Tag: will

16 Mar

Didn’t Get the Memo?

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Wills often deal with personal property by referring to a memorandum that sets out how the personal property is to be distributed. Usually, the memorandum is not executed in accordance with the requirements of the Succession Law Reform Act, or similar legislation. How effective is such a memo?

A memorandum, even if not properly executed, will be “incorporated by reference” and found to part of a valid will if:

a. the memorandum is referred to in a duly executed testamentary instrument;

b. the memorandum is in existence at the time of the execution of the testamentary instrument; and

c. the memorandum is “ascertainable” – that is, there is specific reference to a specific document. The reference to the document must make it identifiable: see Black Estate v. Black, 2006 CarswellOnt 9030, 32 E.T.R. (3d) 282 at para. 19.

Reference in the will to a document that is to be created in the future can be fatal to the application of incorporation by reference. However, reference to a memorandum that does not exist at the time the will was executed, but exists at a time when a codicil confirming the will is executed may result in a valid incorporation by reference: See Re Lady Truro (1866), L.R. 1 P.& D. 201, referred to in Hull, Probate Practice, 4th ed, p. 83.

Thanks for reading,

Paul Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle

01 Nov

The “Why and What” of Leaving an Inheritance

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A British professional advice website, unbiased.co.uk, has published some intriguing statistical data as part of its ‘Write a Will Week’ campaign, which is ongoing this week..

More than one in four (27%) UK adults hope to leave enough money for their family or pets to live comfortably after they’re gone.

The more specific stats are as follows:

  • Enough for family or pets to live comfortably                         27%
  • Enough to boost child/grandchild’s savings                            19%
  • Enough for child/grandchild to put a deposit on a house         15%
  • Enough to fund child/grandchild through university                 11%
  • Enough to fund child/grandchild’s wedding                               7%

With respect to the composition of their expected estates, "nearly two thirds of UK adults expect to have a property (63%).  Of those, 55% expect the value of the home they leave to be worth £100k or more.  Over half (51%) expect to leave jewellery, antiques and paintings and nearly one in ten (9%) expect to leave a business behind."

David M. Smith – Click here for more information on David Smith

04 Jul

What happens if you do not have a Will?

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In our modern society more and more people choose to remain in common law relationships rather than to marry. Certainly many think that few differences distinguish a common law relationship from a married one as society has responded to practical reality by making common law spouses eligible for pension benefits, family insurance benefits and spousal support. No wonder some people think it is all the same whether they are married or not. However, what many fail to realize is that it makes a very big difference with respect to property rights – both in life and after death.

A common law spouse of a deceased who has died intestate (without a Will) has no entitlement as a beneficiary of the deceased partner’s estate.   It is not uncommon that a dedicated common law spouse of 20 or 30 years is faced with the prospect of the estate of their loved one, which they helped to build over the years, going to the blood relatives, who are the legal heirs according to legislation; and often being people who never had any social relationship with the deceased whatsoever.  

If a person dies intestate, Part II of the Succession Law Reform Act  governs who is entitled to their estate. In the Act, a spouse is defined as a married spouse only. Here is the order in which family of a deceased is entitled to take:

1.      If there is spouse and no children the spouse takes all.

2.      If there is a spouse and children, the spouse gets the first $200,000.00. 

3.      If there is one child, the residue goes to the spouse and the child equally.

4.      If more than one child, the spouse gets one-third of the residue and the children share the other two-thirds equally.

5.      If there is no spouse, the estate goes to the children equally.

6.      If no children, the estate goes to the deceased’s parents equally.

7.      If no parents, the estate goes to the deceased’s siblings; if a sibling pre-deceased, that sibling’s share goes to the deceased sibling’s children.

8.      If no siblings, the estate goes to the nephews and nieces.

9.      If no nephews and nieces it goes to the next of kin of equal degree of consanguinity – that’s where it gets complicated and complete strangers end up inheriting. 

10.   If no next of kin, the estate escheats to the crown.

Lesson? Make sure you have a Will!  

Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis

07 Jun

Considering Wills Where No Strict Compliance with Execution Requirements: Part 1

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We have blogged and podcasted in the past on the formal requirements of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, and the effect of non-compliance. In Ontario, there is no provision for “substantial compliance”, and a Will not executed in accordance with the strict requirements will not be accepted: see Sills v. Daley, [2002] O.J. No. 5318 (however, see also, Sisson v. Park Street Baptist Church, [1998] O.J. No. 2885).

Other provinces, such as Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, have provisions that give the court discretion to order that a writing is valid and fully effective as a will even though it was not executed in compliance with the relevant legislative requirements.

In Nova Scotia, the legislation provides:

“Where a court of competent jurisdiction is satisfied that a writing embodies

(a) the testamentary intentions of the deceased; or

(b) the intention of the deceased to revoke, alter or revive a will of the deceased or the testamentary intentions of the deceased embodied in a document other than a will,

the court may, notwithstanding that the writing was not executed in compliance with the formal requirements imposed by this Act, order that the writing is valid and fully effective as if it had been executed in compliance with the formal requirements imposed by this Act.”

The application of this provision was discussed in the recent Nova Scotia decision of Robitaille v. Robitaille Estate, 2011 NSSC 203 (CanLII).

There, the testator met with her lawyer to discuss a change to the appointed executor under her will. The next day, the lawyer spoke to the testator by phone (recognizing her voice) to discuss making a change so as to add a clause imposing a protective trust for the bequest to her daughter similar to the clause that was in place for her son. Before the revised will could be discussed and executed, the testator fell ill and was hospitalized. Another daughter phoned and asked the lawyer to email the will to her so that it could be executed by the testator. 

The testator then signed the will, and died a few days later.

Unfortunately, the will was not signed by the witnesses in the presence of the testator, as required by Nova Scotia’s Wills Act.

What did the court do? Tune in tomorrow.

Paul E. Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle

27 May

Summary Judgment Awarded Where Testator Obtained Capacity Assessment

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I recently read an Ontario decision involving a will challenge and the court granted summary judgment to the estate trustee on the issue that the Testator had the requisite testamentary capacity to execute her Last Will and Testament. 

In Quinlan v. Caron, the Deceased executed her Last Will and Testament on May 18, 2007 (the “Will”) and she subsequently died on September 7, 2008. Two days before executing the Will, the Deceased underwent a capacity assessment that was recorded on video. The doctor who conducted the capacity assessment concluded that the Deceased had the requisite capacity to create a new Will.


The daughter of the Deceased commenced a Will Challenge alleging that the Deceased lacked the mental capacity to execute the Will and undue influence. The Estate Trustee is the son of the Deceased and brought a motion for summary judgment against his sister, arguing that there were no genuine issues requiring a trial as his sister’s claim was not supported by any evidence.


The Honourable Justice Tuck put a lot of weight on the capacity assessment and granted summary judgment to the Estate Trustee on the issue of the Deceased’s capacity; however Justice Tuck dismissed the Estate Trustee’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of undue influence. In the decision, Justice Tuck held that “matters of credibility requiring resolution on a case of conflicting evidence ought to go to trial” and he rationalized that there was conflicting evidence in this case, which could suggest that the Deceased was unduly influenced.


Thank you for reading and have a great weekend,



Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram. 

24 May

Is it Possible to Prevent a Will Challenge?

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In a recent blog published by Forbes, Mr. Bernard Krooks considers strategies that could be used to prevent a Will challenge.

In his blog, Mr. Krooks states that "Will contests often occur after a heir or family member perceives some inequity or unjustness in the distribution of money or possessions laid out in the will.  This can be the result of a lack of requisite mental capacity to execute the will, another’s undue influence over the testator, fraud, or improper execution of the will."

Mr. Krooks suggests that a Lawyer drafting a Will can send the testator to medical professional to obtain an opinion on the testator’s capacity to execute a Will.   This would be strong evidence which could be used to propound the Will, long after the testator has died.

Mr. Krooks also suggests that the drafting Lawyer should consider the use of a videotape at the time the testator is signing the Will.  Mr. Krooks explains that the videotape could be used to show that the testator signed the Will "freely and with the requisite mental capacity to agree." 

The use of a videotape at a will execution,  has significant benefits, but also has numerous problems.  This technique has been the topic of numerous debates between estate and trust professionals.

There are steps that we can take to ensure that the Will is being executed in accordance with the applicable legislation, which could help the estate trustee propound the Will; however there is no legislation in Ontario that would estopp a party who has a financial interest in an estate from challenging the validity of the subject Will.

Thank you for reading,


Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram. 

20 Aug

The Importance of Having a Will

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For my final blog for the week, I want to discuss an article recently featured in Forbes.com, which considers the importance of having a Will. 

If an individual dies without a Will, he is said to have died intestate. When a person dies intestate, their assets are distributed pursuant to the intestate provisions contained in the Succession Law Reform Act.

If a person dies with a Will, he is said to have died testate. In such circumstances, the deceased’s assets are distributed in accordance with his last wishes as set out under his Last Will and Testament.

Under Glenn Curtis’s article, “Why You Should Draft a Will” he sets out the benefits of having a Will, such as:

1.                  Limiting family disputes;

2.                  Wills can outline personal preferences; and

3.                  Wills make quantifying and distributing assets easier.

By comparison, Curtis argues that not having a Will could place significant burdens on loved ones, such as it could take a very long time to compile an accurate list of an individual’s assets; it could also take a prolonged period of time to identify and locate potential beneficiaries. “Unfortunately, until this process is complete, money may not be distributed, even to legitimate and known beneficiaries.”

Curtis concludes his article with some wise words: “Individuals seeking to prevent family infighting, and who want to ensure that their spouses, children and other relatives are properly taken care of after they die would be wise to consider drafting a will.”

Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a great weekend,

Rick Bickhram –  Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.


17 Jun

The Need to Plan our Estates

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I recently read an article named “The Lessons of Famously Bad Estate Planning”, authored by Steven Morelli. This article looks at disasters that have followed celebrities because of the absence of a properly planned Will.

Jimi Hendrix died without a Will which started a family war that would end up in court for more than 30 years.

Sonny Bono, an American record producer, singer, actor, and politician, died without a Will. It is mind blowing that someone so successful would not have a carefully planned Will. Of course, numerous people lined up to advance claims against his estate, which included Cher, and the inevitable love child. Sonny could have saved his widow and everyone else involved a lot of grief and aggravation if he had taken the time to do some simple estate planning.

For those of us who have taken the time to prepare our Wills, Mr. Morelli reminds us of the importance of updating our Will. For instance, Anna Nicole Smith died with a Will; however, her Will contained a provision which specifically excluded “future children” from benefiting from her estate. This clause had the effect of leaving her entire estate to her now deceased son, and disinheriting her five month old daughter. A judge eventually fixed this estate mess, but it came at an unnecessary expense.

Mr. Morelli puts it perfectly: “The essence of estate planning: control. Whether it involves celebrities maintaining their image for all posterity, or wealthy land-owners keeping their families’ holdings intact, estate planning protects clients’ control. Quite often people don’t want to discuss estate planning because it involves their death. But clients should understand that it is essential to maintaining their family’s stability and dignity.”

Thank you for reading,

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.

16 Mar

Another Family War

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As I have been practising in the area of estate litigation for a few years, I occasionally think that I have seen it all; that every recurring story I hear about a family war tends to lose its originality. Not true. Take for instance a recent story that was posted online in the Telegraph, involving a U.S. estate fight.

Tasha Tudor was from New England and has been described as the “unconventional Martha Stewart.” Ms. Tudor died at the age of 92 following complications from a stroke.  The basis of Ms. Tudor’s estate dispute centers on her decision to leave almost her entire estate to her eldest son, virtually cutting out her three other children. 

The oldest son argues that his late mother intended to cut out his three siblings from her estate because they were estranged from her. One of the siblings, a U.S. Air Force lawyer, who claims he was not estranged from his late mother, has asserted that the 2001 Will is invalid on the basis that his older brother unduly influenced his late mother.

The dispute has gotten so acrimonious between the siblings that they could not even agree what to do with their mother’s ashes. On motion to the Court, it was ordered that Ms. Tudor’s ashes be divided in half, with one-half to be given to the oldest son and the other half to his siblings. Lawyers are now fighting over who is responsible for a snow plough bill!

It is reported that some of the last words by Ms. Tudor were “Oh, will there ever be a cat and dogfight when I die. But I don’t care. I won’t be here to see it.” 

It is often difficult to comprehend the harsh realities of litigation until you step into the shoes of one of the parties. I wonder if Ms. Tudor were alive to witness the severity of this dispute whether she would take back those words?

Thank you for reading

Rick Bickhram

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.

13 Jan

The Grim Toll of Alzheimer’s

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The Toronto Star recently reported on Alzheimer’s disease, stating that “cases of the mind-robbing disease will more than double to 1.25 million within 30 years as baby boomers age”. 

With the numbers pointing upward as the population grays, a recent report by the Alzheimer Society, entitled Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society suggests the following steps to help reduce the impact of dementia:

1.                  Prevention programs based on healthy diet and physical activity that can delay the onset of dementia by two years, with a potential cost saving of $219 billion over the 30-year period.

2.                  Enhanced skill-building and support programs for family caregivers, many of whom suffer financial hardship because they must leave jobs to look after a relative with dementia.

3.                  Assigning a case manager to each newly diagnosed dementia patient and their caregivers, which could help the person remain at home longer and lessen the strain on the long-term-care system.

Today, annual funding for Alzheimer’s is approximately $24 million. The Toronto Star reports that if “nothing changes, this sharp increase in the number of people living with dementia will mean that by 2038, the total costs associated with dementia will reach $153 billion a year”. 

We have already seen a substantial influx with respect to Will challenges, particularly because there has been a big question mark about the testator’s capacity. The grim realty is that this will be a continuing problem that Estate Solicitors are going to have to tackle.

Thank you for reading.

Rick Bickhram

Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.


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