Is the Door Forever Closed on Substituted Testamentary Disposition?
On April 7, 2009, I blogged on the decision of Justice Strathy in Richardson (Estate Trustee of) v. Mew. In that decision, His Honour considered the situation where a deceased’s first spouse was unexpectedly the named beneficiary of a life insurance policy owned by the deceased, the second spouse seeking to remedy what she argued to be an unjust situation. As I noted, His Honour, while not exercising his jurisdiction to rectify the policy, left open the possibility that, in the right set of circumstances (i.e. clear evidence of a mistake), the court could properly employ such a remedy.
The Ontario Court of Appeal released a unanimous decision on May 14, 2009 upholding Justice Strathy’s decision. Of particular significance to the trusts and estates bar, the Court of Appeal clearly stated that, after the mental incapacity of the donor, the attorney under a power of attorney was not permitted to change a beneficiary designation even in circumstances where there was compelling evidence that the donor would have done so if capable: "As a fiduciary in a role rising to that of trustee, [the second wife] was bound to use the power only for Mr. Richardson’s benefit."
In commenting on the case, The Lawyer’s Weekly has noted that counsel for the disappointed second wife is seriously contemplating an application to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal. In question: is there ever a situation in which the attorney under a Power of Attorney ought to have power to act in the best interests of the donor to effect a testamentary disposition that accords with his or her last known intentions before becoming incapable?
David M. Smith