Tag: Trust

22 Apr

What is the Purpose of Section 3 Counsel Under the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992?

Rebecca Rauws Capacity Tags: , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Pursuant to section 3 of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 (the “SDA”), if there is a proceeding under the SDA where a person’s capacity is in issue, but they do not have legal representation, the court may direct that the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”) arrange for legal representation for the person. The person will be deemed to have capacity to instruct counsel. This legal representation is often referred to as “section 3 counsel”.

We have previously blogged about the role of section 3 counsel (for instance, here and here). Section 3 counsel has been described as a safeguard that protects the dignity, privacy, and legal rights of a person who is alleged to be incapable.

Section 3 counsel plays a very important role in proceedings dealing with a person’s capacity, as they allow the person whose capacity, and possibly their rights and liberties, are at issue, to have a voice before the court.

In Singh v Tolton, 2021 ONSC 2528, there was a proceeding relating to the validity of powers of attorney executed by Rajinder Kaur Singh. The PGT proposed that the court consider appointing section 3 counsel for Rajinder. One of Rajinder’s children also requested that section 3 counsel be appointed. One of her other children, Anney, took the position that section 3 counsel was not necessary and raised a concern with the expense of appointing counsel, which cost would be borne by Rajinder.

The court concluded that this was an appropriate situation for the appointment of section 3 counsel. In coming to this conclusion, the court considered the purpose of the SDA, which is to protect the vulnerable. As noted by Justice Strathy, as he then was, in Abrams v Abrams, [2008] O.J. No. 5207, proceedings under the SDA do not seek to balance the interests of the litigants, “but the interests of the person alleged to be incapable as against the interest and duty of the state to protect the vulnerable.” Section 3 is just one of the provisions of the SDA that demonstrate the care that must be taken to protect the dignity, privacy, and legal rights of the individual.

The court in Singh v Tolton also noted that the material before it disclosed a family at odds regarding Rajinder’s personal care. In a situation such as this, there may be a concern that the wishes or best interests of the person whose capacity is in issue will be lost amidst the fighting family members. Section 3 counsel can serve a crucial function in these types of circumstances, by sharing the person’s wishes and instructions with the court.

Thanks for reading,

Rebecca Rauws

 

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20 Apr

What Evidence is needed to Rebut the Presumption of Resulting Trust?

Rebecca Rauws Estate Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

When a parent transfers assets to an adult child, the rebuttable presumption of resulting trust will apply to that transfer. Unless the child can rebut the presumption, it will be presumed that the child was holding the transferred assets in trust for the parent.

But what kind of evidence will be needed to rebut the presumption? Ideally there would be some kind of documentation made contemporaneously with the transfer to support the parent’s intention. If the documentation is lacking, there may be evidentiary issues where the parent has passed away or is incapable, and is not able to give evidence as to his or her intention at the time of the transfer.

In the recent decision of Pandke Estate v Lauzon, 2021 ONSC 123, the court considered two cheques paid by a mother, Carol, to her adult son and daughter-in-law, Steven and Marnee, in the amounts of $35,000.00 and $90,000.00, respectively, shortly before her death. The court reviewed the evidence in determining whether the presumption of resulting trust was rebutted, or whether Carol had intended the cheques to be gifts.

Carol was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2017, and died about a month following her diagnosis. At the time that she was diagnosed, she lived with her husband, William, to whom she had been married since 1992. Following her diagnosis, it was decided that Carol would move in with Steven and Marnee, as William was not physically capable of providing her the care that she would require. Shortly after moving in with Steven and Marnee, Carol provided a cheque in the amount of $35,000.00, payable to Marnee, with a note on the cheque stating that it was “For Rent”. Four days later Carol provided another cheque payable to Steven, in the amount of $90,000.00, with the note on the cheque stating “Medical Expenses”. The total value of the two cheques constituted the majority of Carol’s liquid assets. William, who was the sole beneficiary of Carol’s estate, challenged these payments following Carol’s death.

The court found that the $35,000.00 payment was intended to be a gift by Carol to Steven and Marnee. Part of the evidence on which the court’s conclusion in this regard was based was Marnee’s hearsay evidence of what Carol had told her about why she was making the payment, being that Steven had left his job to care for Carol and she did not want him to suffer financially as a result. The court found that Marnee’s hearsay evidence could be admitted, notwithstanding that it was hearsay, on the basis that it fell within a traditional exception to the hearsay rule (that the statement is adduced to demonstrate the intentions or state of mind of the declarant at the time the statement was made) and under the principled approach to hearsay evidence as it met the necessity and reliability requirements. The court also found that Marnee’s evidence was corroborated by independent evidence.

However, with respect to the $90,000.00 payment, the court found that there was insufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of resulting trust. Although the court admitted Steven’s evidence of statements made by Carol to him as to her state of mind at the time the cheque was signed, the court also raised other concerns with Steven’s evidence. For instance, the reference to “Medical Expenses” noted on the cheque was concerning, as there were no medical expenses, and the court wondered why Carol would not have simply indicated that it was a gift if that is what she intended it to be. The court was also not convinced by a statement that Steven said was made by Carol that she was making the payment because she did not want Steven to suffer financially because he had left work to care for her, given that only a few days before Carol had made the $35,000.00 payment, which paid off Steven’s truck loan, line of credit, and left around $15,000.00 cash to spare. There was also no corroborating evidence of Carol’s intention to gift the $90,000.00 amount to Steven. As a result, Steven held the $90,000.00 in trust for Carol’s estate.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that payments to adult children are challenged after the parent has died. Unless the parent has taken special care to document his or her intention in making the payment, the intention can be difficult to determine with any degree of certainty. Accordingly, a parent making a gift to an adult child should consider seeking legal advice as to the best way to document such a transfer in order to ensure that their intentions will be upheld. From the opposite perspective, if a parent wants to make a transfer on the basis that their adult child will hold the asset in trust for him or her, or his or her estate, the parent should also consider seeking legal advice to ensure that this is properly documented in order to reduce the chance of issues arising in this regard after his or her death.

Thanks for reading,

Rebecca Rauws

 

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19 Apr

Evening with Honourable Estates List Judges – Some Highlights

Rebecca Rauws Continuing Legal Education Tags: , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Just over a week ago I had the privilege to attend the OBA’s annual evening with the judges of the Toronto Estates List. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the event was held virtually this year, but it was nonetheless very interesting and informative and I’m sure everyone appreciated the judges sharing their time. I take this opportunity to mention a few of the topics discussed.

  1. New Technology Implemented by the Court

The Estates List judges shared with event attendees that the new technology that has recently been adopted by the Court is here to stay. It was suggested that counsel invest the time to learn how the CaseLines system works and get comfortable with it, as it is intended that CaseLines will be in use going forward. The use of sync.com is already being phased out, and mainly CaseLines will be used in the future. This is expected to be the case even when we are able to return to in-person hearings.

  1. New Model Orders

We have previously blogged about the model orders that have recently been added to the Estates List Practice Direction. At the event, the judges emphasized that the model orders are an excellent resource and should be used going forward.

  1. Availability of Case Conferences

The Estates List judges clarified that case conferences continue to be available. It was suggested that before parties take steps to gear up for a contested motion, if they are not able to solve the matter on their own, they should consider scheduling a 30 minute case conference, and try to work it out with the assistance of one of the members of the Estates List Bench. This may allow matters to be resolved more quickly, thus freeing up court resources for other matters, and in a way that is more cost-effective for the parties.

  1. The Court’s Workload

Between January and March of this year, the Estates List heard between 400-500 matters, which is close to the number of matters that would be heard in a regular year. The number of matters being heard in writing has almost doubled from the norm, with the Estates list having heard almost 900 matters in writing so far this year, compared with around 1500 in a whole year in normal times. It is clear that the Estates List continues to operate effectively notwithstanding the lack of in-person attendances.

I understand that the event was recorded and will be available for later viewing. I encourage anyone who missed the event to check out the recording and take advantage of the advice and tips from the Bench.

Thanks for reading,

Rebecca Rauws

 

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also enjoy these past blogs:

25 Mar

Pour Over Clauses – Incorporation by Reference

Stuart Clark Estate Planning Tags: , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

I have blogged this week about the general availability of “pour over clauses” and whether you can leave a bequest in a Will to an already existing inter vivos trust. In my blog yesterday I discussed “facts of independent significance” as one of the potential arguments that has been raised to attempt to uphold “pour over clauses”, and how the concept was rejected by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Quinn Estate v. Rydland, 2019 BCCA 91. In today’s blog I will discuss another argument that was raised in Quinn Estate to try to uphold pour over clauses; the doctrine of “incorporation by reference”.

The doctrine of incorporation by reference at its most basic allows a Will to refer to a separate document which provides for dispositive provisions, with such a separate document being “incorporated” into the Will to be carried out by the executor as part of the administration of the Will. The most common example of incorporation by reference would be a memorandum directing who is to receive various personal items from the testator, with the Will directing the executor to distribute the personal items in accordance with the terms of the separate memorandum.

The general test for whether a document can be incorporated by reference into a Will is:

  1. It must be clear that the testator in the Will referred to some document then in existence; and
  2. the document in question must be beyond doubt the document referred to.

When incorporation by reference is raised as part of an attempt to uphold a pour over clause it appears to be the argument that so long as the inter vivos trust was in existence at the time the Will was signed, and the trust is clearly identified by the Will, that it should be able to meet the test for incorporation by reference such that the “pour over clause” can be saved.

In Quinn Estate the court ultimately rejects the attempt to save the pour over clause under the doctrine of incorporation by reference, appearing to emphasize there is a fundamental flaw in the attempt to incorporate a trust by reference into a Will insofar as it does not appear to be the testator’s intention to actually incorporate the terms of the trust into the Will, but rather simply to make a distribution to the separate trust. When something is “incorporated by reference” into a Will it means exactly that, insofar as the terms of the separate document are said to be incorporated into the Will and read as a single document. This concept appears fundamentally at odds with any attempt to make a bequest to an already existing trust under a pour over clause, as the testator never likely intended to have the terms of the trust incorporated into the Will to be administered by the executor as part of the Will, but rather to have the executor make a bequest to the trust to be administered separately from the estate. In emphasizing this point the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Quinn Estate states:

“Strictly speaking, resorting to incorporation by reference to incorporate the original trust document into the will belies the essential nature of a pour-over clause: here it is perfectly clear that the will-maker had no intention of incorporating the trust into his will. He rather demonstrated the obvious intention of making a gift to the trust.”

As my blogs this week have shown, any attempt to leave a bequest in a Will to an already existing inter vivos trust using a “pour over clause” is highly problematic.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

24 Mar

Pour Over Clauses – Facts of Independent Significance

Stuart Clark Estate Planning Tags: , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Yesterday I blogged about the general use and availability of “pour over clauses” and whether you can leave a bequest in a Will to an already existing inter vivos trust. Although the answer to that question is “it depends”, as cases such as Quinn Estate v. Rydland, 2019 BCCA 91, have shown the court is generally reluctant to uphold these kinds of bequests due to the potential of amendments being possible in a way that contradicts statutory requirements, such that any individual considering a potential bequest to an already existing trust should proceed with extreme caution.

In ultimately refusing to uphold the bequest to the inter vivos trust in Quinn Estate the court provides an excellent summary of the typical arguments that are used to try to uphold “pour over clauses”, and why, in their opinion, they should not be available to save the bequest. One of these potential arguments is the doctrine of “facts of independent significance”.

The doctrine of “facts of independent significance” in effect provides that subsequent and independent facts of “significance” can have an effect on the interpretation and/or administration of Wills notwithstanding that such subsequent facts may not otherwise meet the formal requirements to amend or alter a Will. Examples that are often cited to are clauses such as those that would provide that property is to be divided “amongst my partners who shall be in co-partnership with me at the time of my decease” or to the “servants in my employ at my death“. As both of these classes of individuals can change after the Will has been executed, such that the individuals who may ultimately receive the gifts may be different at the time of death versus when the Will was executed, this can be seen as a potential exception to the general rule that the Deceased’s intentions must be clear at the time the Will was executed and cannot be altered unless in compliance with the strict statutory requirements.

In the case of pour over clauses, the potential argument to utilize the doctrine of facts of independent significance would appear to be that as the court allows certain bequests to be upheld notwithstanding that the circumstances surrounding the bequest could change after the fact, the potential of an inter vivos trust being varied after the signing of the Will should not automatically void the bequest.

The court in Quinn Estate ultimately rejected the potential use of the doctrine of “facts of independent significance” to save pour over clauses. In coming to such a decision the Court of Appeal notes:

Applying the doctrine to validate a pour-over clause would also differ in character to the existing applications recognized in the Anglo-Canadian jurisprudence. The traditional applications of the doctrine validate de facto amendments to the will only with regard to limited “facts”. The terms “partner” and “car” are inherently limited. A trust document recognizes no such limit. Extending the doctrine to pour-over clauses would grant testators unlimited power to amend the disposition of their estate without following the strictures of WESA. In my view, this is not an extension the common law should permit.” [emphasis added]

Although the Quinn Estate decision was a decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, as the Ontario statutory regime also does not appear to specifically contemplate the use and availability of “pour over clauses” it is likely that the same concerns referenced by the British Columbia Court of Appeal would be present in any attempt to uphold the use of pour over clauses under the doctrine of facts of independent significance in Ontario.

I will blog tomorrow about the concept of “incorporation by reference” as it relates to pour over clauses. Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

23 Mar

Pour Over Clauses – Can a Will leave a bequest to an already existing trust?

Stuart Clark Estate Planning Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Trusts are generally divided into two categories; “inter vivos” or “testamentary” trusts. Inter vivos trusts are broadly defined as trusts that are established by a settlor while they are still alive, typically pursuant to a deed of trust, while testamentary trusts are established in the terms of a Will or Codicil. Generally speaking there is no overlap between an individual’s Will and any inter vivos trust, with any inter vivos trust existing separate and apart from the settlor’s “estate”. But does this have to be the case? Could you theoretically, for example, leave a bequest in a Will to an inter vivos trust that you previously established, thereby potentially increasing the assets governed by the trust upon your death, or must a trust which governs estate assets be a “testamentary trust” established by the Will? The short answer is “it depends”, although any individual considering such a bequest should proceed with extreme caution.

A clause in a Will that provides for the potential distribution of estate assets to a separate inter vivos trust is often referred to as a “pour over” clause, insofar as the assets of the estate are said to “pour over” into the separate trust. The availability and use of “pour over” clauses in Ontario is somewhat problematic.

The fundamental issue with the use of “pour over” clauses that allow a bequest to be made to a trust is that the formalities that are required to make or amend a trust are much lower than the formalities that are required to establish a Will, with trusts often containing provisions that will allow for their unilateral amendment or revocation after their establishments. The statutes which establish the parameters that are required for a Will to be valid are very strict, with a Will only being able to be later amended or altered if it too meets very strict criteria. The potential concern in allowing a distribution from a Will to a separate trust that can easily be amended after the execution of the Will is that it could create the scenario in which an estate plan could be altered after the Will was signed in a way that would not meet the strict formal requirements that would otherwise be required for a Will to be altered or amended.

In Ontario the formalities required for a Will to be valid is established by section 4(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act. A Will that has been signed in accordance with the formal requirements of section 4(1) can only be altered or amended by a Codicil that itself has been signed in accordance with the formal requirements of section 4(1), or if the alterations to the Will meet the requirements of section 18 of the Succession Law Reform Act. Unlike alterations and/or amendments to a Will, an alteration or amendment to a trust does not need to meet any formal statutory requirements for it to be valid, with the only requirements being those stipulated in the trust document itself and/or under the rules in Saunders v. Vautier. As a result, an inter vivos trust to which a bequest was directed using a “pour over” clause could theoretically be changed numerous times after the signing of the Will either with or without the involvement of the testator, thereby bringing into question whether the bequest actually represents the deceased’s testamentary intentions at the time the Will was signed.

In Quinn Estate v. Rydland, 2019 BCCA 91, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld the lower British Columbia Supreme Court decision, 2018 BCSC 365, which found that a “pour over” clause which purported to distribute certain estate assets to a trust that was settled by the Deceased during his lifetime was inoperable, with the funds that were to be distributed to the trust instead being distributed on an intestacy. In coming to such a decision the court appears to place great emphasis on the fact the trust in question could be amended unilaterally after the fact and in fact was amended in such a fashion after the execution of the Will.

The court in Quinn Estate provides an excellent summary of the considerations to make when determining whether a “pour over” clause can be upheld, including the concepts of “facts of independent significance” and “incorporation by reference”. I will discuss the concepts of “facts of independent significance” and “incorporation by reference” as they relate to pour over clauses in my remaining blogs this week.

Thank you for reading.

Stuart Clark

04 Feb

When will the Court Enforce a Settlement?

Rebecca Rauws Estate Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Sometimes when parties arrive at a settlement, notwithstanding that the settlement may objectively be in their interests, they may not necessarily be pleased with the outcome. If the settlement has been concluded and fully documented, however, a party who has had second thoughts will likely be out of luck if they want to avoid complying with the agreement. This is important because parties should usually be held to the bargains that they make in a settlement.

A settlement does not necessarily have to be in writing to be valid, but like any contract, there must be a “meeting of the minds” on the essential terms of the agreement.

In a recent decision, Daehn v Lalonde, 2021 ONSC 301, the court considered a motion to enforce a settlement where draft minutes of settlement had been exchanged, but not signed. The dispute between the parties underlying the settlement concerned the validity of competing Wills. The parties were engaged in negotiations between January and July 2019, during which time several offers and versions of draft minutes of settlement were exchanged. In mid-July, counsel for the responding parties to the motion advised the moving party that he would no longer be acting for the responding parties, and retracted all offers to settle made by the responding parties.

The moving party took the position that certain conduct by counsel for the responding parties should be taken as akin to acceptance of terms in the minutes of settlement. Such conduct included providing bank statements that had been requested as a condition of settlement, and proposing changes to some terms of the draft minutes without complaint about others. The court did not accept this argument, and did not find acceptance of the agreement by words or conduct of the responding parties.

The court briefly reviewed the law regarding validity and enforcement of settlements. Like a contract, a concluded settlement requires both a mutual intention to create a legally binding contract, and agreement on all essential terms of the settlement.

The court found that the responding parties never agreed to the terms of settlement. Despite the moving party’s argument that the responding parties had agreed to the sole “essential” term, the court found that it cannot be the case that the moving party alone can dictate what terms of the settlement are essential. The court concluded that a settlement cannot be imposed where no agreement was reached.

Thanks for reading,

Rebecca Rauws

 

You may also enjoy these other blog posts:

02 Feb

When will a Beneficiary’s Interest in an Estate Asset be Void for Uncertainty?

Rebecca Rauws Estate Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

Something that surely no testator or beneficiary wants to see is the failure of a gift made in a Will. Unfortunately, circumstances can arise where the language of a Will may be ambiguous, or where events occurring during the estate administration expose uncertainty in a term of the Will that wasn’t necessarily apparent at the time of drafting or execution.

In Barsoski v Wesley, 2020 ONSC 7407, the estate trustee sought directions from the court regarding a clause in the deceased’s Will that allowed the deceased’s friend (the “Respondent”) to live in the deceased’s home during his lifetime, or such shorter period as the Respondent desires. Upon the earlier of the Respondent advising that he no longer wished to live in the home, or the Respondent “no longer living” in the home, the house and its contents are to be sold, and the proceeds added to a gift to another beneficiary of the Deceased’s Will, a charity, St. Stephens House of London (“St. Stephens”).

The deceased died in June 2017. Confusion arose when it became apparent that the Respondent was not actually living in the home on a full-time basis. This first came up around December 2017 and continued for a couple of years. The home was in London, but the Respondent continued living and working full-time in Toronto following the deceased’s death, and seemingly up until 2019. He then started a full-time job in Sault Ste. Marie in 2019.

The Respondent’s evidence was that he was using the home as his primary residence in that he spent time at the home on weekends 1-2 times per month, and used it as his address for his driver’s license and for CRA purposes. He stated that he planned to live in the home full-time after he retired around July 2021.

St. Stephens, as the gift-over beneficiary of the home, took the position that the Respondent had not been living in the home, and therefore it should be sold pursuant to the terms of the Will.

The court first considered whether the Will gave the Respondent a life estate or a licence to use the home subject to a condition subsequent, concluding that the proper interpretation was that it was a licence with a condition subsequent. The condition subsequent in question was when the Respondent was “no longer living” in the home. The court outlined that a “condition subsequent is void for uncertainty if the condition is ‘far too indefinite and uncertain to enable the Court to say what it was that the testator meant should be the event on which the estate was to determine’”. Accordingly, the court concluded that it was impossible to define, on the terms of the deceased’s Will, what it meant to “live” in the home.

The question of whether, on the facts, the Respondent’s use of the home constituted him “living” there is an interesting one. However, due to the court’s conclusion that the terms granting the Respondent an interest in the home were void for uncertainty, it was unnecessary for the court to make any findings of fact on this particular question.

The estate trustee, who was also the drafting lawyer, gave evidence (that was ultimately inadmissible) that the deceased had been considering some changes to her Will prior to her death. The changes would put time restrictions on the Respondent’s use of the home, including that he would be required to move into the home within 90 days of her death, and not be absent from it for more than 120 days. These additional terms may have provided sufficient certainty for the beneficiary to know what he had to do in order to maintain his interest in the home, and for the estate trustee to administer the estate. Although this evidence had no impact on the court’s decision, it can serve as an important reminder that if one wants to change their Will, one should do so as soon as possible to ensure the Will reflects their wishes at the time of their death.

Thanks for reading,

Rebecca Rauws

 

These other blog posts may also be of interest:

01 Feb

The Risks of Virtual Examinations

Rebecca Rauws Estate Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

As my colleague, Nick Esterbauer, blogged about last week (here and here), the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all of us, including the courts and the legal profession, towards the increasing use of technology. This has included the use of video-conferencing for examinations of witnesses in the litigation context. As we adapt to this new world, there are inevitably going to be ‘hiccups’. It is crucial to maintain the integrity of the process and to ensure that virtual examinations are not abused.

A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dealt with just such a situation. In Kaushal v Vasudeva et al., 2021 ONSC 440, the cross-examination of the respondent to an application was held over Zoom. The respondent required an interpreter for his cross-examination, and the respondent, his lawyer, and the interpreter all attended at the lawyer’s boardroom for the examination. They were all in the same room together, but on separate devices. The respondent’s wife and son came to the lawyer’s office with him, but according to the respondent they remained in the reception area at all times. It was confirmed on the record by the respondent’s lawyer that the only people present with the respondent during the examination were the lawyer and the interpreter.

Following the examination, the applicant noticed that a microphone and camera in the respondent’s lawyer’s boardroom had been left on, and he could hear the respondent’s wife and son speaking. It appeared to the applicant that the wife and son had listened in on the examination.

The respondent denied that his wife and son were present in the boardroom during his cross-examination. His lawyer’s legal assistant also provided affidavit evidence that the wife and son were not in the boardroom during the examinations.

The interpreter, however, ultimately swore two affidavits that the wife and son were present in the boardroom throughout the respondent’s examination, and were prompting the respondent’s answers by hand and facial gestures. The court accepted the interpreter’s evidence in its entirety.

The court concluded that there was misconduct during the respondent’s cross-examination on the basis that his wife and son were present and made hand and facial gestures to assist him with his answers. The court further concluded that the respondent’s misconduct amounted to abuse of process and that his affidavit responding to the application must be struck. It was the court’s view that it “must send a strong message that interference in the fact-finding process by abusing or taking advantage of a virtual examination will not be tolerated. In a broader sense, this type of misconduct strikes at the very heard of the integrity of the fact-finding process such that general deterrence is also a factor.”

Thanks for reading,

Rebecca Rauws

 

You may also enjoy these other blog posts:

05 Nov

Can you Reopen a Trial on the basis of Credibility?

Rebecca Rauws Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

In a recent decision from the British Columbia Court of Appeal, Mayer v Mayer Estate, 2020 BCCA 282, the court considered an application to reopen a trial to admit new evidence or to have a mistrial declared (the “post-trial application”). The post-trial application arose as a result of an email between the respondent’s daughter-in-law (who had been assisting the respondent with the litigation) and the respondent’s counsel. The appellant had obtained the email from the deceased’s computer. The deceased and the respondent had shared an email address, and when the appellant connected the computer to the internet some emails were downloaded from the shared account, including the email in question. The appellant took the position that the email that she had obtained impugned the respondent’s credibility by contradicting evidence she had given in the previous proceedings. The post-trial application was dismissed, and the appellant appealed the decision.

The Court of Appeal dealt with the question of the email fairly briefly. The post-trial application judge had concluded that the email was a communication that was subject to solicitor-client privilege. The Court of Appeal appears to have accepted that finding.

The content of the email is not specifically set out in the decision, but appears to have related to the purpose for which the respondent had made certain transfers to the deceased. It appears that, notwithstanding the finding that the email was privileged, the court still considered whether the contents of the email did impact the respondent’s credibility.

The respondent swore affidavit evidence in the original proceedings that she had made two transfers to the deceased to assist him in paying some tax debts. The email apparently indicated that at the time the respondent swore her affidavit, she knew that the deceased did not, in fact, have any tax debt. The post-trial application judge’s analysis stated that it appeared the deceased may have been untruthful with the respondent at the time the transfers were made, and probably used the funds for something other than tax debts, which he did not have. However, the respondent’s evidence in this regard was not a lie, because at the time of the transfer, all she knew was what the deceased had told her, namely that he intended to use the funds to pay his tax debts.

Additionally, the post-trial application judge had already addressed minor inconsistencies of this nature in the respondent’s evidence in his reasons from the original proceeding, noting that they were not consequential and fully explained by the respondent.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. In making this decision, the Court of Appeal notes that “it is apparent that the appellant is seeking largely to re-argue the case as originally tried before Justice Crossin, particularly as to credibility, which is not open to her.”

The Court of Appeal also awarded the respondent special costs (on a higher scale), based on its conclusion that the very serious allegations made and maintained by the appellant against the respondent constituted “sufficiently reprehensible conduct to merit rebuke in the form of an award of special costs”.

Although scenarios may exist where new evidence could have such an impact on credibility that it would warrant reopening a trial, one should be careful to fully assess the nature and strength of such evidence. The award of special costs also serves as further caution that serious allegations such as fraud and perjury should be made very selectively, when they are appropriate and fully supported by the evidence.

Thanks for reading,

Rebecca Rauws

 

You may also enjoy these other blog posts:

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