There’s no doubt that social media platforms are becoming a larger part of everyday life for many Canadians. While users of social media have been quick to adapt to new platforms, other areas of life such as schools, government, and even the law, have had to face new challenges with how to govern or respond to social media. A great example of how social media and the law intersect was displayed in a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
A Large Estate
The estate, likely worth north of $200 million, involved in the trial was left behind by a wealthy real estate developer, who died in May 2017 at the age of 69. He was survived by his wife, to whom he was married for almost 50 years before they separated in 1995. They had two children and six grandchildren.
Following his separation from his wife, the deceased became involved with another woman (“the girlfriend”) for a period of 12-19 years (the length of time they were together was disputed). Prior to his death, he and his girlfriend had been living together in a condo in Toronto’s Four Seasons for a little more than three years along with the girlfriend’s son and his partner.
The deceased had both a primary and a secondary will. Each of them appointed his wife and his accountant as estate trustees. However, the accountant resigned from the position, leaving his wife as the only trustee. Each of the wills left the deceased’s estate to his wife and children, with nothing set aside for the girlfriend. The girlfriend, who had worked as a real estate agent, told the court that she had been financially dependent on the deceased for over 12 years.
While the girlfriend was left out of the will, the estate allowed her to continue living in the condo. The estate also paid her phone bills, insurance, car insurance, and gas. Finally, the girlfriend also received a $200,000 cash payout from the estate. An October 30, 2017 decision from the courts allowed the girlfriend to continue to have sole possession of the condo until it was sold by the estate, which was also ordered to pay her an additional $700,000 as an advance on her claim for support.
It wasn’t long before the girlfriend’s use of the condo became an issue. The estate did not approve of the girlfriend’s use of the condo to hose public or semi-public events. They also disapproved of the girlfriend’s son’s posting of photos of the condo on social media, complaining that the interior of the condo as well as its contents were recognizable.
The event that led to the issue heading to court involved a wine tasting hosted by the girlfriend’s son. The event had previously had a ticket price of $5,000 was reduced to just $500 in order to attract a younger crowd. Photos from the event were shared on social media, with pieces of artwork visible. The son’s girlfriend was an aspiring model and also used the condo in photo shoots.
The estate sought to prohibit both events such as the one described as well as photos of the condo from appearing on social media. The girlfriend, meanwhile, argued there should be no limits placed on her occupancy of the condo. She said the event was a successful fundraiser and that her right to occupy the condo should not have limitations placed on it.
In looking to find a balance between the estate’s concerns and the girlfriend’s rights to use the condo, the court acknowledged the importance of not sharing the condo’s contents on social media sites, nor for there to be public events hosted there. The court ultimately put a limit on the number of guests allowed in the condo (15 at any time). The court stated that any violations of those limits would result in the girlfriend and her family to be evicted.
If you are involved in an estate dispute, contact Derfel Estates Law today to meet a Toronto estate lawyer who will work tirelessly to achieve the best possible resolution to your will, estate, power of attorney, or trusts dispute. We can be reached online or at 1-444-2-DERFEL