In a recent Ontario decision, a mother and widow disputed who should administer the deceased’s estate. Among other issues, the mother accused the widow of wanting to exhume the deceased’s remains as well as claiming to be a creditor to the estate because she paid the funeral costs.
Widow and Mother Go to Court over Estate
The deceased was only 36 years of age when he unexpectedly succumbed to cancer on May 25, 2018. He was survived by his wife, to whom he had been married for six years and a life partner for 15 years. He had no descendants.
The deceased died intestate. Predeceased by his father, his closest next-of-kin was his mother.
Following the deceased’s funeral and interment in the family crypt, a dispute erupted between his widow and his mother. The dispute was sparked by the mother’s perception that the widow was threatening to exhume the deceased’s remains and move them to another cemetery, but grew to involve the administration of the deceased’s estate generally.
The widow applied to the court for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee without a Will (the “Certificate”).
The mother objected to the issuance of the Certificate to the widow. She sought to have a neutral third party appointed as Estate Trustee. When the mother filed the Notice of Objection, she stated that her interest was financial. The mother claimed to be a creditor of the deceased’s estate because she had paid the funeral expenses, totalling $43,948, and had not been reimbursed by the estate.
The widow then brought an application for an order setting aside the mother’s Notice of Objection and granting herself the Certificate.
Court Rules Against Deceased’s Mother
The court began by explaining that both the mother and the widow had standing to apply for the Certificate: the mother as the deceased’s next-of-kin, and the widow as his spouse.
However, the mother had not applied for a Certificate but had sought the appointment of a neutral third party.
The court stated that unless the mother could show that the widow was in a conflict of interest in assuming the role of Estate Trustee, she had no reasonable expectation that the court would exercise its discretion to issue the Certificate to someone other than the widow.
The court opined that the widow had no adverse interest against the estate and, according to the rules of intestate succession set out in s. 44 of the Succession Law Reform Act, the widow was the sole beneficiary of the estate as the deceased had no dependants. The court further stated that there was no precedent for a court to exercise its discretion to grant administration to an applicant other than the deceased’s spouse where the spouse was entitled to the entirety of the deceased’s estate.
In addition, the court found that it wasnot reasonable for the mother to oppose the widow’s application to be appointed Estate Trustee on the basis of her perceived threat to exhume the deceased’s remains; in fact, the widow herself had made the arrangements to have the deceased’s remains interred in the family crypt.
Finally, the court found that it was not reasonable for the mother to object to the issuance of the Certificate to the widow on the basis of a purported financial interest in the deceased’s estate. While the mother claimed that she was a creditor who was owed $43,983for funeral expenses, courts have narrowly construed what constitutes a financial interest in an estate. In fact, previous case law has established that, unless a court otherwise directs, “persons having a financial interest in the estate” are those persons named as beneficiaries in the will and those entitled on an intestacy.In this case, the only beneficiary entitled to share in the estate on the deceased’s intestacy was the widow.
In addition, the court held that granting creditors standing pursuant to Rule 75 would introduce unnecessary complexity into estate procedures. The court explained that Notices of Objection to a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee are filed pursuant to Rule 75.03 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. To engage Rule 75.03, the objector must “appear to have a financial interest in the estate”.
In this case, the court was not persuaded that the mother was such a creditor. Instead, the court found that she had adequate remedies available to her to pursue her claim for reimbursement without the need to interfere with the issuance of the Certificate to the widow.
As a result, the court granted the Certificate to the widow.
Estate disputes are complicated: they involved high levels of emotion, usually by individuals who are grieving the loss of a family member or who are dealing with a loved one who is very ill. Such disputes can become quite lengthy and can take months or even years to resolve, prompting individuals to take sides, creating acrimonious divisions, and eating into the value of an estate.
At Campbells LLP, our team of compassionate and highly skilled Oakville estate litigation lawyers have been assisting clients with estate disputes and resulting litigation since 1999. We are proud of the strong, long-lasting relationships that we build with our clients and provide a steady sounding board and legal advice to guide them through what can be one of the most emotionally draining times in their lives. With our help, we can ensure that the legacy of our client’s loved ones is carried out exactly as they wished, that their health and well-being is taken care of, and that their estate is protected.
At Campbells LLP, our exceptional estate lawyers can represent you in all estate litigation matters. We know that many individuals work during the week and cannot meet during the day. One of our lawyers would be pleased to meet you in the evening or during the weekend, by appointment, if your schedule so requires. Contact us online or at (905) 828-2247. We look forward to speaking with you and going through this process by your side.