Sherman Estate fight to seal wills and inheritance information

I recently read a story online on the latest developments involving the estates of Barry and Honey Sherman. The Toronto billionaires were found dead at their Toronto mansion on December 15, 2017. Barry Sherman founded the largest Canadian-owned drug company, Apotex. Investigators have determined that they were murdered. Although limited details are available, investigators believe the murders were committed by a very sophisticated organization. This case has generated significant public interest. The family has hired private investigators and there was a $10 million dollar reward in place. Notwithstanding, the case remains unsolved.

After their deaths, details with respect to their Estates were sealed by Court Order. This was done to preserve the “privacy and dignity” of the victims. More details with respect to the sealing Order are found here.

After the sealing Order was made, the media sought additional details with respect to the Shermans’ estates. An investigative journalist from the Toronto Star was subsequently able to successfully appeal the sealing Order at the Court of Appeal of Ontario. Representatives of the Shermans’ estates then appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.

As stated in the above article, lawyers for the estates argued that the unsealing “disregards the increasing emphasis on privacy in Canadian law, and fails to recognize the constitutional protection afforded to privacy and the pressing public interest in safeguarding it in the digital age.” Additionally, arguments were made that the trustees and beneficiaries of the estate face serious risk to their safety.

Part of the opposing argument was that the files should remain unsealed as sealing them counters the open Courts principle. The Supreme Court of Canada has yet to release a decision in this case.

Administration of the Sherman Estate may be very difficult

The administration of an estate typically requires various steps such as the filing for probate and the publishing of notices to creditors. These steps require transparency with respect to various aspects of an Estate plan such the last will and testament of the deceased, who the executors are, and particulars with respect to who the beneficiaries of the estate are. If these details are sealed by Court Order, it will likely be challenging to administer an Estate. The sealing Order granted in this case is rare and unusual.

Wealthy individuals like the Shermans, who were billionaires, may have very complex estate plans. Different testamentary documents may govern their personal assets or their business assets. There may also be various corporations, multiple business entities, holding companies, or worldwide assets. The administration of a multi-million dollar estate may be difficult and very time-consuming for the trustees.

In this case, it appears that considerations with respect to transparency must be weighed against considerations about the safety of beneficiaries and trustees.

Although few details are available at this time, this unusual scenario will be very interesting to follow. More on this story here.