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Friday, May 1, 2015

Mad at your siblings because of an estate? Don't resort to cyber-bullying

I receive dozens of comments, questions, and emails from readers every day. All are looking for information that will help them with an estate in which they are embroiled. Some of them are actually pretty darn angry at someone else involved in the estate. Sometimes it's the executor, sometimes it's a beneficiary, and most often it's one of their siblings. Plenty of them use their correspondence with me to vent their feelings about that person and the legal system.

You'll note that I don't publish those comments. I always assume that the person writing them was simply venting, and would not really want their angry words out there for all to see. I'd never aggravate someone's situation by publishing an inflammatory rant. A cooling-off period can do wonders. 

Any lawyer who deals with estates knows how painful estate disputes can be for the individuals involved. Estate disputes are not like regular disputes about money or property. Estate problems involve our families, our parents, and most of all, our emotions. It's easy to get wound up over a transgression - real or imagined - and believe me, an awful lot of people do. When we think a parent has been taken advantage of, for example, it can provoke a strong reaction.

I recently read a fascinating article on Toronto lawyer Ian Hull's blog about a case in Nova Scotia in which a brother was furious with his sister over their mother's estate. He sent abusive emails to her, as well as to her employer. He posted a series of Facebook posts which were also very abusive. Click here to read the article on Mr. Hull's blog, which goes into much more detail about the dispute, why the brother was so angry, and what he said. For those who want to read the actual judgment, the case is called Nova Scotia (Public Safety) vs. Lee.

In the end, the brother was charged with cyber bullying. Not all provinces currently have similar laws against online bullying, but Mr Hull has very helpfully attached a summary of current federal and provincial laws to his blog post. 

Though I certainly don't condone the brother's aggressive actions against his sister, I can certainly sympathize with the circumstances that drove him to lash out. When someone involved in an estate, whether it's an executor or a beneficiary, simply refuses to follow the rules or even to talk about things in a helpful way, it's infuriating. The only remedy available, beyond mediation, is the court system, which is expensive, time-consuming, and stressful. The lesson learned in this case is that anger is expected, but a failure to control it online could lead to even worse consequences.


  1. This should be part of Cyber Law in all of Canada. What is allowed to go on in Cyber Space is a Crime and the governments of the world are lax in not doing something about it.

    1. It's my understanding that several provinces are reviewing and/or introducing similar legislation. I too would welcome it.



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