This week on Hull on Estates, Stuart Clark and Kira Domratchev discuss the decision of Nelson v Trottier, 2019 ONSC 1657, and the legal obligations of the survivor in circumstances where there is a mutual wills agreement.
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In the past, in estate litigation matters, it was often the case that some or all of the litigating parties’ costs would be paid out of estate assets. However, in more recent years, the courts have been moving away from this general practice, and increasingly making costs awards providing for the payment of costs by one of the parties, personally. In particular, if the court views a party, including an estate trustee, to have behaved improperly or unreasonably, it may decide that such a party must pay the other party’s costs, personally. We have blogged about instances of such an outcome before.
A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has reaffirmed this general trend. The decision in Ford v Mazman, 2019 ONSC 542, involved a motion to pass over the named estate trustee, and appoint the two sole beneficiaries of the estate in question, as estate trustees. Although the named estate trustee and the beneficiaries were initially on good terms, within several months of the testator’s passing, the relationships began to break down, with the estate trustee beginning to make accusations towards the beneficiaries, in relation to the testator. The court found that it was “not a case of mere friction—this is a case of outright hostility from [the estate trustee] to the beneficiaries”, also commenting that it was difficult to fathom why the estate trustee acted as she did, and that her accusations were unwarranted. Ultimately, the court made an order passing over the estate trustee.
After the parties were unable to reach an agreement as to costs, the court made an endorsement in this regard in Ford v Mazman, 2019 ONSC 1297. After a discussion of the costs principles applicable to estate litigation, the court stated as follows:
“I am mindful that an estate trustee should be fully compensated for any reasonable costs incurred in the administration of the estate. However, the actions of the [estate trustee] are far from reasonable. I was not provided any rationale as to why her animus became necessary in the administration of her good friend’s estate.”
Ultimately, the court made a costs award in favour of the beneficiaries, payable by the estate trustee, personally.
This costs decision serves as an important reminder that parties entering into estate litigation proceedings should not count on their costs being paid out of the estate. Additionally, even though the estate trustee’s conduct in this case appears to be extreme, litigants should still keep in mind the importance of acting reasonably.
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The Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Moore v Sweet provided meaningful clarification on the Canadian law of unjust enrichment and, in particular, the juristic reason analysis.
As it made a finding of unjust enrichment, it was not necessary for the Court to consider the second issue before it, being whether, in the absence of unjust enrichment, a constructive trust could nevertheless be imposed in the circumstances on the basis of “good conscience”.
In 1997, the Supreme Court released its decision in Soulos v Korkontzilas. That case considered situations that may give rise to a constructive trust remedy. In referring to the categories in which a constructive trust may be appropriate, which were noted to historically include where it was otherwise required by good conscience, Justice McLachlin (as she then was) stated as follows:
I conclude that in Canada, under the broad umbrella of good conscience, constructive trusts are recognized both for wrongful acts like fraud and breach of duty of loyalty, as well as to remedy unjust enrichment and corresponding deprivation…Within these two broad categories, there is room for the law of constructive trust to develop and for greater precision to be attained, as time and experience may dictate.
Since 1997, Soulos and the above excerpt have been interpreted inconsistently by scholars and courts of appeal throughout Canada. Some consider Soulos to restrict the availability of constructive trust remedies to only situations where there has been a finding of unjust enrichment or wrongful conduct, while others favour a more liberal interpretation.
The appellant in Moore v Sweet sought, in the alternative to a remedy on the basis of unjust enrichment, a remedial constructive trust with respect to the proceeds of the life insurance policy on the basis of good conscience. In choosing not to address this issue, Justice Côté (writing for the Majority) stated as follows:
This disposition of the appeal renders it unnecessary to determine whether this Court’s decision in Soulos should be interpreted as precluding the availability of a remedial constructive trust beyond cases involving unjust enrichment or wrongful acts like breach of fiduciary duty. Similarly, the extent to which this Court’s decision in Soulos may have incorporated the “traditional English institutional trusts” into the remedial constructive trust framework is beyond the scope of this appeal. While recognizing that these remain open questions, I am of the view that they are best left for another day.
It will be interesting to see if and when the Supreme Court ultimately chooses to determine “the open questions” regarding the availability of the remedial constructive trust. Until then, it appears that some debate regarding the circumstances in which it may be imposed will remain.
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Multiple wills are an extensively used estate planning tool designed to reduce the amount of Estate Administration Tax payable. Essentially, the grant of a Certificate of Appointment is limited to the assets referred to in the will that is being probated, and Estate Administration Tax is only paid on the assets falling under the will that is being probated.
This estate planning strategy was tested and approved by the courts in Granovsky Estate v. Ontario.
Where there is only one will, can similar probate fee/administration tax savings be accomplished by applying for a limited grant? According to the Manitoba Court of Appeal decision of Pollock v. Manitoba, the answer is NO.
In Pollock, the deceased died leaving personal property, mainly shares in privately held corporations, having a value of about $12.5m, and real property having a value of $1m. Probate was required to deal with the real property, but not required to deal with the shares. If probate could be obtained in relation to just the real property and not the value of the shares, the estate would save $75,000 in probate fees. (Using current Estate Administration Tax rates in Ontario, the saving under such a scheme would be $187,500!)
The Manitoba legislation allowed the administration of an estate of a deceased person to be limited to certain assets “as the court thinks fit”. The Manitoba Court of Appeal considered a long line of cases dealing with the issue and concluded that the court must have a “strong reason” for making a limited grant, and stated “I do not regard the saving of probate fees as a sound reason for making a limited grant of probate. An applicant for a limited grant is, of course, entitled to take the least expensive way of administering an estate, but the chosen way must be one permitted by the legislation. The saving of probate fees is not, as I see it, a sufficiently strong reason to justify a limited grant. Nor is a limited grant a money-saving device contemplated by the legislation.”
In Ontario, the Rules of Civil Procedure specifically allow for limited grants. However, the grant is “limited to the assets referred to in the will”: Rule 74.04(1). Thus, in Ontario, if there is only one will, the result would be as in Pollock: even if probate of the will was needed in order to deal with only one asset, Estate Administration Tax would need to be paid on all assets of the estate.
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Alberta recently passed legislation which will allow for the use of Henson trusts in estate planning in the province. Although Henson trusts are commonly used in Ontario, prior to this new legislation, the law in Alberta provided that the value of an individual’s interest in a trust was to be included in calculating his or her assets for the purpose of determining eligibility under Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (“AISH”) program, thus preventing the effective use of Henson trusts.
A Henson trust is a type of trust often used here in Ontario in situations where a beneficiary is a recipient of The Ontario Disability Support Program (“ODSP”). An individual’s eligibility for ODSP is determined based on his or her income and assets. The Henson trust has emerged as a strategy to provide for a disabled beneficiary without compromising his or her eligibility to receive ODSP benefits.
The regulations to the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, 1997, S.O. 1997, c. 25, Sched. B provide that if a person has a beneficial interest in a trust that is derived from an inheritance or proceeds of a life insurance policy, provided that it does not exceed $100,000.00, this interest will not be included in calculating his or her assets. On the other hand, a Henson trust is not restricted as to size, as it is set up to be fully discretionary, such that the beneficiary does not have a vested interest in the trust.
A Henson trust would usually be set up such that the beneficiary who is a recipient of ODSP is the subject of the trustee’s absolute discretion to make distributions to him or her. Upon the beneficiary’s death, there will typically be a gift-over to a person or entity other than the disabled beneficiary. As the disabled beneficiary is not entitled to any assets from the trust (given the trustee’s absolute discretion), it is not considered to be an asset of his or hers. The trustee of a Henson trust should still be mindful in making discretionary distributions to the disabled beneficiary, so as not to exceed the maximum annual income receivable by them, and possibly risk disentitling the beneficiary to ODSP benefits.
As discussed in this article, Alberta recently passed An Act to Strengthen Financial Security for Persons with Disabilities (SA 2018, c 12), which provides that a person’s interest in a trust is not to be included in the calculation of that person’s assets for the purpose of AISH, and repeals the section of the regulations which previously allowed for the inclusion of a trust interest in this calculation. As noted in the article, this will now allow for the use of Henson trusts in Alberta, and provide more flexibility in estate planning where a disabled beneficiary is receiving government support.
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The Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, S.O. 1992, c. 30 (the “SDA”), governs, among other things, the appointment of guardians for incapable persons. There are two types of guardians: a guardian for property and a guardian for personal care.
Sections 22(1) and 55(1) of the SDA provide that the Court may, on any person’s application, appoint a guardian of property or of the person, for a person who is incapable of managing property or personal care if, as a result of the said incapacity, it is necessary for decisions to be made on his or her behalf.
In order to appoint a guardian for someone, the Court will need to make a finding of incapacity for that person. This is an important hurdle, and the Court will generally need to see evidence that the person in question has been assessed as incapable of managing property and/or personal care prior to making a finding that he or she is incapable.
Depending on the circumstances, a person may submit to a capacity assessment voluntarily. However, according to section 78(1) of the SDA, if a person refuses to be assessed, an assessor shall not perform the assessment. Section 79 of the SDA allows the Court to order that a person be assessed, provided that the Court is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe the person is incapable. Additionally, to obtain a Court Order for an assessment, there must be a proceeding under the SDA, in which the person’s capacity is in issue. The Ontario Court of Appeal in Neill v Pellolio, 2001 ONCA 6452 held that there is no stand-alone relief available for an Order for a capacity assessment in the absence of an application brought under the SDA. Accordingly, obtaining a finding of incapacity from the Court may not be a simple endeavour.
The SDA also has in place measures to protect an individual’s decision-making rights from undue restriction. Sections 22(3) and 55(2) state that the Court shall not appoint a guardian if it is satisfied that the need for decisions to be made will be met by an alternative course of action that does not require the Court to find the person incapable, and is less restrictive of the person’s decision-making rights than the appointment of a guardian.
Accordingly, for example, if a person has already granted a power of attorney, allowing the named attorney to act would constitute a less restrictive course of action which also does not require the Court to make a finding of incapacity in order for decisions to be made for an incapable person. Furthermore, if a person is incapable of managing their property or personal care, but remains capable of granting a power of attorney, that would likely also constitute a less restrictive course of action, and would allow that person to exercise their decision-making rights.
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It is with great pleasure to announce that myself, Ian Hull, and Lionel Tupman will be co-chairing a professional development program on Essential Evidence for Estate Litigators through the OBA.
The program has been created specifically for estate litigators and will run over three evenings on April 5, May 17, and June 6, 2018.
Details of the program can be found by clicking here.
This program is a must for anyone who litigates in the area of estates, wills, and trusts!
In Ontario, if there is a claim to be made or continued by a deceased person or their estate, any such claim must be brought by the executor or administrator of his or her estate. If there is no executor or administrator, under Rule 9.02 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, RRO 1990, Reg 194, the court may appoint a litigation administrator, who will represent the estate for the purpose of the proceeding. A beneficiary or other person may also represent the interests of an estate, under Rule 10.02, where it appears that an estate has an interest in a matter in question in a proceeding.
In British Columbia, section 151 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, SBC 2009, c. 13 (“WESA”) provides an alternative way of pursuing a claim by an estate. Section 151 states that a beneficiary of an estate may, with leave of the court, commence proceedings in the name and on behalf of the personal representative of a deceased person, either to recover property or enforce a right, duty or obligation owed to the deceased person that could be recovered or enforced by the personal representative, or to obtain damages for breach of a right, duty or obligation owed to the deceased person. Section 151(3) outlines the circumstances in which the court may grant leave in this regard:
(3) The court may grant leave under this section if
(a) the court determines the beneficiary or intestate successor seeking leave
(i) has made reasonable efforts to cause the personal representative to commence or defend the proceeding,
(ii) has given notice of the application for leave to
(A) the personal representative,
(B) any other beneficiaries or intestate successors, and
(C) any additional person the court directs that notice is to be given, and
(iii) is acting in good faith, and
(b) it appears to the court that it is necessary or expedient for the protection of the estate or the interests of a beneficiary or an intestate successor for the proceeding to be brought or defended
In a document produced by the Government of British Columbia entitled “The Wills, Estates and Succession Act Explained” (“WESA Explained”), section 151 is described as overcoming a gap in the law. Previously, if a beneficiary wished for an action to be brought on behalf of an estate, and the personal representative refused to do so, the beneficiary’s sole recourse would be to apply for removal of the personal representative.
However, removal may not always be necessary or convenient. As described in WESA Explained, such a situation could arise in the event that the personal representative’s main concern (as is often the case with executors, generally) is to preserve and distribute the estate. The personal representative is therefore likely more risk adverse and conservative in assessing the potential success of pursuing an action. The beneficiary may have differing views on the merits of the claim, and in his or her assessment of the risk and return.
Section 151 of WESA differs from the process for litigation administrators and representation orders in Ontario in that s. 151 allows the executor and beneficiary appointed to bring a claim on behalf of the estate to co-exist simultaneously.
The concept of s. 151 is similar to a derivative action, in which a shareholder or other person is permitted to bring an action on behalf of a corporation, where the corporation refuses to do so.
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Likely to be of a surprise to most readers, Canada has a law on the books governing, among other things, policy and financing with respect to the disposal of nuclear waste. The purpose of the federal Nuclear Fuel Waste Act (the “NFWA”) is to “provide a framework to enable the Governor in Council to make […] a decision on the management of nuclear fuel waste that is based on a comprehensive, integrated, and economically sound approach for Canada.”
The intersection of trust law with the NFWA occurs with respect to how the purpose and the goals of the act are to be financed. Section 9 of the NFWA provides that every “nuclear energy corporation” must maintain a trust fund with a duly incorporated financial institution, the purposes of which are described in greater detail below. The following entities are defined as a “nuclear energy corporation” under the NFWA:
- Ontario Power Generation;
- New-Brunswick Power Corporation; and
- Atomic Energy of Canada Limited.
When the NFWA came into effect, each nuclear energy corporation was required to make a substantial initial deposit into its respective trust fund, and each must make a minimum annual deposit of a prescribed amount to the capital of the trust. To provide some context, the largest trust fund is that maintained by Ontario Power Generation. At its inception, OPG was required to make an initial contribution of $500,000,000.00 to its fund, and its minimum annual levy is $100,000,000.00.
The NFWA provides that the corporations may only make withdrawals from their respective funds for the purposes of implementing a plan selected by the Governor in Council to “[avoid or minimize] significant socio-economic effects on a community’s way of life or on its social, cultural or economic aspirations.” In layman’s terms, the nuclear energy corporations must use the capital of their respective trusts exclusively for the purposes of ensuring the nuclear waste is managed and disposed of in an efficient and comprehensive manner while minimizing the social impact.
Control and management of all aspects of nuclear power generation is top of mind in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. We may all hope the capital of the trusts established under the NFWA continue to be used for their intended purpose rather than to fund clean-up efforts in the event of a similar tragedy. However, consider that the most recent financial statements for all of the aforementioned trust funds list a total combined balance of approximately $4 billion. Now consider that some have estimated the total cost of cleaning up and containing the waste and fallout from the Fukushima disaster as exceeding $626 billion. A drop in the proverbial bucket, to be sure. Indeed, the magnitude of the Fukushima incident likely far surpassed any reasonable expectations, though it gives us pause to consider whether we are giving nuclear power the deference it deserves.
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Let’s acknowledge one thing from the start – no one looks forward to preparing a will. We may have the best of intentions, but death is something that few want to consider.
For this reason, there is often delay and procrastination in creating an up-to-date will – and tremendous relief when you finally get it done. You walk out of the lawyer’s office, breathe a sigh, and thank the heavens you don’t have to go through that again, at least for a very long time.
But, if like most people, you have the dual intention of ensuring your assets go to your intended beneficiaries, and ensuring the estate settlement process is straightforward and as easy as possible on your family, then you’ve still got some work to do to finish the job.
It’s not a lot of effort, but there are some essential steps to ensuring your wishes are carried out easily and as you intended. Here are three to consider:
- Store your will safely – and where people can find it: We get it – you may not want your house cleaner to review the contents of your new will. But hiding it in a place that no one can find isn’t the answer. Courts need the original copy of your will for a smooth probate process, so don’t make it hard to locate. Whether it’s stored at your lawyer’s office, or registered with the court, or stored in a filing cabinet at home, make sure that you and your loved ones remember where it is and know how to access it. We explored this issue in more detail here:
- Make a list of your assets: Don’t assume that your family knows what you own. Most of us have assets scattered through numerous accounts and institutions, and property (such as cars, art, and jewelry) could be in more than one location. You may also have assets that you inherited from others. So make it easy for your executor – keep an up-to-date list of your assets (including account numbers, user names and passwords for virtual assets, and insurance policy numbers) with your will.
- Talk to your family: Ideally, before you drafted your will, you talked to all family members with any expectation of inheritance and told them your estate intentions. This gives you the opportunity to listen to any concerns and to explain why you’re planning to distribute your assets in a certain way. But even if you didn’t talk to family members before drafting your will, it’s not too late. To minimize the chances of an estate dispute, let family members know what’s in your will. In many cases, just letting people know the reasons behind your estate decisions is enough to cut off potential disputes before they happen.
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