Yesterday I blogged about the general use and availability of “pour over clauses” and whether you can leave a bequest in a Will to an already existing inter vivos trust. Although the answer to that question is “it depends”, as cases such as Quinn Estate v. Rydland, 2019 BCCA 91, have shown the court is generally reluctant to uphold these kinds of bequests due to the potential of amendments being possible in a way that contradicts statutory requirements, such that any individual considering a potential bequest to an already existing trust should proceed with extreme caution.
In ultimately refusing to uphold the bequest to the inter vivos trust in Quinn Estate the court provides an excellent summary of the typical arguments that are used to try to uphold “pour over clauses”, and why, in their opinion, they should not be available to save the bequest. One of these potential arguments is the doctrine of “facts of independent significance”.
The doctrine of “facts of independent significance” in effect provides that subsequent and independent facts of “significance” can have an effect on the interpretation and/or administration of Wills notwithstanding that such subsequent facts may not otherwise meet the formal requirements to amend or alter a Will. Examples that are often cited to are clauses such as those that would provide that property is to be divided “amongst my partners who shall be in co-partnership with me at the time of my decease” or to the “servants in my employ at my death“. As both of these classes of individuals can change after the Will has been executed, such that the individuals who may ultimately receive the gifts may be different at the time of death versus when the Will was executed, this can be seen as a potential exception to the general rule that the Deceased’s intentions must be clear at the time the Will was executed and cannot be altered unless in compliance with the strict statutory requirements.
In the case of pour over clauses, the potential argument to utilize the doctrine of facts of independent significance would appear to be that as the court allows certain bequests to be upheld notwithstanding that the circumstances surrounding the bequest could change after the fact, the potential of an inter vivos trust being varied after the signing of the Will should not automatically void the bequest.
The court in Quinn Estate ultimately rejected the potential use of the doctrine of “facts of independent significance” to save pour over clauses. In coming to such a decision the Court of Appeal notes:
“Applying the doctrine to validate a pour-over clause would also differ in character to the existing applications recognized in the Anglo-Canadian jurisprudence. The traditional applications of the doctrine validate de facto amendments to the will only with regard to limited “facts”. The terms “partner” and “car” are inherently limited. A trust document recognizes no such limit. Extending the doctrine to pour-over clauses would grant testators unlimited power to amend the disposition of their estate without following the strictures of WESA. In my view, this is not an extension the common law should permit.” [emphasis added]
Although the Quinn Estate decision was a decision of the British Columbia Court of Appeal, as the Ontario statutory regime also does not appear to specifically contemplate the use and availability of “pour over clauses” it is likely that the same concerns referenced by the British Columbia Court of Appeal would be present in any attempt to uphold the use of pour over clauses under the doctrine of facts of independent significance in Ontario.
I will blog tomorrow about the concept of “incorporation by reference” as it relates to pour over clauses. Thank you for reading.
This week on Hull on Estates, Natalia Angelini and Lisa Haseley discuss drafting and litigating no-contest clauses in Wills.
Should you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on our blog.
Sometimes, timing is everything.
In Re Barbeau, the deceased died on September 17, 2011 at 5:40 am. He died leaving a Will that left the residue of his estate to his spouse if she survived him for a period of thirty days. If she did not survive him for thirty days, his estate would pass to one of his spouse’s daughters. Under the spouse’s Will, her estate passed to her five children.
As fate would have it, the deceased’s spouse died on October 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm.
The question the court had to grapple with was whether the deceased’s estate passed to his spouse, and therefore her five children under her Will, or to the one daugther, under his Will.
In the decision, the court set out the two possible interpretations: either the thirty days are calculated as thirty 24-hour periods commencing on September 17, 2011 at 5:40 am, or applying the analogy of the Rules of Civil Procedure, the thirty day period commenced on the day after the date of death. If the second interpretation prevailed, what was the effect of the spouse not being alive for the entire thirtieth day?
The court noted the purpose of such survivorship clauses: to prevent the application of s. 55 of the Succession Law Reform Act (survivorship), and to avoid the imposition of two sets of administration taxes and costs in the event that both spouses died at the same time or within a short period of one another.
The court also noted that the selection of a thirty day period was likely arbitrary. Further, the court noted that interpreting the Will, the court was to strive to determine the intention of the testator.
The court found that there was an inconsistency in the Will, in that it provided different outcomes if the first interpretation was applied. That is, the spouse would have survived for thirty days, but also have died within the thirtieth day. This, the court found, was not intended.
Thus, the court concluded that if the first day was excluded, applying the Rules of Civil Procedure, then the inconsistency was avoided. The spouse would have to survive for thiry full days: that is, survive until some time on the thirty-first day. As the spouse did not survive for thirty full days, and died within the thirty day period, the residue of the estate passed to the one daughter.
The formal requirements for execution of a will, or any testamentary instrument in Ontario, are governed by Part I of the Succession Law Reform Act ("SLRA"). The definition of "will" in s. 1 of the SLRA includes a testament, codicil, will, or other testamentary disposition. The most critical form requirements are that the will must be in writing, signed by the testator and two witnesses. Other requirements exist, of course.
Many jurisdictions contain dispensation clauses relaxing the formal compliance requirements, if the court is satisfied that a document or any writing on a document embodies the testamentary intentions of a deceased. For example, s. 23 of Manitoba’s Wills Act or California’s Probate Section 6110-6113. Not so with Ontario, except for holograph wills and for members of the Canadian Forces on active service. While there is wiggle room in terms of the interpretation of the execution requirements, for instance what constitutes "in writing" or "signed by the testator", if the formal requirements are not met and no specific exemption applies, there is no saving provision based on testator’s intention, and therefore no testamentary instrument.
This can have harsh consequences, by invalidating otherwise perfectly good wills on narrow technical grounds. On the other hand, the SLRA provides time-tested, black-letter legal clarity. Time tested, because the formal requirements descend from the Wills Act, 1837.
Have a great weekend,
Christopher M.B. Graham – Click here for more information on Chris Graham.