Executor Ordered to Repay Monies Back to Estate Paid Out Before Expiration of 6 Month Limitation

 

executor repayExecutor Ordered to Repay Monies Back to Estate Paid Out Before Expiration of 6 Month Limitation

Stevens v. Wood Estate (Re), 2013 BCSC 2380

Until six months have passed from the issuance of probate of a will, s. 12 of the Wills Variation Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 490 (the “WVA”) prohibits, absent consent or court order, the distribution of any portion of an estate to its beneficiaries.

The question for determination on this application is the appropriate remedy when such a distribution has been made.

However, the case of Etches v. Stephens (1994), 99 B.C.L.R. (2d) 171 (S.C.) [Etches] assists with determining the purpose of s. 12(1) of the WVA.  Etches deals with the precursor to what is now s. 3(1) of the WVA which requires that an action under this Act must be brought within six months from the date of the issue or resealing of probate.  The court stated that this provision must be read alongside the precursor to what is now s. 12(1) which has the same time-limited language.  When the two sections are read together, the reason for the limits become clear (see paras. 9-12, and 15):

 

1.               The “main aim” of the WVA is “adequate, just and equitable provision for the spouses and children of testators” when a will does not provide for this: see Tataryn v. Tataryn Estate, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 807 at 815.  As such, it must allow those falling within these groups to apply to the court to have the will varied.

2.               If those affected were allowed to apply to court for a variation without any time limit on the action, then there would be the danger that the distribution of the assets would remain uncertain for a prolonged period of time.  Thus there is a limitation period of six months on the action.

3.               On the other hand, if there was not a rule against distributing the assets before the limitation period to challenge the will was expired, then there would be the danger that a legitimate action could be started but the assets would already have been distributed.  This would deprive those affected of an effective remedy and potentially result in an injustice.

 

4.               Furthermore, without the restriction placed on the administrator of the estate by s. 12(1), it would be possible for that administrator to attempt to thwart a legitimate claim by the dependents under s. 2 of the Act by distributing the assets before an action is brought.

 

[29]         The purpose of s. 12(1) is to keep the estate intact to ensure that a successful plaintiff is able to recover that to which they may become entitled. A breach of this statutory provision is a serious matter.  It goes to the heart of the legislative scheme.

 

[30]         Until the six-month limitation period has passed, a beneficiary’s entitlement to a share in the estate is not absolute. It is subject to variation if a successful action is brought under the WVA. Unless consents are obtained, the beneficiaries are not entitled to receive and benefit from their share of the estate until the WVA claims have been resolved or a court order has been obtained.

 

[31]         Similarly the plaintiff in a WVA action is entitled to have the assets in the estate preserved pending the outcome of their claim. They should not be put in the position of having to pursue after the executor or other beneficiaries to reap the benefits of a successful action.

 

[32]         Where there is a breach of the statutory provision and funds are distributed contrary to the legislation, the remedy of a claim against the executor or other beneficiaries, after the completion of the WVA action, does not sufficiently protect the successful WVA claimant. Those parties may, by then, be without assets or have taken steps that make it difficult to locate their assets.

 

[33]         It is the party who has breached the provisions of the statue who must make matters right. This application is not the forum to determine the strength or otherwise of a WVA claim. The WVA claimant is entitled to have the estate reconstituted to its state prior to the wrongful distribution.

 

[34]         I find that the appropriate remedy for a breach of s. 12 of the WVA is for the party who has breached the provisions to either repay the estate or to post security in the entire amount which has been wrongfully disbursed.

 

[35]         The Executrix in this matter must make matters right. She must, within 30 days of the date of these reasons, repay the estate or post security in the amount of $202,000, being the amount which she has improperly advanced to the beneficiaries. If the security is not posted within 30 days the plaintiff will be at liberty to seek further relief.

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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