A Bequest Made in Error
I recently came across an article which describes how a woman in the United States inadvertently gifted a share of her estate to the wrong beneficiary.
It would appear Esther Patton wanted to thank her local fire department for their dedication and service to her over the years. She instructed her lawyer to include a bequest to the Sebastopol Fire Department in her Will. However, Ms. Patton was mistaken, as it was in fact the Gold Ridge Fire District who had responded to her calls approximately once a month over the course of several years.
While the two fire departments were located in close proximity to one another, they serviced different areas.
When the Sebastopol Fire Department received a cheque for nearly $82,960.00 USD and a letter explaining that the funds were a token of Ms. Patton’s gratitude, it became clear that an error had been made.
Thereafter, uncertainty arose as to who was legally entitled to the bequest, Sebastopol or Gold Ridge.
There was no ambiguity on the face of the Will, in that the Will clearly directed the gift was to go to Sebastopol. However, on the totality of the evidence, it was clear Ms. Patton had intended that gift go to Gold Ridge.
The Ontario Court of Appeal case, Robinson v. Rondel, confirmed that where there is no ambiguity on the face of the will and the testator has reviewed and approved the wording, the court may rectify the will and correct unintended errors in three situations:
(a) where there is an accidental slip or omission because of a typographical or clerical error;
(b) where the testator’s instructions have been misunderstood; or
(c) where the testator’s instructions have not been carried out.
In this case it was not necessary for the parties to seek the assistance of the Court as they amicably agreed that that Sebastopol would keep 1/3 and Gold Ridge would keep the remaining 2/3.
Nevertheless, this article illustrates the issues that can arise when inadvertent mistakes are made in the preparation of a Will.
Other Hull & Hull LLP Blogs & Podcasts that may be of interest to you:
- More on rectification
- Rectification revisited
- Material changes to the doctrine of equitable rectification
Thank you for reading.