Standing in Partition – Possessory Interest Required

Pallot v Douglas 2017 BCCA 254 dismissed an appeal and held that the appellant did not have standing to apply for partition of a leasehold interest in trust property owned by the Convention of Baptist Churches of British Columbia as the applicant did not have the right to a possessory interest in the lands.

To have standing under the Partition of Property Act a petitioner must have a possessory interest in land.

A possessory interest is:
The present right to control property, including the right to exclude others, by a person who is not necessarily the owner … A present or future right to the exclusive use and possession of property.
Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed, sub verbo “possessory interest”.

The possessory interest requirement has been characterized as requiring the petition to have an immediate right to possession of the land:

Although the statutory language in the Ontario Partition Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. P.4, differs, it has been held in Ontario that only persons entitled to immediate possession of an estate in property may make application for partition and sale: Di Michele v. Di Michele, 2014 ONCA 261 at paras. 75 80; Morrison v. Morrison (1917), 39 O.L.R. 163 at 168, 171 72, 34 D.L.R. 677 (Ont. C.A.); and Ferrier v. Civiero (2001), 147 O.A.C. 196 at paras. 6 and 8, 42 R.P.R. (3d) 12 (C.A.)

One of the essential features of a trust is that one or more parties hold title to property and manage it for the benefit of one or more parties who have a right to enjoy the property. The beneficiaries under the trust enjoy the property subject to the terms of the trust.

Professor Waters describes the principle as follows:

The trust is, perhaps, better described by isolating its essential features. The hallmarks, the essential characteristics of the common law trust, are heavily reflective of a particular legal history. The foremost of these is the fiduciary relationship which exists between trustee and beneficiary. One party holds the title to property, and manages it, for the benefit of another who has exclusive enjoyment of the property. As we have seen, it is possible to have a variation on this basic framework, for the trustee may himself be a beneficiary. In that case he will have a share in the enjoyment….

Donovan W.M. Waters, Mark Gillen & Lionel Smith, Waters’ Law of Trusts in Canada, 4th ed. (Toronto: Thomson Reuters, 2012) at 9.

There are both personal and propriety aspects to a beneficiary’s rights under a trust. The proprietary aspect concerns a beneficiary’s rights to pursue trust property as against, for example, a buyer with actual or constructive notice of the trust. With respect to the personal aspect of a beneficiary’s right, Professor Oosterhoff says this:

If we consider first the personal aspect of the beneficiary’s right, it will be apparent that, since the management and control of the trust property is vested in the trustee, the beneficiary only has a personal right against the trustee that the latter perform the trusts that he is bound to perform. The beneficiary can never “go around” the trustee and assert a claim to the trust property directly. On the contrary, the beneficiary’s claim must always be against the trustee….

…only the trustee, and not the beneficiary, has the right and the duty to make claims against third parties who may have interfered with or damaged the trust property….
A.H. Oosterhoff, Robert Chambers & Mitchell McInnes, Oosterhoff on Trusts: Text, Commentary and Materials, 8th ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2014) at 38.

The interest of the beneficiary under a trust is the right to claim that the trust be performed in accordance with its terms. It is not an immediate right to possession of the trust property.

This position was clearly shown in relation to a beneficiary’s equitable interest in Taylor v. Grange (1879), 13 Ch. D. 223, aff’d (1880), 15 Ch. D. 165 (C.A.). In Taylor, Fry J. held there was no jurisdiction to order partition at the request of a beneficiary with an equitable estate in the trust property, which was held under a trust for management of real property created by a will. Mr. Justice Fry reasoned at 227:

… For if I were to decree partition I should be putting an end to the active trusts which the testator has directed to be carried on during the lives of his daughters. The effect would be to stop the business of working the quarries and to divide the property in a manner inconsistent with the exercise of the powers given to the trustees.
No doubt an equitable owner may obtain a decree for partition if he be entitled to call for a legal estate, which would have entitled him to partition at common Law. But that is not this case, and I should be doing wrong here to make a decree for partition, the result of which, as no conveyances could be at present executed, would be to cause the trusts of the will to be administered separately as to the different persons entitled.

Fiduciary Obligations of Attorney Increase If Donor Incompetent

In Zeligs v Janes 2015 BCSC 525 the court examined the breach of fiduciary duty of two powers of attorney for a mentally incompetent donor who both personally financially profited with the use of the power of attorney by taking two mortgages out on jointly owned property with the donor, selling the property and keeping the net funds for themselves.

The fiduciary obligations of an attorney become elevated once the donor of the power becomes incapable.

This is described by the Ontario Court of Appeal as follows (Richardson Estate v. Mew, 2009 ONCA 403):

48. In Banton [Banton v. Banton (1998), 164 D.L.R. (4th) 176 (Ont. Sup. Ct.)], Cullity J. held that while an attorney acting under a continuing power of attorney is always a fiduciary, the scope of the attorney’s fiduciary duties depends on whether the donor of the power is incapable at the time of the transaction. If the donor is mentally incapable, the attorney’s position approaches that of a trustee. …

49. As a fiduciary, Ms. Ferguson was obliged to act only for the benefit of Mr. Richardson, putting her own interests aside: see Ermineskin Indian Band and Nation v. Canada, [2009] 1 S.C.R. 222, at para. 125.

In British Columbia (Public Guardian and Trustee of) v. Elgi, 2004 B.C.J. No. 796, 28 B.C.L.R. (4th) 375 (S.C.) aff’d [2005] B.C.J. No. 2741, 262 D.L.R. (4th) 208 (C.A.), Garson J. described the prohibition against using a power for the attorney’s profit, benefit or advantage, at para. 82, in the following way:

It is the attorney’s duty to use the power only for the benefit of the donor and not for the attorney’s own profit, benefit or advantage. The attorney can only use the power for his or her own benefit when it is done with the full knowledge and consent of the donor. I am not aware of any authority that detracts from this principle in circumstances where the benefit is conferred on family members.

Marriage- Like Relationships 2022

Mother 1 v Solus Trust et al 2021 BCCA 461 reviewed the law on marriage like relationships and concluded that Mother 1 was not a spouse within the meaning of WESA.

Mother 1 was not married to the deceased and thus had to prove on a civil standard that she lived with him in marriage like relationship for at least 2 years.

The trial judge instructed himself on the definition of a marriage like relationship and described it as an “elastic” concept and one that engages a multi faceted analysis .

He enumerated various factors for consideration, citing the often-referred to case of Molodowich v. Penttinen, [1980] O.J. No. 1904, 1980 CanLII 1537 (Dist. Ct.). He noted that the list of factors delineated in Molodowich “cover virtually every aspect of life a couple could engage in together”

Relying on Weber v. Leclerc, 2015 BCCA 492, he cautioned himself against taking a “checklist approach” to the issue before him. Instead, it was his obligation to consider the matter “holistically” and to examine all relevant factors in deciding whether there was a marriage like relationship of at least two years between Mother 1 and the deceased.

The judge specifically noted that a legal capacity to marry is not a prerequisite to finding a marriage like relationship . Nor is financial dependence .
The parties do not have to co reside .

Their subjective intentions are considered; however, one party’s denial of an intention to enter into or remain in a marriage like relationship is not fatal to the analysis. Instead, the credibility of that denial will be tested against objective indicators and may not be believed if “all of the surrounding circumstances strongly imply the contrary” (at paras. 140–42, citing Dey v. Blackett, 2018 BCSC 244 at para. 235 and other cases).

The determination of a marriage like relationship (or not) is a question of mixed fact and law that requires a broad approach- ( Weber v Leclerc)

After the judge rendered his verdict, this Court released its decision in Robledano v. Queano, 2019 BCCA 150, in which it held that the requisite two years of a marriage like relationship need not immediately precede the intestate’s death:

[40] Paragraph 2(1)(b) of the statute uses the past perfect tense (“had lived together”) rather than the past continuous tense (“were living together”). The ordinary grammatical meaning of paragraph 2(1)(b) is that in order for a person who was not married to the deceased to be their spouse, the two must have lived together in a marriage like relationship for two years, but not necessarily for the two years immediately preceding the deceased’s death. In contrast to paragraph 2(1)(b), paragraph 2(1)(a) uses the past continuous tense (“were married”) rather than the past perfect tense (“had been married”). The statute is professionally drafted and the use of these different tenses should be presumed to be deliberate.

However, a WESA claimant and the intestate must remain spouses at the time of the death in order to advance a claim: Robledano at para. 43.
If the parties ceased to be spouses before the intestate’s death because their marriage like relationship was “terminated” by one of them, there will be no legal entitlement to advance a claim against the estate as a spouse (s. 2(2)(b)).

According to Robledano, in deciding whether a party has terminated the marriage like relationship, a judge must:

[55] … consider the expressed and implicit intentions of each spouse, as well as the objective evidence concerning the subsistence of the relationship. The determination is a “judgment call” for the trial judge – the application of a broad legal standard to the factual circumstances of an individual case. It is a question of mixed fact and law. Where a trial judge has correctly identified the standard, and has not made any palpable and overriding error in applying it, deference to the trial judge’s decision is required: Housen v. Nikolaisen, 2002 SCC 33.

The intention of the parties is a factor that must be considered” in deciding whether a relationship was marriage like (at para. 141). Evidence of “mutual intent” to be in a relationship of an indeterminate or lengthy duration is likely to carry significant weight in the analysis (at paras. 141–42). However a finding of mutual intent is not a prerequisite to finding that a marriage like relationship existed at law. It was explained this way in Weber:

[23] The parties’ intentions – particularly the expectation that the relationship will be of lengthy, indeterminate duration – may be of importance in determining whether a relationship is “marriage like”. While the court will consider the evidence expressly describing the parties’ intentions during the relationship, it will also test that evidence by considering whether the objective evidence is consonant with those intentions.

[24] The question of whether a relationship is “marriage like” will also typically depend on more than just their intentions. Objective evidence of the parties’ lifestyle and interactions will also provide direct guidance on the question of whether the relationship was “marriage like”.

Mental Capacity to Make a Will

Jung Estate v Jung Estate 2022 BCSC 1298 reviewed the law on mental ( testamentary) capacity to make a will and found the will invalid.

The most frequently quoted test for testamentary capacity is the English decision of Banks v. Goodfellow (1870), L.R. 5 Q.B. 549 (Eng. Q.B.) at 567, which remains relevant today.

To prove that a will-maker had testamentary capacity, the proponent of the will must lead evidence that establishes that the will-maker:

a) understood the nature of the act of making a will and its effects;
b) understood the extent of the property of which he or she is disposing;
c) was able to comprehend and appreciate the claims to which he or she ought to give effect; and
d) had no disorder of the mind or insane delusion that influenced his or her making of the will.

Laszlo v Lawton 2013 BCSC 305 at para. 188; Halliday v haklliday Estate 2019 BCCA 554 at para. 26.

This test was restated in modern times in Schwartz v. Schwartz (1970), 10 D.L.R. (3d) 15 at 32 (Ont. C.A.) ,aff’d [1972] S.C.R. 150 [Schwartz] as the will-maker must be sufficiently clear in his or her understanding and memory to know, on their own: the nature and extent of their property; the persons who are the natural objects of their bounty; the testamentary provisions they are making; and they must be capable of appreciating those factors in relation to each other and forming an orderly desire as to the disposition of their property: Laszlo at para. 188.

While will-makers are not expected to know the composition of their estate assets and their respective values in an exact manner “with the metronomic precision of an accountant”, they must have an appreciation of the general nature of their assets and an understanding of their extent. An appreciation of the value of their assets, expressed either in terms of dollars or quantitatively, will suffice: Laszlo at paras. 242 – 249; Henderson v. Myler, 2021 BCSC 1649 at para. 107.

Testamentary capacity is neither a medical concept nor a diagnosis, but rather is a legal construct. While medical evidence may be relevant it is not conclusive in determining the existence of testamentary capacity at the critical times: Laszlo at para. 198; Halliday at para. 29. Whether a will-maker possessed testamentary capacity at the necessary times is a question of fact, to be determined from all of the circumstances: Laszlo at para. 197. A critical and meaningful analysis is required to determine testamentary capacity: Halliday at para. 29. The authorities establish that in assessing testamentary capacity, the evidence of the drafting solicitor, who took instructions and prepared the will, is often given considerable weight, particularly where that person is an experienced wills and estates lawyer: Benekritis v. Gilbert Estate, [1998] B.C.J. No. 171at paras. 41 – 43.

Testamentary capacity requires a “disposing mind and memory” which is described as “one able to comprehend, of its own initiative and volition, the essential elements of will-making, property, objects, just claims to consideration, revocation of existing disposition, and the like …”: Laszlo at para. 194, quoting from Leger v. Poirier, [1944] S.C.R. 152 at 161 [Leger]. Merely being able to provide rational responses is not sufficient or conclusive of capacity; rather, “there must be a power to hold the essential field of the mind in some degree of appreciation as a whole”: Leger at 162.

Bull Estate v. Bull, 2015 BCSC 136 at para. 114 [Bull] held that the test for testamentary capacity is not “overly onerous” and that the presence of cognitive deterioration may not preclude testamentary capacity. Testamentary capacity may be present even if the will-maker is incapable of managing other aspects of his or her life: Halliday at para. 28. However, a disposing mind and memory is “one able to comprehend, of its own initiative and volition, the essential elements of will making, property, objects, just claims to consideration, revoking dispositions and the like”: Moore v. Drummond, 2012 BCSC 1702 at para. 34, citing Leger at 161; Bull at para. 115.

A will-maker must have testamentary capacity when they give instructions for their will, and when they review and execute the will. However, as mental capacity can fluctuate, the case law permits a variation of the degree required at these two key times; for example, if a will-maker is competent to give instructions, but not competent at the time the will is executed, it may nonetheless be valid so long as at the time of execution the will-maker was capable of comprehending she was executing a will drawn in accordance with her prior instructions: Laszlo at para. 189.

Notice of Claim Struck for Tedious Length ( Prolixity)

Action4 Canada v BC Attorney General 2022 BCSC 1507 involved a 391 page Notice of Claim that was struck in it’s entirety for prolixity.

The notice of claim was mostly covid anti vaccination “propaganda”.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “prolix” as writing that is “tediously lengthy”. At 391 pages, the NOCC is clearly prolix.

Prolixity can warrant striking a claim pursuant to R. 9-5(1), which reads:

Scandalous, frivolous or vexatious matters

(1) At any stage of a proceeding, the court may order to be struck out or amended the whole or any part of a pleading, petition or other document on the ground that

(a) it discloses no reasonable claim or defence, as the case may be,

(b) it is unnecessary, scandalous, frivolous or vexatious,

(c) it may prejudice, embarrass or delay the fair trial or hearing of the proceeding, or

(d) it is otherwise an abuse of the process of the court,

and the court may pronounce judgment or order the proceeding to be stayed or dismissed and may order the costs of the application to be paid as special costs.

[34] The defendants submit the NOCC’s prolixity renders it scandalous within the meaning of subrule 9-5(1)(b). The defendants also submit that prolixity falls under subrule 9-5(1)(c) and constitutes a further basis to strike:

a) Pleadings are embarrassing where they are prolix, contain argument, or fail to state the real issue in an intelligible way: Sahyoun v. Ho, 2015 BCSC 392 at para. 62 [Sahyoun].

b) Regardless of the subrule, the law is clear that prolixity can be a basis for striking where the pleadings are prolix and confusing or they render it impossible for the opposing party to know the case they must meet: The Owners, Strata Plan LMS3259 v. Sze Hang Holding Inc., 2009 BCSC 473 at para. 36.

c) In certain cases, the pleadings are so overwhelmed with difficulties that it will not be possible to categorize them into specific subparagraphs of R. 9-5(1): see, for instance, Sahyoun at para. 64.

The defendants submit that, more important than the length of the NOCC is the unlimited scope of the document. It is not a piece of legal drafting that complies with the Rules, or basic tenets, of pleading. It is not a document that can be properly answered in a response to civil claim. The defendants submit that those problems arise, in part, because there are multiple allegations against the defendants individually and jointly.

It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for any individual defendant to determine whether it is required to respond to any particular allegation. Were the action to proceed in its current form, individual defendants would not be in a position to know whether they were tasked with a burden of disproving or countering the myriad allegations. They would not know what case they were required to meet.

In Mercantile Office Systems Private Limited v. Worldwide Warranty Life Services Inc., 2021 BCCA 362 [Mercantile] wherein Voith J.A. wrote, in relation to the requirements of pleadings:

” Nevertheless, none of a notice of claim, a response to civil claim, and a counterclaim is a story. Each pleading contemplates and requires a reasonably disciplined exercise that is governed, in many instances in mandatory terms, by the Rules and the relevant authorities. Each requires the drafting party to “concisely” set out the “material facts” that give rise to the claim or that relate to the matters raised by the claim. None of these pleadings are permitted to contain evidence or argument.”

The Mercantile claim was only 5 pages and the counter claim 12 pages.

The NOCC also breached other tenets of pleading. Among other problems: it pleads evidence, includes non-justiciable claims and alleges criminal conduct by the defendants.

These deficiencies fall largely within the scope of R. 9-5(1)(a), in that they disclose no reasonable claim.

The Power of Attorney Act

The Power of Attorney Act

Sazarynick v Skwardchuk 2021 BCSC 443 reviewed how much of the common law re Power of Attorney cases was codified and strengthened in the modern BC Power of Attorney Act of 2008.

The fiduciary obligations that an ad hoc fiduciary attorney would owe in equity have largely been codified in the modern version of the Power of Attorney Act:

For example, s. 19(1) of the PAA now mandates that an attorney must “act honestly and in good faith” and “exercise the care, diligence and skill of a reasonably prudent person”.

Moreover, s. 19(1)(d) requires that an attorney “keep prescribed records and produce the prescribed records for inspection and copying at the request of the adult.”

An attorney is required to act in the “adult’s best interest’s” when managing and making decisions about the adult’s financial affairs: PAA, s. 19(2).

Finally, pursuant to s. 19(4) of the PAA, an attorney must keep their own property separate from the donor’s property.

In a similar vein, the Power of Attorney Regulation, B.C. Reg. 20/2011 (“Regulation”) imposes further obligations on attorneys.

Section 2(1) mandates that an attorney acting under an enduring power “must make a reasonable effort to determine the adult’s property and liabilities as of the date on which the attorney first exercises authority on the adult’s behalf” and “maintain a list of that property and those liabilities.”

Further record keeping obligations are imposed under s. 2(2) of the Regulation, which provides as follows:

(2) An attorney acting under an enduring power of attorney must keep the following records in relation to the period for which the attorney is acting:
(a) a current list of the adult’s property and liabilities, including an estimate of their value if it is reasonable to do so;
(b) accounts and other records respecting the exercise of the attorney’s authority under the enduring power of attorney;
(c) all invoices, bank statements and other records necessary to create full accounts respecting the receipt or disbursement, on behalf of the adult, of capital or income.

In short, the Regulation imposes fairly robust record keeping obligations on those acting under an enduring power of attorney.

The equitable obligations of a fiduciary at common law were well-established by 2008 and it is unnecessary to grapple with the modern statutory regime that has largely codified the common law, or the law of Manitoba, which was neither plead or argued.

The standard of care for an attorney, which has now been codified under s. 19(1) of PAA, was well-established in the case law by 2008.

For example, in Andreasen v. Daniels-Ferrie, 2001 BCSC 1503 at para. 27, the requisite standard of care for a fiduciary acting under a power of attorney was described as follows:
even where the attorney acts gratuitously he or she has a duty to account, to exercise reasonable care as would a typically prudent person managing his or her own affairs, and not act contrary to the interests of the donor.

In sum, the requisite standard of care was already well-established in the case law by 2008.

Multiple Actions Heard At The Same Time

Li v Liang 2021 BCSC 1856 dealt with the legal procedural issue of whether two family cases involving the same parties should be tried together .

The court reviewed the seven criteria discussed in Merritt v Imasco Enterprises Inc (1992) BCJ 160 and Beazley v ICBC 2004 BCSC 1094 and held that the two claims did not have common claims or disputes that would require them to be either consolidated or tried at the same time. The two actions were not so interwoven as to make separate trials undesirable. There would also be prejudice to the plaintiff that would outweigh any potential benefit.

These applications are common in multi motor vehicle claims for example but I opine could be used in estate litigation situation such as the law as set out in Johnston v Johnston that claims involving both the validity of the will and the wills variation claims should not be heard together as the validity of the will should firstly be determined .

For example It would make procedural sense to have the wills variation claim tried right after the validity claim if the will is found to be valid as it is the same parties and the same evidence. I am not aware if this has been done to date.

THE LAW ( Rule 22-5(8) 

The application seeks to have a civil action consolidated with or tried at the same time as a family law case. It must be considered under Rule 22-5(8) of the Supreme Court Rules.

That rule applies to proceedings, which include a Supreme Court civil action and any other suit, cause or matter.

It provides:

(8) Proceedings may be consolidated at any time by order of the court or may be ordered to be tried at the same time or on the same day.

The matters the court is to consider on an application pursuant to Rule 22-5(8) are set out in cases that considered the previous rule (Rule 5(8)),
which was identical to the present rule. In Merritt v. lmasco Enterprises Inc.,[1992] B.C.J. No. 160

“ I accept that the foundation of an application under R. 5(8) is, indeed, disclosed by the pleadings. The examination of the pleadings will answer the first
question to be addressed: do common claims, disputes and relationships exist between the parties?

But the next question which one must ask is: are they “so interwoven as to make separate trials at different times before different judges
undesirable and fraught with problems and economic expense”? Webster v.Webster (1979), 12 B.C.L.R. 172 at 182, 10 R.F.L. (2d0 148, 101 D.L.R. (3d) 248(C.A.).

That second question cannot, in my respectful view, be determined solely by reference to the pleadings. Reference must also be made to matters disclosed
outside the pleadings:

(1) Will the order sought create a saving in pre-trial procedures, (in particular, pre-trial conferences)?

(2) Will there be a real reduction in the number of trial days taken up by trials being heard at the same time?

(3) What is the potential for a party to be seriously inconvenienced bybeing required to attend a trial in which that party may have only amarginal interest?

(4) Will there be a real saving in experts’ time and witness fees?

In Beazley v. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia, 2004 BCSC 1091, at paras. 12-13, Madam Justice Kirkpatrick, then a Judge of the Supreme Court
of British Columbia, added the following three factors to the four factors set out Merritt

(5) Is one of the actions at a more advanced stage than the other? . .

.
(6) Will the order result in a delay of the trial of one of the actions and, if so, does any prejudice which a party may suffer as a result of that delay
outweigh the potential benefits which a combined trial might otherwise have?

(7) Is there a substantial risk that separate trials will result in inconsistent
findings on identical issues?

In both Merritt (at para. 19) and Beaziey (at para. 12) the Court indicated that the factors listed above are not intended to be an exhaustivelist, but are to be regarded as some matters to be considered before making an order under the rule. The order should make sense in the overall circumstances of the litigation.

Unjust Enrichment- Joint Mortgage Debt After Death

Parrott-Ericson v Ericson Estate 2006 BCSC 1409 relied upon the law of unjust enrichment to hold that the surviving joint tenant of property with a mortgager takes both the property and the entire mortgage debt as the surviving joint tenant would be unjustly enriched if the estate had to pay one half of the mortgage debt as the petitioner sought.

The surviving spouse of the joint tenancy property brought a petition for an order that the deceased’s estate was liable to the surviving joint tenant to pay one half of the $400,000 mortgage on the property.

The parties were jointly and severally liable under lines of credit secured by way of mortgage is a gift to the strata properties.

After the death the wife took sole title to strata lots and the estate refused to pay one half of the loan.

The court dismissed the petition as the wife’s claim for contribution arose in equity, and was based on unjust enrichment. The wife had by operation of survivorship receive the entire interest in secured the joint and several obligations.

In the circumstances the wife could not equitably be entitled to call in the estate to pay half of the debt.

The mortgage debt in land were clearly connected. The loan was based upon which the property was acquired. No arrangement was made that the estate would be liable for one half of the debt.

As the wife received the land entirely should be unjustly enriched as the estate had to pay one half of the debt.

The children of the deceased had brought a wills variation claim.

The court found that the joint debt was used to acquire the land and the petitioner received the land entirely, and thus would be just unjustly enriched if the estate had to pay one half of the debt .

The court followed the decision of Cunningham Reid v Public Trustee (1944) 1 KB 602 held it is a principle of equity that a joint tenant, it takes the entire benefit of an interest in real property through a survivorship must take the burden associated with the benefit, particularly were in that joint debt has been used to acquire the real property.

In equity the claim to contribution in such circumstances must fail.

Gifts to Witnesses of a Will ( S. 43 WESA)

Wolk v Wolk 2021 BCSC 1881 reviewed the law of witnesses to a will receiving a gift under and the effect of S. 43 (4) of WESA .

A gift to a signatory witness is automatically void by statute, but the court may declare such a gift valid on application. The present application seeks a declaration that the gift of the estate to Michael and Lynda take effect.

Section 43 of WESA includes the following:

(1) Unless a court otherwise declares under subsection (4), a gift in a will is void if it is to
(a) a witness to the will-maker’s signature or to the spouse of that witness,
. . .
(3) If a gift is void under subsection (1), the remainder of the will is not affected.

(4) On application, the court may declare that a gift to a person referred to in subsection (1) is not void and is to take effect, if the court is satisfied that the will-maker intended to make the gift to the person even though the person or his or her spouse was a witness to the will.

(5) Extrinsic evidence is admissible for the purposes of establishing the will-maker’s intention under subsection (4).

Absent a declaration of validity under s. 43(4), there will be a partial intestacy under s. 25 of WESA. Here, a partial intestacy would lead to Dawson’s entire estate being distributed in accordance with s. 23 of WESA. Section 23 governs distribution where a deceased dies intestate and without a spouse, but with a “descendant” as defined by WESA.

Section 43(4) is centrally concerned with testamentary intent: Bach Estate, 2017 BCSC 548 at para. 54.

The Court found that the deceased wanted the witnesses to receive the bequests as a gift and allowed such under Rule 43(4)

Wills Variation ( S 60 WESA) Is Discretionary

Kish v Sobchak 2016 BCC65 discussed how the claim of wills variation is discretionary top the trial judge and how the appeal court should deal with such.

The entire jurisdiction of the trial judge under this statute is discretionary in character. The relief which may be granted under it is completely dependent on his opinion, first, as to whether adequate provision for proper maintenance and support has been provided for the spouse and children under the will, and second, if adequate provision is not thought to be made, as to what provision should be made.

 

. This being so, that Court has the power and the duty to review the circumstances and reach its own conclusion as to the discretion properly to be exercised.

 

According to my definition, an issue falls within a judge’s discretion if, being governed by no rule of law, its resolution depends on the individual judge’s assessment (within such boundaries as have been laid down) of what it is fair and just to do in the particular case. He has no discretion in making his findings of fact. He has no discretion in his rulings on the law. But when, having made any necessary finding of fact and necessary ruling of law, he has to choose between different courses of action, orders, penalties or remedies he then exercises a discretion. It is only when he reaches the stage of asking himself what is the fair and just thing to do or order in the instant case that embarks on the exercise of a discretion.

The standard of review applicable in Canada to the exercise of judicial discretion is found in Friends of the Oldman River Society v. Canada (Minister of Transport) [1992] 1 S.C.R. 3. There La Forest J. wrote for the majority:

Stone J.A. cited Polylok Corp. v. Montreal Fast Print (1975) Ltd., [1984] 1 F.C. 713 (C.A.), which in turn approved of the following statement of Viscount Simon L.C. in Charles Osenton & Co. v. Johnston, [1942] A.C. 130, at p. 138:

The law as to the reversal by a court of appeal of an order made by the judge below in the exercise of his discretion is well-established, and any difficulty that arises is due only to the application of well-settled principles in an individual case. The appellate tribunal is not at liberty merely to substitute its own exercise of discretion for the discretion already exercised by the judge. In other words, appellate authorities ought not to reverse the order merely because they would themselves have exercised the original discretion, had it attached to them, in a different way. But if the appellate tribunal reaches the clear conclusion that there has been a wrongful exercise of discretion in that no weight, or no sufficient weight, has been given to relevant considerations such as those urged before us by the appellant, then the reversal of the order on appeal may be justified.

That was essentially the standard adopted by this Court in Harelkin v. University of Regina, [1979] 2 S.C.R. 561, where Beetz J. said, at p. 588:

Second, in declining to evaluate, difficult as it may have been, whether or not the failure to render natural justice could be cured in the appeal, the learned trial judge refused to take into consideration a major element for the determination of the case, thereby failing to exercise his discretion on relevant grounds and giving no choice to the Court of Appeal but to intervene. [At 76-7; emphasis by underlining added.]

This standard was affirmed and supplemented more recently in Penner v. Niagara (Regional Police Services Board) 2013 SCC 19, where the Court stated:

A discretionary decision of a lower court will be reversible where that court misdirected itself or came to a decision that is so clearly wrong that it amounts to an injustice: Elsom v. Elsom, [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1367, at p. 1375. Reversing a lower court’s discretionary decision is also appropriate where the lower court gives no or insufficient weight to relevant considerations: Friends of the Oldman River Society v. Canada 

        Well before Tataryn was decided (but after Swain v. Dennison), summary trial procedures had of course been introduced in British Columbia and elsewhere. It was clear, certainly in this province, that summary trials were not limited strictly to cases in which there were no conflicts in the evidence. In Orangeville Raceway Ltd. v. Wood Gundy Inc. [1995] 6 B.C.L.R (3d) 391 (C.A.), which was not a WVA case, this court discussed the standard of review on appeals from summary trial judgments. At para. 44, the Court considered whether it was entitled to set aside the judgment below and substitute its own views for those reached by the chambers judge “simply because he did not have the advantage of observing the witnesses as their testimony was tested by cross-examination”. Mr. Justice Goldie for the Court answered this question in the negative, adopting the comments of Mr. Justice Taylor in an earlier case as follows:

So far as findings of fact are concerned, the onus on the appellant in an appeal against a summary disposition of issues made without oral testimony under R. 18A, cannot be merely to persuade the appeal court to a different view of the evidence. The appellant must show that the chambers judge reached a conclusion which cannot reasonably be supported. That is a heavier burden than merely to establish that the appeal court would have made different findings, or have drawn different inferences. [At para. 45; emphasis added.]

 

It has been said that an appellate court is in as good a position to draw inferences from proven facts as the trial judge. But this states only half the equation. The appellate court may be in as good a position but the burden is still on the appellant to demonstrate error, that is to say, that the position reached below after a summary trial cannot reasonably be supported.