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Court of Appeal Explains Courts' Powers to Appoint Estate Administrators

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has provided new clarity on the ability of courts to appoint estate administrators. In Sinclair v Sinclair, the Court heard an appeal brought by a brother against his sister, the executor of the estate. Each was an equal beneficiary, with the estate to be divided between them. The essential issue between the siblings was the brother’s wish to keep his mother’s house and the sister’s wish to sell it, as directed by the mother’s Will. (To further complicate their relationship, the siblings were also sole beneficiaries and co-executors of their father’s estate.)

 In the course of the dispute, the sister applied to revoke the Letters Probate that had been issued to her, renounced her right to administer the estate and have an independent solicitor as administrator. Her application was successful. The brother appealed this decision, arguing that the Chambers judge misinterpreted the requirements of section 17 of The Administration of Estates Act. He further argued that when his sister renounced her rights as executor, the Court was required to name him the executor in her place, as he had been named the alternate executor.

 The Court decided that the purpose of section 17 was to give courts “wide discretion” and “broad power” to appoint administrators in situations (like this one) where the parties cannot resolve issues. As a result, the Court of Appeal sided with the sister and the Chamber’s judge. The Court of Appeal also made a clear declaration that courts have inherent jurisdiction to remove executors or administrators and that this point is well found in Saskatchewan jurisprudence. Finally, the Court noted that removing an administrator or an executor is a sensitive issue and one not to be undertaken lightly. As a result, “the overriding duty of the Court is to ensure the trust will be properly executed and the main guide must be the welfare of the beneficiaries.” The Court found that the brother’s efforts to frustrate the sister’s sale of their mother’s house, as directed by their mother’s Will, meant that “he is not prepared to properly execute the trust.” As such, the Court concluded that the Chambers judge “clearly considered both the proper exercise of the trust and the welfare of the beneficiaries” in exercising the legislative ability under section 17 of The Administration of Estates Act, the Court’s inherent jurisdiction and the Saskatchewan jurisprudence on this question.

 This decision provides helpful guidance on appointment of administrators, because it lays out not only the law but the principles that Saskatchewan courts must follow in exercising their abilities to appoint new administrators. This decision is also important because section 17 of The Administration of Estates Act had not been considered in a reported decision since 2001.

 Sinclair v. Sinclair, 2003 SKCA 123.