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Sunday, June 14, 2020

He agreed to be an executor and it cost him seven years of his life and $100,000

If there was ever an executor who went through a nightmare, this must be it. Terry Dooley, an accountant in Toronto, agreed to be the executor of his client's estate. When the client, Martin Williamson, passed away, the client's daughter contested the will, beginning a 7-year legal battle.

The estate was valued at 7.5 million dollars. Mr. Williamson left two wills that divided his estate among his common-law wife (not his daughter's mother) and his friends. His daughter was not left a part of the estate, apparently because she was taken care of in the final settlement Mr. Williamson made when he split with her mother.

In any event, the daughter challenged the wills on the basis that her father was influenced into making his will and leaving her out, that he had delusions that prevented him from making a valid will, and other grounds. Both of the wills were struck down by the court as being invalid on the basis that Mr. Williamson did not have capacity to make the wills. The trial judge commented that the medical evidence given at the trial was "compelling". With no valid will, the estate passed to the daughter under intestacy rules and she received the entire amount.

In addition, the judge left Dooley and the trustee who was handling trusts under the will, with a legal bill of $900,000 to pay personally. This is over and above the $100,000 Dooley had already paid  his own lawyer. I note that when the trustees appealed the costs award to the Ontario Court of Appeal, they received no relief. The Appeal Court said that both Dooley and the other trustee  had  been "adversarial and unreasonable in refusing to consider offers of settlement that were less than the result obtained and that they took unreasonable positions such as the hiring of a private investigator and claiming costs double those claimed by the respondent following trial." So the costs against them were very much tied to the court's perception of how the trustees behaved. Also, the judge said that since the daughter had won the trial, paying costs out of the estate would be the same as the daughter paying the costs, which wouldn't be fair.

This sounds like one of the nastiest estate fights I have heard of in a long, long time. No estate fight is pleasant, but this one involved allegations of everything from bribing witnesses to "the common law wife only being in it for the money".

If you've ever been asked to be an executor, keep this case in mind. Personal liability for executors is real. If you feel you must go ahead with the job and you can sense trouble coming, consider executor's insurance.

To read a more detailed story about this case from The Toronto Star, click here. If you'd like to read the case (Sweetnam v WIlliamson) for yourself, click here.

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