What Evidence Courts Examine to Determine if a “Free Transfer” Is a Gift or Not

Evidence

Schouten Estate v Swagerman-Schouten 2014 BCSC 2320 examines the range of evidence and its significance when attempting to determine the intention of the donor when he transferred title to his farm to himself and one of his 6 children as joint tenants in 1995.

In the will of the deceased 14 years later, he showed an intention to gift the same property to the same child.

 

The Court reviewed the type of evidence it will consider when determining whether the defendant has rebutted the presumption that he held the property as a resulting trustee for the estate:

 

5. “What type of evidence may be considered to determine the transferor’s intention? Once the court has determined the proper presumption to apply, all of the relevant evidence should be weighed, depending on the facts of the case (Pecore at para. 55). The type of evidence that may be considered was discussed in Pecore at paras. 56-70. The Supreme Court of Canada at para. 59 expanded the traditional rule that evidence of intention ought to be contemporaneous with the transaction and said that evidence of intention subsequent to a transfer that is relevant to intention at the time of transfer should be assessed for reliability and weighed. Generally, the types of evidence germane to ascertaining intention include declarations and conduct contemporaneous with the transfer, evidence subsequent to the transfer, the documentary record as it relates to the asset, subsequent control and use of the property, other legal instruments, and tax treatment (Pecore at paras. 56-70; Doucette v. Doucette Estate, 2009 BCCA 393 (B.C. C.A.) at paras. 56-64; Fuller at paras. 48-50, 66-67; Chung at para. 49; Anderson v. Anderson, 2010 BCSC 911 (B.C. S.C.) at para. 161 [Anderson]). The grant of a power of attorney at the same time as a grant of joint ownership may indicate that the transferor intended to give more than management control of property (Pecore at para. 67). A Property Transfer Tax Return filed in relation to a transfer is a factor to consider in relation to intention and may suggest the intention of gift if the presumption of advancement was the applicable presumption at the time of transfer (Chung at paras. 52-54). Evidence of intention that arises subsequent to a transfer must be relevant to the intention of the transferor at the time of transfer (Pecore at para. 59; Turner v. Turner, 2010 BCSC 49 (B.C. S.C.) at para. 57). Continuing control and use of property after the transfer by the transferor may not be conclusive because it may not be inconsistent with a gift (Pecore at paras. 62-66; Fuller at paras. 66-67; Zukanovic v. Malkoc Estate, 2011 BCSC 625 (B.C. S.C.) at paras. 134-135).

6      Care must be taken to guard against after the fact evidence that may be self-serving (Pecore at para. 59; Fuller at para. 49; Chung at para. 51; Anderson at para. 164). The credibility of a witness should be gauged by its harmony with the preponderance of probabilities which a practical and informed person would readily recognize as reasonable in that place and in those conditions (Faryna v. Chorny (1951), [1952] 2 D.L.R. 354 (B.C. C.A.), at 357, Aujla at para. 36). Care must also be taken not to treat any single type of evidence as determinative but to weigh all of the evidence (Pecore at paras. 55, 68-69). D. Smith J.A. for the court in Fuller at para. 49 put it in a nutshell: “In short, the court must consider if the transferor had any rational purpose for the transfer other than a gift”.

Trevor Todd

Trevor Todd is one of the province’s most esteemed estate litigation lawyers. He has spent more than 40 years helping the disinherited contest wills and transfers – and win. From his Kerrisdale office, which looks more like an eclectic art gallery than a lawyer’s office, Trevor empowers claimants and restores dignity to families across BC. He is a mentor to young entrepreneurs and an art buff who supports starving artists the world over. He has an eye for talent and a heart for giving back.

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