Executor Can Waive Solicitor Client Privilege

Solicitor Client Privilege

Haas Estate v Jane Doe 2017 BCSC 12 confirmed that an executor( personal representative ) of an estate can waive any solicitor client privilege that existed prior to the deceased’s passing.

Mr. Haas died on February 15, 2016, leaving a will naming his only child, the plaintiff, Brigitte Marga Anne Stapleton, as his executor and sole beneficiary of his estate.

 

2      Approximately four months before he died, Mr. Haas purchased an insurance contract for a premium of $100,000 and named the plaintiff as the beneficiary. However, approximately two months before his death, Mr. Haas changed the beneficiary designation on the insurance policy to a party or parties unknown  ( thus Jane Doe as a defendant). Around the same time, he consulted with a solicitor, Ms. Kirsten Okimaw, with regard to estate planning matters. No new will was prepared.

 

The application was whether the plaintiff was entitled to a copy of the solicitor’s file. The solicitor has thus far refused to turn over the file based upon advice she has received from a practise advisor with the Law Society of British Columbia that the file is or may be protected by solicitor-client privilege

 

s. 142(1) of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, which states :

 

142(1) A personal representative has the same authority over the estate in respect of which the personal representative is appointed as the deceased person would have if living, subject to

(a) a contrary intention appearing in the will of the deceased person, and

(b) this or any other enactment.

 

15      The “wills exception” cases are those where the solicitor who took instructions and drafted the will was required to give evidence regarding communications and instructions between solicitor and client where the execution, contents or validity of the will were in issue, despite there being no waiver of privilege. The plaintiff refers to authorities where the wills exception has been expanded to include analogous transactions such as the creation of a trust (Geffen v. Goodman Estate, [1991] 2 S.C.R. 353), and production of an estate planning file where the deceased had transferred two pieces of property prior to his death (Kreeft v. Kreeft Estate, September 18, 2006, Kelowna Registry No. S64537). Courts have drawn a distinction between those cases where production of a solicitor’s file is sought to aid in the determination of the validity or interpretation of the will on one hand and an attempt to attack or vary the will where the intentions are clear and manifest on the face of the will on the other.

 

24      One case which addressed the question directly was Hicks Estate v. Hicks, [1987] O.J. No. 1426. The parties to the action were relatives of the deceased, and at issue in the claim was whether certain transfers of property were valid. The plaintiff was the personal representative of the deceased who brought an application for production of the files of the deceased’s former solicitors. Stortini D.C.J. stated the issue succinctly at para. 12:

The privilege can be waived or lost by the client. In our case the client is dead. Who, therefore, is the repository of the privilege?

25      He then went on to answer his own question as follows at para. 15:

15. It is clear, therefore, that the privilege reposes in the personal representative of the deceased client who in this case is the plaintiff, the administrator of the estate of Mildred Hicks. The plaintiff can waive the privilege and call for disclosure of any material that the client, if living, would have been entitled to from the two solicitors.

26      A British Columbia case that addressed the rights of a personal representative to waive privilege is Romans Estate v. Tassone, 2009 BCSC 194, which involved the estate of an elderly man who shortly before his death transferred two assets to a friend and named his much younger caregiver as the executor and sole beneficiary in his will. The executor commenced an action against the deceased’s friend to set aside the conveyances and an applied for production of the conveyancing solicitor’s files. The named executor had not been granted probate as at the date of the application and her entitlement to probate was in dispute. The deceased’s former solicitor asserted privilege over the conveyance files. Savage J. held that the solicitor had properly refused to disclose the files and that it was appropriate that the executor prove her authority by producing letters of probate first. At para. 40, Savage J. held the following:

40. The authorities in my view make several matters clear: (1) an action can be commenced without obtaining probate, as an executor’s authority is based on the will, (2) before proceeding with an action already commenced, the parties to an action may require that the Plaintiff prove their authority by producing letters probate, (3) the court may require that a Plaintiff prove their authority, by producing letters probate, of its own motion, when appropriate and (4) the court may order a stay of proceedings any time after the commencement of an action where it is in the interests of justice to do so, pending the issuance of letters probate.

27      While the question does not appear to have been a matter of dispute, Savage J. at para. 41, confirmed that the solicitor-client privilege vests in the personal representative:

 

 

Trevor Todd

Trevor Todd is one of the province’s most esteemed estate litigation lawyers. He has spent more than 40 years helping the disinherited contest wills and transfers – and win. From his Kerrisdale office, which looks more like an eclectic art gallery than a lawyer’s office, Trevor empowers claimants and restores dignity to families across BC. He is a mentor to young entrepreneurs and an art buff who supports starving artists the world over. He has an eye for talent and a heart for giving back.

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