Tag: Knowledge and Approval
A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice considered an interesting question of fact and law. Will challenges in Ontario are ordinarily grounded on the basis that a testator lacked testamentary capacity, did not know and approve of the contents, or that the Will was procured by undue influence. In Cavanagh et al v Sutherland et al, however, the applicant sought to challenge the validity of her mother’s will on novel grounds; namely, that it was procured as a result of a mistake of fact.
The testator died in July 2016, leaving a Will benefiting 5 of her 6 daughters. The Will expressly excluded her sixth daughter, Carolynn, from sharing in the Estate. Carolynn objected to the issuance of a certificate of appointment on the basis that her mother lacked capacity or that the Will was procured by undue influence.
The estate trustees brought a motion for summary judgment seeking an order dismissing Carolynn’s objection and a declaration that the Will was their mother’s valid Last Will and Testament. At the hearing of the motion, Carolynn changed her position and chose instead to focus primarily on her belief that her mother had been operating on a set of mistaken facts.
Carolynn referred to a payment of $65,000 made to her by her parents in or about 2011, prior to the execution of an earlier will that also excluded Carolynn. She took the position that this payment was made in satisfaction of a loan to her father years earlier that her mother knew nothing about. Carolynn argued that her mother likely believed this payment was a gift to Carolynn in lieu of her inheritance and, accordingly, left her no benefit under the Will.
The court found that the evidence held otherwise. Notably, the evidence showed that the payment was not made in satisfaction of a loan, but rather as a result of a demand by Carolynn. In 1996, her parents had agreed to place her on title to a property to assist them in obtaining a mortgage. The mortgage was subsequently paid off in 2011, at which point Carolynn’s parents asked that she transfer her interest in the property back to them.
The evidence showed that Carolynn refused, instead asserting that there was always an intention that she remain on title to the property as legal owner. Carolynn’s parents ultimately offered to buy out her interest in the property in exchange for a payment of $65,000. Her mother later advised the lawyer who prepared the Will that this was to constitute Carolynn’s inheritance. It was clear to the court that the testator had considered this payment when the Will was drafted.
In the end, the evidence was such the court did not have to consider the effect of a true mistake of fact on the validity of a Will. However, the question of a mistake of fact would ordinarily tie into knowledge and approval and, specifically, whether the mistake was sufficient to negate the validity of the Will. In this case, it was apparent that the testator had turned her mind to the payment to Carolynn, and there was no question of a lack of knowledge and approval.
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A couple of weeks ago, Jonathon Kappy and I podcasted on a recent decision of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench, which raises the issues of knowledge and approval and suspicious circumstances, and which provides an effective overview of the shifting evidentiary burdens within the context of a will challenge.
As many of our readers may already be aware, if a last will and testament or other testamentary document is executed in compliance with the formal requirements (that is, it is executed by the testator, duly witnessed, and testamentary in nature), it is presumed to be valid. However, if a party challenges the validity of a will and is able to establish that its execution was surrounded by suspicious circumstances, the presumption that the will is valid not longer applies, and the burden of proving the will shifts to the person asserting the validity of the document (its propounder). Even if suspicious circumstances cannot be established, the challenger may seek to have a will proved in solemn form by the propounder. In order to prove a will in solemn form, the propounder need only provide basic evidence in support of the due execution of the will and the testamentary capacity of the testator. If the Court accepts that suspicious circumstances existed at the time of the execution of the will, the evidentiary burden on the propounder can become relatively onerous.
In the recent Manitoba case of Garwood v. Garwood Estate, 2016 MBQB 113, 2016 CarswellMan 198, after the will had been proved in solemn form, Justice Bond reviewed the circumstances at hand in determining that they were suspicious and that the will, accordingly, needed to be proved by the propounder to be valid on a balance of probabilities. However, the Court considered the suspiciousness of the circumstances in determining the strength of the evidence in support of the validity of the will that would be required. Justice Bond found that, although the test for suspicious circumstances had been met (the drafting solicitor’s notes were sparse and his testimony was not found to be credible, the testator had been legally blind and incapable of reading the will herself, suggesting that she may not have had knowledge of and approved of the contents of the will, etc.), the circumstances were not so suspicious as to require the propounder to provide compelling evidence in support of the validity of the will. The Court was satisfied that the will was valid simply on the basis of the fact that the will had been prepared by a lawyer in accordance with the testator’s instructions, none of the major beneficiaries were involved in the testator’s estate planning, and the lack of evidence supporting the allegations that the will was procured by undue influence and/or that the testator was mentally incapable at the relevant time.
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An interesting decision was recently released from the Brampton Superior Court of Justice which considered whether the Court’s rectification of a will in a prior proceeding precludes the Court from requiring that same will to be proven in solemn form on a subsequent motion.
The details of the initial rectification proceeding in McLaughlin v. McLaughlin, 2014 ONSC 3161, have been extensively covered by our blog here and here (bonus points to our dedicated readership if you recall the comments of our very own Jonathon Kappy in the Law Times on this subject). Ultimately, Justice Lemon rectified the secondary will of Elizabeth Anne McLaughlin such that the revocation clause therein would not have the effect of nullifying the validity of the primary will that was executed on the same day, in addition to rectifying various other drafting errors. A finding was made after a full hearing that neither the testatrix, nor the drafting solicitor, could have failed to detect the patent errors in the secondary will if they read the will.
Despite the Applicant’s success in the rectification proceeding, the issue of his sibling’s Notice of Objection to the probate of the primary will remained before Justice Price in McLaughlin v. McLaughlin, 2015 ONSC 4230, and he was left to consider the preliminary issue of whether Justice Lemon’s prior ruling precluded the Court from requiring both wills to be proven in solemn form. Given that there were no issues with the testatrix’ testamentary capacity, the issue before Justice Price in respect of the validity of the secondary will was whether the testatrix understood and approved of its contents in light of the prior finding that she could not have read the secondary will on a balance of probabilities.
After a review of the jurisprudence on the doctrine of rectification in Robinson Estate v. Rondel, Justice Price concluded as follows,
“Rectification is concerned with correcting the drafting errors of the will, whereas the proving of a will in solemn form concerns the validity of the will. These issues are substantively different, and I am therefore satisfied that I would not, in effect, be reversing Lemon J.’s decision as to rectification of the secondary will should I find that will to be invalid.”
While Justice Price found that the Court was not precluded from considering the validity of the secondary will subsequent to its rectification, Justice Price ultimately found that the secondary will was invalid on the basis of Justice Lemon’s finding that the testatrix did not read the will nor did she have knowledge and approval of its contents.
READ THE TRANSCRIBED PODCAST HERE
During this podcast, Ian finished speaking about knowledge and approval, and talked about mistakes in that context as well as reviewing the concept of undue influence.
READ THE TRANSCRIBED PODCAST HERE
During this podcast on knowledge and approval and mistake, we discussed the following:
(i) the general concept of "knowledge and approval" and what amounts to such;
(ii) the case of Hastilow v. Stobie;
(iii) how to ordinarily establish "knowledge and approval", and what might be needed in special circumstances;
(iv) the cases of Crerar v. Crerar, Re Phelan and Fulton v. Andrew; and
(v) words appearing in a will by inadvertance. ——–