In a recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision, Holgate v Sheehan Estate, 2015 ONCA 717, the court was asked to consider an appeal from a motion for determination of an issue under Rule 21.01(1)(a) of the Rules of Civil Procedure. The Rule 21 motion arose in the context of a trial with respect to the interpretation of the will and codicil of John Holgate, and particularly the meaning of the word “use”. The appeal also dealt with the trial judge’s jurisdiction to hear the mid-trial Rule 21 motion, but this blog will deal with the former issue.

Mr. Holgate had passed away and was survived by two sons from his first marriage (the “sons”) and his second wife, (“Mrs. Holgate”). Mr. Holgate’s will and codicil provided for a life interest in two trusts to Mrs. Holgate. Following Mrs. Holgate’s death, Mr. Holgate’s children were entitled to the remainder of the two trusts. The wording of the two trusts provided that the trust assets were to be held for “the sole use and benefit of my wife MAY HOLGATE during her lifetime”.

The sons brought an action against their father’s estate, Mrs. Holgate’s estate and Mrs. Holgate’s daughter personally, claiming that Mrs. Holgate’s life interest allowed her to use the money but not save it. They alleged that Mrs. Holgate had not only used trust assets, but had also saved money, thereby depleting the capital of the estate to their detriment and contrary to their father’s intention.

Three days into the trial, the trial judge invited counsel to bring a mid-trial motion either for determination of an issue or for directions in order to determine this critical issue with respect to the interpretation of the will and codicil, namely the meaning of the term “use”. Counsel agreed to bring a Rule 21 motion and asked whether the wording of the will and codicil precluded Mrs. Holgate from accumulating wealth from the trusts in her own name.

The trial judge concluded that:

  • nothing in the will or codicil prevented Mrs. Holgate from saving and accumulating wealth;
  • the language of the will came as close as possible to conferring an absolute gift on Mrs. Holgate; and
  • neither of the trusts included any limitations on the use of the assets by Mrs. Holgate.

On appeal by the sons, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial judge’s interpretation, that the words and phrases used in the trusts indicate a clear intention on Mr. Holgate’s part to allow his wife unrestricted access to the funds. They also cited Dice v Dice Estate, 2012 ONCA 469, which held that “[t]he golden rule in interpreting wills is to give effect to the testator’s intention as ascertained from the language that was used”.

Thanks for reading.

Ian Hull