The Will that was Written on a McDonald’s Napkin
The University of Saskatchewan’s College of Law proudly displays the will that was etched onto the fender of a tractor by a dying farmer. That happened in 1948. Decades later, the Saskatchewan Queens Bench was similarly asked to determine whether a note handwritten on a McDonald’s napkin is a valid will.
Philip Langan died in 2015. He was a widower with eight children (Earl was predeceased and Landry died after the napkin was written but before Langan’s death). Shortly after Langan’s death, two of his children came forward with a McDonald’s napkin that they claim to be their father’s last will and testament. Ronald and Sharon explained that the napkin was made when their father thought he was having a heart attack at McDonald’s. Sharon said that she was not there when her father started to write on the napkin but she was there to see him sign his name. She said he gave the napkin to her and said “This is my will. I want you to keep this in case something happens”. A third child, Philip, supported the validity of the will because he was also at the McDonald’s that day. Like Sharon, Philip did not see his father write on the napkin but he was there when the napkin was given to Sharon and he heard what his father said to Sharon.
Maryann challenged the validity of the napkin because she was skeptical of whether it was in her father’s handwriting. She also stated that Langan told her that he would not leave a will because “he wanted us to fight like he had to”. Yet, interestingly enough, an intestacy would still give rise to the same result as the napkin on the consent of the siblings.
The napkin itself was described as follows in Gust v. Langan, 2020 SKQB 42 (CanLII):
“written in pen on a very thin, brown-coloured, paper restaurant napkin reads as follows:
Philip W. Langan
Marann Langan (Gust)
Split my property evenly,
“Dad Philip Langan”
The court found that the napkin was a valid holograph will. Justice Layh was persuaded by the propounders’ explanation that the napkin was made at a time when Langan thought he was having a heart attack “a time when one’s mind would reasonably turn to the question of estate planning, especially in the absence of an existing will. Mr. Langan’s immediate delivery of the will to his daughter, Sharon, and the comment he made to her – as evidenced by both Sharon and Philip’s statements – that she keep the document in case something happened to him, shows a clear testamentary intention.” (para. 22).
While the legal analysis in this case is based on the law in Saskatchewan (unlike Ontario, Saskatchewan has curative legislation that permits substantial compliance), Gust v. Langan is a timely reminder that, in addition to the formal requirements of a holograph will, testamentary intent is crucial in determining whether a document can be given effect as a will. On the face of the napkin, there was nothing to indicate when Langan intended to divide his property. The essential characteristic of a will is the intention to dispose of property after one’s death. Here, the court had to rely on the extrinsic of evidence from Langan’s state of mind and what he said to Sharon.
Should you find yourself in a situation where an emergency holograph will is needed, you may want to refer to Ian Hull and Jordan Atin’s blog on the subject:
I would also suggest that regular paper be used, if you have some, for practical reasons or to simply avoid media coverage since this particular McDonald’s napkin has made the news in New York and Australia.
Thanks for reading.