Moore v Sweet

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On November 23, 2018, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Moore v. Sweet, 2018 SCC 52, in which the majority imposed a remedial constructive trust on the proceeds of a life insurance policy in favour of the life insured’s former spouse. The life insured, and owner of the policy, Lawrence Anthony Moore, had orally agreed with his former spouse, Michelle Constance Moore, that he would retain her as the beneficiary of his life insurance policy, if she paid the insurance premiums. She did so, paying approximately $7,000 in premiums after her separation from Mr. Moore. He broke his promise to her, by appointing his new common-law spouse, Risa Lorraine Sweet, as the irrevocable beneficiary. The policy paid out $250,000. At death, Mr. Moore’s estate was insolvent.

These facts raised some interesting issues of law and policy. Both Ms. Moore and Ms. Sweet were innocent parties. There is no question that Ms. Moore could sue his estate for his breach of the agreement, but that would be a hollow victory, given that the debts of his estate exceeded the assets. In order for her to receive what she bargained for, the proceeds of the life insurance proceeds, she would need to persuade the court to impose a trust on the proceeds, but on what basis? In Canada, constructive trusts are most frequently imposed when someone proves that another has been unjustly enriched. This is not the only basis on which a constructive trust may be imposed: it may be imposed when someone has acted wrongfully. In other words, it may be imposed on someone who holds property in circumstances when it is against good conscience for them to do so. I would argue that constructive trusts may also be imposed in other circumstances.

Ms. Moore was initially successful, but the majority of the Ontario Court of Appeal reversed the application judge’s decision. The Court of Appeal held that she was limited to receiving the amount of the premiums she paid. She appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, the majority of which based its decision on unjust enrichment, holding that it would be unjust for Ms. Sweet to retain the insurance proceeds.

To succeed in a claim of unjust enrichment, Ms. Moore need to prove that Ms. Sweet was enriched, that Ms. Moore suffered a corresponding deprivation, and that there was no juristic reason for the enrichment. Madam Justice Cote, for the majority, found both that Ms. Sweet was enriched by the receipt of the insurance proceeds, and that Ms. Moore suffered a corresponding deprivation, having paid the premiums. It is not necessary that the enrichment be the same amount as the deprivation, nor, Madam Justice Cote wrote, does “the corresponding deprivation element…require that the disputed benefit be conferred directly by the plaintiff on the defendant.”

Much of the controversy in this case revolved around the third element: whether there was a juristic reason for the enrichment. The approach mandated by the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Garland v.Consumers’ Gas Co., 2004 SCC 25, is to consider first whether the defendant is entitled to retain the benefit on the basis of an established category for juristic benefit, such as a gift, a statutory, common law or equitable obligation. For example, if I give you a $100 as a birthday present, you are enriched and I have suffered a corresponding detriment, but my intent to make a gift is a juristic reason that you are entitled to retain the $100. Similarly, there is a juristic reason for the government to retain my taxes, namely the legislation pursuant to which I am required to pay the taxes. The burden is on the person making the claim to show that there is no juristic reason in accordance with an established category. If not, the person defending the unjust enrichment claim may then show that there is some other reason he or she should be able to retain the benefit which may include the expectations of the parties and public policy.

In this case, the insurer was required to pay the proceeds to Ms. Sweet in accordance with the Insurance Act, which includes protections of the proceeds against creditors of the deceased. Are the provisions of the legislation a juristic reason for Ms. Sweet’s enrichment? The minority thought so; the majority not.

Madam Justice Cote distinguished between the obligations of the insurer to pay out the proceeds to the designated beneficiary and the right of the beneficiary to retain the proceeds as against the claimant, in this case, Ms. Moore. She wrote:

[73]                          Accepting that contractual rights to claim policy proceeds can exist outside of the Insurance Act,can an irrevocable designation under the Insurance Act nonetheless constitute a juristic reason for Michelle’s deprivation? In my view, it cannot. This is because the applicable statutory provisions do not require, either expressly or implicitly, that a beneficiary keep the proceeds as against a plaintiff, in an unjust enrichment claim, who stands deprived of his or her prior contractual entitlement to claim such proceeds upon the insured’s death. By not ousting prior contractual or equitable rights that third parties may have in such proceeds, the Insurance Act allows an irrevocable beneficiary to take insurance money that may be subject to prior rightsand therefore does not give such a beneficiary any absolute entitlement to that money (Shannon, at p. 461). Put simply, the statute required that the Insurance Company pay Risa, but it did not give Risa a right to keep the proceeds as against Michelle, whose contract with Lawrence specifically provided that she would pay all of the premiums exclusively for her own benefit. Neither by direct reference nor by necessary implication does the statute either (a) foreclose a third party who stands deprived of his or her contractual entitlement to claim insurance proceeds by successfully asserting an unjust enrichment claim against the designated beneficiary — whether revocable or irrevocable — or (b) preclude the imposition of a constructive trust in circumstances such as these (see Central Guaranty Trust Co. v. Dixdale Mortgage Investment Corp. (1994), 24 O.R. (3d) 506 (C.A.); see also KBA Canada).

[74]                          On this basis, the applicable Insurance Act provisions are distinguishable from other legislative enactments that have been found to preclude recovery, such as valid statutory provisions requiring the payment of taxes to the government (see GST Reference, at pp. 476-77; Zaidan Group Ltd. v. London (City) (1990), 71 O.R. (2d) 65 (C.A.), at p. 69, aff’d [1991] 3 S.C.R. 593). In that context, the plaintiff’s unjust enrichment claim must fail because the legislation permits the defendant to be enriched even when the plaintiff suffers a corresponding deprivation. The same cannot be said about the statutory framework at issue in this case, however; there is nothing in the Insurance Act that justifies the fact that Michelle, who is contractually entitled to claim the policy proceeds, is nevertheless deprived of this entitlement for Risa’s benefit. 

Madam Justice Cote held that there were no other juristic reasons for the enrichment.

Mr. Justice Gascon, writing for the minority dissent, would have held that the provisions of the Insurance Act constituted a juristic reason for Ms. Sweet’s enrichment. The designation was made in accordance with the Insurance Act, which also provided protections from creditors for an irrevocable beneficiary. It was his view that Ms. Moore’s claim was purely contractual, and she had no equitable claim to the proceeds. She had a claim against Mr. Moore’s estate in contract, but a contractual claim was insufficient grounds for the court to impose a constructive trust in unjust enrichment. Mr. Justice Garson emphasized the importance of certainty if that the legislation provides.

I should note that Madam Justice Cote declined to consider whether a good conscience constructive trust for wrongful acts could have also been imposed (I think it could), or whether there were other categories of constructive trust.

The result is that Ms. Moore is entitled to the insurance proceeds.

Panda Estate

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wrote about the Ontario decision in Re Milne Estate, in which Mr. Justice Dunphy refused to grant probate in respect of two wills on the grounds that in his view they were void for uncertainty of subject matter. A husband and wife each made two wills, one intended to deal with those assets for which an estate grant was required, and the other for which no grant would be required for the estate trustee to deal with the assets.
I described this two-will strategy to reduce probate as follows:

The idea is that the will-maker makes one will in which she deals with those of her assets that can be dealt with by her executor (or “estate trustee” in Ontario), without a grant of probate. The most common type of asset is shares and shareholder loans in closely held companies. There is then another will in which she deals with those assets, such as real estate, publicly traded shares and investment accounts for which probate will be required for the executor to deal with the assets. Both Ontario and British Columbia charge probate fees based on the size of the estate. By using a separate will for the closely held companies, there may be significant savings if the will does not need to be probated.

In my post, I was critical of the reasoning in Re Milne Estate.
In a subsequent decision, another Judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice declined to follow Re Milne Estate. In Re Panda Estate, 2018 ONSC 6734 (CanLII), Mr. Justice Penny granted a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee in respect of one of two wills. In Panda Estate, the will-maker had made two wills: a primary and a secondary will. The Secondary Will defined the secondary estate to include shares in two companies, and “any other assets for which my Trustees determine a grant of authority by a court of competent jurisdiction in not required for the transfer, disposition or realization thereof.” It also permitted the secondary estate trustee to disclaim any assets, which would then be administered pursuant to the primary will. If the reasoning in Re Milne were applied, then the primary will would be void for uncertainty of subject matter.
However, Mr. Justice Penny did not agree with the reasoning in Re Milne Estate. First, Mr. Justice Penny did not consider it appropriate to the Court sitting as a court of probate to engage in “matters of broad construction.” The functions of the court in probate and interpretation are distinct. He wrote:

[17]           It seems to me, although law and equity are now fused in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, it remains nevertheless important to keep the probate and construction functions analytically distinct, if for no other reason than to align the scope and nature of the review being undertaken with the specific judicial function being exercised at that stage of the proceedings: Oosterhoff on Wills, 8th ed.  The distinction is also important because the rules that govern the admissibility of evidence differ in the two courts.  A probate court may admit direct evidence of the testator’s intention when proving the will.  But, apart from limited circumstances, a court of construction does not admit such evidence: see pp. 244 – 246.

[18]           In my view, the question of the validity of the conferral of the authority to decide under which of two wills (the probated will and the non-probated will) the property of the deceased will be administered, and the effect of the answer to that question on the administration of the estate, are matters of broad construction which ought not to be dealt with in the context of an application for probate per se.

Secondly, Mr. Justice Penny did not agree with the assertion that a “will is a trust.” He wrote,

[20]           Not one of the authoritative texts on wills asserts that a will is a trust.  Not one of these texts, when setting out the criteria for a valid will, cites the necessity to satisfy the requirements for the creation of a valid trust; that is, the “three certainties.”  Rather, to establish validity for purposes of probate, a will must conform to certain formal requirements (noted above), provide for distribution or administration of property and take effect upon death.  Nor am I aware of any judicial precedent which concludes that a will is invalid because it, being a trust, failed to satisfy the three certainties.

[21]           A will is a unique instrument.  A will shares some of the attributes of a contract and some of the attributes of a trust but it is neither; a will is its own, unique creature of the law.

[22]           Wills frequently create or otherwise employ trusts, to be sure.  When they do, the three certainties will no doubt be relevant to the validity of the trust.  The invalidity of the trust element of an otherwise valid will, however, is not coequal with the invalidity of that will.

Mr. Justice Penny suggested that the real issue in these cases is whether a direction to trustees to determine whether a grant is required to deal with assets is valid. Because it was unnecessary to decide this question on the application before him, he did not rule on this issue. His comments, though, suggest that it is likely valid. He wrote:

[29]           The estates bar is not of one mind on how to draft provisions that facilitate reduction of estate administration tax by placing one set of the testator’s assets under a will intended for probate and leaving another set of assets to be administered without the need for probate.  While, as some commentators argue, detailed lists are preferable in terms of certainty, they can become problematic when certain assets take on a different form between when the wills are drafted and the testator’s death.  To deal with this problem, some suggest consideration be given to adopting language of the very kind used in this case.  This would balance the desire to maximize opportunities for reducing estate administration taxes with the desire to avoid language which is “circular” or “too vague” (such as describing non-probate assets as “those not requiring probate at the time of death”).

[30]           Where the detailed list approach is used, others recommend, to deal with the situation where an asset in the non-probate will turns out to require probate, including a clause that entitles the estate trustees of the secondary will to renounce their interest in that asset, causing it to fall into the general will with respect to which probate will be sought.

[31]           In the circumstances of this case, it is not at all clear to me that a direction from the testator about how the estate trustees should decide whether or not to seek probate in respect of two or more wills dealing with particular components of the deceased’s property, is any more extreme or “uncertain” than other, well-established discretionary choices frequently conferred on and exercised by estate trustees.  Directing the estate trustees to determine whether a grant of authority by a court of competent jurisdiction is or is not required for the transfer, disposition or realization of property, and to act on that determination in their administration of the estate, arguably provides to the estate trustees an objective, ascertainable basis for the exercise of whatever “discretion” is embedded in that conferral of authority.

In my view, the reasoning in Re Panda Estate is preferable to that in Re Milne Estate. I hope that if this issue arises in British Columbia, our courts will follow Re Panda Estate.

Re Milne Estate

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I suspect that a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice is causing some consternation among the Ontario estate planning bar. In Re Milne Estate, 2018 ONSC 4174, the Court held that a will was void for uncertainty of subject matter and could not be admitted to probate. The effect of the decision was to frustrate a two-will estate planning strategy to minimize probate fees. In understand that the decision is under the appeal, and I would argue that the reasoning is fundamentally flawed. But it does highlight the risks of using a multiple-will strategy to reduce probate fees. Continue reading “Re Milne Estate” »

Bare Trustee Found to be “Particular Individual” under the Excise Tax Act: New Housing Rebate Denied

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 Her Majesty the Queen v. Cheema, 2018 FCA 45 (CanLII)

Often home buyers need to rely on a guarantor in order to allow them to qualify for the mortgage. In such cases, a lender often requires the guarantor to be registered as an owner of the property; even if the parties agree that the purchasers are the sole beneficial owners of the property. In this context, the guarantor, or bare trustee, holds no beneficial interest in the property although they are a registered owner of the property. Continue reading “Bare Trustee Found to be “Particular Individual” under the Excise Tax Act: New Housing Rebate Denied” »

Strata Wins $54,000 in Fines Against Owner

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Strata Corporations can issue fines when an owner breaches the bylaws. At $200 an occurrence and a further $200/week for an ongoing contravention, the fines can add up fairly quickly. In the case of the Owners, Strata Plan KAS 3162 v Staerkle, 2018 BCSC 1290, the fines were in excess of $50,000.00, and the Court ordered the owner to pay the fines. Continue reading “Strata Wins $54,000 in Fines Against Owner” »

Unreasonable Noise Levels in Strata Living

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Unreasonable noise can, depending on the circumstances, amount to nuisance. In law, a party that causes a nuisance, can be liable for somewhat nominal (depending on the circumstances) damages.

The case of Chen v The Owners, Strata Plan NW 2265, 2017 BCCRT 113, was a dispute as to whether the common property hot tub, Continue reading “Unreasonable Noise Levels in Strata Living” »

Sharma v Sharma

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Prem Lata Sharma is suing her sisters Raj Rani Sharma and Simmi Sharma. She is seeking to vary their mother Rama Rani Sharma’s will, pursuant to which she was disinherited, and she is also asking the court to declare that they hold title to their mother’s house in trust for the estate. Raj Rani Sharma is both a beneficiary and also the executor of the will. Their mother had gratuitously transferred the house into a joint tenancy with them, and their position is that they received the house by right-of-survivorship. Continue reading “Sharma v Sharma” »

Court of Appeal Upholds Decision in Sato v. Sato

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In Sato v. Sato, 2018 BCCA 287, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld Mr. Justice Funt’s decision that Hiroyuki Rex Sato was domiciled in British Columbia when he married Makiko Sato on April 30, 2013, although he was living and working in Luxemburg at the time and had not lived in British Columbia since 1999. Continue reading “Court of Appeal Upholds Decision in Sato v. Sato” »

Rosas v Toca

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In Rosas v. Toca, 2018 BCCA 191, the British Columbia Court of Appeal held that a borrower’s promises to repay a loan modified the original loan agreement, and thereby extended the time during which the lender could file a lawsuit to collect the loan. The reasons in this decision have far-reaching implications for the law of contract in British Columbia. The Court of Appeal has held that it is no longer necessary for a party to provide fresh consideration to modify a contract. Continue reading “Rosas v Toca” »

Converting a Petition or Application to Prove a Will into an Action

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The Supreme Court Civil Rules provide that a proceeding to prove the validity of a will must be started by either a notice of application, if there is an existing proceeding in which it is appropriate to do so, or by a petition. This is set out in Rule 25-14(4). This is a significant change to the practice. Prior to the changes to the Rules with the coming into force of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, contested proceedings to prove a will were brought by a notice of civil claim. A proceeding begun by Notice of Civil Claim is referred to as an “Action.” The difference is that an Action has pretrial procedures such as disclosure of documents, and oral examinations for discovery, and ultimately a trial with witnesses testifying in court. In contrast, a notice of application or petition does not have the pretrial disclosure process and the evidence is by way of affidavits. Continue reading “Converting a Petition or Application to Prove a Will into an Action” »

Failure to Respond to CRT

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Not only can the CRT make default orders against a respondent that fails to file a response to a claim, but the CRT can make default orders against a party that files a response and fails to respond to communications from the CRT.

As previously discussed in a past post, there is an ability to overturn default orders. However, once a default order is granted, overturning it will be more difficult than simply responding to the process in the first place. Further, there is always the risk being denied the request to overturn the default decision. Continue reading “Failure to Respond to CRT” »

Obligations re: Repair of Common Property and Strata Corporations

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A topic that comes up often is whether the strata corporation has adequately repaired its common property. This came up in the case of Rueger v The Owners, Strata Plan VR 319, 2017 BCCRT 80.

The strata corporation had heating cables in its roadway, that were installed when the strata corporation was built 40 years ago. In the 40 years since, the heating cables started to fail and needed to be replaced completely if they were to work again. Continue reading “Obligations re: Repair of Common Property and Strata Corporations” »

Recovering Fines for Breaching an Age Restriction Bylaw

By | Strata and Condo Law | 2 Comments

In two recent decisions regarding the same parties, a strata corporation has taken steps to enforce its age restriction bylaws against an owner who was below the age limit and continued to reside in the strata lot.

In the case of The Owners, Strata Plan NWS 3075 v. Stevens, 2017 BCSC 1306 (not available), the strata corporation asked the court to confirm that the owner was breaching its age bylaw, and then sued the owner again in The Owners, Strata Plan NW 3075 v. Stevens, 2018 BCPC 2 to collect the fines. Continue reading “Recovering Fines for Breaching an Age Restriction Bylaw” »

Estate Litigation Basics Course, April 13, 2018

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I have the honour of speaking at the Continuing Legal Education Course on Estate Litigation Basics, at the Pan Pacific in Vancouver on April 13, 2018. I am speaking about evidence in estate litigation. My paper is co-authored (or will be when it’s done) by Taeya Fitzpatrick of my firm.

The course is chaired by Lauren Blake of Legacy Tax and Trust Lawyers, Vancouver. The other faculty are:
Continue reading “Estate Litigation Basics Course, April 13, 2018” »

Have to Give Strata a Chance to Repair Common Property

By | Strata and Condo Law | One Comment

In the case of Rawle v The Owners, Strata Plan NWS 3423, 2017 BCCRT 15, the Civil Resolution Tribunal found that an owner who wants the strata to repair common property, actually has to give the strata a chance to do so before suing the strata.

Within the strata lot was a fireplace with a disconnected flue. How the flue became disconnected was unknown. However, the cost to reconnect it was in issue between the owner and the strata corporation. Continue reading “Have to Give Strata a Chance to Repair Common Property” »

Strata Council Mismanagement Leads to being Ordered to Hire Strata Manager

By | Strata and Condo Law | One Comment

A dysfunctional strata corporation can lead to a court appointed administrator, which can be very expensive for the strata corporation, for the court proceeding and the cost of the administrator.

However, only the BC Supreme Court can appoint an administrator for a strata corporation, the Civil Resolution Tribunal doesn’t have that power. Continue reading “Strata Council Mismanagement Leads to being Ordered to Hire Strata Manager” »

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