Gifts and the Importance of Timing
In order for a gift to be valid, there must be delivery. The issue of the timing of the delivery of a gift was explored in the recent Quebec decision of Estate of Tilden, 2018 QCCS 2971 (CanLII).
There, the Liquidator (a role similar to that of an estate trustee) of the Estate of Robert Tilden claimed that a gift made by the deceased was not perfected by delivery prior to the death of the deceased, and therefore lapsed, and must be returned to the estate.
The facts of the case are quite bizarre. The deceased was involved in a family law proceeding. He did not attend at a family law mediation. A legal assistant called the respondent, the deceased’s cousin and best friend, to ask about the deceased’s whereabouts. Late on September 17, 2015, the respondent drove to the deceased’s cottage to look for him. The deceased was not there. The cottage was clean and nothing appeared out of the ordinary. The respondent returned home, stopping to pick up his mail on the way. In his mail, he found a letter from the deceased. The letter indicated that the deceased had left two boxes for the respondent in the basement of the deceased’s cottage. The respondent returned to the cottage, and in the boxes he found hashish and over $600,000 in cash.
While the respondent was at the cottage, a neighbour arrived, also looking for the deceased. The respondent said that the deceased was not there, and the neighbour left. The respondent then put the cash in his car and left.
The next day, the respondent found a letter with the cash. In the letter, the deceased said that some of the cash was to be delivered to another friend, and that the rest was for the respondent.
That same day, another relative received a letter containing a cheque in the amount of approximately $230,000. The relative was concerned about the deceased, and phoned the police. The police attended at the cottage and found the deceased dead in a sleeping area above the garage. They also found letters in the kitchen setting out how the deceased wanted his estate divided. The respondent gave evidence that he did not notice these letters on both occasions when he was at the cottage.
The cause of death was determined to be suicide, and the date of death was determined to be September 17, 2015: the same day that the respondent picked up the cash.
The respondent asked the court to conclude that the deceased died AFTER the cash was picked up, and therefore there was a valid gift of the cash. He argued that the court should presume that the deceased waited until the respondent left the cottage with the box of money before taking his life.
The court refused to make such a finding. The court held that such a presumption was too much of a stretch, based on the facts as known. The court’s reasoning included consideration of the following:
- It is not “clear and obvious” that the deceased planned to wait for the respondent to take the box of money before committing suicide;
- The deceased would have had no way of knowing that the respondent would go to his cottage immediately upon receiving the letter, to pick up the gift;
- In the deceased’s “letter of wishes” left the cottage to the respondent. Therefore, the deceased could have expected the respondent to search the cottage after he had died;
- A presumption that the deceased waited for the respondent to pick up the gift before he committed suicide presumed that the deceased knew that the gift had to be completed between two living persons. If the deceased knew this, he wouldn’t have hid from the respondent, but would have given him the cash;
- If the deceased was hiding from the respondent when he first attended at the cottage, he wouldn’t have seen that the respondent left without the box of money, and wouldn’t have known that the respondent would return shortly thereafter;
- It did not make sense that the deceased waited for “delivery” of the gift to the respondent, but not to the other friend who was to receive part of the cash;
- The deceased left other property to the respondent in his valid will. The court queried why the deceased would do this with other property, but not with the cash.
The court concluded that the gift of the money was likely meant to be found after the deceased died, but was to be treated as a “secret”. However, in the circumstances, the gift failed. The respondent was ordered to repay the gift of cash made to him. However, as some consolation, no costs were awarded against the respondent.
For another discussion of a case involving an incomplete gift, see our blog, here.
Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.