Jan: It was both a big help and a pleasure for Goddard Gamage LLP to employ
two law students this summer. August 19, 2022 was the last day at Goddard
Gamage for Michelle Mao and Geenath Radhananthan, both of whom will be
starting second year at Osgoode Hall Law School in September.
Michelle and Geenath did great work for us all summer. This blog focuses on the
huge assistance they gave me in the most complicated will signing I have done in
over 36 years of practice.
My client was unable to sign his will because of a physical disability arising from a
degenerative medical condition. At his request, I am disclosing that his condition is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
I understood at a basic level that there were other options available to my client but had never advised a client on these before. I asked Michelle and Geenath to
collaborate on researching and reporting on the issue. They provided a thoroughly
researched, well organized and well written outline of my client’s options.
My client decided that the best option was to direct another person to sign on his
behalf. Due to his condition, he ruled out an in-person meeting and
wanted a virtual signing. This would include a second virtual signing by his
spouse. They were concerned about the ongoing risk of infection from COVID and
the continued effect of the pandemic on our hospitals and the health practitioners
who work in them. Many of us had a relatively carefree summer of 2022 compared
to 2020 and 2021. But not everyone.
It fell to our team – Michelle, Geenath, legal assistant Persefoni Tzortzidis and me
– to figure out all the logistics of a signing by video conference with the added
complication of the client directing another person to sign on his behalf, as
permitted by the Succession Law Reform Act.
Because my client wanted me to be the person he directed to sign, we also had to
involve another Goddard Gamage lawyer, Katherine Holden, as for a remote
signing one of the witnesses must be a Law Society of Ontario licensee.
Two days before the signing, Michelle and Geenath did a dress rehearsal with our
clients. I prepared a detailed agenda that outlined step-by-step how the signing
would proceed. There were over thirty steps!
The signing day coincided with Michelle and Geenath’s last day at Goddard
Gamage. With the client and his spouse at their home, and the four of us in the
Goddard Gamage boardroom where we could observe them on a big screen and
they could see all of us at the same time, we proceeded first with the client’s
signing and then the spouse’s. Each of Michelle and Geenath acted as the second
witness for one of these two clients. They also documented in notes (later to be
formalized in an affidavit) that all the steps outlined in the agenda had been taken.
I am pleased that Michelle’s and Geenath’s summer at Goddard Gamage
culminated in this complicated signing. It proceeded smoothly in no small part
because of their invaluable assistance.
This experience showed them that the practice of law involves delivering services
that meet the individual client’s needs. This goes beyond academic knowledge of
the law. It involves understanding, compassion, communication, preparation, and
organization. At the end of the signing, our client gave a short speech thanking us
for the work we did to ensure that he could make his will. We were all moved by
his words and the depth of feeling with which he conveyed them. No matter how
long we practice law, or in what field, we all want to experience these moments
when we are told that our work has mattered to a client.
I have asked each of Michelle and Geenath to comment a little on their own
experience this summer, below.
Geenath: The timing couldn't have been more perfect for a grand finish to my
summer at Goddard Gamage than to participate in this complicated virtual will
signing. To have been able to do legal research with regard to this unique situation
and aid a client who was unable to sign their will because of a physical disability
was an enriching experience. It symbolized the development of my skills over my
summer term and furthered my interest in studying the intersection of
technology and law to help people. Having the opportunity to work at a law firm
provided me with invaluable hands-on experience that went beyond the didactic
teaching that law school tends to focus on, and provided much needed insight into the more personal aspects of law that are often overlooked.
Michelle: This virtual will signing involving a testator’s direction to a substitute to
sign on his behalf was an amazing way to top off my summer working in estate
law. After my first–year law seminar titled “Wealth, Death, and the Lawyer” at
Osgoode Hall Law School, I became very interested in how the value of
testamentary freedom is protected and practiced in Canada. Seeing the legal
procedures involved to ensure a physically disabled testator can still practice his
testamentary freedom through a substitute while understanding the need for due
execution was the perfect experience for me and my interests. I am glad to have
been involved in such a novel legal issue that will no doubt be further developed as technology evolves.
Jan: I insist on having the last word!
The ALS Society of Canada is working to change what it means to live with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an unrelenting and currently terminal disease. For more information, or to donate, go to als.ca.
At Goddard Gamage we always look forward to the arrival of our summer students. The enthusiasm and energy they bring to their work lifts all our spirits. In 2020 and 2021 our students worked for us remotely. It was great to have Geenath and Michelle working in our office this summer, not remotely. Here’s to practicing law in-person, and everything we learn from each other when we do so!