Elder financial abuse is a growing concern. What is being done in Ontario to prevent it?
I recently came across a new service called Estate Protect which acts as a registry and fraud monitoring service for important estate documents, including powers of attorney.
Lawyers (on behalf of their clients) are able to register estate planning documents with Estate Protect being a secure and accessible place. The idea is that the most recent documents, and a record of any changes, are available to the appropriate person when necessary to ensure that valid estate planning documents are used (and relied upon).
Using a power of attorney document as an example, through Estate Protect’s notification service, designated parties are made aware when someone tries to rely on a power of attorney document. If the document is the valid power of attorney, the notified individual need not take any steps. However, should the power of attorney be, for example, a fake or previously revoked power of attorney, or should the transaction seem suspicious, the notified individual has the opportunity to intervene to avoid misuse.
The service also allows people accepting instructions, such as banks, to determine whether the power of attorney is valid before acting on instructions.
It makes sense that Estate Protect relies on tackling financial elder abuse through preventative measures, as opposed to remedial options.
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As lawyers, whether we are dealing with opposing parties, clients, or colleagues, we are often faced with having to say no at some point. Viewed as a negative response, the effect of saying no often leads to damaged or strained relationships.
Below is a brief overview of the rules that Mr. Latz espouses:
Rule #1 – Information is Key – at the outset it is important to determine your goals and then develop an information bargaining strategy. Ways to get and share information should be considered. Obtaining information is key before providing any response.
Rule #2 – Understand the Meaning of No – before saying no, Mr. Latz suggests that you consider the best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Referred to as ‘BATNA’, this is widely used in negotiation theory to think about what your plan B is. Mr. Latz further suggests that, at this time, steps should be taken to strengthen this plan.
Rule #3 – Explain your No with Fair Objective Criteria – if you are going to say no, explain why. This should be based on fair and objective criteria such as market-value, precedent, professional standards, or tradition.
Rule #4 – Combine your No with a ‘Yesable’ Offer – Mr. Latz suggest that you design an offer-concession strategy. Considerations should be had to the timing of making such an offer.
Rule #5 – Control the Setting – if you are going to say no, consider the importance of the setting on the relationship. For instance, there may be value in having a face to face discussion as opposed to over the telephone.
Of course, this is just an overview of the issues Mr. Latz discussed. I encourage you to visit Mr. Latz’s website at www.negotiationinstitute.com for more information.
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If a Registered Retirement Savings Plan passes outside of an Estate, for example to a spouse or child, who pays the tax – the recipient beneficiary or the Estate?
In order to answer this question, first consider the terms of the Will.
If the Will does not clearly set out who is responsible, attention must be turned to the statute and common law.
According to section 160.2(1) of the Income Tax Act, the deceased testator and the recipient of the RRSP are jointly and severally liable for the payment of the tax. The section specifically states that “…the taxpayer and the last annuitant under the plan are jointly and severally, or solidarily, liable to pay a part of the annuitant’s tax…”.
Ontario common law has, however, held that the payment of any tax liability with respect to an RRSP remains the primary obligation of the estate. Payment should be sought from the RRSP recipient, only if there are insufficient assets in the estate to satisfy the tax obligation.
In Banting v Saunders, Justice J. Lofchik held that:
“…the estate, rather than the designated beneficiaries, is liable for the income tax liability arising from the deemed realization of the R.R.S.P.’s and R.R.I.F.’s so long as there are sufficient assets in the estate including the bequest to Banting, to cover the debts of the estate and it is only in the event that there are not sufficient assets in the estate to cover all liabilities that the beneficiaries of the R.R.S.P.’s and the R.R.I.F.’s may be called upon.”
Nonetheless, as set out in O’Callaghan v. The Queen, the CRA may first seek payment directly from the RRSP recipient, instead of the estate, especially if there is a possiblity that there are insufficient assets in the estate to satisfy the tax.
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A recent blog by Hull & Hull LLP, found here, highlights the methods that Estate Trustees may use in advertising for creditors. Such options included advertising in local newspapers, the Ontario Gazette, and online services. A recent Judgment by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice considers the appropriateness of advertising for creditors through the online service of NoticeConnect.
The unreported decision by the Honourable Madam Justice Conway dated July 7, 2017 (Court File No.: 05-118/17), declared that the Notice to Creditors published by the Estate Trustee on NoticeConnect, “was an appropriate notice to creditors and the [Estate Trustee] is therefore entitled to the liability protection provided by s. 53(1) of the Trustee Act“.
Therefore, Estate Trustees who properly advertise through NoticeConnect may proceed to distribute assets of an estate with the peace of mind that they will not be held personally liable should a claim against an estate later arise.
Hull & Hull LLP has closely followed the development of NoticeConnect having written numerous blogs about it. It will be interesting to continue to follow NoticeConnect and other technological advances in the estates and trust community, such as Hull e-state Planner, which will certainly assist lawyers in providing quality and efficient service to their clients.
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A question that I am often asked by both beneficiaries and Estate Trustees, is whether the Court can compel an Estate Trustee to make an interim distribution.
Beneficiaries and Estate Trustees are often at odds as to how quickly they wish to proceed with an interim distribution. A beneficiary is generally eager to receive their entitlement from an Estate as soon as possible. Estate Trustees, however, carry significant personal liability should they too hastily pay out Estate funds, and therefore tend to exercise caution before distributing.
In the decision of Parson v McGovern, a motion by a beneficiary (who had a one-half interest in the Estate) sought to compel the Estate Trustees to make an interim distribution of almost all of the remaining assets of the Estate to the beneficiaries. The beneficiary requested that this distribution be made before the Estate Trustees passed their accounts (and obtained Court approval).
The Court considered the prior decisions in Re Blow, Brighter v. Brighter Estate, and others, and concluded that the following factors should be considered by the Court when deciding whether to compel an Estate Trustee to make an interim distribution to a beneficiary:
- are the Estate Trustees deadlocked;
- have the Estate Trustees acted with mala fides;
- have the Estate Trustees failed to exercise their discretion to make an interim distribution;
- have the Estate Trustees behaved unreasonably or breached their fiduciary duty and duty of good faith and fairness to the respondent (the beneficiary); and,
- would a beneficiary suffer under undue prejudice.
In applying these factors to the case at hand, the Court considered, in part, that the Estate Trustees were not deadlocked, had proceeded to pass their accounts in an expeditious fashion, did not extort the beneficiary into signing a waiver/release, did not cause delay in administering the Estate, and there was no evidence the beneficiary would be unduly prejudiced if an interim distribution was not made. Based on this, the Court did not compel the Estate Trustees to make an interim distribution, and the motion by the respondent beneficiary was dismissed.
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I recently came across this interesting article regarding legislation introduced in Florida authorizing electronic Wills and electronic Will execution.
Titled the Florida Electronic Wills Act, currently awaiting final approval from the Governor of Florida, permits exactly what its title suggests – a testator can create and sign a Will on a tablet, computer, or in another electronic form, and witnessing of the Will may be done using remote audio and video technology.
So, the Act still requires that the Will be written, signed, and witnessed. But, it allows all of this to happen in cyberspace.
Certain safeguards are built into the Act. For instance, virtual will signing meetings must be recorded and stored to be available for evidence in case there is a later dispute. As well, at the video session, the testator must present ID and answer certain questions, including whether the testator “is of sound mind” and “is signing the document voluntarily”.
Hoping to jump into this new market, a company called willing.com, has launched a website to assist testators with making their Wills online. Not everyone is pleased though with the proposed Act in its current form, as evidenced by the submissions of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of the Florida Bar.
Nothing of this sort exists in Ontario….just yet. Interestingly though, the Law Reform Commission of Saskatchewan prepared a Report on Electronic Wills in 2004.
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With the Stanley Cup Finals in full swing, I thought it would be interesting to re-visit the history surrounding the trust that holds the Stanley Cup.
According to this article, upon Lord Stanley of Preston being appointed Governor General of Canada by Queen Victoria in 1888, both him and his family became enamoured with hockey. So much so, that he created the ‘Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup’ to be held year to year by the championship hockey team in the Dominion of Canada.
To ensure the Cup remained true to Lord Stanley’s intention, he settled a charitable trust, with the Cup being the trust property. He appointed two trustees to administer the trust, and set out these initial trust terms:
- The winners shall return the Cup in good order when required by the trustees so that it may be passed to future winning teams;
- Each winning team, at its own expense, may have the club’s name and year engraved on a silver ring fitted on the Cup;
- The Cup shall remain a challenge cup, and should not become the property of one team, even if won more than once;
- The trustees shall maintain absolute authority in all situations or disputes over the winner of the Cup; and,
- If one of the existing trustees resigns or drops out, the remaining trustee shall nominate a substitute.
So, to answer the question – the NHL does not own the Cup. Nevertheless, the NHL was able to reach an agreement with the trustees in 1947 where, amongst other things, it obtained exclusive rights to award the Cup.
However, as a result of legal proceedings commenced by a recreational league hockey team during the last NHL lockout, the agreement was varied to allow the trustees to award the cup to a non-NHL team should the NHL fail to organize a competition.
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Will there ever be a time when artificial intelligence may be used as corroborating evidence in estate litigation?
Estate litigators are familiar with section 13 of the Evidence Act, which states that, “an action by or against the heirs, next of kin, executors, administrators or assigns of a deceased person, an opposite or interested party shall not obtain a verdict, judgment or decision on his or her own evidence in respect of any matter occurring before the death of the deceased person, unless such evidence is corroborated by some other material evidence”.
Couple this requirement with the advancement of posthumous artificial intelligence.
According to a recent article on CNN, an AI start-up has been extracting information from the online presence of a deceased person. Information gained from text messages, tweets, and Facebook posts were used to create a computerized chatbot based off the deceased’s personality.
According to the CNN author, several conversations were had with the deceased (as a chatbot), and believed that the deceased’s ethos was well captured. In fact, the author notes that one such friend of the deceased was texting with the chatbot for 30 minutes without realizing that the discussion was with the chatbot.
It is interesting to wonder whether AI will ever develop to the point where a litigator will rely on information from a chatbot as corroborating evidence.
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Although beneficiaries have a right to compel an accounting from an Estate Trustee, it is not always advisable to do so. The decision of Pochopsky Estate provides an example of such a situation.
Here, practically all of the deceased’s assets passed outside of the estate. Although, there was some concern as to whether a joint account held between the deceased and his sister was an estate asset, subsequent evidence was given to the Estate Trustee, including an affidavit from the bank, indicating that the account was not an estate asset. Accordingly, the Estate Trustee, a friend of the deceased, concluded that there was no money that passed through the estate.
The residuary beneficiaries nevertheless requested that the Estate Trustee proceed against the sister for the joint account and obtain a Certificate of Appointment. In addition, a formal passing of accounts was sought.
The Estate Trustee thought none of these steps were appropriate given the size of the Estate, and indicated that if forced to formally pass his accounts, he would seek his costs from the residuary beneficiaries.
The residuary beneficiaries obtained an ex-parte Order for the Estate Trustee to pass his accounts. Although not mentioned in the decision, for an interesting read on the appropriateness of ex-parte motions, Justice Brown’s decision in Ignagni Estate (Re), is a good one.
On the passing, the Court found that the objections raised by the residuary beneficiaries were ‘ill-founded’, and that they fell into a pattern of aggressively criticizing the Estate Trustee no matter what he did. Given the size of the estate, the Court ordered that the residuary beneficiaries personally pay the costs of the Estate Trustee in the amount of $17,445.60, and that no costs would be payable to these beneficiaries.
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With the spring flowers beginning their bloom, and the warm weather slowly settling in, many Canadians turn their attention to summer plans at the cottage. With this in mind, I thought it would be apropos to consider estate planning and the family cottage.
How to best plan for the family cottage is a question I hear all of the time.
At the outset, according to this Globe and Mail article, it is important to consider whether you want to keep the family cottage in the family at all.
If the answer is yes, there are numerous estate planning vehicles available in order to transfer the cottage. As discussed in this prior Hull & Hull LLP blog, some options include making a specific bequest in a Will, where it can be left to certain beneficiaries who would receive the cottage absolutely and do with it as they please. Alternatively, should you wish to impose limitations on what the beneficiaries can (or cannot) do with the cottage, a testamentary or inter vivos trust may be more appropriate.
Of course, any decision should consider the tax implications. A prior Hull & Hull LLP podcast, found here, highlights the different options for dealing with capital gains tax in relation to the cottage.
Clearly, there are many options available and professional advice should be sought. Doing nothing is rarely a good idea. Look no further than the decision of Cowderoy v. Sorkos Estate, where a lengthy dispute ensued over whether the deceased had sufficiently transferred a farm and cottage.
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