Use of Multiple Wills Approved

Use of Multiple Wills Approved

In re: Berkner Estate 2017 BCSC 619 the Court approved the use  of Multiple Wills in estate planning. 

The applicant submits that a person is entitled to have more than one valid will. As an example, multiple wills may be used when a will maker has assets in multiple jurisdictions. Rather than preparing a single will and then seeking a resealing in all other jurisdictions where the deceased holds property, multiple wills may be utilized. The Canadian Estate Planning Guide (Toronto: Wolters Kluwer, 1995) (loose-leaf revision 233), ch. 10, at p. 216 states:

In a world in which individuals frequently maintain assets in different jurisdictions, the convenience of using multiple wills has long been recognized. The testator simply prepares an original will for each jurisdiction in which he or she has assets. The principal advantage is that each will can be submitted to the proper court or put into effect without any dependence on the other will(s). Where there are assets in several jurisdictions, there is no need to limit oneself to two wills. But in each case, care should be taken to ensure that the will satisfies the formalities of execution of the relevant jurisdiction. Likewise, it is necessary to ensure that one will does not accidentally deal with assets that are also dealt with under another will and thereby create a situation of conflict, presumably resulting in the provisions of the later-dated will having priority with respect to the disposition of such assets.

10      There is no evidence that the deceased prepared two wills to address jurisdictional issues. A more likely motivation for the two wills is found in the following paragraph from the Canadian Estate Planning Guide:

Multiple wills are also used in some provinces as a means of reducing probate tax. Simply put, the basic strategy is to sequester assets that do not require probate in one will, while dealing with the remaining assets that do require probate in a second will. Of course, only the second will is probated, thereby saving probate tax on the assets covered by the primary will. . . .

11      The estate planning strategy of preparing two wills but only applying for probate of one of them was permitted in two Ontario cases, Granovsky Estate v. Ontario, 1998 CanLII 14912, 156 DLR (4th) 557, which I will refer to later, and also in Kaptyn v. Kaptyn (2010), 2010 ONSC 4293.

12      Authority for permitting two wills can be found in Astor, In the Goods of, [1876] P.D. 150, at p. 152:

. . . The question of incorporation in the probate of separate documents has frequently been a subject of consideration, and, I may say, a troublesome matter both to myself and my predecessors, in carrying out the jurisdiction I have now to exercise. I endeavoured to lay down the principles which should guide me in these cases In the Goods of Lord Howden (4), in which I held that where an English will ratifies and confirms a foreign will, it is right that the latter should be incorporated in the probate. In the present case, however, the testator has carefully used the clearest and strongest language to indicate his intention of keeping the English property separate from the American, and for that purpose has made the English will, which does not purport to ratify or confirm the American will, but merely expresses his desire that, if the two cannot be kept totally distinct, the English will shall be treated as a codicil to the American one. I have come to the conclusion that his wishes need not be disappointed, and that there is no reason why I should insist on the incorporation of the American will in the English probate.

13      The Astor case was referred to by the Ontario Court in each of Granovsky Estate and Kaptyn, and I am satisfied that it remains good law in the absence of any rule or legislation to the contrary 

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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