EXECUTOR MUST ENSURE HOME INSURER KNOWS OF DEATH

dale
Date: 20 May, 2021

At the outset of every estate, we warn our client/executors to investigate the home insurance status of the property formerly occupied by the deceased.

Sometimes the deceased will have been the last person living in the home and it is now vacant. It is crucial that the executors in writing advise the insurers of the death of testator (the person who made the Will) and the occupation status of the home. Most home insurance policies have a vacancy exclusion clause. Namely, if no one is living in the home there is no insurance coverage.

Insurance companies generally will provide insurance coverage to an estate either in return for a higher premium or if arrangements are made for regular inspections of the property.

Not only must the notice to the insurer be made in writing, the insurer’s written confirmation of ongoing home coverage is crucial.

If you are an executor and fail to attend to this detail, you may very well be personally liable if the estate suffers any loss due to an absence of insurance.

In the recent Ontario Superior Court decision of Gregson v. CAA Insurance, the Court summarily granted judgement in favour of the insurer. In that case, the homeowner became mentally incapable and was eventually transferred into a retirement home where she died. The home had been vacant for a significant period of time and a loss was suffered due to water damage. When the deceased’s estate trustee attempted to make a claim, it was denied based upon the vacancy exclusion found within the insurance policy. This case simply brings home a long-standing rule that insurer’s first reaction upon receiving a claim is to attempt to determine whether or not there is coverage or there is a method by which they can deny such coverage.

Again, we repeat, this is an important obligation of an executor/estate trustee.

TRUST TAX RETURN NOT NEEDED as part of The Full Monty

dale
Date: 14 May, 2021

A common strategy that our firm has been recommending to our clients, is one we call the “Full Monty” which is a comprehensive approach to adding the names of trusted children to the assets of elderly testators.

In English, if one is closer to the end of their life, a facet of estate planning may involve the addition of your adult children’s names as an owner of your assets including your home or as the beneficiary of a liquid asset.

This is not as simple as simply adding the names of the children as it is fraught with many difficulties that are canvassed in other blogs.  I recommend one read our article A STRATEGY TO ELIMINATE OR REDUCE PROBATE TAX.

One example of the strategy is to add adult children as owners to the family home.  This must be accompanied by a comprehensive trust agreement, which confirms repeatedly that there is no change in beneficial ownership and that the owners remain so long as they are alive, the trust beneficiaries namely the parents.    Even upon the death of both parents, the asset, such as the home, is to be administered in accordance with the Secondary Will.

The question has arisen, is this a Trust under the Income Tax Act and as such does the Trust need to file income tax returns.

The answer lies in the Income Tax Act itself section 104(1).  So long as there is no change in beneficial ownership or disposition and the trust is simply an arrangement in which the trustees act solely as agents for all the beneficiaries, then there is no need for tax returns to be filed or income declared.

Simply put, if the formal change of ownership creates simple trustees with no rights whatsoever, in other words, mere placeholders and they are bound to act completely in accordance with the instructions of the beneficiaries then this is not a trust which is subject to income tax nor the necessity to file separate income tax returns.

REVOLUTIONARY CHANGES IN THE LAWS REGARDING WILLS IN ONTARIO – PART 3 WILLS NO LONGER REVOKED BY MARRIAGE

REVOLUTIONARY CHANGES IN THE LAWS REGARDING WILLS IN ONTARIO - PART 3
Date: 13 May, 2021

Amongst the elderly and vulnerable there is a serious problem known as predatory marriages. The common scenario is that an elderly widow or widower marries someone generally much younger while not really understanding what or why they are doing it. The motivation of the predatory spouse is that when the elderly spouse dies, often with no Will at all, the predatory spouse will have acquired a substantial interest in their late husband/wife’s estate. The mental capacity test for marriage is far far lower than the capacity required to make a Will. The new Accelerating Access to Justice Act, once it is finally proclaimed, will eliminate an existing provision of the Succession Law Reform Act. That provision now states that any Will is revoked by a subsequent marriage unless that Will contains magic words stating that this Will is made in contemplation of my marriage to…. Plainly put imagine the following common scenario. Predatory gold digger marries an elderly person whose existing will is cancelled automatically by marriage, and the gold digger gets a huge share of the elderly person’s estate upon their death. Note that this amendment will not be retroactive and only applies to deaths that occur after the proclamation of the law.

REVOLUTIONARY CHANGES IN THE LAWS REGARDING WILLS IN ONTARIO  – PART 2 HOW TO FIX A WILL AFTER DEATH

Law
Date: 07 May, 2021

A number of other Provinces have substantial compliance laws.  In other words, a Judge, after the fact and after the maker of the Will – the testator – has passed away, the ability to fix errors in the Will.  I am not speaking of the process of rectification that is discussed in another blog.  A prime example of rectification is when the client told the lawyer to include something in the Will and solely as a result of the error of the lawyer, that provision was not made.  Under those circumstances, the court may rectify that error.

The substantial compliance provision that we are discussing now is remedying an error in the formal process.  The court will be given the power once the Accelerating Access to Justice Act receives royal proclamation, which is not likely to occur until 2022,  to declare a Will to be valid even though some formalities were not observed.  An example would be if only one witness signed or if the witness simply printed their name and forgot to attach their signature.  In those circumstances, the persons putting forward the Will can ask the court to declare the Will as being valid so long as the court believes that the Will does accurately set out the testamentary intention of the deceased.  Again, in plain English, the concept is that there may have been a slight formal “screwup”, but this document put forward as a Will indeed does accurately reflect what the maker of the Will meant it to say.  Please note that the absence of a wet signature, in other words, pen actually hitting paper,  is not an error that can be remedied under this proposed provision.  Also this will not be a retroactive law.  In other words, whenever the law receives royal proclamation, it only applies to Wills made after that date.

REVOLUTIONARY CHANGES IN THE LAWS REGARDING WILLS IN ONTARIO

law
Date: 06 May, 2021

As we had touched on in an earlier blog, one of the ramifications of COVID-19 has been to trigger changes to the way courts and laws are applied throughout the Province.  One of the areas that are being updated under the Accelerating Access to Justice Act is the laws with respect to Wills.  The changes specifically are being made to the Succession Law Reform Act and the Substitute Decisions Act.

Once the plague hit the world, the Government of Ontario acted relatively quickly and enacted emergency regulations as of April 7, 2020.  One of those regulations permitted for the first time witnessing of Wills through an audio-visual platform, such as ZOOM or SKYPE.  The regulations were soon clarified to allow virtual signings to be done in counterpart.  In other words, the client at one end of the process signed one set and the lawyer and the other witness signed an identical copy at the same time.

These rules are about to become a permanent fixture of the law of Ontario.  One must note that for remote witnessing to be valid, at least one of the witnesses must be a lawyer or a licenced paralegal.  The law will be retroactive to April 7, 2020.  The new Act refers to contemporaneous execution, which has been interpreted to mean that the Wills must be in counterpart.  That reqires the process as we discussed above and not circulating the same copy to be signed on separate dates.

While the Act has received royal assent, it still needs the final step by the Government to activate it, namely a royal proclamation.  That should happen relatively shortly.  One should note that the law specifically does not permit digital signatures.  What is called for is what is referred to as a wet signature.  Literally ink on paper.  This author does not disagree with that requirement. The signing of a Will is still a very formulaic process and attention to detail and ensuring that a Will is properly signed is one of the components of creating a valid Will.  In another blog, we will discuss possible remedies.

UNDUE INFLUENCE

Date: 08 Feb, 2021

Another common method of attacking the validity of a Will is an allegation of undue influence.  For a claim of undue influence to be effective, one would need to prove that the intent of the person making the Will had been overwhelmed and replaced by the person exerting the undue influence.  Imagine the scenario of a caregiver forcing an elderly person in their care to change their Will and leave all to themselves in the place of the person’s children.  The starting point for the law in this area is the decision of the eminent estate lawyer and later judge, Justice Cullity.  He set out the test in his seminal decision of Scott v. Cousins.  Undue influence is not simply influenced or persuasion.  In essence, it must go beyond that and reach the level of coercion.  In other words, it is not simply influenced or even persuasion, such as by a child attempting to convince a parent to divide up their estate in one fashion or another.  That is not the point.  As discussed originally in the 1885 English case of Wingrove v. Wingrove, the concept is only when the will of the person who is making the Will is coerced into doing that which he or she does not desire to do, that is what amounts to undue influence.  There is a presumption in favour of undue influence that arises out of certain family relationships and that applies to various transactions that take place during the testator’s life, (see the blog articles on the presumption of resulting trust) but they play no part in the law of wills.  The persons against whom such presumption arises in those transactions are typically those that a testator might naturally wish to share in their estate.  As an example, adding one child to the parent’s bank account, will likely not be held to be a valid transfer or gift.  But leaving that child all or part of an estate in a will is not subject to attack so easily.

Such persons are entitled to press what they think are their proper moral claims.  Undue influence is not simply bad influence but must amount to coercion.  Persuasion and advice do not amount to undue influence, so long as the free will of the testator to accept or reject is not lost.  Appeals to the affection or ties of the relative, or seeking gratitude for past services or even pity all may be fairly pressed upon the testator.  The testator may be led, but not driven and the testator’s Will must be the product of their own desires, not the record of what someone else wants.  There is no undue influence unless the testator if they could speak would say, this is not my wish, but I must do it.

The onus of proving undue influence rests on the person alleging the undue influence, all of which is to be proven on the balance of probabilities.  The influence imposed by some other person on the deceased must be so overpowering that the document reflects the Will of the influencer and not of the deceased.  A tall order, but there are certain circumstances that give rise to a presumption that undue influence may very well exist.

Not a simple test, and to prosecute such an attack requires experience and finesse based on evidence.

Estate Administration – Income Taxes

Date: 05 Feb, 2021

I want to first acknowledge that any errors in this blog article are my sole responsibility, but I tip my hat to Ms. Estelle Wieler CPA, CA, CEA (Certified Executor Advisor) of Calvin G Vickery CPA Professional Corporation for her guidance.

One of the most important duties of an executor is ensuring that the final tax return of the deceased is filed, often referred to as a terminal return.

That tax return covers the deceased’s final year from January 1 to the date of death, which is why it is sometimes called a “stub year”.

In most Estates, this responsibility also includes filing tax returns for the Estate. The Estate is a taxable entity, just like a corporation or person. If it earns income, it must file a tax return.

Our firm’s practice is to strongly recommend to all of our Estate clients that they seek the services of a qualified accountant. This task is beyond the capabilities of all but the most learned of our clients and certainly that of simple tax preparation services and bookkeepers.

The rules and forms of an Estate tax return are quite different from a personal tax return.

It is important that we separate the different types of taxes. There is the provincial estate tax, which is generally calculated at 1.5% of the value of an estate that is being probated.

Then there are the final income taxes that are triggered by the death of a person and in the absence of a spousal rollover will trigger a deemed disposition upon death. In English, it is as if the deceased had sold everything the day before they died and the profit or tax sheltering that they had organized in their lifetime is exposed to the waiting hand of the taxman/woman.

There is another tax and that is upon any income earned by an Estate. An Estate before distribution can earn interest income. If it holds real estate, that real estate may appreciate and possibly attracts even more income and the responding income tax.

Under the present tax laws, an estate is able to enjoy graduated tax rates for the first three years of its existence. Graduated rates are the same income tax rates that we as private individuals get to enjoy. As we climb the income ladder, the government takes an even greater share of income tax. Estates for the first year three years of its “life” enjoys the same benefits. However, beyond the three year limit, any estate income is taxed at the highest marginal rate presently approximately 53%.

One possible strategy is to attribute the estate’s income to the actual beneficiaries and have them declare the estate’s income to take advantage of their lower tax rate rather than the estate’s exposure. CRA does seem to find it acceptable administratively to allow the estate’s accountant to choose the best option between whether to tax income inside the estate or allocate it to the beneficiaries as long as certain basic rules are followed (which are too complicated to expand on here). When it is allocated to the beneficiary, the estate’s accountant must indicate that this is being done on the estate tax return and a tax income slip is issued to the beneficiary. However, this strategy is rarely taken for a number of reasons. Firstly, the first 36 months of an estate, the estate also has the graduated rates that we have indicated. So, unless a beneficiary has so little income that he or she has not used their personal tax credits, it is generally better to tax the income within the estate itself. There are even additional negative consequences of having the income declared by the beneficiaries. This flow-through income may very well affect the beneficiaries dependent claim. Further, all of the low income support that one potentially could receive such as the Ontario Trillium Benefit, GST Credit etc. or perhaps even disability support, such as under the ODSP maybe negatively be affected. Clearly, this is a very complicated question, and an accountant’s guidance is required. In conclusion generally, unless the estate has continued to drag on beyond its 36 months graduated tax rate period, one almost always taxes an estate income within itself and it is not generally allocated down to the beneficiaries during that time.

All of this is driven by CRA‘s administration rules which are generally observed for the smaller sized estate. For estates that are of significant value, one must tread carefully. As more senior CRA agents are generally involved, they administer the rules far more strictly.

One should also note that an estate does not enjoy a capital gains exemption for a principal residence, except in very limited circumstances that do not apply to most estates. The home that you have owned and lived in may have dramatically appreciated, but it is deemed to be tax free for you because of that capital gains principal residence exemption. The estate has no such shield from the open hands of the taxman.

Conclusion, this is complicated stuff and as lawyers, it is our job to simply alert you in broad strokes to those concerns and to emphasize to you the importance of having the input of a qualified accountant.

LACK OF TESTAMENTARY CAPACITY – USING IT TO ATTACK A WILL Aka DAD DID NOT KNOW WHAT HE WAS DOING WHEN HE MADE HIS WILL

Date: 05 Feb, 2021

We have commented elsewhere about the traditional methods of attacking a Will.  One of those areas is claiming the will-maker aka the Testator, lacked testamentary capacity.  In simple English, the person writing the Will did not have the mental wherewithal to actually make a Will.  The legal phrase is a lack of testamentary capacity.  There are a number of seminal cases on the point such as the old English case of Banks v. Goodfellow and the 2003 Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Hall v. Bennett Estate.  The concept is to answer the following questions with a yes on the part of the testator:

1. Did they understand the nature and effect of the Will or Codicil?

2. Did they recollect the nature and extent of his or her property?

3. Did they understand the extent of what he or she was giving away under their Will or Codicil?

4. Did they remember the people that they normally might be expected to benefit under their Will?

5. Did they understand the nature of the claims that might be made by the people that are being cut out of the Will?

The courts are guided by long-established principles:

  1. The importance of testamentary freedom and autonomy that only when the law requires it, should the courts jump in to challenge and change a Will.  In other words, within certain limits, a person making a will can distribute his or her estate as they see fit.
  1. That as long as one can prove that the Will was properly signed and met the formalities of the Succession Law Reform Act, that in the absence of suspicious circumstances, the person making the Will is presumed to have known and approved its contents and possessed the aforesaid necessary testamentary capacity to make the Will.

In other words, if all of the usual formalities such as the Will being in writing, signed generally in front of two witnesses, the courts begin with the assumption that the Will is valid in every regard and that the person making it knew what they were doing.  It is for those persons who are attempting to set aside the Will to show why the testator lacked the appropriate testamentary capacity.

Will Instructions and Questionnaire

Date: 26 Oct, 2020

Here is our will instructions and questionnaire. This is an excellent starting point in the process of you understanding what the documents entail and the information we need.

HOW TO CANCEL OR REVOKE A WILL

Date: 22 Oct, 2020

The law with respect to Wills is largely set out in The Succession Law Reform Act.  Ontario is a strict compliance jurisdiction, meaning that for a Will and many other steps associated with it to be valid, one must strictly comply with all of the provisions of the law. 

This is in contrast with other jurisdictions such as British Columbia in which a near miss may very well score. 

Cancelling or revoking a Will may only be done in accordance with Section 15 of The Succession Law Reform Act.  There are only a few ways that this can be done and they are quite limited. 

  1. Marrying after the date of your Will, unless your earlier Will contains magic words saying that this Will is made in contemplation of my marriage to x. 
  2. Making another Will. 
  3. In writing, specifically declaring your intention to cancel or revoke your earlier Will and it must meet the same formalities of making a Will, namely being in writing and witnessed by two persons or being completely in the handwriting of the person who wants to cancel their Will or;
  4. Destroying a Will by the maker of the Will or by someone else in the testator’s presence and at their direction. Burning, tearing or otherwise destroying a will are acceptable.

At our office, we often ask our clients to bring their old Will with them which we shred after the Will has been executed.