James Steele Presents at Canadian Bar Association (Sask) Mid-Winter Meeting

Join James Steele at the Canadian Bar Association (Saskatchewan)’s Mid Winter Meeting in Regina on January 25, 2024. James will be addressing amendments to Part 16 of the King’s Bench Rules and their implication on estate administration.

 

2024 Mid-Winter Meeting

Delta Regina | Regina, SK
 
To register, click here.

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James Steele to Present at CBA (Sask) Midwinter Meeting

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James Steele Joins Robertson Stromberg LLP Partnership

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James Steele to present at Webinar – When Estates Go to Court: Recent Saskatchewan Decisions (CPD 368)

Several recent Saskatchewan decisions provide guidance on various estate law topics. These include issues related to estate administration, as well as more contentious issues such as will challenges. This webinar summarizes some of the recent Saskatchewan decisions within the past one to two years. James will outline the facts of each decision and then offer a practical takeaway from each.

When Estates Go to Court: Recent Saskatchewan Decisions

Presented by: James Steele

Oct 12, 2023 | $90 + GST LSS Members

To register for the webinar, click here.

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Can I Keep My Engagement Ring?

Upon the breakdown of a marriage, there are defined laws addressing how marital property is to be divided. But what happens if an engagement doesn’t result in marriage? And who gets to keep the engagement ring?

Each province addresses ring ownership upon the breakdown of an engagement differently. Theoretically, courts have grappled with the concept of gifting and whether an engagement ring should be considered an absolute or conditional gift. Courts have even imported contract law principles in their determination of ownership.

The relative lack of clarity with which this area has been approached by the courts and in the common law has led to some jurisdictions drafting legislation to deal with gifts exchanged before marriage.

For example, section 33 of Ontario’s Marriage Act has codified the common law principle that fault may not be considered where an engagement ring is given in contemplation of marriage or given as a “conditional gift”:

Where one person makes a gift to another in contemplation of or conditional upon their marriage to each other and the marriage fails to take place or is abandoned, the question of whether or not the failure or abandonment was caused by or was the fault of the donor shall not be considered in determining the right of the donor to recover the gift.

A simple application is: if no marriage follows, the ring must be returned to the donor. The justification being that return of the ring puts both parties in the position they were in before the engagement.

Other jurisdictions do not have similar legislation and remain bound by common law. Saskatchewan courts continue to follow precedents which retain historical foundations from 1917 (see Jacobs v Davis, [1917] 2 K.B. 532 at p. 533). Despite the old principle being adapted to apply to all relationships (not just those between a man and a woman), the basic idea is this:

If an individual who has received a ring refuses to fulfill the condition of the gift, they must return it. On the other hand, if the donor of the ring, without “recognized legal justification”, refuses to carry out their promise of marriage, they cannot demand the return of the engagement ring. It does not matter if the breaking of the promise turns out to be the ultimate advantage of both parties (D’Andrea v Schmidt, 2005 SKQB 201).

The legal effect of this common-law principle means that practically, if you break off an engagement, you are not entitled to the ring. Using the heteronormative example, boy proposes to girl, girl ends engagement, he gets to demand return of the ring. Alternatively, boy proposes to girl, boy ends engagement, she gets to keep the ring. In a way, the court has imported some level of fault (at least relating to the relationship ending) as being relevant in determining ring ownership.

As always in the law, there may be exceptions to the rule, but it is easy to see that certain inequities may exist where legislation is strictly adopted. Concepts of fairness may be compromised where a donor is allowed to demand the return of a ring, despite otherwise questionable actions or behaviours leading to the breakdown of an engagement. Alternatively, punishing an engagement ender by denying them the ability to retain an engagement ring might swing too far in the other direction, especially when considering the potential magnitude of cost.

A final option is that an engagement ring may be treated as a true and perfected gift. A judge may consider this the case where the donor says, “even if we never get married, this is a gift to you to remain yours”. This leaves no condition to be ‘fulfilled,’ and the recipient would likely retain ownership of the ring.

Despite this confusing and inconsistent area of the law, courts are apt to consider each case on its merits. We recommend seeking professional legal advice where there are questions related to engagement ring ownership.

This article is intended to provide legal information only, not legal advice.

For further information, please contact:

Tessa Wall
Student at Law
Direct: 306-933-1368
Email: [email protected]

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Binding Pre-Trial Conferences: What You Need to Know

Binding pre-trial conferences are a relatively new process option in Saskatchewan, which are available in civil law matters, including family law. Given that there have been few conducted in Saskatchewan to date, there are few decisions from the Court discussing your options if you are dissatisfied with the outcome. A recent decision, Nemetchek v Nemetchek, 2022 SKQB 165 (“Nemetchek”), provides valuable insight. The case may be found here: 

https://www.canlii.org/en/sk/skqb/doc/2022/2022skqb165/2022skqb165.html?autocompleteStr=2022%20SKQB%20165&autocompletePos=1

As background, a pre-trial conference is the final stage in a court proceeding before a trial of the matter, where a judge makes a final decision for the parties. 

The pre-trial conference is the parties’ last court-facilitated option to settle the matter prior to proceeding to a trial. A judge is present at pre-trials to hear the parties’ respective positions on the issues and offer insight to try and move the parties toward settlement. If the parties cannot reach an agreement at the pre-trial, they move on to a trial. The judge does not make a decision. 

However, in general civil and family law matters, binding pre-trials are now available under parts 4 and 15 of The King’s Bench Rules of Saskatchewan. The binding pre-trial functions similarly to a regular pre-trial, as described above, except that if the parties do not reach an agreement, they leave it to the judge to make a final decision on the matter. Rather than proceeding to a trial, the pre-trial judge makes the call. This can save parties ample time and money in avoiding the trial process while still being provided with a final decision from a judge. 

One important thing to bear in mind when considering a binding pre-trial is the nature of the issues in your case. A judge is limited in their ability to assess credibility since the parties do not provide sworn evidence to the Court as they would during a trial, where they provide verbal testimony under oath. Therefore, if there are conflicting stories between the parties, a binding pre-trial may not be a good fit for your case since the judge is limited in their ability to assess credibility to determine who is more believable.    

Another consideration is that your ability to appeal a decision resulting from a binding pre-trial is very limited. You must seek permission from the judge who made the decision in order to appeal it, which is not likely to be granted absent an obvious error. If you proceed to trial instead of a binding pre-trial, you would be able to appeal the decision much more easily. 

On this note, an appeal of a binding pre-trial decision cannot be brought under the guise that you are seeking clarification regarding the decision or that you think parts of the decision were wrongly decided. In Nemetchek, the husband asked the Court to “revisit” aspects of the decision reached at the conclusion of the binding pre-trial, essentially asking the judge to revise her decision in the husband’s favour.  

The Court concluded that writing to the Court to “clarify” parts of a decision was unacceptable. Further, while a judgment may be amended to correct clerical errors, accidental slips, or inadvertent omissions, the process cannot be used to reconsider a decision on the merits as the husband sought to do.  

In short, you cannot request a judge to reconsider a binding pre-trial decision simply because you are unhappy with the results.

The Court concluded that the application was unnecessary and without merit, awarding costs of $3,000 against the husband to be paid to the wife.

This article is intended to provide legal information only, not legal advice. 

For further information, please contact:

Curtis P. Clavelle
Direct: 306-933-1341
Email: [email protected]

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James Steele presents at the Saskatoon Estate Planning Council

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James Steele will present an update on recent Saskatchewan court decisions affecting estate practitioners at the Saskatoon Estate Planning Council (SEPC) on October 18, 2022. SEPC promotes the discussion of topics and problems in estate and tax planning by professionals working in the field today. Learn more: http://www.saskatoonepc.com/

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Saskatchewan Estate Litigation Update: Martin v Martin, 2022 SKCA 79

The recent Saskatchewan Queen’s Bench decision in Peters (Estate) (Re), 2022 SKQB 186 prohibits the practice of altering an affidavit without actually re-swearing it.

Factual background:

The background facts in Peters can be described as follows:

  1. Antonia Peters died on March 1, 2022;
  2. She left a Will dated September 17, 2007. In that Will she named her husband, S. Frederick Peters, as executor and sole beneficiary of her estate;
  3. The Will provided that should her husband predecease Antonia, then two of her children (Edie Louise Nelson and Wally David Peters) would act as her executors;
  4. Her estate was then given to her children and grandchildren as well as two charities. There is nothing controversial about the Will itself;
  5. The initial application for grant of probate was filed on June 2, 2022;
  6. By fiat dated June 15, 2022, the Court rejected the application. The Court noted that the Will had named the testatrix’s husband as executor and that if he had predeceased her, then proof of the husband’s death was required under Rule 16-10 of The Queen’s Bench Rules;
  7. As well, what should be paragraph 4 of the probate application originally filed, had stated all beneficiaries named in the Will but did not list the husband as a beneficiary. The Court noted that it appeared that the husband had predeceased the testatrix. This reality required revision to the material;
  8. On July 25, 2022, a representative of the office of the executors’ solicitor removed the application, affidavits and Will to have the material corrected. Subsequently, revised and additional material was filed;
  9. The application and supporting affidavits were later refiled. A change was made only to the application form to read that all named beneficiaries had survived the deceased “except for S. Frederick Peters, who passed away on January 20, 2016”. Previously, on the initial filing, paragraph 4 had read that all named beneficiaries had survived the deceased;
  10. The Court found it problematic, however, that the executors’ affidavits were not re-sworn. What appeared to have occurred was that a new page containing a revised paragraph 4 was “slip-sheeted” into the material;
  11. That is, instead of the entire affidavit (and all of its pages) being re-sworn, the single erroneous page was revised and replaced after the affidavit had already been sworn before the deponents;
  12. Thus, the Court observed that the lack of a re-sworn affidavit meant that neither executor has verified under oath the revised, current content of the probate application.
Guidance offered by Peters:

The Court in Peters noted that the practice of slip-sheeting was being used more and more. However, such a practice was not consistent with the purpose of requiring a sworn affidavit from an executor who applies for probate.

Such an affidavit is not just a procedural hoop through which an applicant must leap. Rather, it verifies under oath the truth of the contents filed by the executor. The Court relies on these contents to be true, and the affidavit is the mechanism to verify that truth (as otherwise, a false sworn affidavit can lead to legal consequences, which incentivizes the deponent to be accurate).

The affidavit essentially takes the place of the deponent showing up in court, being affirmed or sworn, and testifying to the veracity of the application documents.

The “slip-sheeting” process entirely defeats the purpose of the affidavits. The two deponents of the affidavits in Peters could not have verified under oath the ultimate contents of the application (in its present form) when they first swore the affidavit in April.  This is because at the very moment that they had first sworn the original affidavits, the later slip sheeted pages were of course not yet in the affidavits.

Conclusion:

Ultimately in Peters, the court did not grant the application in the current form. The Court required that the executors refile fully sworn new affidavits.

Peters thus reminds us that affidavit exhibits need someone to identify and vouch for them. If a lawyer wants to change the content of an already sworn affidavit, the lawyer must have the client re-swear the affidavit in its final form.

Read more on our blog.

The Saskatchewan Estate Law blog is dedicated to providing practical, real-world information on Estate Law issues that affect Saskatchewan residents. The blog is written by RS lawyer, James Steele, whose practice focuses on estate litigation.

Contacting a Lawyer on this Subject

James Steele’s preferred practise area is estate litigation, including will challenges, executor disputes, power of attorney issues, etc. Contact James Steele at 1-306-933-1338 or [email protected]. The above is for general information only, and not legal advice. Parties should always seek legal advice prior to taking action in specific situations.

Whether it’s personal or business, we handle cases ranging from wills to overseeing complex business deals, and everything in between. Our success comes as a result of our collective effort. Combining the experience of your lawyer together with the resources of our team, you can put your trust in us to handle your case with confidence.

Area of ExpertiseWills, Estates, Trusts, Health Care Directives and Powers of Attorney