Today I wanted to discuss a basic, but important concept when it comes to Wills: revocation. There are a number of ways in which a Will can be revoked, and it is crucial that everyone with a Will, or who will make a Will in the future, understands what those methods are, and the requirements that must be met in order to successfully revoke a Will. An incomplete understanding of revocation can lead to unintended consequences if a testator mistakenly believes either that a prior Will has been revoked, or that a prior Will that he or she believed to have been revoked, remained valid and operative.
According to section 15 of the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26,
15 A will or part of a will is revoked only by,
(a) marriage, subject to section 16;
(b) another will made in accordance with the provisions of this Part;
(c) a writing,
(i) declaring an intention to revoke, and
(ii) made in accordance with the provisions of this Part governing making of a will; or
(d) burning, tearing or otherwise destroying it by the testator or by some person in his or her presence and by his or her direction with the intention of revoking it.
Ontario has a strict compliance regime, meaning that the statutory requirements for actions such as executing and revoking a Will must be followed carefully, and that the courts do not have the discretion to declare a document valid that does not do so. Accordingly, if an attempted revocation of a Will does not strictly comply with the statute, it may not be valid.
For instance, one method of revoking a Will is by a writing declaring an intention to revoke and made in accordance with the requirements of the making of a Will. This means that, even if the document revoking the prior Will is not itself a Will, it must nonetheless comply with those requirements, whether it be a formal Will witnessed by two people, or a holograph Will. A testator who does not seek legal advice on revoking his or her Will may mistakenly believe that, for example, a typewritten signed statement would validly revoke a Will, when, in fact, it would not.
Destroying a Will, another method of revocation, must also be done in a particular way to satisfy the requirements of the Succession Law Reform Act. As discussed in Probate Practice (5th ed.), the two elements of destruction and intention to revoke must both be present. The destruction itself must also be done either by the testator personally, or by someone else in the testator’s presence and by his or her direction. Therefore, even if the testator directs another person to destroy his or her Will, if the testator is not present at the time of such destruction, it will be insufficient to revoke the Will in question.
Additionally, the requisite capacity to revoke a Will is the same as that required to execute a Will in the first place.
While this blog only briefly touches upon a few specific issues that may arise in relation to revoking Wills, it is clear that without a proper understanding of how to validly revoke a Will, a testator can easily stray offside of the statute, resulting in a potentially invalid revocation. As with the execution of a Will, revocation can also have significant effects on a testator’s testamentary dispositions, and it is important to seek advice from a trusted legal professional prior to taking any steps that may lead to unintended, and unfortunate, consequences.
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I recently came across an article published in the Toronto Star with a headline sure to catch the attention of any estates lawyer: How Ontario disinherits children in second marriages.
In the article, the author details what they believe to be the lack of awareness that many people have regarding the legal effect that a second marriage may have upon their estate plan. In outlining such concerns, the author provides the following eye-catching statement:
“Here’s a little-known fact: A second marriage invalidates your will – automatically disinheriting your children”.
While the first part of this sentence is true (subject to certain exceptions, a Will is automatically revoked upon marriage by section 16 of the Succession Law Reform Act), the second part is not necessarily true, insofar as, just because a Will is revoked upon marriage, it does not necessarily follow that the Deceased’s children would be “disinherited” by such an action. It should also be noted that the automatic revocation of a Will upon marriage by section 16 of the Succession Law Reform Act does not only apply to second marriages, but any marriage which the testator may enter into after the Will was executed.
With respect to the statement that the second marriage has the effect of “disinheriting” your children, if the Deceased should not have executed a further Last Will and Testament following their marriage, they will have died intestate. In Ontario, intestate estates are governed by Part II of the Succession Law Reform Act, which provides that, should the Deceased have died leaving a surviving married spouse and children, the first $200,000.00 of their estate is to go to the surviving spouse as a “preferential share”, with whatever remains after the payment of the preferential share being distributed to the spouse and children in accordance with specified allotments. If the Deceased should only have had one child, whatever remains after the preferential share would be distributed 50% to the spouse and 50% to the child. If the Deceased should have had two or more children, 1/3 would be distributed to the surviving spouse, with the remaining 2/3 being equally distributed to the Deceased’s children. To this effect, so long as the Deceased’s estate is valued at greater than $200,000.00, the Deceased’s children would not be “disinherited” by the marriage per se, although they could of course have stood to inherit a greater amount had the Deceased executed a new Will.
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This week on Hull on Estates, Paul Trudelle and Holly LeValliant discuss beneficiary designations when a will is revoked. More specifically, they discuss a recent decision made by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice: Petch v. Kuivila, 2012 ONSC 6131 (CanLII).
Click here for more information on Holly LeValliant.
On Monday, I blogged on proving a lost or destroyed will in court: If an original will which was last traced into the possession of the testator cannot be located following the death of the testator, a rebuttable presumption arises that the testator destroyed the will with the intention of revoking it.
However, there is an additional or complicating factor worth considering. What happens when the testator regrettably looses his/her mental capacity to make, change, or revoke a will? In these circumstances, where a party alleges that the will was revoked by being destroyed by the testator when of sound mind, the burden of proof rests on the party alleging the revocation. The presumption of revocation does not apply. The party alleging revocation must satisfy the court that it is more probable than not that, while of sound mind, the testator revoked the will by destruction.
Rebutting the presumption of revocation or proving that the testator revoked his/her will by destruction where testamentary capacity is an issue can be difficult. It is obvious that proof of a lost or destroyed will is fact driven. No matter what position a party may advance in court, they will have to ensure that the proper evidentiary base is established to carry the day.
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