The Doctrine of Ademption By Conversion



The doctrine of ademption by conversion — a rule of the law of wills whereby a specific bequest “adeems”, or fails, if at the testator’s death the specified property is not found among his or her assets — either because the testator has parted with it, or because the property has “ceased to conform to the description of it in the will”, or because the property has been wholly or partially destroyed. (J. MacKenzie, ed., Feeney’s Canadian Law of Wills (4th ed., loose-leaf, 2000) at §15.2.)

The doctrine applies as a matter of law, irrespective of the testator’s intentions in the matter, although his or her intentions are clearly relevant to the anterior question of whether the gift in question is a “specific” legacy (and therefore subject to ademption), or a general one (not subject to ademption). The doctrine is also subject to the qualification that even if the gift in question is a specific legacy, it may be saved in some circumstances if the property has changed “in name or form only”, and still forms part of the testator’s property at the date of death.

Being a specific legacy, the gift will be adeemed by conversion if the property has “ceased to exist as part of the testator’s property in his lifetime” (Jarman, at 1065) or has ceased to conform to the description in the will (Feeney, at §15.2).

Whether it was intended for the gift to be adeemed is not relevant: the doctrine applies “irrespective of the testator’s intentions.” (Hurzin v. Neumeyer Estate (1990) 69 D.L.R. (4th) 18 (B.C.C.A.), at 22; Jarman, at 1065

Ademption will not occur where the specific property in question has been changed “in name or form only” so that it “exists as substantially the same thing, although in a different shape.” (Halsbury, supra, vol. 50 at para. 394, citing Oakes v. Oakes (1852) 9 Hare 666 at 672, approved in In re Slater [1907] 1 Ch. 665 at 672 (C.A.).) Whether the change is one in name or form only is a question of fact: In re Jameson [1908] 2 Ch. Ill at 115; Feeney, at §15.27.

Predictably, a body of case-law has developed involving situations in which someone other than the testator has caused the change to occur — e.g., where corporate shares have been forcibly exchanged on an amalgamation or statutory re­organization (see In re Jameson, supra, In re Slater, supra, In re Faris [1911] 1 I.R. 165, In re Leeming [1912] 1 Ch. 828, Re Humphreys (1915) 60 Sol. Jo. 105, In re Kuypers [1925] Ch. 244, and Re Ogilvy (1966) 58 D.L.R. (2d) 385 (Ont. H.C.),

In most of these cases the gift was saved on the basis that the Court found that the change was one in form only.

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