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shalom residences logoBy BERNIE BELLAN
This is a story that involves me, personally, but it provides a salutary lesson in how incredibly difficult it can be to navigate legal and bureaucratic channels when it comes to distributing proceeds from an estate.

In 1992 my great-aunt, Anne Greene, died. Aunt Annie, as we knew her, had never married and had no heirs. Before she died, however, she had apparently issued three different wills. I don’t know what was in the first will, but the second will was a simple holograph will. In that will, Annie, who had been a school teacher for a good part of her life, requested that the bulk of her estate be given to “retarded children”.

Of course, that term is now considered inappropriate, but remember that will was written over 25 years ago. Before Annie died, however, a niece of hers managed to persuade her to rescind that will and sign another will that would have left Annie’s entire estate to that niece. Apparently, when Annie died she left an estate worth approximately $135,000. (In 2015 I was told by the Public Trustee of Manitoba that, with interest, that amount had grown to approximately $170,000.)
My mother, Ziona Greene, however, was another of Annie’s nieces, and following Annie’s death, when my mother became aware that Annie had been persuaded to rescind her other will, she challenged the legality of the new will in court. My father, who was a lawyer, took it upon himself to do the legal work involved in challenging the new will. I was somewhat aware that Annie’s will had been tied up in a legal battle, but in time I completely forgot about it.

My parents both died in 2003. Then, in May 2015 one of my sisters was contacted by the Office of the Public Trustee of Manitoba, who had sent her a letter saying the Office of the Public Trustee had been managing the estate of Anne Greene and wanted to bring the estate to some sort of resolution. (After all, it had been 23 years since Annie had died.) My sister had been the administrator of our mother’s estate and, since our mother had been contesting the legality of the will that gave everything to this other niece, the Public Trustee contacted my sister as representative of our mother’s estate. My sister asked if I would deal with this matter.
I approached a good friend who was a lawyer and asked him to act on our behalves. The first order of business was to attempt to have this other niece relinquish her claim to Annie Greene’s estate. It was patently clear that our great-aunt was not at all competent when she signed the will giving everything to this other niece and our lawyer was successful in persuading this other niece to abandon her claim to our great-aunt’s estate.
As well, when it came to deciding what would be a proper manner in which to carry out our late great-aunt’s wish to have the bulk of her estate allocated to “retarded children”, I suggested that Shalom Residences would be a suitable recipient.

In October 2016 a judge in Court of Queen’s Bench ruled that one half of Anne Greene’s estate, after payment of administration expenses, was to be paid to Shalom Residences, with the other half to be distributed among the known descendants of Anne Greene’s siblings. (The Public Trustee had undertaken a search for those descendants and had come up with a list of names. I must admit I am amazed at how those names were produced; apparently there are investigators who specialize in that sort of thing.)

So, you might have thought it wouldn’t be too long before Shalom Residences, at least, would be able to receive whatever portion of Anne Greene’s estate that the judge had ordered be given to them. As for the relatives – well, to be fair, I knew that it might take some time to find everyone mentioned in the list of names, on top of which, each of those individuals was required to produce documentation to prove that they were who they said they were. And frankly, once whatever money there is in the estate is divided up among all these relatives, what most of us would be looking at is a couple of thousand dollars at best.
But – in the case of Shalom Residences, we’re talking about something in the neighbourhood of $75,000 – not exactly chump change. I wondered why, at the very least, the Public Trustee couldn’t give Shalom Residences the portion of Anne Greene’s estate that the judge had ordered back in October they were entitled to receive. In May I emailed the person who is handling this matter for the Public Trustee, someone by the name of Barbara Regier. In my email I asked her: “Why not simply hold back the moneys for those heirs of Ann Greene that you are not able to contact and proceed with the distributions to Shalom Residences and those heirs you have identified? Surely that would satisfy the court’s instructions.” I didn’t hear back from Ms. Regier.

A little later (June 7), I wrote to Nancy Hughes, Executive Director of Shalom Residences, asking her whether she had heard anything from Ms. Regier. Nancy responded that Shalom Residences had been asked to produce a notarized copy of Shalom Residences’ Articles of Incorporation. On July 18 I received a further update from Nancy, who wrote: “No update yet from Public Trustee, just confirmation that they received what they needed from us. I will let you know when we hear more.”

As far as my hearing anything from Barbara Regier – well, she stopped responding to me long ago. Funny – it was the Public Trustee who contacted my sister 27 months ago saying the office wanted to bring the matter of the estate of Anne Greene to a resolution. I guess when it comes to bureaucracies wanting to bring a matter to a resolution though, we’re talking about years – not months or weeks.
As for the descendants of Anne Greene’s siblings, who might be expecting to receive some small portion of her estate: Don’t hold your breath. It appears that wheels move very, very slowly in the Public Trustee’s office.

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