Many estate solicitors are retained to draft Wills for elderly clients. Concerns over capacity are normal. As such, I am frequently asked how thoroughly a drafting solicitor should enquire into capacity.
Although there is no universal answer, the decision in Wiseman v Perrey, provides helpful insight. Referring to an earlier decision from the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, the Court set out the basic rules dealing with testamentary capacity where a professional, such as a drafting solicitor, is involved:
(a) neither the superficial appearance of lucidity nor the ability to answer simple questions in an apparently rational way are sufficient evidence of capacity;
(b) the duty upon a solicitor taking instructions for a will is always a heavy one. When the client is weak and ill and, particularly when the solicitor knows that he is revoking an existing will, the responsibility will be particularly onerous; and
(c) a solicitor cannot discharge his duty by asking perfunctory questions, getting apparently rational answers and then simply recording in legal form the words expressed by the client. He must first satisfy himself by a personal inquiry that true testamentary capacity exists, that the instructions are freely given, and that the effect of the will is understood.
There are a variety of tools a solicitor should employ, including having the testator take a Mini-Mental State Examination.
Depending on the severity of the solicitor’s concern, the use of a capacity assessor who specializes in assessing testamentary capacity should be considered. The assessor should be specifically instructed to assess whether a testator has the capacity to make a new Will. Although not an easy topic to broach with a client, these types of assessments can assist in ensuring the testator’s last ‘capable’ wishes are followed.
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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.
In a recent case, Ilott v. The Blue Corss & Ors,  UKSC 17 (15 March 2017), the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has affirmed that a testator has testamentary freedom to disinherit his or her child.
As outlined in a recent National Post article, the Court rejected a daughter’s proceeding to set aside her late mother’s will, which left the majority of the mother’s estate to several animal charities. In the will, the mother also directed the executors of her estate to resist any efforts her daughter may make to challenge the will.
The disappointed daughter exercised her rights pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the “1975 Act”), which allows certain individuals such as spouses and children to make a claim for reasonable financial provision from an estate.
Unlike Part V of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, the 1975 Act does not require the deceased testator to have provided his or her dependant with support or to have been under a legal obligation to provide support immediately before his or her death. Rather, the 1975 Act requires the surviving child to prove that the deceased’s will did not include reasonable financial provision for his or her child in light of the child’s own financial resources and needs.
Interestingly, the daughter appealed the District Judge’s award of £50,000.00 to her and the Court of Appeal’s decision awarding her £143,000.00 to buy the house she lived in and an additional £20,000.00. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision and restored the District Judge’s decision on the basis that the District Judge’s decision struck an appropriate balance between the mother’s testamentary wishes and the daughter’s claim for reasonable financial provision from the estate. In doing so, the Supreme Court upheld the long standing principal that people remain at liberty to dispose of their assets and property subject to provisions of the 1975 Act.
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Celebrities and Explosions.
Now that I have your attention, yes today’s estate blog is actually about celebrities and explosions.
Johnny Depp, the famed actor.
Now I really have your attention.
I recently came across this article in The Guardian, which highlighted the efforts made by Depp to plan Hunter S. Thompson’s funeral after his passing in February 2005.
Thompson, well known for authoring Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had made requests prior to his passing to Depp, a close friend, as to how he wanted his ashes to be scattered. Depp stuck to his word and took steps to ensure that Thompson’s last wishes came true and made sure that “his pal was sent out the way he wanted to go out”.
As such, Thompson’s ashes were fired from a cannon that was placed atop a 153-foot tower shaped like a double-thumbed fist, clutching a peyote button, on Thompson’s Colorado farm. Yes, apparently Thompson loved explosions.
The total cost of the funeral was $3 million, which apparently, was funded entirely by Depp.
The surviving spouse, Anita, Thompson, supported Depp’s decision and even went on to state that the grounds where the cannon stood, remains a meditation labyrinth that is used every day at Thompson’s Colorado farm.
In Ontario, an estate trustee has the paramount legal authority to determine the place and manner of burial. There is no legal requirement for the estate trustee to follow the wishes expressed by the deceased (or the family of the deceased). Where a Will includes burial instructions, such instructions are precatory and not binding on the estate trustee.
Find this topic interesting? Please consider these related Hull & Hull LLP Blogs:
- Who Has the Authority to Make Funeral and Burial Arrangements on an Intestacy?
- Ashes to Ashes in Bali: David Bowie’s Last Will and Testament
- Cryogenics and Funeral Arrangements
What happens if an individual dies intestate, and upon application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee Without a Will, a Not Clear Certificate is returned to the applying party?
Pursuant to Rule 74.12 of the Rules of Civil Procedure:
(1) A certificate of appointment of estate trustee shall not be issued until the court has received from the Estate Registrar,
(d) on an application where there is no will, a certificate that no will or codicil has been deposited in the Superior Court of Justice.
A will being deposited in the Superior Court of Justice does not necessarily mean that the will belongs to the deceased individual. Therefore, while one may receive a Not Clear Certificate (“Certificate”) from the Estate Registrar for Ontario, it does not guarantee that a will exists in the deceased’s name. Rather, the Certificate creates the need for the applicant to take extra steps to ensure that the wills that are deposited with the Superior Court of Justice are not wills that belong to the deceased.
What Steps Should You Take?
A Certificate sent by the Estate Registrar for Ontario will contain a list of different deposit dates and court file numbers, corresponding to wills that are already deposited with the Superior Court of Justice. The listed wills on deposit will all have names similar to that of the deceased individual.
Upon receipt of the Certificate, it is the applicant’s or their lawyer’s responsibility to track down each of the deposited wills, in order to prove that they do not belong to the deceased. This involves attending the Registrar of the Court where the will has been
deposited. In some circumstances, faxing the Certificate will suffice. The Registrar will then deliver to the applicant a photocopy of the Envelope for Will on Deposit. This will allow the applicant to make the necessary investigation to determine that the will on deposit is not the will of the deceased. The Envelope for Will on Deposit contains the name of testator, the testator’s address, the name of the executor, the executor’s address, and the date the will was deposited for safe keeping.
Once the applicant gathers all of the Envelopes for Will on Deposit, the applicant must go through the envelopes and ensure they do not belong to the deceased. The applicant must then prepare an Affidavit stating that each Envelope for Will on Deposit does not belong to the deceased. The Affidavit should be filed at the Court, along with the Certificate. Once the Court is satisfied the deposited wills do not belong to the deceased, a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee Without a Will should be issued. If the will does, in fact, belong to the deceased, different steps will need to be taken in order to obtain a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will.
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This week on Hull on Estates, Natalia Angelini and Stuart Clark discuss the recent decision of Lavoie v. Trudel, 2016 ONSC 4141 (http://bit.ly/2dAwIpI), costs reported at 2016 ONSC 4769, and the circumstance in which the court ordered all parties to bear their own costs in a will challenge notwithstanding that the challenge was not successful.
Should you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on our blog.
Pursuant to section 2 of Part I of the Succession Law Reform Act,
“A person may by will devise, bequeath or dispose of all property (whether acquired before or after making his or her will) to which at the time of his or her death he or she is entitled either at law or in equity…”
The interpretation of the term “will” is defined under section 1 of the Act to include,
“(a) a testament,
(b) a codicil,
(c) an appointment by will or by writing in the nature of a will in exercise of a power, and
(d) any other testamentary disposition.”
The question of what constitutes a will was a topic of the recent Law Society of Upper Canada Practice Gems: Probate Essentials 2016 program on September 20, 2016 (click here if you are interested in a copy of the program’s agenda).
As an example from the program materials, Canada Permanent Trust Co v Bowman,  SCR 711 was a case in which the Supreme Court of Canada found a handwritten document in a cardboard box of the deceased’s home to be valid where, “read as a whole”, the document showed the implicit intention of a testator who wished for certain dispositions of her property following her death. The document in question listed certain people with dollar amounts or items beside each name, such as, “Ena $1,000.00 in National Trust” and “Laura—fur coat”.
An even more famous example may be found in Ian Hull’s prior blog on the testamentary disposition that was carved on the bumper of a tractor by an unfortunate farmer while he was trapped under its weight. The farmer did not survive and following engraving can be discerned from the bumper, “In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris.”
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When dealing with the administration of an estate, there is the possibility that a bequest will be left to a minor, resulting in the need for it to be held in trust until the minor reaches the age of majority. It is also possible to have a situation where the executor named in a will is a minor at the date of death of the testator, pursuant to section 26 of the Estates Act. This will result in a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee being issued to the guardian of the named executor, until he or she turns 18. The guardian acting as executor is called durante minore aetate, which translates to “during the minority”.
Pursuant to section 26 of the Estates Act:
(1) Where a minor is sole executor, administration with the will annexed shall be granted to the guardian of the minor or to such other person as the court thinks fit, until the minor has attained the full age of eighteen years, at which time, and not before, probate of the will may be granted to the minor
(2) The person to whom such administration is granted has the same powers as an administrator has by virtue of an administration granted to an administrator during minority of the next of kin.
The powers of durante minore aetate to act in the place of a minor are not limited. As per Re Cope, (1880), 16 Ch. D. 49 (Eng Ch Div) at 52:
The limit to his administration is no doubt the minority of the person, but there is no other limit. He is an ordinary administrator: he is appointed for the very purpose of getting in the estate, paying the debts, and selling the estate in the usual way; and the property vests in him.
In Monsell v Armstrong, (1872) LR 14 Eq 423 at 426, the court held there is “no distinction between a common administrator durante minore aetate as regards the exercise of a power of sale.” Along with the power of sale, it seems too that an administrator for the use and benefit of a minor may also assent to a legacy and may be sued for the debts of the deceased.
An application for a certificate of appointment for the use and benefit of a minor should be in Form 74.4, 74.4.1, 74.5, or 74.5.1 (forms can be found here) and should include an explanation stating that the executor named in the will is not the applicant due to the minority of the named executor. Once the application is filed, the matter will be referred to a judge. If the judge orders a certificate of appointment of estate trustee with a will, it will include the phrase “Right of (name of minor executor) to be appointed estate trustee on attaining 18 years of age is reserved.”
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A recent story in the news featuring a fraudulent wedding officiant, raises some interesting estate planning issues. Mr. Cogan, who held himself out as an authorized wedding officiant, was charged with performing unauthorized marriages. Cogan had been licensed to perform marriages in the past, but it is reported that his license was revoked before he performed at least 48 marriages between August 2013 and July 2016.
Fortunately, pursuant to section 31 of the Marriage Act, if the couple married in good faith the marriage may be deemed valid despite the revoked licence. Indicia of good faith include: the intention to have a legally binding wedding, no disqualifications due to capacity and impairment, and proof that the couple lived together after the wedding ceremony.
Notwithstanding this statutory remedy, larger consequences for estate planning arise if the couple do not satisfy the prerequisites for the remedy provided in the Marriage Act.
Firstly, an invalid marriage may present an issue for individuals who created a will after the fact, leaving bequests to their “spouses” in their wills. Due to the fact the individuals are not “spouses” as defined pursuant to the intestacy provisions of the Succession Law Reform Act (excluding Part V) or Divorce Act, it would be interesting to see how the court would treat the inheritance should the spouse who made the will die.
Pursuant to Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act, if the couple has been cohabiting continuously for a period of not less than three years, or are in a relationship of some permanence, or if they are the natural or adoptive parents of a child, they may be considered a dependant spouse (within the meaning of Part V). This may entitle the individual a fair share of the estate in this case, but being recognized as an unmarried spouse is not always certain. In any case, it would be necessary to litigate the issue, adding an unnecessary expense to the estate.
Secondly, an invalid marriage would create issues for individuals who die intestate. Pursuant to the intestacy provisions of the Succession Law Reform Act, the spouse is first entitled to the preferential share ($200,000) of an estate. If an individual dies and their marriage was not valid, the spouse that would normally be entitled may be disinherited. The result of this is that the preferential share may go to somebody who was not meant to inherit such a large portion of the estate.
Thirdly, a will is automatically revoked upon marriage. Because he did not have the authority to perform marriages, if a person was “married” by Cogan but had a pre-existing will, that will might not be found to have actually been revoked. This uncertainty creates the potential for litigation.
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On June 9, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered its decisions in applications for leave to appeal two recent cases that have been closely watched by the estates bar.
The Supreme Court has dismissed both applications for leave to appeal the recent appellate decisions, which considered a court’s ability to intervene and set aside a Will or a bequest under a Will for violating public policy.
In Spence v BMO Trust Company, 2016 ONCA 196, the Deceased made a Will that disinherited one of his daughters, Verolin. Although the Will was not discriminatory on its face, Verolin sought a declaration from the lower court that the Will was void and relied on extrinsic affidavit evidence to argue that the Deceased had disinherited Verolin for racist reasons.
The lower court accepted the extrinsic evidence and held that the Will was invalid on the basis of public policy. However, the Ontario Court of Appeal allowed the appeal of the BMO Trust Company, holding that the Will was clear on its face and did not offend public policy. You can read and hear more about the Court of Appeal’s decision, which now stands as the final judgment in this case, on our blog and podcast.
The Supreme Court has also denied leave to appeal the New Brunswick Court of Appeal’s decision in Canadian Association for Free Expression v Streed et al, 2015 NBCA 50 (more commonly referred to as the McCorkill decision).
In McCorkill, the testator left the residue of his Estate to the National Alliance, a white supremacist organization based out of the United States. Much like Spence, there was no discriminatory language on the face of the Will. However, the lower court set aside the bequest to the National Alliance because the purposes and activities of the beneficiary organization were contrary to public policy. The lower court’s decision was upheld on appeal to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal. We have previously written about the McCorkill decision here, here and here.
Spence and the McCorkill are not the only two recent cases where a Will has been challenged for being discriminatory. My colleague Noah Weisberg has reported on a claim in British Columbia where a testator is alleged to have disinherited his daughter on the basis of her sexual orientation.
Thank you for reading,
Umair Abdul Qadir