Trustee Removal

9 Legal Principles of Trustee Removal

Two Ontario cases summarize the law relating to the removal of a trustee appointed by a will and would likely be followed as the law in British Columbia.

In Chambers Estate v. Chambers 2013 ONCA 511, the court found that a testator’s wishes as to who should act as trustee should only be interfered with in rare circumstances.

In Radford v. Wilkins, 2008 CanLii 45548 (ONSC), Quinn J. set out the legal principles that apply in an application to remove an estate trustee.

9 Principles of Trustee Removal

  1. The Superior Court of Justice has inherent jurisdiction to remove trustees
  2. An application to remove an executor may be made by any person interested in the estate of the deceased
  3. The choice of estate trustee is not to be lightly interfered with
  4. There must be a clear necessity warranting the removal
  5. The removal of an estate trustee should only occur on the clearest of evidence and there is no other course to follow
  6. In deciding whether or not to remove an estate trustee, the court’s main guide should be the welfare of the beneficiaries
  7. The applicant must show that the non-removal of the trustee will likely prevent the trust from being property executed
  8. Removal is not intended to punish past misconduct
  9. Friction alone is not a reason for removal

Trustees Breach of Trust Excused

Trustee Act: Trustees Breach of Trust Excused

Section 96 of the Trustee Act allows the court to excuse a trustee for negligence or breach of trust when handling estate assets if the trustee acted honestly and reasonably.

Section 96 states as follows:

96. If it appears to the court that a trustee, however appointed, is or may be personally liable for a breach of trust, whenever the transaction alleged to be a breach of trust occurred, but has acted honestly and reasonably, and ought fairly to be excused for the breach of trust and for omitting to obtain the directions of the court in the matter in which the trustee committed the breach, then the court may relieve the trustee either wholly or partly from that personal liability.



Like trustees, pursuant to section 96, executors may be excused of liability in appropriate circumstances: see Brown v. Brown, 2011 BCSC 649.

To be excused, a trustee must satisfy all three elements in section 96:

  1. he or she must have acted honestly;
  2. must have acted reasonably;
  3. and the court must find that, in the circumstances, it would be fair to excuse the trustee for the breach and for failing to obtain directions from the court: Langley v. Brownjohn, 2007 BCSC 156 at para. 61.

The burden rests with the trustee who is seeking the protection of section 96 to prove that his or her actions are worthy of the exercise of the court’s discretion to excuse the trustee for the breach: Langley, supra, at para. 63.

In exercising its discretion pursuant to section 96, the court will consider factors including {Langley, supra at para. 66):

In Fales v. Canada Permanent Trust Co., [1977] 2 S.C.R. 302 (“.Fales”), the Court discussed the duties of trustees. The principles in Fales apply to executors: see Madock v. Greater, 2010 BCSC 567 at para. 61 and Re Ili/lis Estate, 2015 BCSC 208 at paras. 76- 77.

As set out in Fales, it in large part it reflects the longstanding principles regarding the duties of a trustee:

Traditionally, the standard of care and diligence required of a trustee in administering a trust is that of a man of ordinary prudence in managing his own affairs (Learoyd v. Whiteley [(1887), 12 App. Cas. 727.], at p. 733; Underhill’s Law of Trusts and Trustees, 12th ed., art. 49; Restatement of the Law on Trusts, 2nd ed., para. 174)

Removal of Executor/Trustee For Conflict of Interest

Removal of Executor/Trustee For Conflict of Interest

As a BC estate lawyer, I am often asked to remove an executor/trustee. Re Ching 2016 BCSC 1111 is one of several cases where the courts have indicated their reluctance to remove an executor for a perceived conflict of interest. The executor/trustee was however removed and replaced as the conflict of interest was “disabling” to her performance as trustee as opposed to the interests of others.

[22]        The authorities indicate that even a “perceived” conflict of interest between an executor’s personal interests and her obligation to administer the trusts in the will in the interests of the beneficiaries may cause this court to intervene to appoint a new executor or an administrator to avoid even the appearance of conflict. In para. 53 of her response to civil claim filed in the asset recovery action Gini alleges that:

[24]        The executor makes several arguments to support her continuation in that role. She submits, firstly, that the estate is complex and that she has “the most knowledge” of its assets among the three sisters. In my view, this consideration cannot outweigh the conflict between her obligation as executor to call in the assets of the estate and her own interest in asserting that significant assets, that are alleged in the asset recovery action to belong to the estate, actually belong to her.

[25]        Secondly, she submits the testator’s choice of executor ought to be respected. I accept that is a compelling factor and this court has often expressed its reluctance to remove an executor when a conflict of interest is alleged.

[26]        In Parker v. Thompson (Trustee), 2014 BCSC 1916, Hinkson C.J.S.C. at para. 37 wrote the following:

[37]         I accept the principles pertaining to the removal of an estate trustee set out by Madam Justice Nolan in Haines v. Haines, 2012 ONSC 1816 at para. 10 as equally applicable to the removal of the trustee:

In Johnson v. Lanka, 2010 ONSC 4124, (2010), 103 O.R. (3d) 258 at para. 15, Pattillo J. summarized the principles that should guide the court’s discretion in deciding whether to remove estate trustees:

(1) the court will not lightly interfere with the testator’s choice of estate trustee;

(2) clear evidence of necessity is required;

(3) the court’s main consideration is the welfare of the beneficiaries; and

(4) the estate trustee’s acts or omissions must be of such a nature as to endanger the administration of the trust.

[27]         The outcome of each application for the removal of an estate trustee will depend on its own facts. The evidence satisfies me that the administration of the estate is endangered if the executor continues to be faced with the conflict of interest inherent in that role.

[28]        Thirdly, the executor submits she has not been guilty of any misconduct in her duties as executor. I make no finding on evidence before me that there has been misconduct but, in my view, even without misconduct the conflict is egregious.

[29]        The executor, lastly, submits that she had little opportunity to administer the trusts before she was prevented from doing so by the notice of dispute. The evidence is that the executor had taken a number of steps to administer the trusts and again those steps illustrate the conflict which has arisen.

[30]        I conclude that Gini, so long as the asset recovery action continues, cannot perform her role as executor without inevitably suffering from a disabling conflict between her own personal interests, as she sees them, and the interests of others.  

[31]        There will be an order that Solus Trust Company Ltd. be appointed administrator of the estate of the testator pending the outcome of the asset recovery action; an order vesting the assets of the testator in Solus Trust for that purpose; an order that Solus Trust is entitled to be paid its fees and disbursements for its administration services in accordance with Schedule A attached to these reasons; and, an order that Pamela and Gini are each entitled to be paid their respective costs of the present application on a full indemnity basis from the estate.

Removing and Replacing Executors and Trustees

This video is on removing executors and trustees. Personally, I think being an executor is like being a fire hydrant on a street of dogs. You can never, ever get enough appreciation. Unfortunately, it seems to attract a lot of heat. Now there are good executors and there are bad executors. But the fact that you don’t like the executor or you can’t get along with the executor really is not going to be sufficient to remove that executor.

At common law, it has historically been very difficult to remove an executor. But more recently, the courts I think have adopted a more flexible approach. Therefore, you can remove an executor for such reasons as dishonesty or total impasse where nothing is happening whatsoever and things along that line. It’s very difficult. It’s something you’re going to have to consult an expert on and ultimately, it has to be resolved in favour of getting the estate distributed to the proper heirs.

The Factors To Determine an Executor’s Compensation

In the well-known case of Re Toronto General Trusts and Central Ontario Railway (1905), 6 O.W.R. 350 (H.C.), five central factors should be considered by the audit judge in arriving at the amount of an executor’s compensation. The maximum fee for obtaining probate and distributing the assets is %5 with management of capital charges available over and above that where appropriate.
Those factors are:
(1) the size of the trust;
(2) the care and responsibility involved;
(3) the time occupied in performing the duties;
(4) the skill and ability shown; and
(5) the success resulting from the administration.
The later case of Re Atkinson, [1952] O.R. 685, [1952] 3 D.L.R. 609 (C.A.) added some helpful clarifying comments on the s. 61(1) discretionary power, especially on the use of “percentages” to establish the level of compensation.
The Court said at p. 698 [O.R.]:
If these statutory provisions are properly borne in mind, then in many instances the proper compensation may well be reflected by the allowance of percentages, but the particular percentages applied, or any percentages, are not to be regarded as of paramount importance; they should be employed only as a rough guide to assist in the computation of what may be considered a fair and reasonable allowance; the words of the statute override everything else and that fair and reasonable allowance is for the actual ‘care, pains and trouble, and time expended’. In some estates, indeed perhaps in many, no fairer method can be employed in estimating compensation than by the application of percentages. In others, while percentages may be of assistance, it would be manifestly unreasonable to apply them slavishly and to do so would violate the true principle upon which compensation is always to be estimated.
It can readily be recognized that, depending upon the idiosyncrasies of the particular estate, the care, pains and trouble and time expended may be disproportionate to the actual size of the estate. A small, complex estate may make more demands upon the trustee’s care and time and skill than a much larger estate of a simpler nature; conversely, even in a large estate with many complex problems, assessment of the compensation by the adoption of what might be said to be ‘the usual’ percentages would result in a grossly excessive allowance.

Party Cannot Take Tax Benefit For One Purpose and Deny It For Another

In Rosenthal v Rosenthal, 1986 CarswellOnt 288 (HCJ), it was held that an individual cannot take a position to obtain a tax benefit and then deny that position to obtain a different benefit.

At para 51 of Rosenthal, the court noted that “it is being argued that for the purpose of the Income Tax Act in 1969, the transfer of shares was not a gift, but for the purpose of the Family Law Act in 1986, the transfer of shares was a gift. Such a result should not be condoned by the court on the grounds of public policy alone.”

Further, the husband could not assert for tax purposes that the transfers were not a gift but for division of family property purposes that they were. Thus, the value of these shares form part of the net family property.

The Prudent Investment Standard For Trustees

The Prudent Investment Standard For Trustees

Miles v Vince 2014 BCCA 290 allowed an appeal and removed a  trustee for failure to abide by the Prudent Investor Standard expected of a trustee.

The Trustee had used the funds from an insurance trust for a speculative real estate investment

The Prudent Investor Standard

[52]         The respondent’s legal obligation with respect to the investment of the property of the Insurance Trust is to act as a prudent investor. Section 15.2 of the Trustee Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 464, provides:

In investing trust property, a trustee must exercise the care, skill, diligence and judgment that a prudent investor would exercise in making investments.

[53]         The appellant argues that a prudent investor would not place all of the Insurance Trust’s assets into one investment, but instead, would have a diversified portfolio of investments. The respondent says that she was under no statutory obligation to diversify the investment portfolio or invest the trust funds in any particular manner.

[54]         In Fales v. Canada Permanent Trust Co., [1977] 2 S.C.R. 302, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the primary duty of a trustee is to preserve trust assets. This principle applies despite broad discretionary powers given to the trustee in the trust document. Justice Dickson (as he then was) articulated this standard (at 316):

This standard, of course, may be relaxed or modified up to a point by the terms of a will and, in the present case, there can be no doubt that the co-trustees were given wide latitude. But, however wide the discretionary powers contained in the will, a trustee’s primary duty is preservation of the trust assets, and the enlargement of recognized powers does not relieve him of the duty of using ordinary skill and prudence, nor from the application of common sense. [Emphasis added.]

[55]         This Court applied Fales to underscore the duty of a trustee to preserve trust assets in Froese v. Montreal Trust Co. of Canada (1996), 20 B.C.L.R. (3d) 193, leave to appeal ref’d [1996] S.C.C.A. No. 399.

[56]         In Froese, an employee was a beneficiary of a pension plan for which he was to receive regular benefits. His employer began to make irregular contributions to the plan, and soon ceased to contribute. As a result, the beneficiary’s pension was reduced significantly.

[57]         This Court held that Montreal Trust, as trustee of the plan, had a duty to inform the beneficiary when it became aware regular contributions were not being made. Chief Justice McEachern, for the majority, held (at paras. 57-58):

The trial judge framed the question as whether there was any obligation to volunteer information to the beneficiary. With respect, I think that is far too narrow. In my view, “true” trustees have obligations of prudence to protect not just the corpus of the trust, but also the interest of the beneficiaries from the ongoing operation of the plan.

I postulate a simple example. Assume that the Company appoints an investment manager, and that that manager instructs the trustee to invest the corpus, or so much thereof as the plan permits, in the subordinated securities of the company. (This is an extreme example because most plans provide investment rules that must be followed.) Absent such rules, can it seriously be argued that a trustee owes no larger, general duty of prudence respecting the trust which transcends the four corners of the agreement? In this respect, I agree with the comments of Dickson J. (as he then was) in [Fales], although stated in a different context. He said, no matter how wide their discretionary powers:

… a trustee’s primary duty is preservation of the trust assets, and the enlargement of recognized powers does not relieve him of the duty of using ordinary skill and prudence, nor from the application of common sense.

[58]         Section 15.2 of the Trustee Act enacted in statutory form the standard of care for trustees investing trust property. As noted above, it requires an investor to exercise the care, skill, diligence and judgment of a prudent investor.

[59]         The “prudent investor” is also referred to in s. 15.3 of the Trustee Act:

A trustee is not liable for a loss to the trust arising from the investment of trust property if the conduct of the trustee that led to the loss conformed to a plan or strategy for the investment of the trust property, comprising reasonable assessments of risk and return, that a prudent investor would adopt under comparable circumstances.

[60]         Professor Donovan Waters discusses the development of the “prudent investor” standard in Canada in Donovan W.M. Waters et al., Waters’ Law of Trusts in Canada, 4th ed. (Toronto: Thomson Reuters Canada Limited, 2012) at 1006-1009.

[61]         Professor Waters notes (at 1008) that in 1997 the Uniform Law Conference of Canada promulgated the Uniform Trustee Investment Act, 1997, which imposed an obligation for trustees to diversify investments and provided a list of factors which a trustee may consider in making investment decisions.

[62]         He describes the “prudent investor” standard as used in the B.C. Trustee Act, (at 1018):

The reference to the “prudent investor” is intended to bring into the picture the requirements of modern portfolio theory, which teaches that one must first decide what is the level of appropriate level of risk, and then seek to maximize the return within that constraint.

[63]         He points out that diversification is implicit in the prudent investor standard, based on modern portfolio theory (at 1019-1020):

It is true that in some jurisdictions, particularly those retaining the prudent man standard, there is room for argument as to whether the trustee has the duty to diversify. The new prudent investor standard, based on modern portfolio theory, leaves less room for argument; diversity is inherent in modern portfolio theory. Even so, the circumstances of a trust might be inconsistent with diversification. For example, if a trustee expected to hold property only for a few weeks, it might not be prudent to expose the assets to the volatility which inheres in equity investments.

[64]         Unlike other jurisdictions in Canada, B.C.’s Trustee Act does not expressly impose a duty on trustees to diversify investments in accordance with modern portfolio theory (see The Trustee Act, 2009. S.S. 2009, c. T-23.01 s. 26; Trustee Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. T. 23 s. 27(6); Trustee Act, R.S.N.S. 1989, c. 479 s. 3B; Trustee Act, R.S.P.E.I. 1988, c. T-8 s. 3.1).

[65]         As Professor Waters suggests, however, the “prudent investor” standard implicitly brings modern portfolio theory into play, and thus requires the trustee to assess the level of appropriate risk and whether diversification is required.

Is the Loan a Prudent Investment?

[66]         In my opinion, the respondent trustee did not meet the prudent investor standard by investing all of the Insurance Trust’s assets, through the Loan, in the Main Street Properties.

[67]         The respondent says she consulted the Redden Report before embarking on the development of the Main Street Properties, and considered the information on the potential profitability of the development before making the Loan.

[68]         The respondent did not meet her statutory obligations to act as a prudent investor with respect to the assets of the Insurance Trust by relying on the Redden Report to assess the potential profitability of the development of the Main Street Properties. There is no evidence that she assessed the appropriate level of risk for the Insurance Trust, and then sought to maximize the return within that constraint. Rather, it appears she consulted the Redden Report to assess the development potential and required investment to develop the Main Street Properties, and used the funds from the Insurance Trust to meet those requirements.

[69]         The respondent maintains she was under no statutory obligation to diversify any investments made from the Insurance Trust. As Professor Waters points out, however, the link between the prudent investor standard and modern portfolio theory suggests that a trustee must assess whether diversification is required to preserve the trust assets.

[70]         In my view, prudent investment of the assets of the Insurance Trust required the trustee to consider the interests of all of the beneficiaries, including the appellant’s interest as an income beneficiary, in the context of the circumstances of the settlement of the Insurance Trust by Mr. Vince with proceeds of life insurance for the benefit of his wife and children after he knew he was ill. Mr. Vince’s interest in creating social housing, or his interest in the broader development of the Main Street Properties for market housing and commercial space with a component of social housing, which is what the respondent has embarked on, bears little relation to the creation of the Insurance Trust.

[71]         Had Mr. Vince intended that the proceeds of his life insurance be invested solely in the development of the Main Street Properties for the benefit of his children as the Division Date Beneficiaries, it is likely he would have provided for those proceeds to be settled on the Family Trust. I agree with the appellant that the existence of separate trusts indicates that Mr. Vince had separate intentions with respect to the use of the proceeds of the life insurance. It is a reasonable inference from the surrounding circumstances that Mr. Vince intended the life insurance proceeds to be used to support and maintain his widow and children after his death. It appears the chambers judge conflated Mr. Vince’s intention with respect to the Family Trust with that of the Insurance Trust.

[72]         Had the chambers judge correctly assessed Mr. Vince’s intention with respect to the Insurance Trust, he would not have concluded that investing all of its assets in the Loan was a prudent investment. The Loan is an illiquid asset invested in an illiquid real estate development project. It appears the Main Street Properties do not produce sufficient income to pay expenses including property taxes, as the proceeds of the B.C. Housing financing were used for that purpose. No interest or principal has been paid despite the Loan being due and payable, and there is no evidence of when the Loan will be repaid.

[73]         It is obvious that the Loan is in default. For the respondent to say that no demand has been made demonstrates “the difficult situation” for the respondent, recognized by the chambers judge, that arises if the Loan is in default. Only the respondent can make a demand for payment of the Loan, and as she argues, such a demand would put the development of the Main Street Properties at risk, contrary to her various interests as the primary promoter of that project.

[74]         Further, all of the security on the Loan was subject to the priority of the first mortgage and other security granted to B.C. Housing, including the priority agreement and option to purchase. If the option to purchase was exercised the Loan would have no value. To say that the priority agreement did not have that effect because the conditions under which it might be exercised had not occurred and were “highly speculative” simply ignores the terms of the Loan.

[75]         While the respondent in this case was under no express statutory duty to diversify the investment portfolio of the Insurance Trust, she nonetheless had a duty to act as a prudent investor. For the reasons above, I conclude her investment strategy in this particular case did not meet this standard.

[76]         The investment of the Insurance Trust’s assets into a single, illiquid set of properties has put the Insurance Trust’s assets at risk. The respondent has wide discretionary powers under the terms of the trust, but the respondent failed to undertake an appropriate risk assessment, in the context of the settlor’s intention with respect to the Insurance Trust, before investing all of the Insurance Trust’s assets in the Loan.

[77]         The respondent’s handling of the Insurance Trust assets also breached her duty of impartiality between the capital and income beneficiaries of that trust. The respondent justifies the investment of the assets of the Insurance Trust in the development of the Main Street Properties on the basis that her goal was to maximize the capital growth of the trust property for the benefit of the capital beneficiaries of both trusts. She dismisses her obligation to the income beneficiaries of the Insurance Trust, including the appellant, on the ground that the appellant did not provide financial information as to her needs as requested by the respondent, stating in her factum (R.F. at para. 84):

The extent of the respondent’s duty of even-handedness towards a beneficiary whose interest in the trust is merely discretionary cannot possibly be extended beyond a duty on the part of the trustee to make reasonable enquiries into the financial needs for the discretionary income beneficiaries. The respondent has done this.

[78]         The respondent has provided no authority for, in effect, ignoring the income beneficiaries in investing the trust property, and I find her argument unpersuasive. As noted by Professor Waters (at 1025):

With regard to the trust fund the income beneficiary is looking for the best yield obtainable, while traditionally the capital beneficiary is concerned with the safety of the fund. However, high yield usually means high risk, low yield low risk, and here is the inherent conflict between the interests of these two types of beneficiary. It is the duty of the trustees so to manage the fund that they do the best possible for both, and this means holding an even balance between yield and risk. Unless, and to the extent only that, the trust instrument requires or permits them to do otherwise, they must ensure that the assets originally received into the trust are put into a form which brings about this balance, and that the assets they subsequently acquire, again in the exercise of their power of investment, have the same result.

[79]         In this case, the respondent failed to undertake an investment strategy that balanced the interests of the capital and income beneficiaries of the Insurance Trust. As a result, I find she breached her duty to remain impartial between these beneficiaries.

Executor Ordered to Repay Monies

Executor Ordered to Repay Monies Back to Estate

Executor Ordered to Repay Monies Back to Estate Paid Out Before Expiration of 6 Month Limitation

Stevens v. Wood Estate (Re), 2013 BCSC 2380. Until six months have passed from the issuance of probate of a will, s. 12 of the Wills Variation Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 490 (the “WVA”) prohibits, absent consent or court order, the distribution of any portion of an estate to its beneficiaries.

The question for determination on this application is the appropriate remedy when such a distribution has been made.

However, the case of Etches v. Stephens (1994), 99 B.C.L.R. (2d) 171 (S.C.) [Etches] assists with determining the purpose of s. 12(1) of the WVA.  Etches deals with the precursor to what is now s. 3(1) of the WVA which requires that an action under this Act must be brought within six months from the date of the issue or resealing of probate.  The court stated that this provision must be read alongside the precursor to what is now s. 12(1) which has the same time-limited language.  When the two sections are read together, the reason for the limits become clear (see paras. 9-12, and 15):

  1. The “main aim” of the WVA is “adequate, just and equitable provision for the spouses and children of testators” when a will does not provide for this: see Tataryn v. Tataryn Estate, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 807 at 815.  As such, it must allow those falling within these groups to apply to the court to have the will varied.
  2. If those affected were allowed to apply to court for a variation without any time limit on the action, then there would be the danger that the distribution of the assets would remain uncertain for a prolonged period of time.  Thus there is a limitation period of six months on the action.
  3. On the other hand, if there was not a rule against distributing the assets before the limitation period to challenge the will was expired, then there would be the danger that a legitimate action could be started but the assets would already have been distributed.  This would deprive those affected of an effective remedy and potentially result in an injustice.
  4. Furthermore, without the restriction placed on the administrator of the estate by s. 12(1), it would be possible for that administrator to attempt to thwart a legitimate claim by the dependents under s. 2 of the Act by distributing the assets before an action is brought.

[29]         The purpose of s. 12(1) is to keep the estate intact to ensure that a successful plaintiff is able to recover that to which they may become entitled. A breach of this statutory provision is a serious matter.  It goes to the heart of the legislative scheme.

[30]         Until the six-month limitation period has passed, a beneficiary’s entitlement to a share in the estate is not absolute. It is subject to variation if a successful action is brought under the WVA. Unless consents are obtained, the beneficiaries are not entitled to receive and benefit from their share of the estate until the WVA claims have been resolved or a court order has been obtained.

[31]         Similarly the plaintiff in a WVA action is entitled to have the assets in the estate preserved pending the outcome of their claim. They should not be put in the position of having to pursue after the executor or other beneficiaries to reap the benefits of a successful action.

[32]         Where there is a breach of the statutory provision and funds are distributed contrary to the legislation, the remedy of a claim against the executor or other beneficiaries, after the completion of the WVA action, does not sufficiently protect the successful WVA claimant. Those parties may, by then, be without assets or have taken steps that make it difficult to locate their assets.

[33]         It is the party who has breached the provisions of the statue who must make matters right. This application is not the forum to determine the strength or otherwise of a WVA claim. The WVA claimant is entitled to have the estate reconstituted to its state prior to the wrongful distribution.

[34]         I find that the appropriate remedy for a breach of s. 12 of the WVA is for the party who has breached the provisions to either repay the estate or to post security in the entire amount which has been wrongfully disbursed.

[35]         The Executrix in this matter must make matters right. She must, within 30 days of the date of these reasons, repay the estate or post security in the amount of $202,000, being the amount which she has improperly advanced to the beneficiaries. If the security is not posted within 30 days the plaintiff will be at liberty to seek further relief.

Trustee Removed For Selling Assets Below Market Value and Benefiting

Trustee Removed For Selling Assets Below Market Value and Benefiting

VanKoughnett & Others v. Austin, 2006 BCSC 1856 is authority for the proposition that a trustee removed under section 30 of the Trustee Act where there is potential conflict of interest between the personal interests of the trustee, and those of the beneficiaries, particularly in this situation where the trustee sold assets at far below market value, and the trustee had benefited from her administration of the estate

The Law

The present petition seeks to replace the designated executor and trustee with the alternate named in the will of the deceased.

[20]            The application is brought, in part, under s. 30 and 31 of the Trustee Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 464, and amendments, which provide:

30         A trustee or receiver appointed by any court may be removed and a trustee, trustees or receiver substituted in place of him or her, at any time on application to the court by any trust beneficiary who is not under legal disability, with the consent and approval of a majority in interest and number of the trust beneficiaries who are also not under legal disability.

31         If it is expedient to appoint a new trustee and it is found inexpedient, difficult or impracticable to do so without the assistance of the court, it is lawful for the court to make an order appointing a new trustee or trustees, whether there is an existing trustee or not at the time of making the order, and either in substitution for or in addition to any existing trustees.

[21]            The test to be applied in an application to remove an executor on the basis of misconduct is that set out by our Court of Appeal in Conroy v. Stokes, [1952] 4 D.L.R. 124.  To succeed on this basis the evidence must show that the executor acted in a manner that endangered the estate, or that as executor he or she acted dishonestly, without proper care, or without reasonable fidelity.

[22]            Misconduct is, however, not a prerequisite to the court removing a trustee “when the continued administration of the trust with due regard for the interests of the cestui que trust has by virtue of the trustees become impossible or improbable”, Re Consielio Trusts (No. 1) (1973), 36 D.L.R. (3d) 658 at 660 (Ont. C.A.).

[23]            In Hall v. Hall (1983), 45 B.C.L.R. 154, the court granted an application for removal of an executor where the executor’s duties were in conflict with his or her personal interests, estate assets had been endangered by the executor’s conduct, and the executor had benefited at the expense of the estate.


The Executors Obligation To Maintain Estate Assets

The Executors Obligation To Maintain Estate Assets


Executors obligation cannot just idly stand by and allow estate assets to deteriorate or waste- the executor and trustee has a duty of care to mange and preserve the estate assets.

The legal test is as follows:

The traditional standard of care of an executor/trustee is “that of a man of ordinary prudence in managing his own affairs” (Fales v. Canada Permanent Trust Co., [1977] 2 S.C.R. 302, at para. 32). At paragraph 34, Dickson J. (as he was then) explains that:

“[e]very trustee has been expected to act as the person of ordinary prudence would act. This standard, of course, may be relaxed or modified up to a point by the terms of a will…[b]ut however wide the discretionary powers contained in the will, a trustee’s primary duty is preservation of the trust assets, and the enlargement of recognized powers does not relieve him of the duty of using ordinary skill and prudence, nor from the application of common sense.”

Scott on Trusts, 3rd ed. (page 1501) (“Scott”) states that “[i]n determining whether the trustee is acting within the bounds of a reasonable judgment the following circumstances may be relevant:

  • the extent of discretion intended to be conferred upon the trustee by the terms of trust;
  • the existence or non-existence, the definiteness or indefiniteness, of an external standard by which
  • the reasonableness of the trustee’s conduct can be judged;
  • the circumstances surrounding the exercise of the power;
  • the motives of the trustee in exercising or refraining from exercising the power;
  • the existence or non-existence of an interest in the trustee conflicting with that of the beneficiaries.”

Scott also states that “where a trustee is granted powers which are to be exercised at his discretion, the court traditionally will not interfere unless the trustee has not turned his mind to the exercise of his discretion or has acted unfairly or in bad faith”.

In Re: McDonald Estate, 2012 ABQB 704, the Alberta Queen’s Bench provides that if a trustee fails to meet the standard of care, he or she will “generally be held accountable and liable for any loss resulting from the breach, and must place the trust estate in the same position as it would have been in if no breach had been committed.” Similarly, if the assets of an estate have been damaged or wasted, “the beneficiary’s remedy is against the executor in the context of an action for breach of fiduciary duty or a challenge to the executor at the passing of accounts.” (at para. 85)