In a recent case, an Ontario court faced two separate motions in which it had to decide what constitutes an appropriate amount of interim dependant support for a large estate, as well as an unusual question regarding the proper use of the estate’s condominium and the posting of photographs of the property on social media.
Background and Parties
The deceased was a wealthy real estate developer who had amassed a significant net worth over his lifetime, estimated to be around $200 million.
The deceased was married for almost 50 years, but had been separated from his wife since 1995. He had two daughters with this wife. Following his separation, he entered into a new relationship and had been living with his girlfriend, the applicant in the case, for at least 12 years at the time of his death. They occupied a 5,000 square foot luxury condominium at the Four Seasons in Toronto (the condo) which they moved into in late 2014. The condo was in the deceased’s name.
The deceased’s primary and secondary wills from 2005 made no provision for the applicant. His wife and accountant were appointed as estate trustees; however, the accountant resigned, leaving his wife as the sole estate trustee. The wills divided the residue of his estate equally between his wife and their two daughters.
The distribution of the estate is still in the early stages, as it is very complex. This case centred around interim questions.
First Issue: Interim Support
The applicant brought a motion for interim support under the Succession Law Reform Act (SLRA). In order to obtain interim support, the applicant needed to establish that she is “in need of and entitled to support” as provided by s. 64 of the Act which requires that she prove:
1) That she falls within one of the qualifying relationships set out in s. 57 of the SLRA, in this case within the extended definition of “spouse”;
2) That she is a dependant of the deceased in that he was providing support to her, or was under a legal obligation to provide support to her, immediately before his death; and
3) The deceased did not make adequate provision for her support in the sense that she is in need of support.
The estate did not contest that the applicant met these requirements and agreed that she was entitled to interim support. The issue was the amount of such interim support.
The applicant requested support of $122,000 per month. The estate contested the amount as “grossly overstated”. Among other expenses, the applicant submitted:
- $5,000 per month for groceries;
- $13,200 per month for meals outside the home;
- $2,500 a month for a private chef;
- $1,700 per month for pet care;
- $31,250 per month for clothing, purses and shoes; and
- $3,000 a month for charities.
The court rejected the applicant’s budget entirely, stating that “besides being inaccurate and overstated, it is unsubstantiated”.
The court awarded the applicant interim support of $30,000 per month.
Second Issue: Use of the Condo and Social Media Posts
Since the deceased’s death, the applicant had been living in the condo with her adult son, his girlfriend, and their dog. In October 2017, the applicant had obtained a court order giving her sole and vacant possession of the condo until the issues in the estate distribution had been finally disposed of or until a further order of the court was issued.
However, the estate filed its own motion seeking an order that the applicant be prohibited from hosting any further public or semi-public events at the condo and ensure that the other residents of the condo not make any social media posts (i.e., on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) in which the interior of the condo or its contents are featured, and not allow any such posts to be made by others.
The motion came after the applicant and her family used the condo to host a public fundraising wine tasting event. The court described it as follows:
The event, which normally costs $5,000 a couple, was reduced to $500 per person to attract a younger crowd. There is no evidence of how many people attended the event but photographs of it showing a number of different people in attendance were posted on social media. The photos contain images of the interior of the Condo, including valuable art work, furnishings, sculptures, antiques, fixtures and crystal. In addition, [the applicant’s son’s girlfriend], who is an aspiring model, has posted professional pictures on social media taken of her in the Condo to promote her career.
The estate sought to prohibit any such events in the future, while the applicant submitted that no limits should be placed on her occupancy of the condo.
The court recognized that the applicant was entitled to sole possession of the condo. However, it also recognized that, given the valuable nature of the condo and its contents, the estate had an interest in not having it opened to the public or having pictures of the interior displayed on social media.
After considering these divergent interests and attempting to find a balance between them, the court ordered that the applicant be permitted to entertain a maximum of 15 people at any one time at the condo, stating that 15 “is large enough to permit family and friends without being excessive”.
The court also ordered that none of the occupants of the condo or their families be allowed to post direct or indirect pictures of the interior of the condo on social media and they must advise every guest of this restriction. On this issue, the court stated:
“I do not accept [the applicant]’s submission that a restriction in connection with posting on social media of pictures of the Condo interior is simply unenforceable in respect of today’s young people. There is no reason or need for the occupants of the Condo or their families to post pictures of the interior of the Condo on social media.”
Contact the offices of Campbells LLP for more information on this matter and other estate questions. We regularly advise parties on a wide range of estate issues as well as providing a full range of other legal services. Contact us online or by phone at (905) 828-2247 to schedule a consultation.