Scrutinizing Evidence in a Will Challenge

June 18, 2009 Hull & Hull LLP Capacity, Estate & Trust, Litigation Tags: , , , , , , , , , 0 Comments

The recent case of Re Henry (2009) CanLII 12329 (ON S.C.) is an excellent illustration of how a court scrutinizes evidence in a will challenge. 

In Re Henry, the deceased died on May 28, 2005.  Two weeks earlier, on May 12, 2005, he had made a Will designating his second wife as his sole beneficiary.  The deceased’s son from a prior marriage challenged the will on the grounds of undue influence, lack of testamentary capacity and lack of knowledge and approval of the contents of the will.   

The trial judge found in favour of the second wife on all issues: due execution was shown, the deceased had testamentary capacity along with full knowledge and approval of the contents of the will.  The challenger’s evidence, which consisted largely of his and his sister’s testimony, did not bear scrutiny: some of it was inadmissible, testimony appeared reconstructed as opposed to remembered, testimony contained factual inconsistencies, legal submissions contained errors of law and so on.  By contrast, the evidence brought by the second wife was accepted in whole.

No new law is generated in Re Henry, at least not per se.  But there is a concise consideration of the applicable standard of proof which will be helpful for any lawyer making submissions regarding evidence in a will challenge.  Newbould J. points out that the principle in Vout v. Hay, [1995] S.C.R. 6 that evidence of suspicious circumstances must "be scrutinized in accordance with the gravity of the suspicion" may no longer be good law as a result of F.H. v. McDougall, 2008 S.C.C. 53.  F.H. v. McDougall states "[t]here is only one legal rule and that is in all cases, evidence must be scrutinized with care by the trial judge."  So which is it: Vout v. Hay or F.H. v McDougall

Having laid out the jurisprudence, Justice Newbould states:

"I need not decide in this case whether the passage from Vout v. Hay that I have referred to is still good law because in my view the evidence is the same regardless of whether the evidence is scrutinized with greater care in accordance with the gravity of the suspicious circumstances.  I have taken care to scrutinize all of the evidence".

Have a great day,

Chris Graham



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