Tag: validity of will
In the recent decision of Bishop Estate v. Sheardown, 2021 BCSC 1571, pursuant to the court’s curative powers under section 58 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, SBC 2009, c 13, (the “WESA”) the court found an unexecuted Will to be fully effective.
In this case, Marilyn Bishop (the “Deceased” or “Ms. Bishop“) had given instructions, reviewed the draft and made a few minor clarifications in respect of her new will (the “2020 Will”). The Deceased had scheduled an appointment with her lawyer to sign the Will in March 2020 but subsequently cancelled the appointment. The Deceased died four months later, at the age of 76.
James Thrower was the executor of the Deceased’s previous will (the “2014 Will”), which named her husband (now deceased) as the sole beneficiary and the respondent Kelowna General Hospital Foundation (the “Foundation”) as the beneficiary in the event that her husband predeceased her. The respondents Robert Sheardown and Deborah Sheardown (the “Sheardowns”) are Ms. Bishop’s nephew and niece-in-law, who she named as executors and beneficiaries of her unexecuted 2020 Will. It should be noted that the Deceased and her husband had prepared mirror wills in 2014.
Mr. Thrower was seeking clarification from the court as to “whether Ms. Bishop’s unexecuted 2020 Will represents her testamentary intention and should be ordered to be effective under s. 58 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act.”
The Foundation submitted that section 58 of the WESA ““cannot be used to validate a will that is substantially invalid” [emphasis added], citing Hadley Estate(Re), 2017 BCCA 311”. The court noted that in fact, Hadley Estate states that “[a]lthough s. 58 cannot be used to uphold a will that is substantively invalid, it permits the court to cure issues of formal invalidity…” [emphasis added].” Moreover, the court clarified that section 58 of the WESA “does not specify a minimal level of execution or other formal requirement for a testamentary document to be found fully effective” and therefore, ““substantial invalidity” is not a bar to an order under s. 58.”
In order to determine if the unexecuted 2020 Will is valid, the court considered whether (i) the 2020 Will was authentic, and (ii) it represented the Deceased’s fixed and final intentions testamentary intentions.
The authenticity of the 2020 Will was not in question. The Deceased made an appointment with her lawyer (“Mr. Livingston“) and specifically instructed him to prepare a new will naming the new executor and alternate executor, removing the gift to the Foundation, including a possibility of a gift to local charities and to the Sheardowns’ daughter, and giving the remainder of the residue of her estate to the Sheardowns equally with a gift over to their children.
Mr. Livingston prepared a draft pursuant to these instructions. The draft was reviewed by Ms. Bishop and she provided clarifications via a note. Mr. Livingston prepared the final draft on the basis of these instructions and the appointment to sign the 2020 Will was scheduled for March 20, 2020.
Fixed and Final Testamentary Intention
The court inferred “that Ms. Bishop could not attend the appointment because she was not able to leave the care home” as there was evidence to prove that at that time in March 2020 (during the COVID-19 pandemic), “Ms. Bishop’s care home prohibited residents to leave other than for medical appointments”.
In order to determine whether the unexecuted 2020 Will represents the Deceased’s “fixed and final intention”, the court analyzed “whether its departure from the formal testamentary requirements considering the context and contents of the alleged substantial invalidity make it impossible to establish testamentary intention” and also “whether the failure to execute the unexecuted 2020 will from when it was ready for execution until Ms. Bishop’s death nullifies any intention Ms. Bishop may have had when she made her appointment to execute it in March 2020.”
Among other things, the court considered the following:
- The 2020 Will departs from testamentary requirements in that it is not signed by the will-maker and that the will-maker’s signature was not witnessed.
- After the death of the Deceased’s husband, the Sheardowns moved to Kamloops, BC and became a regular part of her life.
- The Deceased’s health had declined and so she had sold her home and mobile home and recently moved into a care home.
- The Deceased went to the same law firm that prepared her 2014 Will and met with Mr. Livingston to specifically discuss her plans for her estate.
- Mr. Livingston’s evidence was that the Deceased gave him specific instructions regarding the 2020 Will, including the fact that she did not want to include the Foundation as a beneficiary because she did not have a connection to the Foundation and that it was her husband’s idea to include them in their previous wills because he was either from Kelowna or spent a considerable amount of time there.
- Mr. Livingston was satisfied that the Deceased had the capacity to make a new will and was not under any undue influence.
- After reviewing the draft, the Deceased did not suggest any new changes but rather answered the questions of Mr. Livingston in her note to him.
- Although the Foundation argued the Deceased’s note to Mr. Livingston which stated “No charities at this time” [emphasis added] indicated that the Deceased’s “intentions lacked finality”, the court referenced Estate of Young, 2015 BCSC 182 noting that “a fixed and final intention cannot mean that the intention is irrevocable, since wills are, by their nature, revocable until the testator’s death” and “the intention need only “be fixed and final at the material time”.”
The court concluded that the Deceased’s fixed and final intention as of March 17, 2020 was to execute the 2020 Will. The court then considered “whether the failure to execute the unexecuted 2020 will over the following four months indicates a change in Ms. Bishop’s intentions.”
The Foundation noted that the Deceased did not execute the 2020 Will despite the remote execution procedures coming into effect on May 19, 2020. However, the court found that there was no evidence that the Deceased was aware of this option and as a result, “her failure to execute the will either remotely pursuant to the May 19, 2020 order or on her own [did] not undermine her testamentary intentions.”
The Foundation further noted that the Deceased did not order the destruction of her 2014 Will. The court was not persuaded that the Deceased’s lack of instruction to destroy her 2014 Will was evidence that she intended for it to be valid “in the absence of any evidence that she was advised to destroy her 2014 will and informed of the consequences of not doing so”.
The court was “satisfied that the unexecuted 2020 will represents Ms. Bishop’s fixed and final intentions for the disposal of her assets” and concluded as follows:
“Ms. Bishop provided simple, clear instructions as to what she wanted in her will and then responded with minor clarifications after reviewing the draft. It was clear that Ms. Bishop wanted to remove Kelowna General Hospital Foundation as a beneficiary of her will. The four-month period between her appointment to execute the unexecuted 2020 will and her death does not undermine her fixed and final intention to distribute her assets according to the unexecuted 2020 will.”
Accordingly, the court ordered the unexecuted 2020 Will to be fully effective, pursuant to the court’s curative power under s 58 of the WESA.
Thank you for reading.
The mysterious death of Jeffrey Epstein is generating a hubbub across the world. It reads like the beginning of an Agatha Christie detective novel and has a central figure who is reminiscent of a James Bond villain: a wealthy financier who is accused of operating a pedophilic sex trafficking ring. He has connections with scores of famous people: politicians, celebrities, royalty … In the early stages of his prosecution, he attempts to commit suicide; then, shortly afterwards, he is taken off suicide watch, the guards purportedly sleep through their checkups on him, and he is found dead.
In the aftermath, there have been conspiracy theories and much controversy, including an FBI investigation. The case has also prompted some questions regarding succession law, for it has just been reported that Epstein signed a new Will two days prior to his death. For the purposes of this post, we shall posit what would happen to the Will and the estate if this had all occurred in Ontario.
Validity of the Will
If Epstein indeed committed suicide, his suicidal mind would be considered in determining whether he had testamentary capacity, but it would not be conclusive (Topp Estate, 1983 CanLII 2329 (SKSU)). The applicable test is still the contextual factors set out in Banks v. Goodfellow.
If it comes to light that Epstein was murdered, then the Will could be attacked on the basis of undue influence. To achieve this, the objector would have to meet a fairly high evidentiary threshold, establishing “that what appears to be the testator’s will is not his or her will” (Kozak Estate (Re), 2018 ABQB 185).
As Epstein’s brother is named the sole beneficiary of the estate, if he is found to have murdered his brother, then public policy would likely bar him from benefiting from the estate (Papasotiriou, 2012 ONSC 6473).
It has been reported that the alleged victims’ lawyers are seeking to continue their action against the Epstein estate. One of these lawyers, Lisa Bloom, is demanding a freeze of the assets in the meantime. In Ontario, if the deceased dies during the time in which he or she is a defendant in litigation, Rule 11.02 of the Rules of Civil Procedure may allow for an action to be continued against the deceased’s estate.
If the alleged victims win their lawsuit against the Epstein estate, it is uncertain whether they will obtain their damages awards, for Epstein likely sheltered many of his assets. In Ontario, the claimants could launch claims of unjust enrichment and constructive trust in order to gain access to funds which have been sheltered amongst Epstein’s friends, family, and offshore accounts. Sadly for the accusers, the same dark cunning which enabled Epstein to evade justice was likely employed in securing his assets in inaccessible vaults. Just a little something to think about.
Thank you for reading … Have a great day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry