The Presumption of Resulting Trust

Rebutting the Presumption of Resulting Trust

The BC Appeal Court in Winstanley v Winstanley 2017 BCCA 265 ordered a new trial on the basis that the trial Judge erred in his determination as to whether the evidence at trial had rebutted the presumption of a resulting trust that arises when a parent transfers an asset for little or no consideration to an adult child. The Court stated very clearly that there is no longer any presumption of advancement from a parent to an adult child as per the decision of Pecore v Pecore 2007 SCC 17.


29      I begin my analysis by reviewing Pecore v. Pecore 2007 SCC 17, which is authority for the proposition that there is no longer a presumption of advancement between parents and their adult children. The Court decided that in modern social conditions the reverse is true: there is a presumption of a resulting trust where a parent makes a gratuitous transfer to an adult child, such as placing funds in a jointly-held bank account.

30      The facts in Pecore involved joint accounts held by a father and his adult daughter. The father transferred the majority of his assets to these joint accounts before he died. The terms of the accounts included a right of survivorship upon his death. At trial, the judge held that the presumption of advancement applied and the daughter was entitled to the legal and beneficial ownership of the assets. The question on appeal was whether the presumption of advancement as between a parent and child had continuing relevance under present social conditions. Rothstein J. for the majority held at paras. 4, 5 and 6:

[4] It is not disputed that the daughter took legal ownership of the balance in the accounts through the right of survivorship. Equity, however, recognizes a distinction between legal and beneficial ownership. The beneficial owner of property has been described as “[t]he real owner of property even though it is in someone else’s name”: Csak v. Aumon (1990), 69 D.L.R. (4th) 567 (Ont. H.C.J.), at p. 570. The question is whether the father intended to make a gift of the beneficial interest in the accounts upon his death to his daughter alone or whether he intended that his daughter hold the assets in the accounts in trust for the benefit of his estate to be distributed according to his will.

[5] While the focus in any dispute over a gratuitous transfer is the actual intention of the transferor at the time of the transfer, intention is often difficult to ascertain, especially where the transferor is deceased. Common law rules have developed to guide a court’s inquiry. This appeal raises the following issues:

  1. Do the presumptions of resulting trust and advancement continue to apply in modern times?
  2. If so, on what standard will the presumptions be rebutted?
  3. How should courts treat survivorship in the context of a joint account?
  4. What evidence may courts consider in determining the intent of a transferor?

[6] In this case, the trial judge found that the father actually intended a gift and held that his daughter may retain the assets in the accounts. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of the daughter’s ex-husband.

31      Rothstein J. noted that the rebuttable presumption of law “is a legal assumption that a court will make if insufficient evidence is adduced to displace the presumption” (at para. 22). The presumptions of advancement and resulting trust apply to gratuitous transfers “where evidence as to the transferor’s intent in making the transfer is unavailable or unpersuasive” (at para. 23).

32      The effect of the majority’s decision in Pecore is that an adult child  whether independent or dependent  who receives a gratuitous transfer from a parent is now presumed to hold the transferred property on resulting trust for the parent, whereas formerly the parent was presumed to have advanced the property to the child as a gift.

33      Rothstein J. noted that the presumption of resulting trust may be rebutted with sufficient evidence:

[41] There will of course be situations where a transfer between a parent and an adult child was intended to be a gift. It is open to the party claiming that the transfer is a gift to rebut the presumption of resulting trust by bringing evidence to support his or her claim. In addition, while dependency will not be a basis on which to apply the presumption of advancement, evidence as to the degree of dependency of an adult transferee child on the transferor parent may provide strong evidence to rebut the presumption of a resulting trust.

[Emphasis added.]

34      Rothstein J. also considered the interaction between the right of survivorship in a joint account and the presumption of resulting trust at law. He concluded at para. 48:

[48] Courts have understandably struggled with whether they are permitted to give effect to the transferor’s intention in this situation. One of the difficulties in these circumstances is that the beneficial interest of the transferee appears to arise only on the death of the transferor. This has led some judges to conclude that the gift of survivorship is testamentary in nature and must fail as a result of not being in proper testamentary form: see e.g. Hill v. Hill (1904), 8 O.L.R. 710 (H.C.), at p. 711; Larondeau v. Laurendeau [1954] O.W.N. 722 (H.C.); Hodgins J.A.’s dissent in Re Reid (1921), 64 D.L.R. 598 (Ont. S.C., App. Div.). For the reasons that follow, however, I am of the view that the rights of survivorship, both legal and equitable, vest when the joint account is opened and the gift of those rights is therefore inter vivos in nature. This has also been the conclusion of the weight of judicial opinion in recent times: see e.g. Mordo v. Nitting, [2006] B.C.J. No. 3081 (QL), 2006 BCSC 1761, at paras. 233-38; Shaw v. MacKenzie Estate (1994), 4 E.T.R. (2d) 306 (N.S.S.C.), at para. 49; and Reber v. Reber (1988), 48 D.L.R. (4th) 376 (B.C.S.C.); see also Waters’ Law of Trusts, at p. 406.

. . .

[53] Of course, the presumption of a resulting trust means that it will fall to the surviving joint account holder to prove that the transferor intended to gift the right of survivorship to whatever assets are left in the account to the survivor. Otherwise, the assets will be treated as part of the transferor’s estate to be distributed according to the transferor’s will.

[Emphasis added.]

35      Despite finding that the trial judge had erred by applying the presumption of advancement, the majority in Pecore affirmed the judge’s disposition because there was strong evidence showing the father intended to gift the daughter the right of survivorship to the joint accounts, thus rebutting the presumption of resulting trust.

36      I now turn to the application of the principles emerging from Pecore to the facts of this case.

37      The correct legal analysis in the present case required the judge to first instruct himself that there is no presumption of advancement as between a parent and an adult child and to apply a presumption of resulting trust in regard to any gratuitous transfers of Jessie’s property to Carl. The burden of proof would then rest on Carl to rebut the presumption with respect to each transfer.

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