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.

Stuart Clark