S. 58 of WESA (Wills, Succession and Estates act) once again came to play to cure an otherwise defective will in Re Smith Estate 2016 BCSC 350.
Once again the leading case in BC to date of re Young estate 2015 BCSC 182 was followed.
The deceased and her husband lived together in a common law relationship for about 35 years until they married in 2012 .
The applicant was the deceased’s granddaughter who as a child was very close to the deceased and lived with her for period of time.
The applicant remained very involved with the deceased as an adult.
The deceased advised that she had drafted three documents and signed them having asked the applicant if she would be the executor of her will and she agreed.
After the death of the deceased, the applicant searched for any testamentary documents in all places she thought they might reasonably be found including funeral box .
The applicant found a clipped and stapled together copy of a 2008 document, an original 2011 document, and an original “funeral arrangements” document. ( three in total)
The applicant brought applications for determinations that two handwritten records represented the testamentary intentions of deceased, and were fully effective as though they had been made as or part of her will; and for orders and declarations setting out results of these determinations as well as orders dispensing with service of notice of application on particular beneficiaries, and her special costs .
The Court granted the orders.
17 Turning to the applicable law, WESA came into force on March 31, 2014. Among other things, section 58 permits the court to allow a document to be fully effective as though it had been made as a will, where the court determines the document represents a deceased’s testamentary intentions. Before WESA, documents that failed to strictly comply with the formal requirements of the Wills Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 489 regarding the making, signing, and witnessing of a will were invalid.
18 Section 58 was first considered in Young Estate, Re, 2015 BCSC 182 (B.C. S.C.). Madam Justice Dickson observed the provision is curative, providing the court with a discretion in prescribed circumstances to relieve against the consequences of non-compliance with testamentary formalities. It cannot however be used to uphold a will that is invalid for substantial reasons such as testamentary incapacity or undue influence. Her decision relied upon the principles set out in George v. Daily (1997), 143 D.L.R. (4th) 273 (Man. C.A.) which dealt with similar provisions in the Manitoba Wills Act.
19 At paragraph 35, Dickson J. described the approach to an application under s. 58 of WESA as follows:
… (t) he key question is whether the document records a deliberate or fixed and final expression of intention as to the disposal of the deceased’s property on death. A deliberate or fixed and final intention is not the equivalent of an irrevocable intention, given that a will, by its nature, is revocable until the death of its maker. Rather, the intention must be fixed and final at the material time, which will vary depending on the circumstances.
20 She concluded the factors relevant to determining whether a document embodies the deceased’s testamentary intention are context-specific and may include the presence of the deceased’s signature, the deceased’s handwriting, witness signatures, revocation of previous wills, funeral arrangements, specific bequests, and the title of the document.
Discussion and analysis:
21 During the hearing the applicant quite properly raised an issue about the validity of the gift to her set out in the 2011 document suggesting it may be construed as creating an unenforceable gift-over. I agree entirely with her further submission, however, that it is not the role of the court on an application pursuant to s. 58 to determine the validity of the instrument per se including the validity of the gifts it sets out. To the extent this approach may have been taken in Beck Estate, Re, 2015 BCSC 676 (B.C. S.C.), I decline, respectfully, to follow that decision.
22 Turning to the application of s. 58 to the facts of this case, the applicant recognizes the handwriting in the documents as that of the deceased. In any event, it is clear to me the handwriting matches known samples of her handwriting. Accordingly, I find the documents are authentic.
23 In this case, the factors relevant to determining whether each of the documents records a deliberate or fixed and final expression of the deceased’s intention regarding disposal of her property on death include:
- The presence of her signature indicating her approval of the content of each document.
- The titles she gave to each of the documents.
- The content of the documents:
The first sets out and distributes a long list of clearly identified personal items to many specific beneficiaries on the event of her death and,
The second, includes a specific distribution of her real property, again, on the event of her death.
- Both documents are expressed in language that conveys an air of finality.
- The deceased met with Mr. Smith to discuss her will and presented him with both of these documents along with a third regarding funeral arrangements. She advised him she had drafted them herself and signed the first two. Her husband was also present for that meeting.
- She subsequently met with the applicant and expressly asked her if she would agree to be her executor which she did. She advised the applicant that all of the necessary documents would be found in a funeral box she had prepared.
- After the death of the deceased, the applicant then found a copy of the 2008 document, the original 2011 document and the funeral arrangements document in that funeral box. No other documents setting out a testamentary intention were ever located despite a diligent search.
24 After weighing all of these factors, I find on the balance of probabilities that the 2008 and 2011 documents represent the deliberate and final expressions of the deceased’s testamentary intentions. I therefore grant the orders sought by the applicant.
25 Pursuant to Rule 25-14(8)(i), I grant a further order dispensing with the requirement to serve the beneficiaries of the gifts set out in the 2008 document with notice of the application. I am satisfied that most of these gifts have already been distributed. As described in the document, they appear to involve personal items with little monetary value, and the beneficiaries would not have an entitlement upon an intestacy.
26 The applicant shall have special costs.