The statutory framework of WESA (Estates, Succession and Wills act) was set out in British Columbia v Sheaffer 2015 BCSC 1306 where the court held that an improperly executed will prior to the enactment of WESA on March 31, 2014 could not be rectified by the “curative” provisions of S 58 WESA, and that only wills done after that date may qualify.
See previous blogs for more information on the curative provisions of S 58 WESA where for example an unwitnessed suicide note and a collection of unwitnessed but signed letters in an envelope were found to be valid wills under s 58 WESA.
The deceased died leaving no surviving spouse or children and in his last will signed in 1974 he bequeathed the residue of his estate to his spouse (who predeceased him in 1993), with gift over to her son ( the beneficiary).
The Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) asserted the 1974 will was the last subsisting last will and testament of deceased .
The Defendants, who were friends of deceased, asserted an unsigned document dated September 2011 should stand as deceased’s last will and testament.
The PGT brought application for an order to cancel all caveats filed by defendant in connection with deceased’s estate and that she be granted letters of administration with 1974 will annexed .
The Court held the PGT could apply for letters of administration with 1974 will annexed as the unsigned will was not a valid testamentary disposition.
The unsigned will did not comply with formal execution requirements of Wills Act in force at material time prior to WESA’s introduction on March 31,2014.
Since the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (“WESA“) was not applicable, the court had no discretion to overlook failure to strictly comply with statutorily prescribed execution requirements .
Deceased died prior to statutorily-prescribed qualifying date imposed by s. 186 of WESA and accordingly the 1974 will constituted the subsisting last will and testament of deceased and the defendant was not a beneficiary of deceased’s estate.
22. On March 31, 2014, the WESA came into force in British Columbia. Its enactment heralded significant changes in the law with respect to of wills and estate administration in this province.
23. For the most part, the WESA applies to the estates of persons who have died on or after March 31, 2014, and to the wills of such persons, even though their wills may have been made prior to March 31, 2014. The effect of the transitional provisions is that s. 58 of the WESA is only engaged if the date of death of the will-maker is after March 31, 2014. While there are narrow exceptions to the date of the will-maker’s death as being the qualifying event for the application of the WESA, they do not apply to the case at hand.
24. Prior to the enactment of the WESA, long-standing principles of formalism governed the creation, alteration, and revocation of wills in British Columbia. These principles were codified in the Wills Act. The pertinent legislative provisions prescribing the requisite statutory formalities for due execution, are set out in s. 4 of the former Wills Act:
4 Subject to section 5, a will is not valid unless:
(a) at its end it is signed by the testator or signed in the testator’s name by some other person in the testator’s presence and by the testator’s direction,
(b) the testator makes or acknowledges the signature in the presence of 2 or more attesting witnesses present at the same time, and
(c) 2 or more of the attesting witnesses subscribe the will in the presence of the testator.
25. It was well-settled in British Columbia, prior to the enactment of the WESA, that it was necessary to strictly comply with the statutorily prescribed formalities for creating a will. The courts have no discretion in waiving those requirements. In Ellis v. Turner (1997), 43 B.C.L.R. (3d) 283 (B.C. C.A.), the Court of Appeal commented on these strict compliance provisions, at 285:
The Wills Act creates a scheme designed to insure that a document purporting to be a testamentary disposition is in fact the will of the testator. A strong indicia of authenticity is proof that the will was signed at its end in the presence of witnesses. This Court must interpret, apply and respect the law as passed by the legislature. To declare the will in this case to be valid would be to by-pass the clear provisions of the Wills Act and to create a discretion in this Court which is not found in the Act. This is something which we cannot do.
26. The formalities for execution have been incorporated into s. 37 of the WESA. However, the WESA has introduced a remedial provision in s. 58 that gives the court a broad authority to “cure” a purported will, an alteration to a will, or the revocation of a will that does not satisfy the signing and witnessing requirements prescribed by s. 37. Section 58 constitutes a key component of the modernization of the law of wills and succession in British Columbia because it empowers the court to uphold the will-maker’s true intentions even where the will, a gift under the will, or a purported alteration or revocation of the will is invalid pursuant to other provisions of the WESA.
27. The application of s. 58 extends to “a record, document or writing or marking on a will or document”. The pertinent provisions of the WESA provide as follows:
58 (1) In this section, “record” includes data that
(a) is recorded or stored electronically,
(b) can be read by a person, and
(c) is capable of reproduction in a visible form.
(2) On application, the court may make an order under subsection (3) if the court determines that a record, document or writing or marking on a will or document represents
(a) the testamentary intentions of a deceased person,
(b) the intention of a deceased person to revoke, alter or revive a will or testamentary disposition of the deceased person, or
(c) the intention of a deceased person to revoke, alter or revive a testamentary disposition contained in a document other than a will.
(3) Even though the making, revocation, alteration or revival of a will does not comply with this Act, the court may, as the circumstances require, order that a record or document or writing or marking on a will or document be fully effective as though it had been made
(a) as the will or part of the will of the deceased person,
(b) as a revocation, alteration or revival of a will of the deceased person, or
(c) as the testamentary intention of the deceased person.
(4) If an alteration to a will makes a word or provision illegible and the court is satisfied that the alteration was not made in accordance with this Act, the court may reinstate the original word or provision if there is evidence to establish what the original word or provision was.
186 (1) Subject to subsections (2) and (3) of this section and section 189, Part 4 [Wills] applies to a will, whenever executed, if the will-maker dies on or after the date on which Part 4 comes into force.
(2) Subsection (1) does not invalidate a will validly made before the date on which Part 4 comes into force.
(3) Subsection (1) does not revive a will validly revoked before the date on which Part 4 comes into force.