Entered Court Orders

Entered Court Orders

The Court does not have jurisdiction  to re open entered court orders but may vary the order where has been a change of circumstance.

The court refused to re open or vary an entered court order in Sugrim v Sugrim 2016 BCSC 1644 when after entering a desk order under the Family Relations act under S 57,  (which has the effect of crystalizing matrimonial assets and severing jointly owned titles), the husband became incapacitated and was awarded $1.8 million in damages for the injury.

With the consent of the committee adult child of the patient, the wife’s application to set aside the entered court order was dismissed on the basis that inter alia there was a risk that the wife and her children were acting out of self interest and not in the best interest of the patient.

The Sugren case stated:

 [22]         The PGTBC submits and I agree that the court does not have jurisdiction to reopen and set aside an entered order. The court may, however, entertain a variation of an order on the basis of a change of circumstance.

[23]         I raised a question as to the validity of a consent to a s. 57 declaration. However, having reviewed the circumstances of this case and the authorities, I conclude that the declaration was valid.

[24]         This was not a situation where one party at a judicial case conference requested a s. 57 declaration and the other party opposed it, as was the case in Harrison v. Harrison, 2007 BCCA 120. InHarrison, Finch C.J. found the death of Mr. Harrison was a material new circumstance giving rise to a reconsideration of the previous order to avoid a miscarriage of justice. In that case, the order was not entered, so the court was not functus officio and there was evidence of a possible miscarriage of justice which does not exist in the present case.

[25]         The only issue before me is whether or not a committee has the authority to consent to an application to set aside the s. 57 declaration based on a material change in circumstance.

[26]         The claimant submits that s. 15 of the PPA provides that a committee of the patient has all the rights, privileges and powers with regard to the estate of the patient as the patient would have if of age of majority and of sound and disposing mind. Those rights include the ability to commence defend or otherwise conduct legal proceedings.

[27]         The PGTBC submits that the committee’s power is qualified in that she may only act in the best interests of the respondent.

[28]         In Beadle v. Beadle, 1984 CanLII 806 (BC CA), the PGTBC continued divorce proceedings and set an application for an undefended divorce down for hearing on behalf of an incapacitated claimant, citing Re Swartz, [1947] 2 W.W.R. 979 at 980 (B.C.C.A.) where the court agreed that a committee has the power to bring a divorce action on behalf of the patient and there was nothing in the PPA which limited that power. In Beadle, at para. 8, MacFarlane J.A. held that:

… [the] appointment [of a committee] contemplates … the full management of the affairs of the patient who is incapable of doing so herself. That includes, in my opinion, the management or conduct of any litigation which the patient has undertaken, or which might need to be undertaken in the best interests of the patient. To hold otherwise would put a severe limitation upon the proper management of a patient’s affairs while she is incompetent.

[29]         In Beadle, the court made a distinction between dealing with property matters and dealing with questions of status. In response to this concern, the court said that there are controls in place to ensure that a committee exercises caution in bringing proceedings which involve the status of the patient. Those controls lie in the discretion of the PGTBC under the PPA and under the Supreme Court Civil Rules where the court has the discretion to deny an appointment of a committee as the guardian ad litem of the patient in a proceeding.

[30]         A litigation guardian must declare that he or she does not have any interest in the proceeding that is adverse in interest to the patient (Rule 20-2 of the Supreme Court Civil Rules).

[31]         Protection of the interests of the incompetent party is the primary consideration of the court.

[32]         In a concurring judgment, Lambert J.A. added (at para. 26):

… that where any proceedings are instituted by a committee in which matters of status and morals are involved, there is an obligation on the committee to bring before the court evidence that will satisfy the court that the proceedings are in the best interests of the person who is being represented by the committee.

[33]         In this case, the claimant says there has been a material change in circumstance which should give rise to a variation of the s. 57 declaration because the claimant asserts there is no longer a marital rift that will lead to a final divorce order.

[34]         The claimant asserts that there is a reasonable prospect of reconciliation as one party wishes to reconcile and the other party consents by way of his committee. This submission focuses on the status of the parties and not on what is in the patient’s best interests.  The respondent’s wish prior to his incapacity was to separate from the claimant.  It is unclear to me how the committee could come to the conclusion that he would now want to reconcile. It is open to the committee to satisfy the court that this change in status would be in the respondent’s best interests even though he cannot consent.

[35]         In Anderson v. Anderson Estates, [1990] O.J. No. 1123 (H. Ct. J.), the court considered whether an attorney appointed by power of attorney had the authority to exercise the patient’s right to elect or consent to receive an equalization payment in lieu of entitlement under the deceased spouse’s will. The court concluded that the fact the patient was incapacitated from personally making the election should not diminish her right. The Powers of Attorney Act, R.S.O. 1980, c. 386, s. 5 contemplated an attorney continuing to manage the affairs of the donor after the donor was deemed incompetent.

[36]         In Anderson, at para. 13, the court said:

… the right to elect is a very personal decision that should only be exercised by the surviving spouse and not left to a stranger to the marriage, lest the stranger interfere with the testator’s intentions without knowing whether or not the surviving spouse has made the choice to disregard his or her spouse’s last wishes. …, this concern can somewhat be alleviated by the fact that an attorney under power of attorney will always have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the donor. It may also be possible for the donor to set out in the power of attorney his or her wishes with respect to such an election.

[37]         In the case before me, the claimant also asserts that it is in the respondent’s best interests to “have a home to return to should he ever be able to leave the care of the facility in which he currently resides.”

[38]         This assertion begs the question of whether the respondent is welcome in the home if the claimant is not successful with this application.


[39]         The respondent’s incapacity is a material change in circumstance which may give rise to grounds to vary the declaration.

[40]         I agree with the PGTBC’s submission that the entered order cannot be reopened or re-heard and the only way a court can reconsider the order is on a variation application.

[41]         A variation application brought by the committee of the respondent will only be successful if the committee can satisfy the court that it is in the patient’s best interests to vary the order.

[42]         Having considered the reasons for the application, I conclude that while a variation of the s. 57 declaration may well be in the best interests of the claimant and her children, there is no evidence that satisfies me that a variation of the s. 57 declaration is in the best interests of the respondent. There is a risk that the claimant and her children are acting out of self-interest. We will never know what the respondent would want at this time, and his interests must be protected.

[43]         As far as I know, the respondent is being well cared for in a long-term care facility receiving 24-hour a day nursing care. His family visit him on a regular basis, and ensure that the care is adequate. He has sufficient funds in trust to finance his care. The PGTBC monitors the spending of those funds to make sure they are used in only his best interests and not in the interest of anyone else. Upon his death, those funds will be left to the beneficiaries of his estate. There is nothing in the material that leads me to believe the current situation is not in the best interests of the respondent. Accordingly, I dismiss the application.


Adoption Purposes

Adoption Purposes

Adoption is for all purposes. I advised a legal enquiry today that he could not claim against the estate of his natural father (“birth parent”) since he had been adopted by another party and that for estate claims, his adoption was for “all purposes”.

Section 3 WESA re Adoption states:

Effect of adoption

3  (0.1) In this section, “pre-adoption parent” means a person who, before the adoption of a child, was the child’s parent.

(1) Subject to this section, if the relationship of parent and child arising from the adoption of a child must be established at any generation in order to determine succession under this Act, the relationship is to be determined in accordance with the Adoption Act respecting the effect of adoption.

(2) Subject to subsection (3), if a child is adopted,

(a) the child is not entitled to the estate of his or her pre-adoption parent except through the will of the pre-adoption parent, and

(b) a pre-adoption parent of the child is not entitled to the estate of the child except through the will of the child.

(3) Adoption of a child by the spouse of a pre-adoption parent does not terminate the relationship of parent and child between the child and the pre-adoption parent for purposes of succession under this Act.

In other words on an intestacy an adopted child may not inherit from his or her birth parent and a birth parent may not inherit from a child that has been adopted , with the exception of step-parent adoptions.

Nothing however prevents the right of both children and parents to leave a gift by will to each other irrespective of the adoption.

This section also precludes a child who has been adopted out from bringing a wills variation claim ( S 60 WESA) against the birth parent’s estate.

Will Variation: Daughter Awarded Entire Estate

Will Varied to Give Daughter Entire Estate

Hagen-Bourgeault v. Martens 2016 BCSC 1096 varied a will (S. 60 WESA) to give a 25 year old daughter with two young children on social assistance, the entire estate of $2,200 per month until 2025, instead of her husband of two years who was well off but left the entire estate under her will.

The court found that the husband beneficiary of the estate had was financially independent and had limited legal or moral entitlement to the estate.

The daughter in turn had great financial need.

The Court Stated:

The leading Canadian decision on variation principles is Tataryn v. Tataryn Estate, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 807; 93 B.C.L.R. (2d) 145. In delivering the Court’s unanimous judgment, McLachlin J., as she then was, confirmed that the language of the WVA confers on the trial court a broad discretion to make orders that are just in the specific circumstances of a case, and in light of contemporary standards. The WVA is to be seen as imposing limitations of testamentary authority. At a minimum, survivors are not to be left destitute, such that they will impose a burden on the state; but what is to be considered “adequate, just and equitable” is not limited to need alone.

Entire estate

[20]         Tataryn further discusses the means by which competing claims are to be assessed:

How are conflicting claims to be balanced against each other?  Where the estate permits, all should be met. Where priorities must be considered, it seems to me that claims which would have been recognized during the testator’s life — i.e., claims based upon not only moral obligation but legal obligations — should generally take precedence over moral claims. As between moral claims, some may be stronger than others. It falls to the court to weigh the strength of each claim and assign to each its proper priority. In doing this, one should take into account the important changes consequent upon the death of the testator. There is no longer any need to provide for the deceased and reasonable expectations following upon death may not be the same as in the event of a separation during lifetime. A will may provide a framework for the protection of the beneficiaries and future generations and the carrying out of legitimate social purposes. Any moral duty should be assessed in the light of the deceased’s legitimate concerns which, where the assets of the estate permit, may go beyond providing for the surviving spouse and children.

[21]         In my judgment, the needs of the plaintiff, in relation to the very modest size of the estate, completely outweigh all claims of Mr. Martens. Mr. Martens, though he was no doubt the loving spouse of the deceased, had only a short relationship and demonstrates no financial dependence upon her during their lifetime. The amount of the structured settlement fund did not increase in value during their relationship. He has no claims founded in unjust enrichments. In the circumstances, he would not have been entitled to spousal support on the breakup of their marriage. His legal and moral entitlement to a share in Michelle’s estate is consequently limited, at best. Furthermore, the size of the estate is so modest that in their entirety, the structured settlement proceeds would appear to be sufficient only just to lift the plaintiff and her two dependent children out of poverty, and then only for so long as the fund lasts.

[22]         In the present case it does little violence to the testator’s intentions to make an immediate full reapportionment in the plaintiff’s favour. It is a fair inference, from the evidence, that the testator’s decision to leave to Mr. Martens’ discretion the amount of support to be paid to the plaintiff, when the will was made in 2012, may have reflected some hesitation as to the plaintiff’s ability to exercise good judgment. Whatever qualms may have led the testator to structure her will in this fashion, as opposed to leaving an outright gift to the plaintiff, there is no evidence now which points to any such concern. Indeed, the mechanism of the structured settlement itself would serve as a check on the funds being squandered. The plaintiff appears, on the evidence, to have survived a difficult adolescence and now to be doing her utmost to see to the need of her children, in very challenging circumstances.

Claim Dismissed For No Standing

Claim Dismissed For No Standing

Re Tomlinson Estate 2016 BCSC 1223 dealt with a nephew contesting his aunt’s will when he was neither a named beneficiary under the will or an intestate heir had his claim dismissed for lack of standing.

Standing is a pre-requisite to advancing claims regarding a will. Standing, in this context, means having a legal interest in the outcome of the action. 

Or in other words, that the legal rights of the person asserting a claim or position will be affected by the result of the proceeding.


[23]         In Neumann v. Chudjak Estate, 2001 BCSC 957 (chambers), the deceased left the residue of his estate to the defendants, his neighbours.  The plaintiff was the stepson of the deceased.  The plaintiff made claims in trust.  He also sought a declaration that the deceased’s will was invalid by reason of lack of capacity and undue influence.  The defendants applied under then Rule 18(6) to dismiss the validity claims.

[24]         The court struck the challenges to the will finding the plaintiff had no standing to raise the challenge.  At paras. 8–12 Master Horn wrote: 

[8]        It is agreed that the deceased has no living blood relatives.  Helmut Neumann [the plaintiff], not being a blood relative of the deceased, will not inherit upon an intestacy.  It is not alleged that there is an earlier will under the terms of which the plaintiff Helmut Neumann would have inherited.

[9]        Accordingly, if the will were to be set aside on either of the grounds pleaded, Helmut Neumann will not benefit.  The entire estate will, if he does not succeed in his trust claim, escheat to the Crown.

[10]      The question now raised by the defendant’s application, is whether Helmut Neumann has any standing to contest the validity of the will.

[11]      A plaintiff must, to have standing in an action, be legally interested in the outcome of an issue in the action.  A person is legally interested in the outcome if it will affect him by advancing or curtailing his legal rights.  (See Amon v. Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd. (1955), [1956] 1 Q.B. 357 (Eng. Q.B.)at pages 381 and 386.)  As Professor Hogg has said, (Constitutional Law of Canada, 4thEdition, s. 56.2)

The question whether a person has “standing” (or locus standi) to bring legal proceedings is a question about whether the person has a sufficient stake in the outcome to invoke the judicial process.  The question of standing focuses on the position of the party seeking to sue, not on the issues that the lawsuit is intended to resolve.

[12]      I take it as a given that no stranger has any standing to contest the validity of a transaction such as a contract, gift or testamentary disposition of property.  In relation to this will, the plaintiff is a stranger.

[25]         In British Columbia (Public Guardian and Trustee) v. Sheaffer, 2015 BCSC 1306, the defendants asserted that an unsigned document dated September 20, 2011, should stand as the deceased’s last will and testament rather than a properly executed will from 1974.  Madam Justice Dardi denied the relief sought, stating at para. 48 that, “Mr. Thurston is not a beneficiary of the Deceased’s estate.  He has no standing to pursue any allegation of wrongful conduct against the PGT with respect to her office’s administration of the Deceased’s estate”.

[26]         The Kamms are not beneficiaries under the will, nor would they inherit upon intestacy.  They are strangers to the will.  Their only interest in the estate is that of a creditor who alleges that the deceased owed them money for services rendered.

Settlement Offers and Court Costs

Settlement Offers and Court Costs

Norris v Burgess 2016 BCSC 1451 deals with settlement offers and court costs, that is how courts adjust cost upwards or downwards either in favour of one party or against the other party depending on the parties conduct and the terms of any formal offers to settle made in accordance with the rules.

Costs are increasingly being awarded against unsuccessful estate litigants on a personal basis and the amount of them has escalated over the years almost like property prices in the lower mainland.

In writing for our Court of Appeal in C.P. v. RBC Life Insurance Company, 2015 BCCA 30, leave to appeal ref’d [2015] S.C.C.A. No. 136, Justice Goepel, in considering a trial award of double costs, sets forth generally the purpose of the costs rules related to settlement offers:

[94]      The underlying purpose of the offer to settle rule was set out in Hartshorne:

[25] An award of double costs is a punitive measure against a litigant for that party’s failure, in all of the circumstances, to have accepted an offer to settle that should have been accepted. Litigants are to be reminded that costs rules are in place “to encourage the early settlement of disputes by rewarding the party who makes a reasonable settlement offer and penalizing the party who declines to accept such an offer” (A.E. v. D.W.J., 2009 BCSC 505, 91 B.C.L.R. (4th) 372 at para. 61, citing MacKenzie v. Brooks, 1999 BCCA 623, Skidmore v. Blackmore (1995), 2 B.C.L.R. (3d) 201 (C.A.), Radke v. Parry, 2008 BCSC 1397). In this regard, Mr. Justice Frankel’s comments in Giles are apposite:

[74] The purposes for which costs rules exist must be kept in mind in determining whether appellate intervention is warranted. In addition to indemnifying a successful litigant, those purposes have been described as follows by this Court:

  • “[D]eterring frivolous actions or defences”: Houweling Nurseries Ltd. v. Fisons Western Corp. (1988), 37 B.C.L.R. (2d) 2 at 25 (C.A.), leave ref’d, [1988] 1 S.C.R. ix;
  • “[T]o encourage conduct that reduces the duration and expense of litigation and to discourage conduct that has the opposite effect”: Skidmore v. Blackmore (1995), 2 B.C.L.R. (3d) 201 at para. 28 (C.A.);
  • “[E]ncouraging litigants to settle whenever possible, thus freeing up judicial resources for other cases: Bedwell v. McGill, 2008 BCCA 526, 86 B.C.L.R. (4th) 343 at para. 33;
  • “[T]o have a winnowing function in the litigation process” by “requir[ing] litigants to make a careful assessment of the strength or lack thereof of their cases at the commencement and throughout the course of the litigation”, and by “discourag[ing] the continuance of doubtful cases or defences”: Catalyst Paper Corporation v. Companhia de Navegaçao Norsul, 2009 BCCA 16, 88 B.C.L.R. (4th) 17 at para. 16.

[95]      A plaintiff who rejects a reasonable offer to settle should usually face some sanction in costs. To do otherwise would undermine the importance of certainty and consequences in applying the Rule: Wafler v. Trinh, 2014 BCCA 95 at para. 81. The importance of those principles was emphasized by this Court in A.E. Appeal at para. 41:

[41] This conclusion is consistent with the importance the Legislature has placed on the role of settlement offers in encouraging the determination of disputes in a cost-efficient and expeditious manner. It has placed a premium on certainty of result as a key factor which parties consider in determining whether to make or accept an offer to settle. If the parties know in advance the consequences of their decision to make or accept an offer, whether by way of reward or punishment, they are in a better position to make a reasoned decision. If they think they may be excused from the otherwise punitive effect of a costs rule in relation to an offer to settle, they will be more inclined to take their chances in refusing to accept an offer. If they know they will have to live with the consequences set forth in the Rule, they are more likely to avoid the risk.

[40]         With respect to the first factor in R. 9-1(6), whether the offer ought reasonably to have been accepted, Goepel J.A. in C.P. states:

[97]      Whether an offer to settle is one that ought reasonably have been accepted, is assessed not by reference to the award that was ultimately made, but under the circumstances existing when an offer was open for acceptance: Bailey v. Jane, 2008 BCSC 1372 at para. 24 and Hartshorne at para. 27. This factor is considered from the perspective of the person receiving the offer. It has both a subjective and objective component. The court is entitled to take into account the reasons why a party declined to accept an offer to settle. The court must consider whether those reasons are objectively reasonable.

[41]         I emphasize that R. 9-6(1)(a) uses the word, ought. “Ought” is defined in The Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed. as follows:

b. In present sense: = Am (is, are) bound or under obligation: you ought to do it = it is your duty to do it; it ought to be done = it is right that it should be done, it is a duty (or some one’s duty) to do it. (The most frequent use throughout. Formerly expressed by the pres. t., OWE v. 5.)

[42]         The use of the word “ought” in R. 9-6(1)(a) evinces a legislative intent that the court may consider whether the offer was one that the offeree should have accepted. Where the offeror is the plaintiff, this wording encourages an offer that falls at the low end of the range of potential trial awards the plaintiff is anticipating. Where the offeror is the defendant, it encourages an offer that falls at the high end of the range of potential trial awards the defendant is anticipating. In short, the word “ought” brings the respective positions of the parties closer, with the object of reaching an agreement and conserving judicial and other resources.

Executor Can Be Liable For Unaccounted Expenses

Executor Can Be Liable For Unaccounted Expenses

Jackson v King 2003 BCSC 328 is a good decision on a passing of accounts and held inter alia that an executor is entitled to be indemnified expect for unaccounted or excessive expenses for which the executor can be held personally liable.

The Court held:

12      As Executors, the Respondents are entitled to be indemnified out of the Estate for all proper expenses incurred in relation to the Estate and this right of indemnity is a first charge upon the capital and the income of the Estate: Halsbury’s Laws of England, vol.17, 4th ed. (London: Butterworths, 1976) at 612, paragraph. 1190. The Respondents are also entitled to be indemnified for all costs including legal costs which are reasonably incurred: Goodman Estate v. Geffen (1991), 81 D.L.R. (4th) 211 (S.C.C.). As well, the Respondents are entitled to full indemnity for all costs and expenses properly incurred in the due administration of the Estate: Thompson v. Lamport, [1945] S.C.R. 343 (S.C.C.).

14      In these regards, the following passages from D.W.M. Waters, Law of Trusts in Canada 2nd ed.(The Carswell Company Limited: Toronto, 1984) are instructive:

A trustee is essentially one who is managing the affairs of others. He may have a personal beneficial interest, indeed, he may for all apparent purposes be the only beneficiary, but as a trustee he still remains subject to the obligation to account for his administration to those who may have an interest in the trust fund, whether as beneficiary or creditor. This obligation has been called the duty to disclose.(at p. 871) (footnotes and citations omitted)

The trustee is expected to have his accounts ready within a reasonable period of time from receiving the request. If the trust has been in existence for some time, the affairs or investments of the trust are complex, and the records are to be found in a series of books and documents, the court would take an appropriate view of what is reasonable. These are the kind of factors which are relevant. It may also make a difference as to what is reasonable whether the person making the request is interested in the accounts at large, or the particular accounts which concern his own interest. Nor will the courts permit the requesting person to use the courts as a means of gaining rapid access to the trust accounts. In Re Smith, McRuer C.J.H.C. followed Maclennan J.A.’s word in Sandford v. Porter that the law only asks of the trustee what is reasonable. This means that no beneficiary or creditor can bring a vexatious motion for the purpose of harassing a trustee. (at p. 872)(footnotes and citations omitted)

Creditors will normally have the right to demand an account as a consequence of statute, but the question arises as to what persons with an interest in the trust can claim an accounting. An “interest” is in fact broadly construed. Persons with vested or contingent interests are entitled to seek an inspection or request the court for an accounting, and next-of-kin and personal representatives of such interested persons are recognized. As far as asking the court for an accounting is concerned, none of these persons has an absolute right. As we have seen, harassing the trustee is vexatious litigation, and whether the court will order an accounting depends entirely upon the court’s discretion and the circumstances of the case. (at p. 873) (footnotes and citations omitted)

Severance of Court Actions

Severance of Court Actions

Severance of Court actions joined together may occur in civil litigation.

The Public Guardian and Trustee for BC v Johnston 2016 BCSC 1388 has an excellent review of the law as to when the courts will order that court actions be severed from the other and heard separately.

This decision was upheld by the BCCA in 2017 BCCA 59.

In that action there were claims that the will was invalid and alternatively in the same action , that if the will was valid, that it should then be varied as per wills variation provisions.

The application was to sever the two claims from the other and the court ordered that the trial firstly be held on  whether the will is valid, and then after that trial, if necessary, the wills variation claim would be tried.

[67]        Rules 22-5(6) and (7) state:


(6)        If a joinder of several claims or parties in a proceeding may unduly complicate or delay the trial or hearing of the proceeding or is otherwise inconvenient, the court may order separate trials or hearings or make any other order it considers will further the object of these Supreme Court Civil Rules.

Separating counterclaim or third party claims

(7)        If a counterclaim or a third party proceeding ought to be disposed of by a separate proceeding, the court may so order.

[68]        The key factors engaged in a general sense on an application to sever were canvassed in Schaper v. Sears Canada, 2000 BCSC 1575 (CanLII) [Schaper] at para. 19:

  1. …the party making the request must show that hearing the claims together would unduly complicate, delay the hearing, or otherwise be inconvenient. If a party applying does not meet this threshold, the court need not go further in any analysis and the application should be dismissed.
  2. Have the actions of any party in the proceeding been unreasonable and have they contributed to the complication, the delay, or the inconvenience alleged by the party applying? If this found, that would strengthen the argument to sever.
  3. Are the issues between the plaintiff and defendant and the issues between the defendant and the third party sufficiently distinct so as to allow them to be tried separately? If so, that strengthens the argument to sever off third party proceeding.
  4. Is the relief claimed by, or the potential obligation of, any party best determined by hearing the evidence of all parties at one hearing? If so, that weakens an application to sever.
  5. Does the prejudice to the party applying, prejudice based on undue complication, delay or inconvenience, outweigh any benefit of matters being heard together, or outweigh any considerations related to the overall objective of the rules to ensure a just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits, including the avoidance of a multiplicity of proceedings for the benefits of litigants and having concern to congestion in the courts generally?

[69]        Guidelines that focused attention more keenly on the efficacy of the trial process were helpfully laid out in O’Mara v. Son, Kim et al., 2007 BCSC 871 (CanLII) [O’Mara] at para. 23:

  1. whether the order sought will create a saving in pre-trial procedures;
  2. whether there will be a real reduction in the number of trial days taken up by the trial being heard at the same trial;
  3. whether a party may be seriously inconvenienced by being required to attend a trial in which the party may have a marginal interest;
  4. whether there will be a real saving in expert’s time and witness fees;
  5. whether one of the actions is at a more advanced stage than the other;
  6. whether the order sought will result in delay of the trial of any one of the actions and, if so, whether any prejudice which a party might suffer as a result of that delay outweighs the potential benefits which a consolidated trial might otherwise have;
  7. the possibility of inconsistent findings and common issues resulting from separate trials.

[70]        Severance may well be appropriate where the determination of one issue will render another one moot: Lawrence v. ICBC, 2001 BCSC 1530 (CanLII) [Lawrence].

[71]        The judicial discretion to sever trials or hearings is to be exercised sparingly: Morrison‑Knudsen Co. v. British Columbia Hydro & Power Authority, 1972 Carswell B.C. 62, 24 D.L.R. (3d) 579 (S.C.); Lawrence at para. 43. The test for severance is not applied in a vacuum; it is to be considered against the backdrop of the nature of the particular case at hand: Wirtz v. Constantini, 1982 CanLII 282 (BC SC), 137 D.L.R. (3d) 393, 1982 CarswellBC 588 (S.C.).  Because the determination involves an individualized assessment of the unique case before the Court, there is no closed list of uniformly applied considerations that inform the exercise of the Court’s discretion.

Summary Trial In Court’s Discretion

Summary Trial In Court's Discretion

Whether or not a case is suitable or not to be decided by way of a summary trial is a matter of the court’s discretion depending on an a number of factors.

Cotter v Point Grey Golf and Country Club 2016 BCSC 10 summarized the law:

[82]        The suitability of matters for a summary trial has now been considered by the Supreme Court of Canada in Hryniak v. Mauldin, 2014 SCC 7 (CanLII).  In that case, the Court was considering Rule 20.04 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure.

[83]        Our Rule 9-7 sets out as follows:

(15)      On the hearing of a summary trial application, the court may

(a) grant judgment in favour of any party, either on an issue or generally, unless

(i)   the court is unable, on the whole of the evidence before the court on the application, to find the facts necessary to decide the issues of fact or law, or

(ii)  the court is of the opinion that it would be unjust to decide the issues on the application,

(b) impose terms respecting enforcement of the judgment, including a stay of execution, and

(c) award costs.

Additionally the Rule provides:

(11)      On an application heard before or at the same time as the hearing of a summary trial application, the court may

(a) adjourn the summary trial application, or

(b) dismiss the summary trial application on the ground that

(i)   the issues raised by the summary trial application are not suitable for disposition under this rule, or

(ii)  the summary trial application will not assist the efficient resolution of the proceeding.

[84]        The Court in Hryniak was concerned with whether it would be appropriate for the judge to proceed on summary judgment and examined the part of the rule that discusses whether there is a “genuine issue requiring a trial”.  The Court also examined when it was in the “interests of justice” for the fact-finding powers on such applications, new to the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure, to be used in a summary judgment motion.  Lastly, the Court considered the power to call oral evidence and the process to be followed on such a motion.  Importantly, the Rule in Ontario differs from the Rule in British Columbia, permitting greater discretion in British Columbia to proceed or not by way of summary trial.  There are also less tools available to a BC court considering a 9-7 summary trial application as opposed to the Ontario version, which is set out in Rule 20.04

[87]        At para. 58 in Hryniak, the Court held:

[58]      This inquiry into the interest of justice is, by its nature, comparative. Proportionality is assessed in relation to the full trial.  It may require the motion judge to assess the relative efficiencies of proceeding by way of summary judgment, as opposed to trial.  This would involve a comparison of, among other things, the cost and speed of both procedures.  (Although summary judgment may be expensive and time consuming, as in this case, a trial may be even more expensive and slower.)  It may also involve a comparison of the evidence that will be available at trial and on the motion as well as the opportunity to fairly evaluate it.  (Even if the evidence available on the motion is limited, there may be no reason to think better evidence would be available at trial.)

[88]        In connection with the interests of justice inquiry, the Court held that if it was possible for the judge to fairly and justly adjudicate the claim through a summary judgment, it would be against the interests of justice not to do so.

[89]        Hryniak has been considered in British Columbia.  In Crest Realty Westside Ltd. v. W & W Parker Enterprises Ltd., 2015 BCCA 447 (CanLII), the Court of Appeal noted that the decision to proceed by way of summary trial is a matter of discretion, and the Court of Appeal will not interfere unless the discretion was not exercised judicially or exercised on a wrong principal.

[90]        In McLellan v. Shirley, 2015 BCSC 1930 (CanLII), Justice Brown stated that:

[42]      If no genuine issue requires a trial, the court must grant summary trial.

[91]        In Barkwill v. Pachomchuck, 2011 BCCA 207 (CanLII), our Court of Appeal stated:

[14]      The suitability of an action for disposition by way of summary trial depends on whether the evidence is sufficient for the chambers judge to find the facts necessary to give judgment, Inspiration Management Ltd. v. McDermid St. Lawrence Ltd. (1989), 1989 CanLII 229 (BC CA), 36 B.C.L.R. (2d) 202 (C.A.) at 214-16.

[92]        In N.J. v. Aitken Estate, 2014 BCSC 419 (CanLII), Justice Ehrcke held:

[33]      In my view, Hyrniak v. Mauldin does not change the law regarding summary trials in British Columbia, and does not render the jurisprudence from our Court of Appeal obsolete.

[93]        In the well-known oft cited decision of Inspiration Management Ltd. v. McDermid St. Lawrence Ltd. (1989), 1989 CanLII 229 (BC CA), 36 B.C.L.R. (2d) 202 (C.A.), Chief Justice McEachern, considering the former Rule for summary trial 18A, held that a number of factors were to be considered in determining the appropriateness of a matter for summary disposition:

[47]      In fact R. 18A substitutes other safeguards which are sufficient to ensure the proper attainment of justice. First, 14 days notice of the application must be given (R. 18A (1.1)); secondly, the chambers judge cannot give judgment unless he can find the facts necessary to decide issues of fact or law (R. 18A(3)(a)); and thirdly, the chambers judge, even if he can decide the necessary factual and legal issues, may nevertheless decline to give judgment if he thinks it would be unjust to do so. The procedure prescribed by R. 18A may not furnish perfect justice in every case, but that elusive and unattainable goal cannot always be assured even after a conventional trial and I believe the safeguards furnished by the Rule and the common sense of the chambers judge are sufficient for the attainment of justice in any case likely to be found suitable for this procedure. Chambers judges should be careful but not timid in using R. 18A for the purpose for which it was intended.

[48]      In deciding whether it will be unjust to give judgment the chambers judge is entitled to consider, inter alia, the amount involved, the complexity of the matter, its urgency, any prejudice likely to arise by reason of delay, the cost of taking the case forward to a conventional trial in relation to the amount involved, the course of the proceedings and any other matters which arise for consideration on this important question.

[94]        Accordingly, the decision to proceed with a summary trial is a matter for the court’s discretion.  Both cost and complexity are included as factors to be considered.  Credibility also remains an important issue for the court to determine.  Nonetheless, if the court is able to find the necessary facts to justly resolve the matter, the court should proceed to judgment

Mutual Wills Create Constructive Trusts

Mutual Wills Create Constructive Trusts

Mutual wills as opposed to mirror wills, are not very common, but when they exist and  breached, that breach creates a trust that can be used to trace the assets into the hands of third parties.

Mutual wills are not a good idea for estate planning purposes and should be avoided except in unique circumstances.

In order for the breach of trust to occur, there must firstly be a contract between the parties not to change their wills and to provide for the other as per the terms of the mutual wills.

The mutual wills  are usually and should be accompanied by a written contract where  the parties essentially contract with the other not to ever change the terms of the mutual wills that they are signing.

The overwhelming number of parties who do will providing for each other do NOT do mutual wills but instead do mirror wills.

What may occur after the death of the first party to the contract,  the survivor as time goes on may  change his or her will to benefit other parties that the estate of the first to die.

If the mutual will is properly executed and the breach of trust is proven to have occurred, the  courts may award a constructive trust over the assets that should have formed part of the estate, and order that they are held in trust for the beneficiaries of the estate of first to diet

The authorities have consistently supported the proposition that a person cannot avoid a mutual will agreement by making dispositions of a testamentary nature.

Most authorities go further and support the proposition that a person cannot make any disposition intended to defeat the agreement, whether testamentary or not.

Barns v Barns [2003] HCA 9, at paras. 163-4;  Flocas v Carlson [2015] VSC 221, at para. 192; Healey v Brown, [2002] EWHC 1405 (Ch), at paras. 13-14; Russo & Ors v Russo & Anor [2009] VSC 491, at para. 32; Youdan, T. G. “The Mutual Wills Doctrine” (1979) 29 U.T.L.J. 390, at 410-414; Oosterhoff, supra, at 140-142, 152-3; Croucher, supra, at 405

In the Australian case of Bigg v Queensland Trustees Ltd, [1990] 2 Qd R 11 as well as a number of Canadian cases that were decided before it,  state that where a person has acted to his or her detriment in reliance on an agreement to make irrevocable mutual wills, the court will enforce the agreement against the first to die in the same way as the traditional doctrine enforces the agreement against the survivor.

In Bigg v Queensland, the plaintiff, Mr. Bigg, and his wife, Mrs. Bigg, executed irrevocable mutual wills, which left their estates to each other, and on the death of the survivor, all of the assets divided equally between their four children (each had two from a previous marriage).

Mrs. Bigg died first, after having secretly made several new wills, which essentially left Mr. Bigg with just a life estate. Not knowing that Mrs. Bigg had revoked the mutual will, and still believing that he would be the sole beneficiary of her estate, Mr. Bigg transferred some of his investments into Mrs. Bigg’s name (for tax reasons).

After Mrs. Bigg’s death, Mr. Bigg sued the estate, claiming that the executor held all of the estate assets in trust for Mr. Bigg, and damages for breach of contract in the alternative.

In his judgment, McPherson J. (Supreme Court of Brisbane) questioned the reasoning in Stone v. Hoskins, and ultimately held that equity could not allow Mrs. Bigg to secretly change her will, while permitting Mr. Bigg to continue acting to his prejudice on the assumption that their agreement was still in place. On that basis, the court declared that the defendant executor held Mrs. Bigg’s net estate in trust for Mr. Bigg.

Failed Undue Influence Claims and Special Costs

Failed Undue Influence Claims and Special Costs

Special costs are frequently awarded against failed litigants of undue influence claims, but this was not the case in our Allart estate v Allart 2016 BC SC 768.

There the judge declined to do so on the basis that the plaintiff had an honest belief that her case was meritorious and her failed allegations of undue influence and suspicious circumstances were not sufficiently reprehensible by themselves to give rise to special costs.

The Court distinguished the conduct  from  the leading BC case of Leung v Chang 2014 BCSC 1243., finding the  behaviour in Leung  was more egregious than that of the defendant. For example, Leung  the allegations were not supported by any evidence, or evidence was not led.

The evidence  in the Allart case in support of the position of the defendant was scant and ultimately was not persuasive, and it cannot be said that there was nothing to raise her suspicions.

Madam  Justice Dardi awa4ded special costs against a self represented  litigant and summarized the approach to failed allegations of undue influence in estate litigation and an award of special costs in Leung v. Chang, 2014 BCSC 1243:

[50]      Where an unsuccessful party has advanced but failed to prove allegations that a will was procured by undue influence, typically the usual rule will apply and costs will be assessed against that party: Maddess at para. 71; Mawdsley at para. 36. These are serious allegations which “stop just short of fraud”: Hamilton v. Sutherland, [1992] 5 W.W.R. 151 at 163 (B.C.C.A.). Whether a failed allegation of undue influence is sufficiently reprehensible that it warrants the court’s condemnation through a special costs award depends on the particular circumstances. The court frequently has found that unsubstantiated allegations of undue influence justified an award of special costs: Benekritis v. Gilbert Estate, [1998] B.C.J. No. 171 (S.C. [In Chambers]); Bates v. Finley, 2002 BCSC 159 ; Kouwenhoven Estate v. Kouwenhoven, 2001 BCSC 1402 ; Stanton v. Stanton Estate, 2008 BCSC 470 ; Maddess at para. 74.

[18]         Furthermore, the fact that a party is unrepresented is not itself a basis for declining special costs. A litigant must still comply with the rules and procedures of the court; failure to do so is not excused by one’s self-represented status: Leung at para. 66.

[19]         An award of special costs may be made against a litigant with indigent status in the proceeding: Sahyoun v. Ho, 2015 BCSC 392 at para. 157; Keremelevski v. V.W.R. Capital Corporation, 2013 BCSC 612 at para. 71; Leger v. Metro Vancouver YWCA, 2013 BCSC 2021 at para. 78.