In the recent case of Trudeau v Turpin, 2019 BCSC 150, the Supreme Court of British Columbia considered the concept of undue influence and the application of section 52 of the British Columbia Wills, Estates and Succession Act. “Undue influence” refers to a situation where a will-maker has been improperly influenced such that the Will does not reflect the will-maker’s genuine intention. Section 52 of WESA considers a situation where another person commences an action claiming that a Will results from the undue influence of another person. If the claim suggests that a person:

 

  • was in a position with respect to the deceased person where there was the potential for dependence or domination; and
  • that the person used that position to improperly influence the will-maker.

 

the party alleging undue influence must only prove that the person allegedly exerting undue influence was in a position where the potential for dependence or domination of the will-maker was present. Once this is established, the party seeking to defend the Will must prove that the Will was not created as a result of the undue influence of that person.

 

 

The Facts of the Case

 

In this case, the will-maker was particularly close with one of her four daughters and in her Will left:

 

  • 60% of her estate to that daughter;
  • 30% to another daughter; and
  • 5% each to the last two daughters.

 

The other daughters argued that by virtue of the strength of the relationship between their mother and the favoured daughter and the fact that the mother was dependent on her, the Will was a product of undue influence. The Court considered section 52 of WESA and ultimately found that the other daughters failed to establish that the favoured daughter was in a position where the potential for dependence or domination was present. The Court further stated that, regardless of section 52 of WESA, the evidence did not suggest that the favoured daughter exerted any undue influence.

 

In particular, the Court noted that:

 

  • the favoured daughter never exhibited aggressive or suggestive behaviour;
  • the will-maker had a journal that had confirmed her wishes as early as 1996 (and continued to express a desire to change her Will to reflect these wishes);
  • there was evidence that the will-maker had a dominating personality with her children, including the favoured daughter;
  • the daughter’s demeanor suggested she was not capable of exerting undue influence;
  • when her mother made an earlier Will, the favoured daughter convinced her mother to distribute her estate equally between her children;
  • the will-maker met privately with her lawyer; and
  • the experienced lawyer had no concerns that there was any undue influence present when the will-maker made the Will.

 

Spousal support is included in many separation agreements and Court Orders.  While the issue of whether a spouse is entitled to spousal support is addressed in a different blog, this blog, Spousal Support: Lump Sum vs Period Payments, discusses what form the support will take. Spousal support traditionally comes in two forms: lump sum or periodic (generally monthly) payments.

In a lump sum situation, the spouse paying spousal support (the “Payor”) transfers assets or money to the receiving spouse (the “Payee”) when the agreement is signed or when the Court Order is made.  Once that transfer is made, there will be no more spousal support payments.  For periodic payments, the Payor pays a certain amount of money to the Payee on a predetermined schedule, usually monthly.  The default option is periodic payments.

If the matter goes to a trial, the Court is more likely to award lump sum support (versus periodic payments) if any of the following circumstances exist:

  • There is a real risk that the Payor will not make the periodic payments;
  • The Payor is able to make a lump sum award payment;
  • The Payor has not made proper financial disclosure;
  • The Payor has the ability to pay lump sum but not periodic support; and
  • Lump sum support can immediately satisfy an award of retroactive spousal support.

The advantages and disadvantages of lump sum support will depend on the facts in each individual case.  Some advantages may be terminating ongoing contact between the spouses, providing money or assets to meet an immediate need of the Payee, ensuring spousal support will be paid where there is a real risk of non-payment of periodic support, and making it easier for a spouse to enforce lump sum support if the Payor does not pay.  Some of the disadvantages may be that the spouses are locked into the lump sum amount and are effectively deprived of the right to apply for a variation if the Payor’s income goes up or their income goes down.

Periodic payments are taxable income to the Payee and tax deductible for the Payor so are often preferred by Payor’s for that reason.  Lump sum amounts are not taxable or tax deductible.

If you would like to book an appointment with any of our family law lawyers, please contact Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202 or toll free: 1-866-753-2202.

When dealing with a divorce or separation from a spouse, determining the date of separation could be crucial.  For example, if the value of an asset is being divided as of the date of separation (a bank account, for example), then the date of separation could be crucial if the balance goes up or down significantly.  However, the date of separation may not be agreed upon by the spouses, and it can significantly affect property division, child and spousal support, and even the ability to bring a family law claim.

If the spouses disagree on the date of separation, the Court may look at several factors to determine which separation date is accurate:

  • Whether the spouses lived in the same house or slept in the same bedroom;
  • Whether the spouses vacationed together;
  • How the spouses participated in joint social activities and the manner in which the spouses presented themselves to others;
  • Plans for the future, including estate planning;
  • The absence of sexual relations;
  • The absence of communication between the spouses;
  • Attempts to reconcile the relationship;
  • The performance of household tasks and changes to routines;
  • Economic support and dependency between the spouses;
  • How the spouses conducted their financial affairs, including how they filed their taxes; and
  • How the spouses engaged with their children.

The Court may consider factors beyond those in this list, and the presence or absence of any particular factor is not determinative.  For instance, spouses may be separated but remain in the same house because of financial circumstances.  It only requires one spouse’s intention to terminate the relationship.  Both spouses do not need to agree that the relationship is over.  The Court will objectively assess all of the evidence and determine if or when one spouse intended to separate and communicated that intention through words or conduct to the other spouse.

If you would like to book an appointment with any of our family law lawyers, please contact Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202 or toll free: 1-866-753-2202.

The Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act

The Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act (the “Act”) was enacted by the British Columbia provincial government on November 27, 2018. The purpose of the Act is to combat speculation in the residential housing market and turn empty houses into homes for BC residents.

General Information about the Act

Unless exempted, all owners of residential property in designated regions must pay the speculation and vacancy tax (the “Speculation Tax”). The designated regions include most of the Capital Regional District and Metro Vancouver, the Cities of Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Kelowna, West Kelowna, and Nanaimo, as well as the Districts of Mission, and Lantzville.
Every owner of a residential property on December 31 in those regions must make a declaration by March 31 of the following year, even if the owner no longer owns the property.

The Speculation Tax is calculated as follows:
Tax payable = (tax rate) x (owner’s interest) x (assessed value of the property)

For 2018, the tax rate for all owners is 0.5%. For the 2019 calendar year and beyond, the tax rate will be 0.5% for Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are not members of Satellite Families (defined below). Foreign owners and members of Satellite Families will be charged a tax rate of 2%. “Satellite Families” are households who declare less than 50% of their total income for the year on Canadian income tax returns.

Owners who owe taxes must pay by July 2 of the year following the assessed year. For the 2018 calendar year, the Speculation Tax must be paid by July 2, 2019. Failure to pay on time may result in interest and penalties.

Exemptions
If an owner qualifies for one of the following exemptions, they will not have to pay the Speculation Tax. However, failure to declare will result in being assessed at the highest tax rate (2%), even if the owner would have otherwise been exempt. Below is a list of some, but not all, of the exemptions under the Act.

1. Principal Residence
Owners are exempt if the residential property is their principal residence. If owners own multiple properties, they can only claim this exemption for the place they lived the longest in. Spouses cannot claim two different places unless there is a specific reason, such as work, medical leave, or divorce. Foreign owners and members of a Satellite Family cannot claim this exemption. If the owners do not live in the residence for the necessary time, they may still be able to claim the exemption if they were absent for certain reasons, such as medical leave or residential care.

2. Tenants
If the property is occupied by a tenant for periods of at least 30 days and for a total of 6 months (3 months for 2018), the owner can claim an exemption. There must be a written tenancy agreement, unless the tenant has a non-arm’s length relationship with the owner (e.g. close friend of family member).

3. Under Construction or Renovation
If the property is uninhabitable for a period of at least 90 days due to construction or renovations, the owner may be able to claim this exemption. The owner must demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to ensure that the building activity continues without undue delay, or that any undue delay was beyond their control.

Other Information
The Speculation Tax is completely separate from an owner’s other taxes, including income tax, property tax, and the Vancouver Empty Homes Tax.

The Speculation Tax attaches to the owner, not the property. This means that a new buyer does not have to worry about hidden liability when they buy a house and that the seller may be liable to pay the Speculation Tax even after they sell a house.

Owners may be able to claim tax credits against any Speculation Tax assessed. BC residents who are not members of a Satellite Family get tax credits of $2,000 per property and per person, which means that the first $400,000 of a property will usually be tax free.

If you have any questions about how the Speculation and Vacancy Tax Act may apply to you, please contact Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202 or toll free: 1-866-753-2202.

Generally, when asking a Court to find that a promise between two parties is legally enforceable, the Court will require the elements of a contract to be present. The basic elements of a contract include, among other things, offer, acceptance, and consideration. While all of the elements are vital, consideration (some benefit flowing to both parties) is important as it is an objective measure that both parties intended to enter into a legal relationship. Without these elements present between a party, generally, a Court will not enforce a contract.  However, the Supreme Court of Canada, in Cowper-Smith v Morgan (2017 SCC 61) has recently affirmed the use of proprietary estoppel in Canada. Proprietary estoppel might allow people to protect their rights and interests without consideration being exchanged between the parties.

The SCC acknowledged that proprietary estoppel is commonly concerned with interests in land but acknowledged that the constraint is arbitrary. The court noted that the BC Court of Appeal in Sabey v. von Hopffgarten Estate (2014 BCCA 360 at para 32) entertained the question but did not make a decision on the issue. The Court will consider the following elements to determine whether equitable interests arises:

  1. a representation or assurance is made to the claimant, on the basis of which the claimant expects that he will enjoy some right or benefit over property;
  2. the claimant relies on that expectation by doing or refraining from doing something, and his reliance is reasonable in all the circumstances; and
  3. the claimant suffers a detriment as a result of his reasonable reliance, such that it would be unfair or unjust for the party responsible for the representation or assurance to go back on her word.
  • Cowper-Smith, supra, para. 15.

Unlike other forms of estoppel, proprietary estoppel can be the foundation for a lawsuit. The purpose of proprietary estoppel is to avoid unfairness or injustice that would result to one party if the other were to break their work and rely on their strict legal rights. For example, English courts have used the doctrine in relation to chattels, insurance policies, intellectual property rights, commercial assets, and other forms of property. However, the SCC did not make any decisions on this issue.

Currently, it is somewhat of an open question to determine how far Canadian Courts will extend proprietary estoppel. If you have relied on someone else’s promise to your detriment, please give us a call to discuss your possible legal remedies.

 

Collaborative family law is a form of dispute resolution where each spouse is separately represented by a lawyer, and the spouses and their lawyers sign a participation agreement which provides for the following:

  • If either party starts contested court proceedings, all of the collaborative professionals (including the lawyers) are disqualified from acting for the parties;
  • both parties agree to full and timely disclosure of all relevant information and documents, and agree to good faith negotiations;
  • the negotiations are confidential and without prejudice; and
  • the negotiations are concluded when the parties come to an agreement, which is put into writing (a separation agreement) by the lawyers and then signed by the parties and witnessed by the lawyers.

All collaborative professionals must be certified in the collaborative process. The process often includes the following professionals:

  • Coach, who is a licenced mental health professional whose primary function is to provide emotional support, communication, and conflict resolution between the spouses.  This provides for long-term improved communications, with the outcome that the parties are able to resolve their matters on their own in future rather than requiring further legal assistance and litigation.  There can be one Coach for both parties or each party may be separately supported by a Coach;
  • Child Specialist, who is a licenced mental health professional whose primary function is to provide a voice for the children and ensure that their thoughts, concerns, and needs are heard in the separation process.  This is one Child Specialist for all children and this person is referred to as a “neutral”, meaning that he or she has no allegiance or bias for one party over the other.  He or she has the primary goal of speaking for the children;
  • Financial Specialist, who is a certified financial professional whose primary function is to help the spouses analyze their financial, business, and tax situation and plans for the future.  The intention is to help the parties make the most out of their settlement and settle on financial terms that are the most advantageous to both spouses.  The Financial Specialist is a neutral;
  • Collaborative Lawyer, who is a member in good standing of the Law Society of BC and assists their client by providing legal advice, supporting and facilitating negotiation and communication, and ensuring that their client’s legal interests are protected.

There is a myth that Collaborative Family Law is more expensive than negotiation and litigation because of the involvement of all of the experts.  The process is designed so that the action taken by each of the experts is not duplicated by the others, but rather each of the experts address a particular issue in their respective areas of expertise.  In addition, it is often possible to submit the expenses from the Coach and/or Child Specialist to one’s extended health benefits as it is an invoice from a registered clinical counsellor, psychologist or social worker.  Furthermore, the hourly rates charged by the non-lawyer specialists are often less than the rates charged by the lawyers.

Collaborative Family Law encourages and facilitates negotiations that are respectful and constructive.  This process is often more supportive of everyone involved, including the children.

If you would like to book an appointment with our Collaborative Family Law lawyer, Kathleen Sugiyama, please contact Heath Law LLP at 250-753-2202 or TOLL FREE: 1-866-753-2202.

What is an Examination for Discovery?

In nearly all litigation matters, parties will undergo what is termed an “Examination for Discovery” or “Discovery” for short. Typically, a Discovery means that you will be questioned under oath by a lawyer acting for the other party in your legal action. The main purpose is to learn more about the case, assess your credibility and reliability as a witness, and to have evidence provided under oath to rebut contrary evidence that you may give at trial.

While the foregoing description makes many parties nervous, Discoveries are oftentimes quite casual. You will be in a room with the lawyers, often times the other party, and a Court Reporter. The lawyer who is conducting the Discovery will ask you a series of questions about your case in an effort to obtain admissions to prove certain facts at trial. The Court Reporter will record and transcribe the Discovery, and produce a transcript afterwards.

As everything you say is being recorded and transcribed, the following are important reminders:

  • Listen to each question carefully and think before your answer
    • It is always acceptable to answer with an “I don’t know” if you do not know an answer a question asked of you
  • If you do not understand a question, ask the lawyer to rephrase it for you
  • Disclose only as much information as necessary to answer the question asked of you;
    • For instance, if asked “what color was the car” it would not be in your best interest to provide a vivid description of the car, the surrounding circumstances, and the weather that day
  • Answer the question truthfully and to the best of your ability
    • You are under oath, and are legally obligated to tell the truth. Answers contrary to available evidence could lead to a Judge not accepting your evidence at trial due to credibility concerns
  • Make sure to answer with a verbal response
    • The transcript will not pick up cues such as “mhm” or “uh huh”, nor will the Court Report record that you made hand gestures

The best way for a witness to act at a Discovery is calm, collected, and with confidence. Lawyers know that parties who do well at Discovery will do well at trial.

If you require assistance with your legal matter, contact Heath Law LLP.

Surveillance, Cyber Searches and Social Media

Most personal injury lawyers will warn you to close down your social media accounts, or limit access, once you commence your personal injury claim. While such advice is not misguided, it generally only applies to select claims: those involving alleged catastrophic losses or those involving litigants who appear to be untruthful.

The reality is that insurers do oftentimes hire surveillance teams to monitor the day to day activities of individuals with personal injury claims. These individuals will often follow litigants as they complete everyday tasks such as grocery shopping, driving, or going to the gym.

In addition, most insurers have internal or external teams to conduct what are known as “cyber searches”. These searches compile all of a litigant’s social media information, as well as additional information (such as land title searches and previous lawsuits) into a tidy package for the defence.

While the above appears to be a complete invasion of privacy, it is commonly used and permitted by the Courts. Again, however, it tends to only be collected, or used, when a case is catastrophic or where there are serious concerns about a claim.

For instance, if you are involved in a minor motor vehicle accident but tell your doctor that you can no longer walk, be assured that surveillance may be placed on you.

Surveillance and cyber searches only become useful to the defence if you are caught misrepresenting the extent of your injuries. In the above example, if surveillance or cyber searches show you running a marathon, you can bet that the evidence will be introduced at trial to harm your case.

It is recognized that social media is an important part of most people’s lives, and helps keep them connected with friends and family. When commencing a personal injury claim, it is important to discuss the extent of your social media use to determine whether any restrictions need to be put into place in your specific case.

For a free consultation about your personal injury claim, contact Heath Law LLP.

Estate Planning – Considerations when Adding a Child as Joint Tenant to your Property

Many parents put their children on title to their residence as a form of estate planning. While this can help avoid probate fees and possibly assist with ease of administration of an estate, the case of Gully v. Gully, 2018 BCSC 1590 [Gully], demonstrates that parents must be careful when adding children onto title to their residence.

In Gully, a mother added her son as a joint tenant on title to her Burnaby property. She did so based on legal advice she received, including that her estate could avoid probate fees. She did not tell her son that he had been added as a joint tenant to title of the property.

In August of 2017, the son, and his company, consented to a judgment of $800,000.00 in favour of Ledcor Construction Limited (“Ledcor”). Ledcor discovered that the son was on title to the property and registered their certificate of judgment on the son’s undivided half interest in the property.

The mother sought a declaration, amongst other things, that the son held the property on a resulting trust for her estate. The court found that the son did not hold the property on a resulting trust for the estate and permitted Ledcor to retain their judgment on title, ultimately stating:

 [24]        Ms. Gully took a risk in registering her son as a joint tenant on her property. Whether she was properly advised of that risk is not before me. However, once she made the decision to register an interest in the Burnaby Property in Mr. Gully’s name, third party creditors of Mr. Gully became entitled to register judgments against Mr. Gully’s interest in the Burnaby property.

If you would like to book an appointment with any of our estate planning lawyers, please contact Heath Law LLP at
250-753-2202 or TOLL FREE: 1-866-753-2202.

If you were working at the time of the accident it is very important to determine if the other motorist involved in the accident was also working. According to the laws of British Columbia, special rules apply where both you and the other motorist involved in the accident were both working. In such a scenario, if you were injured and suffered loss and expense including a loss of income you can only seek compensation through WorkSafe BC.

There are strict timelines associated with your potential claim. The Workers Compensation Act of British Columbia places a three month limitation on claiming compensation through WorkSafe BC. This means that there is a short time frame to act to preserve your legal rights.

If the other motorist was not working at the time of the accident, then you can elect to make a claim through WorkSafe BC or make a claim against the other motorist through ICBC. The compensation systems under WorkSafe BC and ICBC generally yield very different results. If you have been in a car accident, you should contact Heath Law LLP to discuss your options.

Call 250-753-2202 or Toll Free: 1-866-753-2202