A civil action can be ended by the plaintiff by filing a notice of discontinuance. An applicant can end an application by filing a notice of abandonment. The steps can be taken by a plaintiff or applicant at any time. However, anyone who has been served with the claim or application, and who has responded to it, can ask the court to award them costs as compensation for the costs they incurred in responding to the proceeding.
Applying for probate can be cumbersome, expensive, and can delay the administration of an estate. Unfortunately, it may be a practical necessity. The executor often needs to prove that they have legal authority to administer the estate in order to deal with certain types of estate assets. This is especially true in cases where the estate holds substantial assets, such as real property or a portfolio of investments in public corporations. That being the case, probate is not always required, and may even be avoided in some high-value estates.
Costs are the bane of the losing litigant and a constant concern for litigation counsel. Under our “loser pays” principle the threat of paying a winning opponent’s legal costs in addition to one’s own is a bitter pill to swallow; more so as predicting a costs award is notoriously difficult given the inherently discretionary nature of the court’s jurisdiction to award costs.
The Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in Hayward v. Hayward serves as a reminder that will challengers do not have carte blanche to make bald, unsupported claims against a deceased or the will.
There are two ways a trustee can have their administration approved and be discharged. First, they may apply for a passing of accounts pursuant to section 23 of the Trustee Act. Alternatively, they “can avoid the cost and delay of a passing, and instead ask the beneficiaries to approve their administration and provide for their informal discharge directly” by way of a release.
The current system allows anyone who appears to have a financial interest in an estate to challenge a will for minimal costs by giving notice of their objection. All that is required is the filing of a one page document called a “notice of objection”. This is often a boiler plate document alleging that the will-maker did not have capacity, did not know or approve of the contents of a will or was unduly influenced. At this stage, no evidence has to be provided and the application for probate will be temporarily derailed.
It is said that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. For those involved in litigation, there is a third: legal fees. Who should bear the often-exorbitant cost of these fees at the conclusion of litigation? Although legal costs have traditionally been paid out of the Estate, modern Ontario courts follow the “loser pays” rule in estates matters. A recent ruling from the Court of Appeal for Ontario[1. Welton Estate v. Haugrud, 2017 ONCA 831] demonstrates that the court has flexibility even when operating within this rule. Specifically, the court can apportion costs between the litigants in a way that respects the importance of giving effect to valid wills while also discouraging parties from taking unreasonable positions.
Is it appropriate for a court order to permit an Estate Trustee During Litigation (“ETDL”) to distribute the Estate? Possibly. The statutory authority to appoint the ETDL is found in Section 28 of the Estates Act, which provides that an ETDL has all the rights and powers of a general administrator, other than the right of distributing the residue of the property. Generally, an ETDL is appointed when the court feels a neutral third party should be administering an estate to preserve estate assets.
Clients are sometimes understandably frustrated when the cost of defending a bogus claim is greater than settling. I want to share a story about one case where an aggressively creative motion addressed this concern. In this unreported case, the Applicant filed a Notice of Objection and commenced proceedings seeking support under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26. The Deceased was not biologically related to the Applicant and was not receiving any financial or emotional support prior to the testator’s demise.
The recent Ontario case of Timbers Estate v. Bank of Nova Scotia illustrates the vulnerability of those who are victims of a catastrophic injury. Jeffrey Timbers was in a car accident in 1993 and remained in a coma until his death in 2005. Who negotiates for someone like him? Who hires the personal injury lawyer or gives the lawyer instructions? When there is a settlement, who manages the money received?