Tag: extrinsic evidence
I recently came across the decision in Campbell v Campbell, 2017 ONSC 2139. This is a recent decision with respect to two motions brought within an application for the interpretation of the last will and testament (the “Will”) of the late Howard Campbell (the “Deceased”). While the decision focuses on the various procedural matters at issue in the motions rather than the interpretation question at issue in the application, the decision also provides a brief summary of the facts which raised an interesting question for me regarding the admissibility of extrinsic evidence.
The interpretation concerns the Deceased’s Will, which contains three seemingly incompatible bequests, as follows:
- Paragraph 3(b) of the Will directs the estate trustee “to pay my debts, funeral and testamentary expenses, and to transfer the residue of my estate to my wife, if she survives me for a period of thirty days, for her own use absolutely”;
- Paragraph 3(c) of the Deceased’s Will directs the estate trustee “to deliver to my wife, for her use and enjoyment for life, all articles of personal domestic and household use or ornament belonging to me at the time of my death…and on her death, to divide all such articles among my children…”; and
- Paragraph 3(d) of the Will directs the estate trustee “to divide the residue of my estate equally between my wife (if she survives me for a period of thirty days) and my children, Kim, Howard, Rory, Cherie, Gina, Casey and Patrick, if then alive…”.
There appear to be four possible interpretations of the Deceased’s Will based on the above clauses:
- One hundred percent of the estate is left to the Deceased’s wife;
- The Deceased’s wife is given a life interest in personal property, which is later to be divided amongst the Deceased’s children;
- Fifty percent of the Deceased’s estate is to be left to his wife, and the other fifty percent is to be divided amongst the Deceased’s children; or
- The Deceased’s wife and the Deceased’s children are each to receive one-seventh of the estate.
In interpreting wills, Courts must first look to the language of the will to ascertain whether the testator’s intention can be discerned from the will itself. If the Court is unable to determine the testator’s intention from the will alone, it may then consider the surrounding circumstances known to the testator at the time that he or she made his or her will.
The surrounding circumstances that may be considered include only indirect extrinsic evidence, and not direct extrinsic evidence. Indirect extrinsic evidence consists of such circumstances as the character and occupation of the testator, the amount, extent and condition of his property, the number, identity, and general relationship to the testator of the immediate family and other relatives, the persons who comprised his circle of friends, and any other natural objects of his bounty. Direct extrinsic evidence would include, for example, instructions given by the testator to his solicitor in respect of the preparation of his will, or direct evidence from other third parties about the testator’s intentions.
As discussed in the decision of Rondel v Robinson Estate, 2011 ONCA 493, an exception to the general rule that direct extrinsic evidence is not admissible is in circumstances where there is an “equivocation” in the will, meaning that the words of the will in question apply equally well to two or more persons or things. Equivocation should not be equated with either ambiguity or mere difficulty of interpretation
One of our recent blog posts discusses a case where extrinsic evidence was not permissible. In that case, the court found that the language of the will in question was not equivocal, and accordingly, extrinsic evidence was not admitted. However, in the facts described above, it appears that the Deceased’s Will may provide an example of a situation where there is an equivocation, given that there seem to be four alternative interpretations.
As further discussed in the Rondel v Robinson decision, when direct extrinsic evidence, such as third party evidence of a testator’s intentions are admitted, this can give rise to reliability and credibility issues. Accordingly, it is important that the admissibility of direct extrinsic evidence be restricted, and permitted only when the rules of interpretation and construction are insufficient to interpret equivocal language.
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Other Blog posts that may be of interest:
In McCarthy Estate (Re), 2016 CanLII 87407 (NL SCTD) the executor of his mother’s estate was seeking directions on the meaning of a clause in the Will. Clause 5(a) of the Will gifts the residue of the estate as follows:
“to my children, namely … a building lot to be sized and located in accordance with the development regulations … and to be chosen in consultation with my Executor from my land at Paradise Road…”
The executor offered to convey a residential building lot of the minimum size permitted in the town’s regulations to each of his named siblings. Some of the siblings disagreed, asserting that “a building lot” should be given the widest and most liberal interpretation, and not interpreted as one of the minimum size permitted. Alternatively, they argued that their mother intended that each child should receive a parcel the same or similar in size to parcels conveyed to certain other children during their mother’s lifetime.
The executor argued that the Will is not ambiguous. Rather, it contains three directions, including that the executor is given the discretion to choose the size and location of each lot after consultation with the beneficiaries.
The Court reviewed the applicable legal principles, being that it must look to the language of the Will to ascertain whether the testator’s intention can be discerned from the natural and ordinary meaning of the words used. Only if this is not p
ossible may the court consider indirect extrinsic evidence of surrounding circumstances at the time of making the Will. Further, where an “equivocation” occurs (eg. where the words of a Will apply equally well to two or more persons or things), direct and indirect evidence of the testator’s actual intention may also be admitted.
The Court concluded that the language of the Will was not equivocal, such that direct extrinsic intention evidence was not permitted. In addition, it found that the intention was discernible from the language of the Will, such that it was not necessary for indirect extrinsic evidence of surrounding circumstances to be considered. However, as the parties had provided such evidence, the Court reviewed it and was satisfied that the interpretation of Clause 5(a) and the surrounding circumstances also lead to the conclusion that a conveyance as proposed by the executor was in conformity with the mother’s intentions.
Thanks for reading,
Natalia R. Angelini
You may also be interested in the following blog-posts:
In Royston (Trustees of) v Alkerton, 2016 ONSC 2986, the executors of the estate of Recia Royston (“Recia”) sought the opinion, advice or direction of the court regarding the interpretation of a residue clause in Recia’s Will. The clause in question read as follows:
My Trustees shall divide the residue of my estate equally among my children alive at my death; but if any child of mind dies before me, leaving issue alive at my death, my Trustees shall divide the part to which that deceased would have been entitled if alive on [sic] at my death among that child’s issue in equal shares per stirpes.
Recia had five children: Michael, Peter, Laura, Alan, and John. Both Alan and John predeceased Recia. Alan had two children, Jacob and Jennifer; John had no children.
The question for the court was whether Jacob and Jennifer were entitled to the share of Recia’s estate to which their father, Alan, would have been entitled if alive. Laura’s position was that Recia intended the clause to capture only those of her children alive at the time of the execution of the will on May 13, 2014 (the “2014 Will”), namely Laura, Michael, and Peter.
The court found that Recia intended the plain meaning of the term “my children” in the clause in question, which would accordingly include all of Recia’s children. Recia had chosen to restrict her residue clause in certain ways – for instance, by specifying that it should benefit her children alive at her death, and that the children of any predeceased children should take in equal shares per stirpes. However, although she could have, she did not exclude Alan’s children, nor was there any indication that she intended to treat her children then living, or their issue, differently from the issue of her then deceased child.
The court also considered a prior will made in 1993, which contained a clause with different wording than the residue clause in the 2014 Will, but that the court held expressed the same intent. As there was no suggestion that Jennifer and Jacob were not entitled to share under the 1993 Will, this evidence corroborated a finding that they should similarly benefit under the 2014 Will.
The court also looked to another clause in the 2014 Will, and found that it was consistent with an intention on Recia’s part to benefit all of her children alive at her death, or their issue. This other clause stated that if any beneficiary died before attaining the age of 21, without issue, their share should be divided amongst Recia’s issue in equal shares per stirpes – which would include Jacob and Jennifer – thereby supporting the finding that Recia intended Jacob and Jennifer to benefit from the share of the estate that would otherwise have gone to Alan.
The court also made some comments with respect to the admissibility of direct extrinsic evidence, and ultimately did not admit much of the evidence from Laura, Jacob, Jennifer, and Recia’s brother, Larry Cohen, who was one of the executors of her estate. Following the case law in Rondel v Robinson Estate, 2011 ONCA 493, Barlow v Parks Estate,  OJ No 266, and Re Burke, 1959,  OR 26, the court considered the circumstances surrounding the preparation and execution of Recia’s will in its interpretation of the clause in question.
Thanks for reading.
This week on Hull on Estates, Natalia Angelini and Umair Abdul Qadir discuss the Court of Appeal’s recent ruling in Spence v BMO Trust Company, 2016 ONCA 196 (http://bit.ly/1RJfrnR). The Court of Appeal overturned the controversial decision of the Superior Court of Justice, where the Court had set aside the deceased’s Will because it was contrary to public policy based on extrinsic evidence.
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