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Scholastic’s Succession Plot Twist

The memory of a Scholastic book fair has a certain nostalgia for Millennials. Maybe it reminds us of a childhood in which we were blissfully unaware of the many technological features of today’s society such as smartphones, mobile apps, and social media, and dial-up internet was only available on the desktop computer in our parents’ basement.

To kids of the 80’s and 90’s, there wasn’t much that matched the excitement of the day that our school libraries and gyms were turned into bookstores that we were free to roam with a few dollars in our pockets to pick out a book of our choosing.

In those days, the tales of Clifford the Big Red Dog and Harry Potter reigned. And now, decades later, the recent real-world events at Scholastic provide a different story.

When Scholastic’s CEO Richardson Robinson Jr. died in June, he apparently shocked his family by giving control of the $1.2 billion company and his personal possessions to Scholastic’s Chief Strategy Officer, with whom he’d had a long-term relationship, rather than to his siblings, children, or ex-wife.

Robinson’s relationship was reportedly an open secret at Scholastic for years, but his family always assumed that his estate, including his controlling share in the company, would be left to them.

Consequently, Robinson’s sons are now “reviewing their legal options” after learning about their father’s will, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal.

So, what are Robinson’s sons’ options?

While we cannot opine on the applicable succession laws in the United States, if Ontario law applied there would likely be little recourse for Robinson’s sons in seeking to set aside their father’s will based on the facts that have been reported.

Ontario law has an emphasis on testamentary freedom whereby testators can choose how they want to divide their estate.1 Attempts to set aside a will based on a moral obligation owed by parents to independent adult children have been consistently rejected by Ontario courts.2

Rather, in Ontario, a testator’s will may only be set aside on specific grounds, including incapacity, undue influence, or lack of knowledge and approval of the will’s content. There is no indication in the reporting on Robinson that any of these grounds would apply in his case.

As such, while the news of their lack of inheritance from their father’s estate was no doubt a disappointment to Robinson’s sons, it is important to remember that testators in Ontario are entitled to make such decisions if they so choose. Families would be well-served in discussing estate planning matters well before death, rather than leaving their decisions as a surprise, which can create bitterness and family conflict, as appears to have occurred here.

Footnotes
  1.   Spence v. BMO Trust Company, 2016 ONCA 196 at para. 30 (Ont. C.A.).
     
  2.   Verch v. Weckworth, 2014 CarswellOnt 5660, 2014 ONCA 338 (Ont. C.A.).
     

Peter Askew

Peter is an associate at Wagner Sidlofsky LLP and a member of the firm’s Estate and Commercial Litigation Groups.

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This blog is not intended to serve as a comprehensive treatment of the topic. It is not meant to be legal advice. Every case turns on its specific facts and it would be a mistake for the reader of this blog to conclude how it might impact on the reader’s case. Nothing replaces retaining a qualified, competent lawyer, well versed in this niche area of practice and getting some good legal advice.
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