The common law in Ontario now appears to clearly provide for claims by “disappointed beneficiaries” against drafting solicitors where a bequest to a beneficiary fails as a result of the negligence of the solicitor. (See Harrison v. Fallis, 2006 CanLII 19457 (ON S.C.))

A decision out of the Saskatchewan Court of Queens Bench appears to open the window to this type of claim even wider. Disappointed beneficiaries may also have a cause of action as against financial institutions and others that provide estate planning advice.

In Mayer v. Nordstrom, 2003 SKQB 397 (CanLII), the deceased consulted with a financial adviser with respect to his estate plan. The deceased owned a mutual fund plan, and designated his son as the beneficiary. However, the plan was not registered, and the designation was therefore void.  The fund fell into the deceased’s estate, and the son received only half of the value of the fund as a beneficiary of the estate. The disappointed son sued the financial planner for negligence. 

The financial planner resisted the claim, taking the position that he did not owe a duty of care to the son.

The Court disagreed. The Court held that the “disappointed beneficiary” principles articulated in solicitors’ negligence cases such as Earl v. Wilhelm (2000), 183 D.L.R. (4th) 45 (Sask. C.A.) and White v. Jones, [1995] 1 All E.R. 691 (H.L.) applied equally to other professions. The “disappointed beneficiary” principle “is not a function merely of the defendant’s occupation”. The planner was a professional who held himself out as possessing special skill, judgment and knowledge in financial planning, which included estate planning tools. The planner ought to have known that carelessness on his part would cause harm to a third party.

The duty of care to potential beneficiaries, opened in the White v. Jones decision, continues to expand.

Thank you for reading.

Paul Trudelle