Interpretation of Wills … and Trusts
The interpretation of wills was the subject matter of my blog earlier this week. Today I add to that a comment on the decision of Campbell v. Evert, a case where a son and daughter were disputing whether the daughter’s entitlement under a family trust supplants a bequest under the deceased mother’s will.
The will gifts the sister $145,000 (a gift of equal value was previously given to the brother) and divides the residue equally between the brother and sister. Several years after making the will, the mother settled an inter vivos trust, which provides that the daughter is to receive $150,000 from the trust assets, with the balance divided equally between the son and daughter.
Upon the mother’s death, the trust assets were distributed. The son asserted that the estate assets should be divided equally, in keeping with his mother’s intention that the daughter receives $150,000 from the trust instead of $145,000 under the will. The daughter argued that with both the trust and will terms being honoured the result was equal, taking into consideration that the gift to the brother made years earlier was appreciating over time. Nonetheless, the will was clear and unambiguous such that there was no legal basis for a different outcome, and extrinsic intention evidence was not admissible.
There was no dispute that the mother generally intended to treat her children equally in the will. The real dispute was the mother’s intention when she subsequently created the trust.
Even though the trust agreement is not a will, the Court reasoned that the trust provisions in issue relate to the distribution of the trust assets upon death, such that those provisions have testamentary effect. In these circumstances, the Court was satisfied that the same rules of construction apply. Applying the principles set out in Robinson Estate in the context of the trust agreement, the Court found in favour of the daughter. In so doing, it considered the trust agreement itself and the surrounding circumstances, and found no ambiguity or indication that the mother had intended to replace the specific bequest in the will. It also took note that the will was never amended after the trust was settled. Further, the Court ignored extrinsic evidence of the mother’s intention that the son put forward, as there was no equivocation present in this case that would make such evidence admissible.
The less common arguments of ademption by advancement and presumption against double portions were also put forward unsuccessfully, but for the sake of space I refer you to the case itself for consideration of those arguments.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,