By Connor Lynch
ALVINSTON — Before she died in 2012, Anne Emily Janicek probably thought she had her farm succession plan taken care of.
But the legal battle of who would take over the farm only concluded in August of this year, even though she explicitly put in her will that the farm was to stay in the family. It sounded like a straightforward plan. But she also explicitly stated that if the farm wasn’t sold to family within a year, the farm’s trustees, two of her children, could sell the farm to whomever they see fit, whether family or not.
The unfortunate vagueness in Janicek’s will turned a simple succession plan into a five-year legal battle.
In her will, Janicek wrote that her trustees were to sell it at 75 per cent market value to any of her five children who wanted to buy it.
Within a year, four of her five children had put forward offers, including the two trustees. Discussing amongst themselves, three came to the resolution that the four should share an interest in the farm. But John Janicek disagreed. A full-time farmer, he felt he should be allowed to purchase the property alone. The dispute didn’t have a clear resolution in the will.
It was impossible to say if Janicek’s mother intended for John to have the farm to himself. The will included no guidelines on how to proceed if the children disagreed on who would buy the farm. So Justice Jonathon George ruled that the two trustees had licence to sell the farm to whomever they wished.
The case was appealed by John but he lost.
Markham-area estate lawyer Charles Ticker wrote that the case highlights the importance of getting everyone on the same page ahead of time. “Here, a parent was trying to do the right thing, wants to keep the farm in the family, but maybe did not have a true sense of the competing interests for that farm,” he wrote in The Lawyers Daily.
As of Oct. 3, the future of the family farm was still in doubt. Said lawyer Gemma Charlton, who represented some of the Janiceks: “It is still being decided.”