Estate Seeks To Prohibit Social Media Posts Featuring Condo

Written on behalf of Arbesman Hamilton LLP

Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are new areas of communication, and as such, can often provide the courts with interesting situations which would not have been possible even a decade ago. Such was the case in a recent decision before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice when the court was asked to stop condo guests from posting photos of the condo on social media.

An estate with substantial wealth

The facts of the case involve a man, who was a very successful real estate developer, dying on May 19, 2017, at the age of 69. He was survived by his wife (the “wife”) of almost 50 years, though they had been separated since 1995. He also had two children of the marriage and six grandchildren. At the time of his death he had been living with his another woman (the “partner”) for a period of 12-19 years, depending on who was asked. At the time of his death the man and his partner had been living in a condo at Toronto’s Four Seasons for just over three years. The partner’s adult son and girlfriend also lived in the condo.

The man had a primary and a secondary will, which both appointed his wife and his longtime accountant to be his estate trustees. The accountant resigned, leaving the wife as the sole trustee. The wills divided his estate equally between his two daughters and contained no provision for his partner.

The partner had worked as a real estate agent, but testified she resigned at the man’s instance and had been entirely dependent on him for 12 years. He paid all of her expenses, including vacations, and provided her with cash and credit cards.

At the time of the trial the value of the estate was still being determined, though both the partner and the estate acknowledge it was likely worth more than $200 million.

The estate allowed the partner to continue living in the condo following the man’s death. The estate also paid for all of the expenses associated with the condo, as well as the partner’s phone bills, health insurance, car insurance, and gas. The estate also paid the partner $200,000 in cash. On October 30, 2017, a decision was issued by the courts allowing the partner to have sole and vacant possession of the condo until it had been disposed of by the estate. The estate was also ordered to pay the partner $700,000 as an advance on her claim for support.

Photos of the condo

While much of the trial revolved around the expenses claimed by the partner, the most interesting aspect of it is the estate’s motion concerning the partner’s use of the condo. The estate brought a motion seeking that the partner be prohibited from hosting or allowing public or semi-public events at the condo. The estate also sought an order prohibiting any occupant of the condo from making social media posts in which the interior of the condo or its contents are featured or recognizable.

The estate’s motion arose as the result of a public wine tasting hosted by the partner’s son. The event, which had in the past had a ticket price of $5,000, was reduced to $500 in order to attract a younger crowd. Photos of the event were shared on social media in which the interior of the condo, including valuable pieces of art, were visible. The partner’s girlfriend, who was an aspiring model, also used the condo as the backdrop for photos to promote her career.

The partner, meanwhile, submitted that no limits should be placed on her occupancy of the condo. It was her position that the event in question was prestigious and raised a significant amount of money for charity. Additionally, the court order from October 2017 had granted her sole possession of the condo without restriction. The partner also argued that a prohibition on social media posts was unenforceable.

The court sought to find a balance between the interests if the estate and the partner. While the partner was entitled to sole possession of the condo, the court also recognized that it was full of valuable items, and the estate had an interest in not having pictures of it displayed on social media. The court determined it was not appropriate for the partner or her son to host public fundraising events or large dinner parties for friends. However, it would be permissible for the partner to host a small number of family and friends. The court permitted the partner to have a maximum of 15 people in the condo at any given time. The court did not agree that a prohibition on social media posts was unenforceable, especially if the consequences of such posts would include being asked to move out. The court encouraged the partner and her son to advise guests of these rules, and that asking them to do so was not too onerous or unenforceable.

Dealing with the aftermath of the death of a loved one can be an overwhelming experience. Being named the executor of an estate brings added responsibility, which includes dealing with several legal issues that should be addressed as soon as possible. The experienced and compassionate estate lawyers at Arbesman Hamilton LLP assist our clients with the responsibilities of acting as an executor of an estate. Please call us at 416-481-5604 or reach us online to see how we can help you today.