When someone composes an obituary for a loved one who has passed away, carefully selecting the photograph to go along with it, one would suppose that the last thing on their mind is the copyright they may hold in that obituary and photograph. Of course, few people expect that an obituary could be the subject of republication or possible copyright infringement.
However, one website has been reproducing obituaries in their “database of deceased people”, leading to questions about ownership of the obituaries themselves, as well as the photographs accompanying them. The website reproduces obituaries and photographs, apparently without permission from the individuals who originally created and posted the obituaries. As reported in this Global News article, one family even states that an obituary for their loved one, which had not been written by their family and contained a number of errors, was posted on the website less than a day after their loved one passed away. The family did not know who wrote the obituary, although the website released a statement that all of the obituaries they re-post are already on the internet.
A recent article in The Lawyer’s Daily discusses an application for certification of a class action copyright claim against this obituary database website. The application claims that the website is infringing copyright and moral rights in respect of the obituaries and photographs. The moral rights claim relates to the website’s monetization of the obituaries by offering options to purchase flowers, gifts, or virtual candles, through affiliate retailers. Some funeral homes offer a similar service, but the article notes that the unsavoury nature of the website’s business model, which consists of “scraping” obituaries from elsewhere on the internet, without permission or notice, and making money by doing so through advertisements or the selling of flowers or virtual candles, could provide some support for the moral rights claim.
In relation to the copyright infringement claims, there may be some obstacles to overcome, particularly in relation to ownership of the copyright. According to The Lawyer’s Daily article, under the Copyright Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. C-42, the person claiming a copyright infringement must be the owner, assignee or exclusive licensee of the work in question. An assignment of copyright must be in writing. As mentioned in the article, this could create an issue if the photograph used in the obituary was taken, for instance, by a stranger.
Damages in the event of liability are also uncertain. In a recent case with similar facts, where the defendants were found to have infringed on the plaintiff’s copyright, the court awarded statutory damages of only $2.00 per image because the cost of capturing the images in that case was low. However, given the emotional aspect of obituaries, it is possible that the facts in this case could lead to a larger damages award.
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Over the holidays I had a great nostalgia trip watching the recent Netflix series “The toys that made us” about the history of toys. One of the episodes focused on “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe“. For those of you who did not grow up in the 1980s, the titular character had a habit of loudly proclaiming “I have the power” right before getting down to business and saving the day. I feel like loudly proclaiming “I have the power” is as good a segue as any to discuss the general principles surrounding the rule in Saunders v. Vautier.
The term “Saunders v. Vautier” is often thrown around by estates lawyers as if it is a foregone conclusion that everyone in the room, including clients, should instinctively know what is meant by the phrase. This, of course, is not always the case. For those needing a general refresher look no further.
When lawyers mention the rule in “Saunders v. Vautier” it is often done in reference to a scenario wherein a beneficiary is not to receive certain property until a specific age, however as the provision providing for the gift does not contain a “gift-over” to another beneficiary should the originally named beneficiary not reach the specified age, the beneficiary immediately demands receipt of the gift upon attaining 18 years of age thereby collapsing the trust. While the rule in Saunders v. Vautier can be utilized in such a scenario, it would be a mistake to assume that this is the only scenario in which the rule in Saunders v. Vautier may be utilized, as the potential applications of the rule are much more expansive than this.
At its most expansive the rule in Saunders v. Vautier can be thought of as the rule which allows a beneficiary(s) to ignore the testator’s/settlor’s intentions and vary the terms of a trust. It stands for the proposition that if all potential beneficiaries of a trust, collectively representing 100% of the potential “ownership” of the assets of the trust, unanimously direct that the trust is to be wound up and/or varied, the trustee(s) must act in accordance with the beneficiaries’ direction regardless of whether such direction goes against the testator’s/settlor’s “intention” in establishing the trust. As summarized by the Supreme Court of Canada in Buschau v. Rogers Communications Inc.:
“The common law rule in Saunders v. Vautier can be concisely stated as allowing beneficiaries of a trust to depart from the settlor’s original intentions provided that they are of full legal capacity and are together entitled to all the rights of beneficial ownership in the trust property. More formally, the rule is stated as follows in Underhill and Hayton: Law of Trusts and Trustees (14th ed. 1987), at p. 628:
If there is only one beneficiary, or if there are several (whether entitled concurrently or successively) and they are all of one mind, and he or they are not under any disability, the specific performance of the trust may be arrested, and the trust modified or extinguished by him or them without reference to the wishes of the settlor or trustees.”
If even one beneficiary of the trust, however remote their interest may be, should refuse to consent to the proposed variation, the rule in Saunders v. Vautier may not be utilized and the trust must continue to be administered as settled. If one of the potential beneficiaries of the trust is under a legal disability, whether as a result of being a minor or otherwise, the principles from Saunders v. Vautier may still be utilized, however the consent of the beneficiary under a legal disability must be obtained under the Variation of Trusts Act which allows the court to consent to the proposed variation on behalf of the beneficiary under a legal disability. Should the court ultimately provide such a consent, and assuming all remaining “sui juris” beneficiaries have already consented to the proposed variation, all potential beneficiaries would have consented to the proposed variation and the rule in Saunders v. Vautier would be invoked.
Thank you for reading. Wield that power wisely.
The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes family gatherings, buying and wrapping gifts, and travel. Suffice to say, it can be a hectic and busy time. Nonetheless, with 2018 on the horizon, many of us take the time to reflect and set resolutions for the upcoming year. Despite this, so many Canadians do not have a Will.
Why not? Estate planning need not be trying, and the holiday season is a perfect time to start considering your estate plan.
With this in mind, I thought I would highlight an article from the Globe and Mail which does a great job of highlighting issues to get you thinking about your estate plan:
- Get started – make a detailed list of your assets, liabilities, and joint assets, and think about your family’s needs and lifestyle.
- Consider your options – do you want your bequests to be absolute, subject to the terms of a trust, or gifted during your lifetime?
- Appoint representatives – think about who you trust to administer your estate and ensure that they are up for the job.
- Special circumstances – are there any beneficiaries who have special circumstances such as those receiving ODSP, that would benefit from specific trusts?
- Taxation – meet with a professional to understand tax consequences and the vehicles available to limit the payment of taxes, including the use of joint ownership and estate freezes.
- Cottages – should your estate involve the cherished family cottage, think about whether you want it sold, or shared amongst family members. If the latter, think about preparing a co-ownership agreement.
Wishing all of our readers a happy New Year!
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A beneficiary of a trust can have either a vested or a contingent interest in the trust’s assets. For example, if a trustee holds an asset in trust for another person, with no further conditions attached, the beneficiary’s interest in that asset will be vested. However, if the trustee holds the same asset in trust for a beneficiary, subject to the condition that the beneficiary attain the age of 30, that beneficiary’s interest depends on them reaching the age of 30, and is therefore contingent. Whether a beneficiary’s interest is vested or contingent can have different consequences depending on the particular circumstances.
In Spencer v Riesberry, 2011 ONSC 3222 (affirmed in Spencer v Riesberry, 2012 ONCA 418), the Ontario Superior Court of Justice considered the nature of a beneficiary’s interest in a trust. Specifically, in the context of matrimonial litigation, the court considered whether a spouse’s beneficial interest in real property held by a trust could be considered as “property in which a person has an interest” for the purpose of s. 18(1) of the Family Law Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. F.3, such that the property in question could be considered the matrimonial home. If a property is considered to be a matrimonial home, pursuant to s. 4 of the Family Law Act, it cannot be deducted or excluded from the calculation of net family property and can contribute to increasing the owner spouse’s net family property.
In this case, a married couple, Sandra and Derek, had been residing, with their children, in their family home on Riverside Drive. In 1993, Sandra’s mother, Linda, had purchased the Riverside Drive property and settled it in a trust (the “Trust”). Sandra and Derek resided in the residence prior to their marriage in 1994, as well as during the marriage. The couple separated in 2010.
The beneficiaries of the Trust were Sandra, Linda, and Linda’s three other children. Three other properties were added, by gift, to the Trust over subsequent years, and each of these other properties were occupied by one of the other three children and their families.
The terms of the Trust provided that the trustee was to hold the trust property, subject to a life interest in favour of Linda. Upon Linda’s death, the trustee was to divide the trust property into equal parts so that there is one part for each beneficiary living at the date of Linda’s death.
The court considered the nature of Sandra’s interest in the Riverside Drive property in the context of her net family property and whether it could be characterized as a matrimonial home. Due to the terms of the Trust, the court held that Sandra did not have a specific interest in the Riverside Drive property. Although she was a beneficiary of the Trust, which owned the Riverside Drive property, it does not follow that Sandra was specifically entitled to that property in particular. Sandra’s interest in the Trust was characterized as a contingent beneficial interest, as her ultimate entitlement under the Trust depended on various factors. For instance, as the division of Trust property amongst beneficiaries would happen only upon Linda’s death, the assets to be distributed would consist of whatever is held by the Trust at that time. Additionally, the beneficiaries must be alive at the time of Linda’s death in order to receive their share.
On this basis, the Court concluded that Sandra did not have a specific interest in the Riverside Drive property such that it could be considered a matrimonial home. As Sandra was a contingent beneficiary of the Trust, the Court did find that she held an interest in the Trust’s assets generally, which was required to be valued and included as part of the equalization calculations. However, as the interest is not subject to the special treatment given to the matrimonial home, it can be deducted or excluded from net family property, as applicable. Overall, as Sandra’s interest in the Trust’s assets was contingent and not vested, it had a significant effect on the matrimonial proceedings with her spouse.
Thanks for reading and happy holidays!
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In the spirit of the holidays, today I thought I would write about a recent decision related to gifting. In Grosseth Estate v Grosseth, 2017 BCSC 2055, the British Columbia Supreme Court considered whether the presumptions of resulting trust and undue influence were applicable to various inter vivos gifts made by a deceased uncle to one of his nephews. Ultimately, the court concluded that both presumptions were rebutted, and the gifts were valid.
In Grosseth Estate, the deceased, Mort, left a Will providing that the residue of his estate was to be distributed equally amongst his 11 nieces and nephews. However, most of his estate had been gifted to one particular nephew, Brian, and his wife, Helen, prior to Mort’s death. This left only about $60,000.00 to be distributed in accordance with Mort’s Will. One of Mort’s other nephews, Myles, who was the executor of Mort’s estate, brought a claim against Brian and Helen following Mort’s death, seeking to have the money that had been gifted to them by Mort, returned to the estate.
About 10 years prior to Mort’s death, he moved from Alberta, where he had lived most of his life, to British Columbia, where he moved into Brian and Helen’s basement suite. Mort became a full participant in the family; he was included on family outings, attended family dinners every night, and became like a grandfather to Brian and Helen’s children.
For the first couple of years after Mort moved in, he gave Brian and Helen money each month, on an informal basis, as contribution to household costs. Around 2 years after Mort had been living with them, Brian and Helen had decided to purchase a commercial property for Helen’s chiropractic practice. Mort insisted on gifting $100,000.00 towards the purchase price, making it clear that he did not want anything in return. Following this payment, Mort did not make further contributions to the monthly household expenses. The court concluded that there was a tacit agreement amongst Mort, Brian, and Helen that Mort’s generous gift had cancelled any notion that further payments would be required. Several years later, Mort also gifted $57,000.00 to Brian and Helen to pay off the balance of their mortgage.
The court found that the nature of the relationship between Mort, Brian, and Helen gave rise to the presumption of resulting trust as well as the presumption of undue influence. However, both of these presumptions are rebuttable.
The court acknowledged that, with respect to undue influence, Mort did depend on Brian and Helen, but based on the evidence of a number of individuals, concluded that he remained independent and capable throughout. Accordingly, the presumption of undue influence was rebutted.
The presumption of resulting trust was also rebutted as the court was satisfied that Mort intended the transfers to be gifts motivated by “a natural and understandable gratitude to Brian and Helen for the happiness and comfort of his final years.”
It is not uncommon for this type of situation to come up. Where a deceased lived with one niece or nephew (or sibling), or where the niece/nephew/sibling is the primary caregiver prior to the deceased’s death, any gifting that was done in the context of this relationship may be vulnerable to challenge on the basis of resulting trust or undue influence. Unfortunately, in some instances, the relationship dynamics involved in these kinds of arrangements can result in suspect gifts or transfers. Transfers made without clear evidence of an intention to gift can also raise questions. In this case, the court did not find that there was any improper behaviour on the part of the giftees, did find evidence of an intention to gift, and the transfers were ultimately upheld.
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Submissions from the Joint Committee on Taxation Regarding Proposed Changes to Voluntary Disclosure Program
Last month, I blogged about some changes proposed by the CRA to the Voluntary Disclosure Program. It was noted that the CRA would be accepting comments with respect to the proposed changes until August 8, 2017.
The Joint Committee on Taxation of The Canadian Bar Association and Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (the “Joint Committee”) made submissions in this regard in a letter to the Minister of National Revenue dated August 8, 2017.
In their letter, the Joint Committee recommends that the Minister reconsider a number of points, including, among other things, the introduction of a multi-tier system including the “general program” and the “limited program”. The Joint Committee states that part of the success of the Voluntary Disclosure Program is due to the fact that taxpayers applying to the Program are able, to a certain extent, to predict the consequences of initiating a voluntary disclosure. This allows non-compliant taxpayers to assess the benefits of the Program as opposed to the ongoing uncertainty of non-compliance and the risk of assessment and/or prosecution. The Joint Committee submits that the proposed changes may lead to uncertainty, and therefore, may encourage non-compliance, which would be inconsistent with the objectives of the Voluntary Disclosure Program and with encouraging non-compliant taxpayers to become compliant.
The submissions from the Joint Committee also comment that the draft Information Circular setting out the proposed changes apparently provides that the No-Name method of disclosure, wherein certain information may be provided to a Voluntary Disclosure Program officer without identifying the taxpayer, in order to obtain a better understanding of how the taxpayer’s disclosure may be addressed, will no longer be available for disclosures commencing after December 31, 2017. In the Joint Committee’s experience, non-compliant taxpayers are more likely to proceed with a voluntary disclosure if the process is perceived as transparent and predictable. If they are correct and the Minister of Revenue proposes to eliminate the No-Name disclosure method, the Joint Committee urges the Minister of Revenue to reconsider this proposed change.
The letter from the Joint Committee makes a number of other submissions that are beyond the scope of this blog, but can be read in full here.
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Today I wanted to discuss a basic, but important concept when it comes to Wills: revocation. There are a number of ways in which a Will can be revoked, and it is crucial that everyone with a Will, or who will make a Will in the future, understands what those methods are, and the requirements that must be met in order to successfully revoke a Will. An incomplete understanding of revocation can lead to unintended consequences if a testator mistakenly believes either that a prior Will has been revoked, or that a prior Will that he or she believed to have been revoked, remained valid and operative.
According to section 15 of the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26,
15 A will or part of a will is revoked only by,
(a) marriage, subject to section 16;
(b) another will made in accordance with the provisions of this Part;
(c) a writing,
(i) declaring an intention to revoke, and
(ii) made in accordance with the provisions of this Part governing making of a will; or
(d) burning, tearing or otherwise destroying it by the testator or by some person in his or her presence and by his or her direction with the intention of revoking it.
Ontario has a strict compliance regime, meaning that the statutory requirements for actions such as executing and revoking a Will must be followed carefully, and that the courts do not have the discretion to declare a document valid that does not do so. Accordingly, if an attempted revocation of a Will does not strictly comply with the statute, it may not be valid.
For instance, one method of revoking a Will is by a writing declaring an intention to revoke and made in accordance with the requirements of the making of a Will. This means that, even if the document revoking the prior Will is not itself a Will, it must nonetheless comply with those requirements, whether it be a formal Will witnessed by two people, or a holograph Will. A testator who does not seek legal advice on revoking his or her Will may mistakenly believe that, for example, a typewritten signed statement would validly revoke a Will, when, in fact, it would not.
Destroying a Will, another method of revocation, must also be done in a particular way to satisfy the requirements of the Succession Law Reform Act. As discussed in Probate Practice (5th ed.), the two elements of destruction and intention to revoke must both be present. The destruction itself must also be done either by the testator personally, or by someone else in the testator’s presence and by his or her direction. Therefore, even if the testator directs another person to destroy his or her Will, if the testator is not present at the time of such destruction, it will be insufficient to revoke the Will in question.
Additionally, the requisite capacity to revoke a Will is the same as that required to execute a Will in the first place.
While this blog only briefly touches upon a few specific issues that may arise in relation to revoking Wills, it is clear that without a proper understanding of how to validly revoke a Will, a testator can easily stray offside of the statute, resulting in a potentially invalid revocation. As with the execution of a Will, revocation can also have significant effects on a testator’s testamentary dispositions, and it is important to seek advice from a trusted legal professional prior to taking any steps that may lead to unintended, and unfortunate, consequences.
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We have previously blogged about the CRA’s Voluntary Disclosure Program and how it can, for instance, be useful for estate trustees should they encounter a situation where the deceased whose estate they are administering failed to meet their tax obligations. Essentially, the program gives a taxpayer a second chance to come forward voluntarily and change a tax return that was previously filed, or to file a return that should have been filed, and to request relief from prosecution or penalties as a result of any erroneous or incomplete filings.
However, as discussed in a recent article in the Financial Post, the CRA has proposed some changes to the Voluntary Disclosure Program. The draft “Information Circular – IC00-1R6-Voluntary Disclosures Program” prepared by the CRA for discussion purposes can be found here. The key proposed changes would narrow the eligibility for the Voluntary Disclosure Program, and impose additional conditions on taxpayers who are applying. The proposed changes also include less generous relief in certain circumstances, such as cases of major non-compliance.
As discussed in a PwC Tax Insights publication, another proposed change creates two tracks into which the CRA can assign a taxpayer upon application to the Voluntary Disclosure Program—either the “general program” or the “limited program”. The general program is intended for inadvertent and minor non-compliance, while the limited program is intended for major non-compliance. The general program involves mostly minor changes, including a limitation on interest relief. Major non-compliance, which will fall into the limited program, includes, for example, active efforts to avoid detection, multiple years of non-compliance, a sophisticated taxpayer, or disclosure being made after an official CRA statement regarding its intended focus of compliance or following CRA correspondence or campaigns. If an application is assigned to the limited program, the relief available to the taxpayer will no longer include interest relief or relief from penalties other than gross negligence penalties. The determination of which track an application will be assigned to will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Previously, there were four conditions that had to be met in order to be considered as a valid disclosure. The proposal would add a fifth condition, requiring payment of the estimated tax owing along with the application. The changes described above are only a few of the proposed changes, and all such changes can be found in the Information Circular.
The CRA will be accepting comments with respect to the changes proposed in the draft Information Circular – IC00-1R6 – Voluntary Disclosures Program until August 8, 2017. Any changes to the program would come into effect as of January 1, 2018.
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Vanier v Vanier: Power of Attorney Disputes, Undue Influence, and Losing Sight of a Donor’s Best Interests
Often in power of attorney litigation, relationship issues between past or present attorneys may take centre stage, with the unfortunate consequence that the best interests of the donor of the power of attorney may get lost amid suspicions and accusations being thrown back and forth. This can often arise in situations where siblings are involved in a dispute regarding power of attorney for a parent, and, in fact, was the situation in the recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Vanier v Vanier, 2017 ONCA 561.
At issue was the power of attorney for property of Rita, whose husband had predeceased her, leaving her his entire estate. She had three adult children: twin sons, Pierre and Raymond, and a daughter, Patricia. There was a power of attorney for property executed in 2011 naming Patricia. Unfortunately, Patricia allegedly took advantage of her role as Rita’s power of attorney for property, leading to litigation and a settlement. As a result, Rita executed a power of attorney for property in 2013 naming Pierre and Raymond, jointly and severally, as her attorneys for property (the “2013 POA”).
However, Pierre and Raymond became suspicious of each other, steps taken by each of them as Rita’s attorneys for property, and their relationship broke down. Issues arose in relation to Rita’s ability to access her money; in particular, Raymond had failed to cooperate in relation to unfreezing some corporate assets that had been frozen as part of the litigation with Patricia, and instructed Rita’s lawyer not to release settlement funds received from Patricia to Rita. Consequently Rita could not access funds to pay for basic living expenses, including rent at her retirement home. As a result, Pierre suggested that Rita take certain steps to facilitate access to her funds, including executing a power of attorney for property naming Pierre as her sole attorney for property, which Rita did in 2015 (the “2015 POA”).
Litigation and Appeal
Raymond brought an application seeking Pierre’s removal as attorney for property and a declaration that the 2015 POA was void. He also brought a motion seeking interim relief. The decision on the motion was appealed by Raymond, leading to this decision from the Court of Appeal. The Court considered 5 issues on appeal, but I will address only 1 of them for the purposes of this blog, being whether the motion judge erred in applying the wrong test for undue influence.
Proper Test for Undue Influence
Raymond argued that the proper test to be used was not the test for testamentary undue influence, but rather the test for inter vivos equitable undue influence, which would shift the onus of proving undue influence from Raymond, to Pierre, who would have to prove that Rita signed the 2015 POA willingly and without undue influence.
The Court of Appeal found that the application of the inter vivos test had not been argued before the motion judge, was a new issue raised on appeal, and, based on the general rule, the Appeal Court could not consider it. Moreover, there was no need for the Court to consider whether to grant leave to allow a new argument in this regard, as in any event, the inter vivos equitable undue influence test had no application on the facts.
In order to shift the burden of proof from the complainant (in this situation Raymond, arguing on behalf of Rita) to the other party (in this case, Pierre), two prerequisites must be met:
- The complainant reposed trust and confidence in the other party; and
- The transaction is not readily explicable by the parties’ relationship; the transaction is “immoderate and irrational”.
Pierre conceded that Rita did repose trust and confidence in him. However, the Court found that Rita’s decision to execute the 2015 POA was not “immoderate or irrational”. The Court noted that while the decision was emotionally difficult for Rita, it was totally rational. She knew that she was having issues accessing funds needed to pay her basic expenses. She also knew that some of Raymond’s actions had led to her inability to access those funds. The Court also found that the 2015 POA conferred little, if any, benefit on Pierre. Lastly, even if the inter vivos test applied, the Appeal Court held that the record did not support a finding of undue influence.
In conclusion, the Court of Appeal commented that it endorsed the words of the motion judge who had expressed the view that Raymond and Pierre had “lost sight of the fact that it is Rita’s best interests that must be served here, not their own pride, suspicions, authority or desires”, stating also that it hoped that in light of this decision, Rita’s sons would honour her wishes and end the litigation.
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