In a recent Ontario decision, a court was asked, among other issues, to determine who was the rightful owner of two rifles in an estate litigation case.
Son Claims Ownership of Rifles
The testator passed away on June 13, 2017. He had carried on a construction business through his corporation, wherein one of his two sons had also worked from 2006 – 2017 (the “employed-son”). There was some dispute among the family as to whether the employed-son quit, or was fired from, his employment.
The estate trustees were comprised of the testator’s second wife, his daughter and a long-term employee of his business.
Notices of objection were filed by the testator’s two sons.
The sons claimed that:
- The estate trustees had not administered the estate competently and their compensation should be reduced.
- The estate consisted primarily of real estate and was not complex so the claimed yearly management fee at 0.4 %, totalling $10,680, should be disallowed.
- The wife had done little or no work as an estate trustee so the payment to her should be eliminated or reduced.
- The estate trustees had improperly paid certain expenses related to the family home that should have been paid by the wife.
- The estate trustees should be personally responsible for the two sons’ costs.
- The employed-son was the owner of the two rifles in the testator’s possession.
Specifically, with regards to the last claim, the employed-son argued that he owned two rifles that had been in the testator’s possession, while the estate trustees took the position that the testator had owned them. The dispute over the rifles had led the employed-son to report to the police that the rifles had been stolen. The employed son’s lawyer even suggested that the estate trustees might be charged with possession of stolen property. In response, the estate trustees’ lawyer suggested that the employed son’s assertion that he owned the rifles “effectively amounts to theft by [the employed son]”.
Court Orders Return of Rifles
At the outset, the court found little to no fault with the estate administration, holding that the estate trustees had been properly overseeing matters and had acted reasonably. It found that some of the son’s claims were petty or without merit. The court stated:
“[The testator] wanted three Estate Trustees. I think it is petty to quibble or question how many hours [the wife] spent on Estate administration. I expect that all of the Estate Trustees have spent more time, and suffered more stress, than ever imagined given the conflicts and litigation that have ensued.”
However, the court did agree with the sons’ claim that the management fee should be disallowed given that the estate consisted almost entirely of real estate and required little management.
Turning to the gun issue, the court stated:
“[The employed-son] testified that he purchased the [two rifles] as [the testator] did not have an acquisition licence to purchase them. This is the only direct evidence concerning the ownership of the rifles. I accept it and, therefore, the rifles should be returned to [the employed-son].
I do not, however, fault the Estate Trustees for initially concluding that [the testator] owned the rifles. They had been in his possession for many years.”
As a result, the court ordered that the compensation of the estate trustees would not be reduced, with the exception of disallowing the management fee. Finally, the court ordered that the employed-son was the owner of the two rifles and they should be returned to him.
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