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Family considers appeal in lengthy Hipel estate battle

Norma Jacques and her daughter Nancy Dasent in 2008. The family is considering an appeal of a court decision denying Mrs. Jacques what she says is her share of her father's estate. Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail

Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

The daughter of a once-prominent Ontario politician and businessman has lost a lengthy legal battle to win a share of his estate.

An Ontario court has ruled that Canada Trust Co. – a division of Toronto-Dominion Bank – does not have to pay Norma Jacques a share of her father's estate after she alleged she was not told about her inheritance by the trustee overseeing the businessman's affairs after his death.

The court decision sets a tough standard for recovering funds in cases of alleged negligence by a trustee, and a high threshold for opening a case after time limitations have expired.

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Mrs. Jacques, daughter of former cabinet minister Norman Hipel, who died in 1953, was estranged from her family and alleged she only learned of her inheritance in 2004, six years after her mother's death, when her own daughter requested a copy of her grandfather's will from public archives.

The will stipulated his assets were to be put in trust after his death to support his wife, Olive. His two children were to evenly split the remaining assets following her death, but Ms. Jacques alleged her brother, George Hipel, received the inheritance and she got nothing. George Hipel died in 2004, just months after Mrs. Jacques first learned of the provisions.

Mr. Justice Dale Parayeski of the Ontario Superior Court ruled this month that Mrs. Jacques did not receive her share of her father's estate after her mother's death in 1978, but that too much time had passed based on time limits of the era for her to collect money from the trustee.

The judge ruled Mrs. Jacques could have learned of the will long before 2004 if she had made inquiries. And he said she should have suspected she would inherit money because she signed two real estate deeds from her father's estate in the 1950s that stated she was to share in his assets following her mother's death.

"The defence asserts that Norma could have learned all that was necessary within a year of Olive's death, and I accept that as reasonable," Judge Parayeski wrote. "Accordingly the limitation period began to run in March of 1979 and thus expired six years later in March of 1985."

A spokesman for the family said Mrs. Jacques, now 91, and her children are considering whether to attempt an appeal. But he said Mrs. Jacques is pleased the judge rejected arguments by the trust company that she must have received her inheritance in the 1970s, even though it could not find records of the estate.

"We have mixed emotions about it," said Richard Wertheim. "We are obviously pleased about the finding about the will not having been properly administered. But at the same time, it was very disappointing the judge didn't find a way to address the wrongs he found."

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Mrs. Jacques' father owned once-flourishing construction company N.O. Hipel Ltd. and served as Ontario's minister of labour during the Second World War. She became estranged from her family after her parents objected to her marriage. Ms. Jacques and her late husband struggled to raise seven children with little money, at times relying on welfare and charity.

Mrs. Jacques alleged Waterloo Trust & Savings Co. – later acquired by Canada Trust – did not properly ensure the preservation of her father's assets while overseeing his company as trustee after his death. However, Judge Parayeski ruled she did not prove there was fraudulent behaviour by the trust company, which was necessary to override the time limitation.

"What she alleges comes to negligence in the administration of the estate, perhaps even very serious negligence, but that is not enough," the judge wrote.

The family claimed Mrs. Jacques' share of the estate would have been worth more than $10-million in current dollars, but the judge rejected the calculation as overly optimistic and estimated the value at $500,000.

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