New Brunswick Court Admits Unsigned Will to Probate

July 26, 2019 Hull & Hull LLP Beneficiary Designations, Estate & Trust, Estate Litigation, Estate Planning, Trustees, Uncategorized, Wills Tags: , 0 Comments

The New Brunswick Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court decision that allowed an unsigned will to be admitted to probate.

In Marsden Estate (Re), [2017] N.B.J. No. 295, upheld on appeal at [2018] N.B.J. No. 304, the deceased was seen by a solicitor and gave instructions for the preparation of a will on September 19, 2016. She died the next day, before the will could be signed.

The estate trustee under the impugned will brought an application to prove the will. She relied on s. 35.1 of New Brunswick’s Wills Act. This section provides:

35.1 Where a court of competent jurisdiction is satisfied that a document or any writing on a document embodies

(a) the testamentary intentions of the deceased, or

(b) the intention of the deceased to revoke, alter or revive a will of the deceased or the testamentary intentions of the deceased embodied in a document other than a will,

the court may, notwithstanding that the document or writing was not executed in compliance with the formal requirements imposed by this Act, order that the document or writing is valid and fully effective as if it had been executed in compliance with the formal requirements imposed by this Act.

The matter was contentious, as two of the testator’s children were essentially excluded from the will. The testator told the solicitor that she had been estranged from them for some time.

The court relied on affidavit evidence, including the affidavit of the drafting solicitor. The court concluded that the unsigned will reflected the testator’s “deliberate, fixed and final expression as to the disposal of her property upon her death”. Further, the court was satisfied that the testator had testamentary capacity, and was not being unduly influenced.

In earlier blogs, we reported on similar applications under similar “substantial compliance” legislation. An Alberta court considered the legislation but declined to apply it where there was an absence of clear and convincing evidence that the deceased failed to execute the will by inadvertence or mistake. An Australian court went as far as admitting an unsent text message to probate.

In Ontario, the doctrine of strict compliance continues to apply. As stated by Nick Esterbauer in his blog of December 11, 2017, it will be interesting to see if Ontario legislation opens the door to substantial compliance in the future. To date, it has not.

 

Thanks for reading.

Paul Trudelle

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