Tag: will

27 Nov

Checkmate? Fight over Chess Master’s Estate

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Bobby Fischer died in 2008 in Iceland at the age of 64. The tawdry details of his life often overshadowed the genius of his game – he was a child prodigy, a teenage grandmaster and — before age 30 — a world champion who triumphed in a Cold War showdown with Soviet champion, Boris Spassky. Since his death, there has been a battle over his estate. Two nephews, a long-time companion (and spouse?) and a recent companion have all made claims against the estate. 

This month, it appeared that the long-time companion (and spouse?), Miyoko Watai, had won the battle against Fischer’s nephews, when her claim was certified by Iceland’s highest court, according to the website Chessbase.com. This would make her the sole heir to Fischer’s estate. However, a few days later, Marilyn Young of the Philippines apparently filed a claim in Iceland that her 8-year-old daughter, Jinky, was Fischer’s child. Ms. Young apparently provided photographs of her, Fischer and Jinky together and at least two postcards to Jinky signed “Daddy” that were said to be from Fischer. If Ms. Young’s claim is upheld, her daughter may be entitled to two-thirds of Fischer’s estate under Icelandic law.

Claims to Fischer’s estate will be settled in Iceland because he was a citizen of that country when he died, and he reportedly left no Will. His estate may be substantial. In 1992, he apparently was paid over $3 million for winning a rematch with his old rival, Boris Spassky.

There may be more surprise moves to come in this continuing saga. 

Have a great weekend!

Bianca La Neve

Bianca V. La Neve – Click here for more information on Bianca La Neve.

25 Nov

The Fight Over Boxer Gatti’s Estate

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 In a recent Québec decision, the young widow of the late boxing champion, Arturo Gatti, and mother to his son, has been awarded $40,000 to cover her legal fees and child care costs. Ms. Rodrigues had asked for a $150,000 advance and their dog. She had also sought to have an earlier Will in which she did not benefit declared invalid. 

At issue is the validity of two Wills that distribute the late boxer’s estate in very different ways. Ms. Rodrigues has submitted a recent Will signed this past June in Québec, which left the entire estate to her. Mr. Gatti’s family contend instead that a 2007 Will signed in New Jersey is the valid last Will. This Will leaves the bulk of the estate to Mr. Gatti’s mother. The Gatti family claim that the Québec Will was signed under duress. However, a signed original of the 2007 Will has apparently not yet been located by the Gatti family. Accordingly, Ms. Rodrigues sought to have this earlier Will declared invalid, an attempt that was rejected at this preliminary stage by Justice Chaput of the Québec Superior Court. He also ruled that custody of the couple’s dog was not an urgent matter for the time being.

Justice Chaput has urged both sides to come to a settlement to avoid a lengthy and costly court battle that could eat away at the estate, estimated to be $6 million. However, both sides seem prepared to go the distance in their legal fight. Stay turned for a real barnburner.

Thanks for reading,

Bianca La Neve

Bianca V. La Neve – Click here for more information on Bianca La Neve.

05 Nov

Ontario’s Unforgiving Formal Execution Requirements for Wills

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The formal requirements for execution of a will, or any testamentary instrument in Ontario, are governed by Part I of the Succession Law Reform Act ("SLRA").  The definition of "will" in s. 1 of the SLRA includes a testament, codicil, will, or other testamentary disposition.  The most critical form requirements are that the will must be in writing, signed by the testator and two witnesses.  Other requirements exist, of course.

Many jurisdictions contain dispensation clauses relaxing the formal compliance requirements, if the court is satisfied that a document or any writing on a document embodies the testamentary intentions of a deceased.  For example, s. 23 of Manitoba’s Wills Act  or California’s Probate Section 6110-6113.  Not so with Ontario, except for holograph wills and for members of the Canadian Forces on active service.  While there is wiggle room in terms of the interpretation of the execution requirements, for instance what constitutes "in writing" or "signed by the testator", if the formal requirements are not met and no specific exemption applies, there is no saving provision based on testator’s intention, and therefore no testamentary instrument.

This can have harsh consequences, by invalidating otherwise perfectly good wills on narrow technical grounds.  On the other hand, the SLRA provides time-tested, black-letter legal clarity.  Time tested, because the formal requirements descend from the Wills Act, 1837.

Have a great weekend,

Chris Graham

Christopher M.B. Graham – Click here for more information on Chris Graham.

21 Sep

On the Big Screen: Challenging Dr. Barnes’ Wishes

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The Toronto International Film Festival brought stars to town and brought an estate issue into focus. The Art of the Steal  received accolades as a “thrilling whodunit” about the world-renowned Barnes art collection, valued in the “billions and billions.” Dr. Albert Barnes assembled art in the twenties and housed it in the suburb of Merion, Pennsylvania.

On his death in 1951, Dr. Barnes’ will gave control of the collection to the trustees of Lincoln University, the first black university in the United States. However, according to the film’s producer, in the nineties, a scheme was hatched to permanently remove the collection from Merion that some would later call the heist of the century.

The trustees’ decision to move the exhibit to downtown Philadelphia was met with legal challenges that did not succeed.  On a site called The Barnes Letters  it seems interest groups used the courts to deviate from Dr. Barnes’ express wishes to focus on “an educational organization designed to promulgate a unique way of teaching art appreciation.”

At an opening ceremony for the new site, protestors marked the occasion with signs advocating that Barnes’ “…Will Should Be Honoured.”

Art disputes relating to trusts and foundations are not uncommon. Here in Canada, one example involves a long-standing legal dispute between the U.K. Beaverbrook Foundation which claims that it only loaned art to a New Brunswick gallery – art that originally belonged to New Brunswick newspaper baron Max Aitken.  (See Paul Trudelle’s September 14, 2009 blog).

These examples point to the idea that a testator’s expressed wishes for certain assets may not always be respected. Dr. Barnes wanted his art to stay put, while it was alleged that Lord Beaverbrook’s art was gifted to the people of New Brunswick.

Have a good Monday.

Jonathan Morse

Jonathan Morse – Click here for more information on Jonathan Morse.

18 Jun

Scrutinizing Evidence in a Will Challenge

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The recent case of Re Henry (2009) CanLII 12329 (ON S.C.) is an excellent illustration of how a court scrutinizes evidence in a will challenge. 

In Re Henry, the deceased died on May 28, 2005.  Two weeks earlier, on May 12, 2005, he had made a Will designating his second wife as his sole beneficiary.  The deceased’s son from a prior marriage challenged the will on the grounds of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity and lack of knowledge and approval of the contents of the will.   

The trial judge found in favour of the second wife on all issues: due execution was shown, the deceased had testamentary capacity along with full knowledge and approval of the contents of the will.  The challenger’s evidence, which consisted largely of his and his sister’s testimony, did not bear scrutiny: some of it was inadmissible, testimony appeared reconstructed as opposed to remembered, testimony contained factual inconsistencies, legal submissions contained errors of law and so on.  By contrast, the evidence brought by the second wife was accepted in whole.

No new law is generated in Re Henry, at least not per se.  But there is a concise consideration of the applicable standard of proof which will be helpful for any lawyer making submissions regarding evidence in a will challenge.  Newbould J. points out that the principle in Vout v. Hay, [1995] S.C.R. 6 that evidence of suspicious circumstances must "be scrutinized in accordance with the gravity of the suspicion" may no longer be good law as a result of F.H. v. McDougall, 2008 S.C.C. 53.  F.H. v. McDougall states "[t]here is only one legal rule and that is in all cases, evidence must be scrutinized with care by the trial judge."  So which is it: Vout v. Hay or F.H. v McDougall

Having laid out the jurisprudence, Justice Newbould states:

"I need not decide in this case whether the passage from Vout v. Hay that I have referred to is still good law because in my view the evidence is the same regardless of whether the evidence is scrutinized with greater care in accordance with the gravity of the suspicious circumstances.  I have taken care to scrutinize all of the evidence".

Have a great day,

Chris Graham



22 May

The Executor as “Spokesman of the Soul”; Revisiting the Will of Alfred Nobel

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"I regard large inherited wealth as a misfortune, which merely serves to dull men’s faculties. A man who possesses great wealth should, therefore, allow only a small portion to descend to his relatives. Even if he has children, I consider it a mistake to hand over to them considerable sums of money beyond what is necessary for their education. To do so merely encourages laziness and impedes the healthy development of the individual’s capacity to make an independent position for himself." – excerpt from the last will of Alfred Nobel, 1833-1896

Born in Stockholm on October 21, 1833, Alfred Nobel was the third son of Immanuel Nobel, an engineer and inventor, and Andriette Ahlsell. After being sent abroad for study, Alfred became best known for mixing siliceous earth with nitroglycerine, forming it into a rod, and coining it ‘dynamite’. In addition to his obvious attraction to science, innovation and industrialism, Nobel was also drawn to social issues, as touched upon in a previous Hull and Hull LLP blog .

On November 27, 1895, Nobel signed his third and last will in Paris. It was handwritten on a yellow notepad, with notes scribbled in the margin, and Nobel had discussed it with no one. (Click here for the full text of the will).


After he died of a stroke at his villa in Italy in 1896, shock and controversy ensued when it was discovered that Nobel had bequeathed the bulk of his fortune (the equivalent of $214 million in today’s money) for the establishment of what would come to be known as the Nobel Prizes: coveted and prestigious annual prizes in five categories, awarded without distinction of nationality. Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist, two of Nobel’s young engineers, were named as executors, and one of their first tasks was to collect Nobel’s far-flung assets and move them quickly back to Sweden before French authorities could make claim to the money. Nobel’s shares, bonds and documents were rounded up and hurried to the Swedish consulate in Paris by horse-drawn cab, escorted by Sohlman, who was armed with a revolver ‘at the ready in case of direct attack’.

The will was incredibly controversial, and was indeed flawed, imprecise and legally deficient. Apparently Nobel had had such negative experiences with lawyers (‘niggling parasites’, as he referred to them) when defending his dynamite patents that he had drawn up the will himself. Initially, Nobel’s permanent domicile could not be easily determined since he had lived in so many countries. To complicate matters, the executors were left the task of forming the Foundation, which was done in Sweden where the will was eventually probated. Nobel had not even consulted the various Prize-awarding institutions to seek their consent to participate in the awarding of the Prizes. Most surprisingly for Nobel’s relatives, this third will contradicted an earlier will in that Nobel’s heirs, instead of receiving twenty percent of the estate would now only receive specific legacies. Two bitter nephews quickly challenged the will and tried to have it declared null and void, however, another nephew residing in Russia told Sohlman about the Russian concept that the executor is ‘the spokesman of the soul’ of the testator. King Oscar II of Sweden added fuel to the fire when he dismissed Nobel’s wishes as ‘nonsensical’ and ’not patriotic minded’ because his property would now be dispersed internationally. King Oscar II later recanted his disapproval when he realized that publicity about the prizes might, in fact, benefit Sweden, and in 1902, handed out the first prizes to the laureates on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.

Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger

22 Apr

A Will Challenge under the Indian Act

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In keeping with yesterday’s blog on a British Columbia real estate matter, today I focus on another BC case – Albas v. Gabriel 2009 BCSC 198 – that involves the Indian Act, a federal statute. 

For a quick recap of the interplay between provincial and federal jurisdiction regarding estate matters and First Nations people living on reserves, I refer to David Smith’s 2007 blog: The Administration of Estates under the Indian Act. 

Albas v. Gabriel involved an action by the plaintiff, as executor of the estate, for a declaration proving the deceased’s Will in solemn form.  The defendant beneficiaries appealed to the Minister of Northern and Indian Affairs because the Minister has jurisdiction to approve a Will made by an Indian and to confirm the appointment of an executor to administer the estate. Specificially, the Minister’s authority is provided by section 43 of the Indian Act.

A member of an Indian Band and a resident of a reserve, the deceased operated a trailer park and he was a “locatee” of the land because he owned “certificates of possession”: valuable assets that he left equally to his daughter and two step-children. This was just one of the businesses with which the deceased was involved.

The daughter challenged both the validity of the Will and the administration of the estate. The judge determined that the daughter believed that if the Will was declared invalid, she would inherit the entire estate.

Because of the Will challenge, the Minister transferred jurisdiction over the estate to the Supreme Court of British Columbia pursuant to s. 44(1).

Ultimately, the Court found that the Will was valid because it was not forged and the testator had capacity as well as knowledge of the Will which he approved.

Enjoy your day.


15 Apr

The Millionaire, His Mistress, His Will & the ex-Governor

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A current Georgia case vividly illustrates the legal, emotional and moral complexity often involved in estates litigation.  According to the reports, Harvey Strother died at age 78, having succumbed to progressively severe alcoholism brought on by the tragic death of his daughter at age 23.  Strother had built up a formidable nest of car dealerships around Georgia, dying with a net worth of about US$37 million.  And a mistress 30 years his junior. 

At issue are 3 amendments to Strother’s 1988 will in favour of his mistress.  The will had left the bulk of his estate to his wife, their children and grandchildren.  But one amendment gave his mistress a $7,900 monthly allowance, a second gave her health insurance and an island condo in Florida.   The third – signed about a month before Strother’s death – gave her a Cape Cod cottage, a Florida boat slip and a Florida condo to her son.  By that time Strother was drinking 1.5 gallons of wine a day (about 6.8 liters, or 9 bottles of wine).

At trial, the jury upheld the first two amendments, worth about $4.5 million to the mistress.  However, the third one was invalid.  Strother, was allegedly drinking even before he signed it and brought to the lawyer’s office by his mistress, and his signature was illegible. 

The family is appealing the two amendments that were upheld, one on the basis that the witnesses were not even present (the mistress is appealing the third amendment struck out by the jury).  Interestingly, the family is represented by Georgia’s ex-Governor Roy Barnes, who points out that the requirement for two witnesses "is an elementary part of the law that has been there since the time of Edward II."  FYI, King Edward II, 1284 – 1327: yes, we deal with old law in estates litigation. 

Have a great day,

Chris Graham

24 Mar

Taking His Secret to the Grave

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I think that in a year I may retire. I cannot take my money with me when I die and I wish to enjoy it, with my family, while I live. – Harry Houdini, Magician and Escapologist

When I was around 6 or 7 years old, I was unequivocally obsessed with Harry Houdini.  My brother and I used to have contests at the local pool to see which of us could hold our breath the longest. He always won, and I’d end the day a few nickels lighter.

Born Ehrich Weisz on this day in 1874, Harry Houdini emigrated with his family from Budapest to the United States in 1878. As a young man, Houdini’s initial attempts to establish a career in magic were relatively unsuccessful; he even had to double as ‘a Wild Man’ carnival act. Harry met his kindred soul in Beatrice (Bess) Raymond, a teenager trying to succeed in show business as a singer and dancer. They married in 1894. After meeting manager Martin Beck, Houdini found his niche in escape acts: handcuffs, ropes, straitjackets, and chains. His most memorable act was to escape “The Chinese Water Torture Cell” (pictured below). To develop his breath-holding capabilities, Houdini even had an oversized bathtub installed in his house so he could practice regularly.


In the fall of 1926, after having broken his ankle while performing the Chinese Water Torture stunt, and after several sleepless nights caring for Bess after she suffered a bout of food poisoning, Houdini was in his Montreal dressing room chatting with a college student who also happened to be an amateur boxer. The student asked Houdini if it was true that Houdini could withstand any blow to his body above the waist. A weakened Houdini replied yes, and began to rise to his feet, but before he had time to tighten his abdominal muscles, the boxer punched him three times. Houdini suffered a burst appendix, and later, peritonitis. He died on the afternoon of October 31, 1926 at age 52, and was later buried in his bronze ‘buried alive casket’, his head resting on a black sack of letters his mother had written him while alive. No autopsy was performed. In his 23-clause-long will, which had been prepared in 1924 with a codicil added in 1925, Houdini left his collection of over 5,000 books (valued at $30,000) to the Library of Congress. His brother Theo received most of his magic equipment and memorabilia; however, Houdini stipulated that the magic apparatus be ‘burnt and destroyed’ upon Theo’s death. Two assistants received $500 each, while The Society of American Magicians received $1,000. His ‘hat rabbits’ reportedly were given to the children of friends. The balance of Houdini’s estate went to Bess, and it was enough to cover his extensive debts and to allow Bess to live comfortably. Bess also received $50,000 in life insurance money, since Houdini had remarkably purchased a double indemnity life insurance policy in the event of his accidental death.

The Chinese Water Torture Cell secret remains a mystery to this day, and my breath-holding record stands at 1:03.

Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger

11 Feb

Mareva Injunctions in Will Challenge Proceedings

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A Mareva injunction is a court order that freezes the assets of individuals or companies. It can be obtained without notice to the target individuals and/or companies and can then be extended on notice.

Mareva injunctions are usually employed in civil actions, typically situations involving fraud, where a plaintiff seeks to prevent a defendant from dissipating assets or removing them from the jurisdiction, pending final determination of the plaintiff’s action. 

In Will challenge proceedings, particularly involving large complex estates, a Mareva injunction may be of use in cases where there is a high risk of dissipation or removal of contested assets by one or more parties to the proceedings, thus defeating the purpose of the Will challenge.

A party seeking a Mareva injunction without notice to other affected parties must make out a strong case of dissipation or removal of assets, through sworn evidence. There is also a duty of full and frank disclosure of all material facts and law, given that the affected parties are not able to defend against the injunction at first instance. Finally, the party seeking the injunction must give an undertaking as to damages. That is, the party must undertake to pay damages to the affected parties in the event that it is subsequently determined by a Court that the Mareva injunction should not have been granted. In Ontario, further to Rule 40.02, a Mareva Order obtained without notice is valid for ten days. It can then be extended by a Court, on notice to the affected parties. An affected party, once it receives notice, may immediately move to quash the injunction. 

A Mareva Order may prove a valuable tool in preserving contested estate assets in Will challenge proceedings. 

Have a great day!

Bianca La Neve


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