01 November 2015


In the "good old days" (which often weren't so good), most of us died relatively poor. We might hopefully have been rich in life accomplishments, and family or friends, but financially speaking there often wasn't a whole lot left to divvy up among those who survived us. 

With significant increases in home ownership, and especially significant rises in the equity held in those homes in Canada's major urban centres, if you die owning a mortgage-free house, you now often die rich. Plus there may be life insurance and investments to distribute. This is all great for one's survivors, but not so great if family relationships are already a little strained at the time of passing. 

In the old days, even if beneficiaries of estates were inclined to squabble over who got what, they did not often retain legal counsel to do so if the legal fees would outweigh the money in dispute. But now with estates frequently running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more) in value, "lawyering up" is becoming more common. 

As an estate litigation and dispute settlement lawyer, I've found having some background in drafting wills and powers of attorney for clients has helped me assist families in deescalating disputes before they start, and managing disputes if they are already ongoing. Here I offer you five basic but key tips to deescalating actual or potential estate family feuds.

Tip #1: Picking the right executor for your will may be more important than picking the right beneficiaries. I find people often spend months of time debating who should or should not receive that prized china tea cup in a will, but spend about five minutes (literally) determining who should act as executor and estate trustee. Your executor is THE key player who will determine whether your estate is distributed hassle free, or with acrimony and lawyer involvement. Picking someone who is relatively impartial (and ideally not a major beneficiary, but who is compensated for his or her effort), and has people skills, is the usually the best strategy. 

Tip #2: Don't completely exclude anyone who is deserving from your will. The more people you "cut out" of your will who might usually be expecting a gift, the more you heighten the chances for one of them challenging the will. You definitely don't need to treat everyone equally (at least under Canadian common law, as in Ontario), but if you have three children, and you give two of them $100,000 each, and the third one nothing, you are asking for trouble. Even if you have good reasons for doing so. 

Tip #3: Once a dispute has started, quickly get legal advice but try to prevent it going to court. A lawyer's opinion is a bargain compared to the hassle and expense it can later save you. However, dragging a case (or being dragged) into court is never a bargain, and will take at least months and possibly years to resolve. Once that litigation freight train starts heading down the track, it can be very difficult to apply the brakes. 

Tip #4: If you are in court, keep open a dialogue with the other side(s). While this tip might appear obvious, my experience is that many assume that once a matter is in court, they should just "let the court sort it out" and stop speaking to the other parties. It's unlikely a court will actually be able to sort it out in a definitive way - a court might clarify the issues, and resolve some of them, but definitive resolution could require many, many years since even if you are successful at trial, an appeal is possible, so keep the lines of communication open.

Tip #5: If you are involved in a contested court hearing, ensure you have solid evidence to support your position beyond just your oral testimony. It's reasonable to assume that judges want to make "just" and "fair" decisions, but they can only do so based on the law and evidence before them. Even if the law is on your side (for example, that a properly executed will is valid), prepare to back up your position with lots collateral evidence. Judges love documents - as they're less likely to lie than witnesses - so try to produce some supporting your position. Other witnesses backing up testimony will also help. You might also need expert witnesses. You will make your legal bill lower and greatly increase of your chances of success in court by helping you lawyer locate the documents and witnesses you need to present a compelling case. 

29 June 2015


Canada is filled with quaint, picturesque, historic courthouses. I've previously done a post asking for your favourites. As you can see from the above photo, Alexandria's courthouse might unfortunately not count among the quaintest, nor most picturesque of historic courthouses of Canada (it is, after all, a former grocery store converted to court purposes). But I do maintain that its case and user composition is among the most diverse you'll find anywhere in the country. 

While the courthouse in theory was established to serve Alexandria's population of 4000 people and greater North Glengarry Township and South Glengarry Township populations totalling about 26,000 people, a constantly changing interprovincial and international cast of tens of thousands of people travel daily through its southern stretches running just north of the mighty St. Lawrence River. 

Approximately 19,000 vehicles per day (according to MTO stats) pass through its jurisdiction along the Highway 401 (from the Quebec border in the east to the City of Cornwall limits in the west), including the last chances for cheap gas before Quebec or the first chances for cheap gas after entering Ontario. Those vehicles range from commercial trucking traffic to college students headed down for fun weekends in Montreal to families off on summer camping adventures across Canada. 

You'll see a range of vehicle plates from Nova Scotia to British Columbia to Ohio. 

What brings them all together at the Alexandria Courthouse is their misfortune of being stopped on the 401 and charged with a criminal or highway traffic offence. Their first of many court appearances will be at the Alexandria Courthouse. And their next appearance. And the appearance after that as well. All the way up to trial day. 

Criminal and provincial offence systems in Ontario are based on in-person appearances. Regardless of whether you're from Halifax, or Sept Isles, or Brampton, or Vancouver, you'll be stuck coming back to Alexandria. Again. And again. And again. 

That is, unless you hire a lawyer who can appear as your agent. Appear to request disclosure, analyse your case, propose how to proceed, and deal with adjournments. Appear to handle Crown pre-trial negotiations. And appear to conduct judicial pre-trials. 

You'll still eventually need to appear in person for any guilty plea or trial (though for highway traffic offences you won't even need to do that). But a lawyer appearing for you at any stage can save you a whole lot of travel and waiting around for your case to be called hassle. 

My office is right across the street from the Courthouse (that above photo is taken from my front office steps). I'd be pleased to help you out with your court appearances and court cases in Alexandria, Ontario. I've been involved in criminal and regulatory law for twenty years, have worked in every province and territory of Canada (except for the Yukon), and litigated criminal and civil cases up to the level of the Supreme Court of Canada. But I especially like living and practicing in this particular far eastern corner of Ontario. 

If you're an out of area lawyer (be you from Toronto or Montreal or elsewhere) who has a client with court appearances in Alexandria, I'd likewise be pleased to assist you so you don't have to run out here every 30 days (the usual cycle of appearances at the Alexandria court) pending your settlement negotiations or setting of trial dates. 

Don't hesitate to contact me at the coordinates to the right of this post. 

28 November 2014

Do I Need to Lawyer to Declare Bankruptcy? What if I'm a Creditor Pursuing Debts of a Bankrupt?

Yes, this is a real game. Credit: Tangent Games,

Usually, you don't need a lawyer to deal with your bankruptcy. You'll definitely need a trustee in bankruptcy. But you should be aware that unlike a bankruptcy and insolvency lawyer who ethically is completely devoted to your interests, a trustee acts more like a privately employed government agent.

You pay for the trustee (which can sometimes be an issue for people who don't have any money), the trustee will gather together information on your debts and assets that you provide to the trustee, and then processes your bankruptcy application (or your proposal to creditors). But sometimes the trustee will oppose your discharge from bankruptcy because the trustee claims you haven't complied with the required conditions, and at other times some of your creditors may oppose the discharge (like a bank or or Canada Revenue Agency). In that kind of situation, you should consider hiring a bankruptcy lawyer.

If you're a creditor, you might also need a lawyer to pursue your debts against a bankrupt, because sometimes a trustee in bankruptcy could disagree with how much your debt is worth, and claim that it is an unsecured instead of secured debt. Ultimately, it's the bankruptcy court judge, and not the trustee, who decides upon how much you are entitled to out of the bankrupt's estate. Unfortunately, the arguments over mortgage clause interpretation, debt priorities, and validity of promissory notes can get quite legalistic, so a lawyer may be justified.

On the plus side, it's usually possible to get a fairly quick hearing in bankruptcy court (at least in Ontario) compared to wait times for other courts, and hearing are usually over in under a day so legal costs will usually be manageable.

27 November 2014


I especially like doing appeals. I find I can often obtain the best results for my clients when I am permitted to carefully clarify for a court what are the legal as opposed to factual issues at play, and why those issues should be decided in favour of my client.

The facts rule trials, whereas the law rules appeal. Certainly lawyers still have crucial roles to play at trial in presenting the facts, but lawyers have limited control of trial facts which issue from independent witnesses, whereas in appeals lawyers can present very controlled factums, appeal books and books of authorities. Lawyers are the stylists of appeals.

Below, I give you 5 posts I've done which might assist you in figuring out whether you should appeal a case you lost, if such an appeal is even possible, and how to maximize your success on an appeal.

Oct 21, 2014
More than a few people at times find all the possible appeals that can happen in a case to be a ridiculous abuse of the judicial process, but those possible appeals are the fundamental injustice check valve for a judicial system ...
Jun 20, 2014
It might strike you as strange that it's more important to be on time with an appeal, than to have great grounds of appeal, but really that's how life works in general. The world's best employee who's always three hours late for ...
Mar 05, 2012
Although we all hear about these cases that supposedly go on forever because of appeal after appeal, the reality is that very few people appeal any judgment against them. Or in fact have a right to appeal. But appeals work.
Apr 06, 2012
Osgoode Hall, 1856 (currently home of Ontario Court of Appeal, Divisional Court and Law Society of Upper Canada); photo credit: Library and Archives Canada, creative commons licence ...

Oct 20, 2014
Compared to a trial where you had to show up, you'll always have a choice over whether to appeal a negative judgment to a higher court (unless you're forced to respond to an appeal by the other party to a case).

23 November 2014


My regular readers (at least those who also occasionally take a look at my firm's Facebook page) might be aware that I'm a supporter of animal causes. Not every cause under the sun, or every group. I'm one who need to carefully evaluate whether a cause or group is employing reasonable means to achieve good outcomes.

I'm a particular fan of some of the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCAs) I've worked with, like the Ontario SPCA and especially its Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry branch located near to my offices. I also occasionally conduct animal cruelty prosecutions as a per diem Assistant Crown Attorney, even though I much more often do criminal defence work for other types of cases.

Below I give you four posts I've done over the last couple of years concerning Animal Law, a slowly growing area of law that amalgamates contracts, government regulation, estate planning, and torts (each one of the topics in the posts that follow). I hope animal owners and those who interact with animals find them helpful. As always, I welcome your comments.

Apr 11, 2014
There are principally two types of contracts to know about where animals are concerned: (1) contracts for purchase, sale or lease of the animal itself that involve a full or limited transfer of property rights, and (2) contracts for ...
Jul 09, 2013
For children left in a hot car, there would be little legal doubt that you could intervene to save them from harm. But because animals are still considered to only be property in most jurisdictions, the legal situation of intervening ...
Jan 06, 2013
If you're an animal lover like me, there's a good chance that one of the pieces of property (legally there's no arguing with their "property" status) you will leave behind will be a pet of some sort. Maybe many pets. Regardless of ...
Jan 11, 2013
Okay, so bees aren't perhaps at the top of everyone's list of pets, but bees from the right species and with the right housing could be considered domesticated animals. If you keep them (or horses or dogs or kittens), are you ...

13 November 2014


Continuing in my "Best Of ... " series of greatest blog hits, today I offer you tax law. There may be no area of law that strikes terror into the hearts of the public and lawyers alike as does tax law. But it's also an area of law that almost universally touches all of us.

Here are four tax law posts I've done for the blog, touching on why tax law isn't so bad after all, why the Tax Court is a pretty good place to have your tax dispute adjudicated, and I also offer a few tips to help you in your dealings with the Canada Revenue and your taxes.

Apr 05, 2013
With tax season now in full swing, I offer you the following thoughts on why the Tax Court isn't such a bad place to litigate against the government if you're unhappy with your assessment, reassessment or confirmation of taxes.
Mar 08, 2012
Let's face it, tax law is just plain unpopular. And unpopular not just among the taxpayers, but also somewhat unpopular among the lawyers. It's considered by some lawyers to be too dry, too esoteric, and too risky in the way it ...
Oct 27, 2011
People get really worked up about taxes. Crazy kind of worked up. Shoot yourself in the foot, pay a dollar to save a penny kind of worked up. It doesn't have to be that way. When I was working as a federal tax prosecutor, ...
Jul 09, 2012
As a tax lawyer, and a taxpayer, I know there is lots of fear and mistrust implicit in the relationship between Canadians and the Canada Revenue Agency. This is unfortunate, because the relationship between the CRA and ...