The issue of mutual wills was front and centre in the July 26, 2010 decision of Re Hand Estate, 2010 NSSC 297 (CanLII).
There, Dr. Hand and Ms. Hand prepared wills in 1999. In his will, Dr. Hand conveyed a condominium to his son Richard if Ms. Hand was to predecease him (the condo was jointly owned with Ms. Hand). In Ms. Hand’s will, she provides that the condo is to go to Richard. Because of the joint ownership, this gift would fail if Ms. Hand was to predecease Dr. Hand, as the condo would pass to Dr. Hand by right of survivorship.
Ms. Hand predeceased Dr. Hand. The condo passed to Dr. Hand. Dr. Hand then revised his will, leaving most of his property to a daughter. He also transferred the condo into a trust.
Richard cried foul, arguing that the wills were mutual wills and therefore were subject to an agreement against revocation. Accordingly, he argued that he was entitled to a half interest in the condo.
The court disagreed. The court found that the wills were not “mutual”, and further, there was no agreement against revocation.
As to the first point, the court found that the different terms of the two wills meant that they could not meet the definition of “mutual wills”, which required that the wills contain reciprocal provisions.
Further, the different terms of the will suggested that there was no such agreement, and that the “flexible norm of revocability” applied.
This conclusion was supported by evidence from the drafting solicitor, who advised Dr. Hand and Ms. Hand that upon the death of the first of them, the condo would pass to the other as the sole owner. This, the court held, raised the issue of freedom of the sole owner to do as he wishes with his property.
Subsequent events did not assist Richard. The fact that for a number of years after Ms. Hand’s death, Dr. Hand continued to provide that the condo would pass to Richard suggested, at most, that the intention remained. It did not provide evidence of a mutual agreement against revocation.
While the court is free to find an implied agreement not to revoke a will, the court will not do so except in the clearest of cases. If parties intend to create mutual wills, with the accompanying agreement not to subsequently revoke the wills, they should do so in the clearest of express terms.
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Paul E. Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle.