In this case the daughters of the deceased challenged their father’s will. He left the bulk of his estate to his common law wife. The daughters alleged that the common law wife exerted undue influence on their father and that coercion was the reason he changed his will.
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.
In Ontario a person is entitled to change his/her mind and revoke his/her will. There are a number of ways to revoke a Will. One such way is for the testator to burn, tear up or otherwise destroy it or by having some other person do so in his or her presence and by his or her direction with the intention of revoking the Will. But, sometimes there is no witness or proof that any such destruction took place. That begs the question – what happens if after the testator dies no one can find the Will and no one has knowledge that it was destroyed?
In Canadian law there is a legal doctrine called “proprietary estoppel”. This doctrine will arise where the owner of land, let’s call him Albert, leads another person, Barbara, to believe that they will enjoy a benefit over Albert’s property, and in reliance on that belief, Barbara acts to her detriment to the knowledge of Albert, and Albert takes advantage of Barbara by denying Barbara the benefit at stake. While the concept may appear confusing at first, the Ontario Superior Court provides a clear illustration of how the doctrine works in Love v. Schumacher.
Section 28 of the Estates Act provides the court with jurisdiction to appoint an ETDL in the context of a Will Challenge or removal of an executor. Arguably, based on the cases reviewed herein, for those matters outside the parameters of s. 28 of the Estates Act the Courts may rely on subrule 75.06 (3)(f). The tests for exercising that discretion are set out in in Kalman v. Pick and McColl v. McColl. When the conduct of the estate trustee is endangering the administration of the Estate the court will exercise its discretion to appoint an ETDL to ensure the transparent and orderly administration of the estate.
Allegations that younger women sometimes marry older men for their money are nothing new. But with people living longer and the transfer of one trillion dollars from one generation to the next, it appears as if the concern about financial predators is more commonplace. In part, it’s because the Baby Boomer generation has considerable wealth, and while medical science has increased the average lifespan it has not made comparable progress in reducing the cognitive impairment associated with the aging process. More wealthy elderly people with heightened vulnerability are easier prey for the financial predator.
On January 5, 2017 Ontario’s Court of Appeal came out with a decision which is of great interest to those dealing with limitation periods, the responsibility of trustees to creditors, and the defence of fraudulent concealment.
There are those who would argue that in Ontario, testamentary freedom is paramount. That means that, when making his will, the father had every right to be prejudiced, mean, whimsical or even cruel. After all, the argument goes, it’s the father’s money and he can do whatever he wants with it. Why should the law interfere with a person’s will if the law would permit the father to do what he wanted to do with his money during his lifetime? The father could have donated all of his money to charity before dying, or spent it all at the casino. There are many lawyers and academics who take this view. There are others who disagree.
Sometimes, people in second marriages who make wills balance two loyalties. On the one hand there are the children of the first marriage. On the other hand there is the new spouse. The road often travelled is to provide the spouse with a life interest in the estate assets. But, what does that mean? For example, who should pay the realty taxes or repairs? What about landscaping or utilities? If the intent was to provide the spouse with income to support her is she entitled to give that money away to someone else? Well – that depends on what the will says.