available for claw back in order to prevent irrational outcomes resulting from their exclusion.
In the context of the facts at play in Cotnam, the Court reasoned in favour of equity, in particular, to ensure a dependant disabled child of the Deceased was properly provided for. However, the Court’s reasons appear to gloss over a fundamental conflict between the SLRA and the PBA, a clash about which the estates bar might have appreciated some judicial commentary. Specifically, the Court held that the provisions of the SLRA ascribing pension death benefits as available to satisfy a claim of dependant’s relief ought to prevail over the PBA’s provisions sheltering them from claw back.
Section 114 of the PBA provides that, “[i]n the event of a conflict between this Act and any other Act […] [the PBA] prevails unless the other Act states that it is to prevail over [the PBA].” The SLRA, in contrast, is silent as to whether its provisions are to prevail over those of the PBA.
However, the Court’s reasons make no mention of the interplay between section 114 of the PBA and the equities of ensuring the dependant daughter in Cotnam was properly provided for. While we may opine on the fact that the outcome in Cotnam favours equity over rote statutory interpretation, the estates bar is left to grapple with the apparent inconsistency with the intention of the Ontario legislature, and whether it will affect similar decisions going forward. As of this date, no written decisions have yet interpreted Cotnam, nor has the decision been appealed. Accordingly, it may be some time before the impact of the decision, if any, is felt.
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It is not uncommon for dependant’s support claims to be commenced contemporaneously with family law claims after death, with the dependant’s support claim often forming a sort of safety net should the family law claim not be successful. This is likely in part on account of section 63(4) of the Succession Law Reform Act providing that an Order providing for the support of the deceased’s dependants can be made “despite any agreement or waiver to the contrary“, such that the court in certain circumstances can make an Order for dependant’s support notwithstanding that agreements such as marriage contracts may have been entered into prior to death which may otherwise have severely restricted the surviving spouse’s entitlements.
While it is not uncommon for family law and estates claims to be brought contemporaneously, this can sometimes result in an in issue in the form of a multiplicity of proceedings, with multiple proceedings being before the court at the same time, often on different court lists. In Toronto, the family law claims would likely proceed before the Family Court, which is governed by its own “Family Law Rules“, while the estate law claims would proceed before the Estates List of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, with such a process being governed by the more standard Rules of Civil Procedure. Different courts, different rules, different timelines.
It appears that such a multiplicity of proceedings became an issue in the recent Cohen v. Cohen decision, with the Applicant’s counsel eventually moving to have the family law and estate law proceedings consolidated and heard together before the Family Court. Opposing counsel objected, taking the position that a dependant’s support Application under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act could not be heard before the Family Court, and that such a proceeding must proceed before the standard Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
In ultimately rejecting the position of opposing counsel, and ordering the family law claims and the estate law claims to be heard together before the Family Court, Justice Maranger provides the following commentary:
“Counsel representing the estate argued that a strict reading of section 57 (1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (“court” means the Superior Court of Justice) statutorily precludes consolidating a dependant’s relief application with a family law act application, because the SLRA does not specify Superior Court Family Branch. I reject that argument, clearly a reference to the Superior Court of Justice can in certain circumstances allow for the reading in of the Superior Court Family Branch. A family branch judge is a Superior Court judge for all purposes including hearing cases under the Succession Law Reform Act.”
Cohen v. Cohen suggests that estates law cases and family law cases can be consolidated and heard together by the same court notwithstanding that such courts may be specialized for a different purpose. What impact, if any, the use of the Family Law Rules would have upon adjudication of an Application for support under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act remains to be seen.
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