The Maxim “Falsa Demonstratio”

The phrase falsa demonstratio (non nocet cum de corpore constat), is a legal maxim that means a false description doesn’t void a document if the intent is clear.

It is sometimes used to correct an obvious mistake.

The maxim falsa demonstratio, defined in Black’s Law Dictionary, 8thed by Bryan Garner (St. Paul, MN: Thomson West: 2004) as follows:

A false designation; an erroneous description of a person or thing in a legal instrument. Generally, a simple error in description, grammar, or spelling will not void an instrument or even a single provision in it (such as a bequest by will).

 

The principle of falsa demonstratio non nocetmeans that if, on considering the language of a will with the aid of any admissible extrinsic evidence, the court comes to the conclusion that the testator intended to pass something and can determine what that something is, then the fact that the testator gave it a wrong description in his will does not prevent the will taking effect in regard to the subject matter intended by the testator. The principle may be applied in whatever part of the description the error occurred …

“Thus, if T makes a specific gift of certain stock, and T at the date of his will possessed no such stock but possessed other stock which the court decides was meant, the latter stock passes under the gift despite the false description.

 

“Generally, full effect will be given to all terms of a description, whether general or specific. In some cases, one of the terms used may describe the property with certainty, for example, the metes and bounds description, and the rest add a description which is not true, for example, a wrong lot number. In such a case, the untrue portion will be rejected. This is the maxim,falsa demonstratio non nocet.

“Therefore, where a description of lands included the qualifying words ‘known as the Cornish town reservation’ and they were inaccurate, they were rejected as a falsa demonstratio.

“In (a case known as) Pitman v Henley, the vendor agreed to sell a field. In the deed, the field was described as being 4.5 acres, when in fact it was nine acres. The vendor later claimed that only 4.5 acres were conveyed. In finding that the whole field had been conveyed, the Court stated that the metes and bounds description which was accurate, governed, and the stated number of acres was rejected as a falsa demonstratio….”

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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