Beneficiaries of a Trust who have a vested interest in the capital can sometimes assign their entitlement to another. But to protect the Trustee, it is critical that any such assignment be properly documented.
Section 11 of the Ontario Statute of Frauds states: “all grants and assignments of a trust or confidence shall be in writing signed by the party granting or assigning the same, or by his or her last Will or devise, or else are void and of no effect.”
Section 11, unlike the rest of the Statute of Frauds, applies to both realty and personalty. The section, moreover, requires that the grant or assignment of the equitable interest be itself in writing, not merely evidenced in writing. Where the beneficiary of a trust of pure personalty directs the trustees hold the property in trust for another person, the direction must be in writing to be valid.
This is a good reminder of how strictly the law considers the relationship between beneficiary and trustee. The fiduciary duty owed to a beneficiary by a trustee requires that any voluntary assignment of the beneficiary’s entitlement be carefully documented to protect both parties. In the unusual circumstance where a beneficiary assigns his or her interest, the trustee needs to be protected. The beneficiary, in turn, needs to clearly convey to the trustee the nature of any assignment and understand (ideally with independent legal advice) the ramifications of such a decision.
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This week on Hull on Estates, Natalia Angelini and Stuart Clark discuss options that may be available to help protect a trustee when drafting a Will or Trust.
Last week we considered the application of solicitor/client privilege to a deceased testator and their testamentary intentions. A further consideration in examining the passing of solicitor/client privilege upon death is whether the individual claiming privilege is a trustee, executor, or a beneficiary.
Trustees, executors, and beneficiaries are generally regarded as having a community of interest, which may entitle them to solicitor/client privilege. Under the common law, there is not a need to protect communications between solicitors and clients from disclosure to persons who are claiming under the estate where the executor (or trustee) and beneficiary have a joint interest in the advice. The common interest/joint interest provision applies so that no privilege will attach to communications between a solicitor and client against a person who has a joint interest with the client in the subject matter of the communication. There can be no privilege asserted against beneficiaries of a trust over communications between a trustee and a trustee’s solicitors regarding the business and affairs of the trust.
Re Ballard Estate, (1994), 20 OR (3d) 189 (Ont. Gen. Div.), held that documents will be said to belong to a beneficiary because the solicitor was engaged and giving advice in regard to the administration of the estate and for the benefit of all beneficiaries who take or may take under the will or trust.
Pursuant to paragraph 16 of Chang v Lai Estate, 2014 BCSC 128, “it is well established that a beneficiary has a proprietary interest in and a right to production of any document relating to advice sought and obtained by an executrix or trustee in connection with the administration of an estate. The executrix cannot claim solicitor/client privilege over such documents because they have a commonality of interest with the beneficiaries in the administration of the estate.” As such, the advice taken by a trustee or an executor is for the benefit of all beneficiaries of the will, establishing a joint interest between the executrix and beneficiaries.
The aforementioned case further highlighted that a beneficiary is not entitled to the production of all communications between legal counsel and an executor. If there is an adversarial relationship between a trustee and a beneficiary, there is no joint interest that would compel disclosure of communications that would normally be protected by solicitor/client privilege. Where a beneficiary is in an adversarial relationship with the executor, solicitor/client privilege would appear to remain in place to preserve confidentiality
Moreover, if litigation is commenced against a third party on behalf of the trust, the trustee cannot generally claim privilege as against the beneficiary, as the beneficiary has an interest in the outcome of the litigation. However, pursuant to the case of Talbot v Marshfield , if a trustee is in litigation against a beneficiary, and especially if the trustee is paying their own legal costs, the trustee can generally uphold privilege as against the beneficiary.
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What happens to communications between a solicitor and a testator once the testator passes away? Can privilege be waived in order to determine the intentions of a testator?
As stated in R v McClure, 2001 SCC 14, “solicitor/client privilege must be as close to absolute as possible to ensure public confidence and retain relevance. As such, it will only yield in certain clearly defined circumstances, and does not involve a balancing of interests on a case-by-case basis.”
It has been established that the beneficiary of privilege (i.e. the client) is able to pass on their privilege to established successors. Pursuant Bullivant v AG for Victoria  (HL), a testator’s death does not destroy the privilege that can be asserted by an executor, and the heirs of the testator.
In Hicks Estate v. Hicks, (1987) 25 E.T.R. 271, the Ontario District Court (as it then was) was faced with the question of whether an Estate Trustee could step into the shoes of the deceased individual and waive privilege in the same fashion as the deceased. In this case, the court clarified that solicitor/client privilege exists for the benefit of the client, not the solicitor.
In Goodman v Geffen,  2 SCR 353, the Supreme Court of Canada established that there are situations where privilege does not arise where the interests of the party seeking information are the same as those of the individual who retained the solicitor. For example, the court may receive evidence from a solicitor of instructions given to the solicitor by a deceased testator in order to determine the testator’s true intentions. This principle has been further explained in the case of Stewart v Walker (1903) 6 OLR 495 (CA): “the reason on which the rule is founded is the safeguarding of the interest of the client, or those claiming under him when they are in conflict with the claims of third persons not claiming, or assuming to claim under him.” As such, upon the death of a testator, it is possible for the privilege between the testator and their solicitor to extend beyond death.
Aside from trying to determine the true intentions of the testator, the principle of solicitor/client privilege upon the death of a testator can be applied to the disclosure of legal opinions to a trustee, as a trustee is bound to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and to further their interests. This will be discussed further next week.
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The media cannot get enough of President Donald Trump. Regardless of whether you turn on the television, or pick up a newspaper, there seem to be endless articles about the policies and the decisions he has made. As this is an estates blog, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the recent commentary regarding the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust (the “Trust”).
Before his election, the then President-elect Donald Trump was questioned as to whether he intended to place his assets in a blind trust.
What is a blind trust? In order to answer this, I refer to a prior Hull & Hull blog which states that, “a blind trust can be thought of as an individual relinquishing control over their assets, and providing them to a trustee to manage them on their behalf. The trustee has complete discretion over how to invest the individual’s assets, with the beneficiary being provided with no information regarding how the investments are being held, and the beneficiary having no say in how the funds are managed. As the beneficiary has no idea what their funds are invested in, the theory is that they would not be inclined to enact government policy which would favour their own investments, and that they would be able to avoid a conflict of interest”.
Documents recently made available to the public provide insight into the terms of the Trust. For instance, the assets of the Trust include liquid assets (from the sale of investments), as well as his physical and intellectual properties. The Trustees of the Trust are the President’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organisation’s chief financial officer. Apparently, the President has the ability to revoke the trustees’ authority (I presume by saying, ‘you’re fired’) at any time. Moreover, according to the New York Times, the President will continue to receive reports on any profits/losses.
Of course, there are two views as to whether these Trust terms constitute a blind trust. While some pundits suggest that the Trust satisfactorily distances the President from his assets, others suggest that the President has not gone far enough to absolve himself of potential conflicts of interest and is therefore not a blind trust.
Find this topic interesting? Please consider these related Hull & Hull LLP Blogs & Podcasts:
- What About Trump and Estates?
- Blind Trusts – Trust law comes to Cabinet
- Blind Trusts – Who Controls Donald Trump’s Assets While President?
However, in calculating compensation, there are certain expenses that will be deducted from the compensation to which an estate trustee would otherwise be entitled. As a general rule, expenses paid to a third party for tasks that are properly a part of the main duties and expected expertise of the estate trustee (i.e. “executor’s work”) will be deducted from compensation.
Tasks that are Generally Deducted from Compensation
Generally, the determination of whether the amount will be deducted will depend on the complexity of the task and the circumstances of the particular estate.
If an estate trustee delegates any of his or her general duties to professionals, it is usually a personal expense for which he or she will not be compensated. Examples of this may include preparing the estate tax return, investing the estate assets, and preparing accounts.
Maintaining proper accounts is the primary duty of a trustee and the preparation of accounts has generally been deducted from estate trustee compensation. If an estate trustee acted improperly, the fees to have accounts prepared will be deducted. While accounts are specialized and the argument has been made that an estate trustee may not have the requisite knowledge to prepare proper accounts, the preparation is still excluded from estate trustee compensation.
An estate trustee is not entitled to be compensated for legal fees paid for their own personal benefit; however, the case of Geffen v Goodman, 1991 2 SCR 353, established that an individual may be compensated for any legal fees incurred to defend the interests of the estate.
If an estate trustee’s actions resulted in a loss to the estate through mismanagement of the estate assets, the amount will likely be deducted from compensation. An example of mismanagement is if the estate trustee fails to prudently invest the estate assets.
Tasks that are Generally Not Deducted from Compensated
In Young Estate, 2012 ONSC 343, the court found that investment management was beyond the skill of an estate trustee, and it was proper to retain and pay private investment counsel out of the assets of the estate. An investment or financial manager may be necessary to hire and pay through estate assets if the expertise is reasonably outside the expertise of the average estate trustee.
An estate trustee can also hire consultants, investment managers, property managers or operating managers if an estate has a corporation as an asset, and can pay their fees out of the estate if it would not be reasonable to expect an estate trustee to have reasonable knowledge of the topic.
In summary, it bears repeating that whether an expense is deducted from compensation will depend on the particular circumstances of the estate and the particular expertise of an estate trustee.
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When one thinks of a “trust fund baby“, images of a lavish lifestyle supported by family wealth probably come to mind. But with the images likely comes the sad realization that such a lifestyle will not be enjoyed be you; either you are born into such wealth or you are not. But is this necessarily true? Could you be adopted into a trust, and with it adopt the lifestyle of a trust fund baby? If a trust has been set up which provides that the beneficiaries of the trust are to be the issue (i.e. children) of a specific individual, if such an individual legally adopts you, would you become a beneficiary of the trust?
In Ontario, the legal status of adopted children is governed by the Child and Family Services Act (the “CFSA“). Section 158(2) of the CFSA provides that, for the purposes of the law, upon an adoption order being granted the adopted child becomes the child of the adoptive parent and ceases to be the child of the person who was his or her parent before the adoption order was granted.
With respect to the question of whether an adopted child gains status under any will or trust, section 158(4) of the CFSA provides:
“In any will or other document made at any time before or after the 1st day of November, 1985, and whether the maker of the will or document is alive on that day or not, a reference to a person or group or class of persons described in terms of relationship by blood or marriage to another person shall be deemed to refer to or include, as the case may be, a person who comes within the description as a result of an adoption, unless the contrary is expressed.” [emphasis added]
Simply put, so long as the will or trust deed does not specifically preclude adopted children from becoming included as part of any class of persons described by relationship by blood or marriage, an adopted child would be treated no differently than a biological child in determining who forms part of such a class. As a result, presuming that the trust in question does not bar adopted children from becoming beneficiaries, should the wealthy individual contemplated in the hypothetical above legally adopt you, you would become a beneficiary of the trust.
Your dreams of living as a trust fund baby may not be over yet. Thank you for reading.
This week on Hull on Estates, Paul Trudelle & Noah Weisberg discuss the role and responsibilities of a trustee de son tort and what must they consider in exercising their duties and obligations.
Should you have any questions, please email us at email@example.com or leave a comment on our blog.
Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States of America. While the political ramifications of the surprise result of this week’s election are not yet known, there is little doubt that, as it relates to Donald Trump personally at least, his world is about to change. Donald Trump prides himself on being a successful businessman, controlling, amongst other things, a vast hotel empire that bears his name. But who controls such assets on Mr. Trump’s behalf while he is president?
In the days following Justin Trudeau’s selection of his first cabinet in November 2015, I wrote a blog about the requirement that all of such cabinet members would need to place their investments into a blind trust. At its most simple, a blind trust can be thought of as an individual relinquishing control over their assets, and providing them to a trustee to manage on their behalf. The trustee has complete discretion over how to invest the individual’s assets, with the beneficiary being provided with no information regarding how the investments are being held, and the beneficiary having no say in how the funds are managed. As the beneficiary has no idea what their funds are invested in, the theory is that they would not be inclined to enact government policy which would favour their own investments, and they would be able to avoid a conflict of interest.
CNBC is reporting that Mr. Trump will be placing his business interests into a blind trust while president, handing over control to his three children. CNBC has noted that Mr. Trump’s circumstance is not typical to those of other politicians who place their assets in blind trusts, noting that Mr. Trump likely knows his own investments intimately as a result of their bearing his name, such that, even in a blind trust, he would likely be able to identify them. NPR has previously reported about such difficulties, noting that it would likely be impossible for Mr. Trump to place his most valuable asset, being his own “Trump” name and brand, into a blind trust.
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The composition of assets held by a trust can be complex. In situations wherein a significant amount of wealth is held in a trust, the trust can often be composed of various corporate entities (whether numbered companies or otherwise), which in turn can often hold interests in other corporations. The administration of such corporate entities can have wide ranging implications, with the trusts perhaps only owning a portion of any shares in the overall structure. But what right, if any, does a beneficiary of the trust have to view the backing corporate documentation for such corporations? Does a beneficiary of a trust have an automatic right to view all backing corporate documentation, or do the trustees have the authority to refuse the request in certain circumstances?
Although there is little jurisprudence in Canada on the subject, the English case of Butt v. Kelson,  Ch. 197, has been cited as a leading authority. In Butt v. Kelson, Justice Romer provides the following commentary in confirming that beneficiaries of a trust have certain rights to compel the release of backing corporate documentation:
“What I think is the true way of looking at the matter is that which was presented to this court by Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas, that is that the beneficiaries are entitled to be treated as though they were the registered shareholders in respect of trust shares, with the advantages and disadvantages (for example, restrictions imposed by the articles) which are involved in that position, and that they can compel the trustee directors if necessary to use their votes as the beneficiaries, or as the court, if the beneficiaries themselves are not in agreement, think proper, even to the extent of altering the articles of association if the trust shares carry votes sufficient for that purpose… I would propose, accordingly, that the declaration which has been made be discharged, but that there should be inserted into the order liberty to [the beneficiary] to apply in these proceedings in relation to any document which he may hereafter desire to see and of which [the trustees] decline to give him inspection.“ [emphasis added]
Justice Romer’s commentary suggests that at minimum a beneficiary of a trust is entitled to the same disclosure rights regarding any corporation owned by the trust as if the beneficiary were the shareholder of the shares which the trust owns. Whether such disclosure rights go beyond that of a shareholder, and whether the beneficiary can compel the release of any documentation available only to the directors, will need to be determined on a case by case basis, with Justice Romer suggesting that it may even be possible in circumstances where the trust is the majority shareholder for the beneficiaries to compel the trustees (as shareholders) to alter the articles of incorporation to provide for the release of certain documentation which otherwise may not have been available to them. Whether the beneficiaries would be entitled to receive such documentation would need to be determined by the court on a case by case basis.
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