The Notice of Dispute is an important legal mechanism used in the estate administration process in British Columbia. It provides an interested party with the ability to raise objections and dispute the issuance of an estate grant by the court. Understanding the rules and procedures surrounding the filing of a Notice of Dispute is crucial for anyone involved in estate matters in BC. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the Notice of Dispute process, including the conditions for filing, the effects and consequences of filing, and the steps involved in resolving a dispute.
A Notice of Dispute is a formal document that alerts the executor of an estate to a potential dispute over the distribution of assets or settlement of debts. It is typically used when a beneficiary or creditor believes that the executor is not following the terms of the will or the laws governing estate administration.
Under the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA), a person who has an interest in an estate matter can initiate a dispute about the issuance of an estate grant by filing a Notice of Dispute with the appropriate court. This notice serves as a temporary block on the court issuing the grant, and remains in effect until it is withdrawn, cancelled, or overruled by a court order. If no action is taken within 12 months, the Notice of Dispute will automatically expire.
The Notice of Dispute is an important tool for resolving conflicts in a timely and fair manner. By bringing potential disputes to the attention of the executor, it allows for early resolution before the dispute becomes more complicated and costly to resolve.
In addition, the Notice of Dispute is also required by law in some jurisdictions, as a means of protecting the rights of beneficiaries and creditors.
Once the executor receives a Notice of Dispute, they must take steps to resolve the dispute. This may involve mediation, negotiation, or other means of resolution.
If the dispute cannot be resolved through informal means, the next step may be to bring the matter to court for resolution. This can be a time-consuming and expensive process, so it is in the best interests of all parties to resolve the dispute as quickly and amicably as possible.
Seek legal advice. It is important to have a thorough understanding of your rights and obligations as a beneficiary or creditor, as well as the laws governing estate administration. An Estate lawyer can provide guidance on the best course of action to take in resolving the dispute.
Communicate effectively. Open and honest communication can help to resolve disputes quickly and efficiently. Be clear about your concerns and be willing to listen to the other party’s perspective.
Seek mediation. Mediation can be an effective means of resolving disputes, especially when both parties are committed to finding a solution. A neutral third party can help to facilitate communication and facilitate a resolution that is fair to all parties.
Be patient. The resolution of a Notice of Dispute can take time, especially if the matter must be taken to court. It is important to be patient and allow the process to play out, rather than becoming frustrated and taking matters into your own hands.
By following these tips, you can ensure that the Notice of Dispute process is handled in a fair and efficient manner, and that the distribution of assets and settlement of debts is resolved as quickly and amicably as possible.
After a person’s death, if there is a dispute with respect to the validity of the will or there are concerns about the executor’s ability to administer the estate fairly due to a conflict of interest, for example, the grant of probate to permit the administration of an estate can be temporarily blocked by filing a notice of dispute. In a recent BC estate litigation matter, Mortimer v. Bender, 2020 BCSC 483, the court clarified issues relating to notices of disputes, and in particular, when the court may order the removal of a notice of dispute where its filing was not in the best interests of the estate.
After a person’s death, the executor named in the will can apply to BC courts for a grant of probate under Part 25 of the Supreme Court Civil Rules. A grant of probate or “estate grant” is necessary to allow the executor to move forward with administering the estate. In the majority of situations, the application for a grant of probate proceeds without objection. If beneficiaries or other interested parties wish to contest the issuance of the estate grant, a Notice of Dispute under Rule 25-10 can be filed. Once filed, a Notice of Dispute effectively pauses any advancement of the administration of the estate, as the registrar is not permitted to issue an estate grant while a Notice of Dispute is in effect. A Notice of Dispute is valid for one year after it is filed, the idea being that the administration of an estate should not be unduly delayed – the parties must either settle disputes or commence BC estate litigation to deal with outstanding issues within that year.
In this recent BC estate litigation matter, a dispute arose following the 2018 death of Antonia, a widow with three adult children: Maria, Rita, and Mickey. In 1994, Antonia had begun to suffer memory loss. By 1997, her memory had worsened, and she had a probable diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. In 1997, Antonia executed an enduring power of attorney (“POA”), appointing Maria as her sole attorney. Antonia’s last will and testament, prepared in 1988, named Maria as sole executor and provided for the estate to be divided equally among Antonia’s three children. After Antonia’s death, Maria applied for a grant of probate to administer her mother’s estate. Shortly thereafter, Rita filed a Notice of Dispute, seeking to have Maria passed over as executor. Rita questioned the propriety of certain transactions done under the POA that benefited Maria and Mickey, and alleged that Maria failed to properly account for her dealings with Antonia’s assets in her capacity as attorney. Rita also commenced BC estate litigation against Maria and Mickey, alleging, among other things, undue influence and breach of fiduciary duty, and seeking to have Maria removed or passed over as executor due to conflict of interest arising from her position as both attorney and executor.
Maria applied under Rule 25-10(10) to remove the Notice of Dispute, taking the position that the notice of dispute was not in the “best interests of the estate” pursuant to Rule 25-10(11). In considering Maria’s application, Justice Tucker clarified several issues pertaining to Notices of Dispute in BC estate litigation:
Justice Tucker determined that it was appropriate to order removal of the Notice of Dispute. It was not in the best interests of the estate to permit further delay in winding up of the estate. Antonia’s estate had a value of approximately $1.5 million, comprised of monies already held in a lawyer’s trust account and a parcel of vacant land assessed at about $1,280,000. The latter was incurring taxes and generating no income. Rita sought to pass over Maria in favour of a professional trustee, but that would involve a considerable cost and provide little of value to such an estate. Justice Tucker held that Maria was capable of doing the estate’s tax filings and capable of selling the property. Maria had every incentive to realize as much as she could for it given that she is the residual beneficiary of one-third of the estate. The same was true regarding the investment of estate monies. Justice Tucker granted Maria probate and the right to administer the estate subject to detailed terms and directions allowing Maria to call in the estate, but prohibiting her from distributing any of the estate without leave of the court pending the outcome of the related BC estate litigation commenced by Rita. Given that they were substantially successful, Mickey and Maria were also awarded the costs of the application in any event of the cause.
A Notice of Dispute to oppose the issuance of an estate grant will, once filed, effectively pause any advancement of the administration of the estate. The Notice of Dispute can be removed on application if the court determines that the filing is not in the best interests of the estate. If the Notice of Dispute was not filed for valid reasons, the party who filed it may be ordered to pay legal costs.
If you have questions about filing or removing a Notice of Dispute, contact one of our team of BC estate litigation lawyers to schedule a 30-minute free consultation.
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