Keisha Andrews Lagrandeur died December 6, 2019, and left behind two boys—Noah Lagrandeur (age 19) and Evan Lagrandeur (age 17). Keisha and her spouse, Gaetan Lagrandeur, separated in 2014. They filed divorce proceedings following the separation, but the proceedings remained outstanding following Keisha's death. Keisha began a common-law relationship with Yvon Cloutier in 2015. The two boys continue to reside with Yvon following Keisha's death.
A conflict between the parties revolves around the ongoing and retroactive child and spousal supports and equalization of the parties' net family assets. Gaetan claims to have paid support obligations up to the date of Keisha's death. However, Noah and Yvon note that Gaetan has never made payments after the death. Instead, Yvon and the death benefits following their mother's accident financially support the two boys.
This proceeding additionally focuses on Yvon and Noah's objection filed on July 28, 2020. This document objects to the appointment of Gaetan as the estate trustee of the Estate of Keisha Lagrandeur. On October 1, 2020, Gaetan filed an Application for Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee to confirm his trusteeship. Gaetan sought the application based on Keisha's Will dated September 21, 2004 (the Will), which explicitly names Gaetan the estate trustee.
The Court provided their views on the following issues:
- Whether the Gaetan's Application of Estate Trustee should be granted; and,
- Whether Yvon and Noah should pursue remedies against the estate in an application as opposed to allowing the objection of Gaetan's Application of Estate Trustee
To examine these issues, the Court felt that they must first decide:
- Whether the Will remains valid within the meaning of the Succession Law Reform Act (SLRA); and,
- What claims the parties have against the Estate of Keisha Lagrandeur.
This article focuses on whether the Will is valid and whether Gaetan’s Application of Estate Trusteeship should be granted.
Decision of the Superior Court
Is the Will valid within the meaning of the Succession Law Reform Act?
There was no dispute between Gaetan, Yvon, and Noah on whether the Will was valid. However, the Court still considered the issue as Evan was a minor at Keisha's death. Therefore, the judge felt a responsibility to evaluate how the Will's validity may affect Evan and the other parties.
The Will is a one-page typewritten document containing handwritten instructions regarding the estate's trustees, guardians of her children, name of beneficiaries, and funeral instructions. Additionally, Keisha didn't initial or date the handwritten instructions (with one exception), and the witness signatures are illegible.
Ultimately, the Court decided that, absent evidence from individuals who were present at the execution of the Will, the Court cannot accept the Will for probate and that the estate must proceed as an intestacy.
Should Gaetan's Estate Trustee applications be granted?
Noah and Yvon submitted that Gaetan has a conflict of interest that makes it inappropriate for him to act as the estate trustee. The estate ultimately has a claim against Gaetan personally, and, as the estate trustee, he could theoretically discontinue those claims. Noah and Yvon further argue that Gaetan's inability to address child support issues makes him unsuitable to direct the estate's position of the dependant’s support.
The Court reviewed Re Weil, 1961 and Re Becker, 1986, to determine their decision. The Court in Re Weil stated that an objection must reach a high bar to "pass over" an estate trustee named in a will. However, in Re Becker, the Court found a conflict of interest gave reason to pass over on a named estate trustee, citing s.29(3) of the Estates Act as the authority. S.29(3) states a court has the complete discretion to appoint an estate trustee where it deems appropriate and in the best interest of the administration of the estate.
The Court in Lagrandeur Estate (Re) ultimately determined that this was an exceptional situation that necessitated that Gaetan's estate trustee application be denied. He ultimately presented an apparent conflict of interest similar to the respondent in Re Becker. The Court lastly agreed that Gaetan's cessation of child support payments after Keisha's death labelled Gaetan incompatible to profess an intention that the children are supported, as he didn't even nominally support the children in the 18 months since Keisha's death.
This case’s first point of interest is that the Court invalidated the Will despite none of the parties disputing its validity. This is of particular interest because Evan was only one year from the age of majority, and this decision showed how little wiggle room there is for the protections of minors.
Lagrandeur Estate (Re) is a clear example of when a conflict of interest can overcome the high bar set in Re Weil to reject an estate trustee explicitly named in a will. Suppose an estate has a personal claim against the estate trustee, and the estate trustee takes a position against the estate. In this case, there's likely a conflict of interest that meets the bar to deny the application.
Additionally, this case shows that where the estate has support claims to payout, and the trustee previously showed no interest in providing support to the payees in other situations, it may give reasons to deny an estate trustee's certification.