“Fraudulent beneficiaries” has arisen in a claim that I am aware of currently before the courts, where it is alleged that the deceased was fooled to leave his entire estate to someone who he believed was his natural son from a long-ago relationship, but the son actually knew he was not the progeny of the deceased, yet played along with the deceased to allow him to believe that he was.
The estate has been challenged on the basis that the testamentary gift to the purported son should be invalidated as a result of the beneficiary perpetrating a fraud on the testator in obtaining the legacy by virtue of that fraud.
The facts are contentious yet there is a long established principle in law that “ where a legacy is given to a person under a particular character which he has falsely assumed for the purposes obtaining the bounty, and which alone is shown or is inferred to have deceived the testator, and to have been the motive of the bounty, the law on the ground of fraud does not permit the donee to avail himself of the legacy; but a false reason given for the legacy is not in itself sufficient to destroy it.”
Halsbury’s Laws of England , fourth edition, volume 17(2) at 326:
Kennell v Abbott (1799) 4 Ves.802, ER 416 is a leading case on the treatment of legacies obtained through fraud. In this decision, a woman died, leaving a legacy to my husband. The two were allegedly married but unknown to the woman, the man when she assumed was her husband was married to another woman. The master of the rules ruled that the husband was not entitled to his legacy by reason of the fraud that he had perpetrated.
How to defeat a testamentary gift:
In order to defeat a testamentary gift in these circumstances, the following must be shown:
1) A legacy given to a person of a character which the legatee does not fill and
2) There was a fraudulent assumption of that character, and
3) The testator must have been deceived by that fraud
Posner v Miller (1953) 1 All E.R. 1123
A testamentary gift to a purported son would only be invalid if there is proof of fraudulent and intentional misrepresentations that motivated the deceased to dispose of property in a manner contrary to his true intention. It is not sufficient to show innocent misrepresentation. Even if fraud is proven, the law requires proof that the false character was the sole motive for the bounty Kennell, Re Isaacs (1954) OR 942 C.A.
If there is evidence that the testator may have been motivated by other factors, then the gift is valid, despite the fraud. For example, the bequest to illegitimate children that the testator thinks are his own should stand, because it can be said that the love and affection must also have affected the testator’s intention to provide for the children and the fraud was not the sole motive or inducement for the legacy. Feeney, The Canadian Law of Wills at 3.18
The subsequent English case of Re Boddington: (1883) 22 Ch.D 597 at 112 applied the authority in the Kennell decision and held:
“where a legacy is given to a person under a particular character which she has falsely assume, and which alone can be presumed to be the motive of the bounty, the law will not permit him to avail himself of it, and therefore he cannot demand his legacy. In order, therefore, that the rule from Kennell may come into operation. There must be two things (1) there must be of the false assumption of the character of the legatee, and secondly, there must be evidence that the false character was the motive of the bounty, or a presumption or inference to that effect.
A misrepresentation can be made by silence in the following circumstances, as adopted by the Court of Appeal in Sidhu estate v. Bains (1996) 25 BCLR (3d) 41 BCCA at 101:
“A misrepresentation may be made by silence, when either the represented , or a third person in his presence, or to his knowledge, state something false, which indicates to the represented that the represented either as being, or will be, misled, unless the necessary correction be made. Silence under such circumstances is either a tacit adoption by the party of another’s misrepresentation as his own, or tacit confirmation of another’s error as truth“