Canada: Minding The Store While Parties Litigate

The settlement of an estate can be a magnet for litigation. That's particularly likely in families where the estate is complex, possibly involving ongoing businesses and investment property. Divorce among family members, including children of the deceased, can add to the complexity, causing will-challenge litigation that goes on for months or years.

The value of the estate can shrink if there is no trusted hand at the helm to maintain the value of those assets. If the estate includes one or more businesses, valued employees and customers may leave; in the case of property, maintenance steps might be postponed. So while the heirs dispute over the way the pie gets divided, the pie itself can get smaller.

That is where an estate trustee during litigation (ETDL), formerly called an administrator pendente lite, can help. Appointed by the court to manage the estate while the litigation over its disposition is ongoing, the ETDL works under the relevant legislation (in Ontario, it's Section 28 of the Ontario Estates Act). This person takes responsibility for preserving — and if possible, growing — the value of the estate during estate litigation.

While will-challenge litigation is rarely pleasant for the parties involved, having an effective ETDL watching over the assets means that legal counsel and family members can devote their time and energy to working towards a fair division of the estate.

For example, the dispute might involve a sister and brother, both beneficiaries of an estate that includes a residential apartment. The brother might want to sell the property but the sister does not.

An ETDL could go to the court and propose that either the brother and the sister agree for one to buy out the other's interest through an auction between the two of them, or there be a sales process in which offers for the property are invited.

An ETDL must have the qualifications and experience that are acceptable to the court as well as to the parties in the litigation. While the court will appoint an ETDL, it is usually put forward by legal counsel for one, or sometimes all, the parties involved.

It is important to note that an ETDL is an individual, not a firm. So the question becomes, what professional background should legal counsel look for in an ETDL? There are three main choices—a lawyer, a trust company that contains professionals who can act as ETDLs, or an accountant.

Whichever is chosen, the ETDL must have:

  • Sound understanding of estate-settlement procedures, including dealing with beneficiaries who take an interest and/or active role in the litigation;
  • Training in functions such as determining the steps needed to maintain the value of a business or other asset, dealing with sale procedures, establishing a process to maximize the value of the assets if it's appropriate to offer them for sale, and providing the required report(s) to the court;
  • Ability to recognize "red flags" that indicate that one or more of the parties is attempting to conceal or abscond with assets belonging to the estate;
  • Access to a cross-functional team with experience in valuations, appraisals, tax strategy and forensics.

As an officer of the court, the ETDL acts as an impartial executor of the estate, and is a neutral and independent third party with respect to all parties to the litigation. In her or his fiduciary capacity, the ETDL takes responsibility for controlling and preserving estate assets, and managing the estate transparently. This can include selling assets and holding the sale proceeds until the litigation is resolved, or as otherwise ordered by the court.

A good ETDL will work hard to eliminate any issues of contention among beneficiaries of the estate. Duties can include:

  • Ascertaining the value of the assets and liabilities of the estate;
  • Safeguarding the estate's assets;
  • Maintaining separate trust accounts;
  • Ascertaining and settling any debts of the estate;
  • Filing income tax returns and tax planning;
  • Investing the estate's funds to maximize net realizations until the ETDL is discharged from duty, or the funds are otherwise distributed;
  • Preparing reports to the court.

What gets in the way of an ETDL in protecting the assets of the estate during litigation? It can be one or more parties failing to disclose information to the ETDL, which may necessitate a forensic investigation. Legal counsel can help avoid this by pointing out the potential for legal penalties for fraud.

If legal counsel or the beneficiaries are displeased with the way the estate is being managed, they can seek the court's direction. Then, it's up to the parties in the dispute to present their case to the judge.

A good ETDL provides peace of mind to all parties involved in settling an estate, knowing that it will be managed in order to maintain, or enhance, the estate's value. This comes from the fact that a neutral third party, appointed by the court with a specific role, will help to preserve the estate for its division once the dispute has been resolved.

"While will-challenge litigation is rarely pleasant for the parties involved, having an effective ETDL watching over the assets means that legal counsel and family members can devote their time and energy to working towards a fair division of the estate."

This article was originally written for and published by The Lawyers Weekly, December 2015.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.