Turk v Turk 2011 ONSC 6497 dealt with the various rules of construction and interpretation of the words“born after the date of the settlement” that were used in to family trust settled by a grandmother in 1992 and 1996, for the benefit of her two sons families.
One of the sons remarried after a divorce, and adopted two children who were 18 and 17 years of age at the time of their adoption.
Both were clearly born before, and not after, the date that the trust was settled.
The two sons brought an application to have the terms of the trust interpreted, which resulted in the adopted children not being beneficiaries of either trust.
After analyzing some of the general rules of interpretation, the court found that there was no ambiguity in the clause “born after the date of this settlement”, and that the words “born after” in particular, meant exactly what they said, and had no other natural meaning.
Some of the principles used by the court are as follows:
- All parties agree that there is no Canadian case law, which is on all fours with the issues in the interpretation of these Trusts. One firstly looks at the Settlor’s intention as ascertained from the four corners of the Trust Settlements themselves and from the Trusts as a whole and not solely from the words used. See: James MacKenzie, Feeney’s Canadian Law of Wills, 4th ed. Looseleaf (Markham: LexisNexis Canada Inc., 2000) at para. 10.60.
- Feeney’s, also says that if a Trust Deed describes a certain person with sufficient certainty to enable a Court to recognize the person intended by the settler, the Court will overlook the inaccuracy in the rest of the description. In my view, this principle cannot apply to the Trusts in question. Such descriptions relate to a beneficiary’ name, which is incorrectly spelled or misdescribed, such as a charity’s name. It can also apply when a testator or settlor describes someone as “my niece Ann Smith”, but that person is not blood-related to the testator or settler and whose name is actually “Anne Smith”, not the name shown in the document.
- I have also reviewed the wording of Feeney’s in paragraphs 10.61,10.62,10.67,10.69, 10.71,10.80, 10.98,11.14,11.1,11.12,11.29 and 11.33.1 cannot see where any of these propositions apply to the wording of the Trusts. The clause in the Trusts is worded, “…and any other children of Jonah Turk born after the date of this Settlement, and the issue of such children”. There is nothing in this clause that is ambiguous or capable of two constructions. The words “born after” mean exactly what they say.
- Nor can I find that the Settlor’s intention is not clearly expressed in the words used in the Trusts. The words “born after” cannot have any other meaning than their natural meaning.
There is no doubt as to the meaning of the words “born” and “after”. Any natural children Jonah may have in the future, and any infants or other children he may adopt who were born after the dates of the Settlements, would be included in the class described in the Trusts. Nor can I see where the Settlor had a general intent other than what the words themselves say in the Trusts.
There is no indication that she contemplated her son, Jonah, adopting adult persons or children who were almost adults and born “before” the dates of the Settlements, so that they would now be included in the classes of beneficiaries named in the Trusts.
- The construction of the words of the Trusts is neither unjust nor absurd nor does the rule against disinheritance apply, as outlined in Feeney, in para. 10.80. The words “Jonah’s Family”, while now including his adopted children, is not a conflicting provision to “born after”. A conflicting provision must arise in the original wording of the Trust Deed, so that it is conflicting throughout the time from the Trust’s settlement date to the date of the interpretation. That is not the case here. The problem only arose when Jonah adopted persons born after the dates of the Trusts.
- On the question of what is the Settlor’s intention, I adopt the traditional view on the interpretation of trusts as summarized in Lewin on Trusts 18th ed., John Mowbray et al., (Toronto: Thomson Sweet & Maxwell, 2008) at 200-201:
“Lifetime settlements are no different from other documents in that the subjective intentions of their authors are irrelevant. What counts is that the objective meaning that the words of the document convey to the court when considered as a whole in light of the surrounding circumstances.”
The intention that the court seeks is the intention as expressed; that is, the way in which the document is to be understood, not the purpose, motive, desire or other subjective state of mind of the settlor. The reason for the rule is that, otherwise, no lawyer would be safe advising on the construction of a written instrument, nor any party in taking under it.