Recently I interviewed my old friend Barry Seltzer. Barry has practiced law for over three decades in Toronto in estate planning, estate administration, business succession planning and elder law. He’s a frequent television and radio guest in Canada, the United States, England and Australia. He co-authored several books and produced the audio series, The Real Property Law Primer. An edited transcript of our conversation appears below.
Stan Albert: Barry, we’ve known one another for 28 years and you are now in the prime of your career! Over the years, you’ve switched from your prior area of practice, real estate, to wills and estate planning.
Barry Seltzer: I have always loved the practice and study of real estate law. I have not completely abandoned this area of work and continue to upgrade myself through formal courses, reading case law and commentary and self-learning – though my focus did change years ago to more fully encompass estate planning, estate administration, business succession planning and elder law.
Albert: Why did you change?
Seltzer: At that time, a larger segment of solicitors who practiced real estate law (particularly the residential side of the practice) came to more of a commodity-type approach where the influx of practitioners carried on what I considered to be an “assembly line” form of practice. My personal choice was not to be absorbed into this style or approach.
Albert: When you researched these topics, what areas struck you the most?
Seltzer: Many facets initially drew me to these areas of practice. The fact that many people fail to implement any type of estate plan, or even care, bothers me and has for a long time. To assist and encourage them to do so, and highlight the resources available for them and easily accessed through the Internet, existing literature and through one’s attorney, has been a major goal of mine.
There are many questions raised when planning that bear discussion and sometimes there are no easy answers, but from my perspective and experience doing nothing is not a good route to choose. There is also the need to plan not only for one’s eventual passing, but as well for disaster, emergency and/or incapacity.
We hope that as many people as possible will be encouraged to deal with these types of planning, for both them and their families (and when applicable for their companion animals) rather than leaving it to others and in some instances, to the courts when they no longer can.
There are many changes that can and often do occur in our lives that impact planning, as well as frequent legislation being passed and an abundance of case law and judicial pronouncements.
Some recent topics that merit consideration and that have come to the surface include planning for and dealing with loved ones who have dementia – including though not limited to Alzheimer’s disease; digital assets; biological assets; RESP provisions; loyalty cards provisions; companion animal/pet provisions; payment of estate administration tax (probate taxes and the impact of the new Ontario rules – Bill 173); the Granovsky Estate case and the future of multiple wills in Ontario; executor’s insurance; and planning for embryos, cryo-preservation, cryonics and core blood – among other things.
Albert: We hear about the high-profile cases like Leona Helmsley and Gail Posner, but is estate planning for pets something normal people in Canada do? How common is it?
Seltzer: In my law practice I have seen more and more people include their pets as part of their estate plan. I would estimate that at least three to four out of 10 people who have a pet ask for a provision dealing with their pet to be included at least in their last will and testament.
Albert: How hard is it to make legal arrangements for your pet after you die in Canada? Is it something you can do yourself or do you need an attorney’s help, and how much time and money should you expect to spend?
Seltzer: Baskin and Robbins ice cream stores used to carry a sign that said anyone could make ice cream cheaper, but not necessarily better. My point is, there will always be “inexpensive” alternatives to lawyers, and in certain limited circumstances these might work well enough. Everyone does not need a complicated expensive estate plan and pet plan and in these cases a lawyer-prepared will, including pet provisions, is not really expensive. In this area, as in many others, it’s what you don’t know that may haunt your family and your pet.
Albert: Do you know of some interesting cases involving pets and wills and custody disputes?
Seltzer: In the United States, bitter custody disputes over pets are becoming more common and are often costly. A California couple’s fight in 2000 over Gigi, their pointer-greyhound adopted from a shelter, cost more than $100,000 in legal fees. The three-day trial included testimony from animal experts, who were called on to determine which home would better suit Gigi. Eventually, the wife was granted full custody after a day in the life video of the dog was played in court.
In Canada, an Alberta truck driver was ordered to pay his ex-wife $200 a month in dog support starting in 2004 – plus a $2,000 retroactive payment. Under the ruling, the truck driver was ordered to reimburse his ex-wife for the food, health bills and general care giving for their St. Bernard, Crunchy. It was believed to be the first court order of its kind in Canada, and perhaps North America. Visitation rights were not included.
Barry Seltzer can be reached at 905-475-9001; email [email protected].
Stan Albert, broker/manager, ABR, ASA at Re/Max Crossroads’ iRealty office in Toronto, can be reached for consultation at [email protected]. Stan is now celebrating his 44th year as an active real estate professional.