BC Estate Lawyer-Loan or Gift?

Loan or Gift?

Trevor Todd and Jackson Todd have over 60 years combined experience in handling contested estates, including the thorny issue of whether an advancement of funds is a loan or a gift.


In family environments it is often very difficult or near impossible for third parties such as a court to easily determine if that parental advancement of funds used to buy their child’s new family home was a loan or a gift.

From the parent’s viewpoint, it is usually a “gift for so long as the marriage holds together”- but if it fails, we want our money back.

These transactions are invariably not legally or at least properly  documented and are involving greater sums of monies than before and are being made more frequently, especially with the current  high priced homes.

A word of caution to the financing relatives/parents- legally document the advancement of funds as a loan or risk losing it upon a separation/divorce. I recommend that if assisting buying a home, then document the transaction with a mortgage containing a current interest rate.

Accrued interest can always be forgiven .

The Law: Loan or Gift?

In Byrne v. Byrne, 2015 BCSC 318 (B.C. S.C.), the issue was whether bi-weekly payments of $1,000 made by the claimant’s father to a joint account held by the claimant and the respondent and used to pay for household expenses constituted a gift or loan.

THE  COURT:  On the balance of probabilities and in the absence of evidence described in Kuo concerning parental loans, I am satisfied that the claimant’s parents advanced this money without expectation of repayment of principal or interest and that their current desire for repayment was more likely triggered by the separation of the parties.


49      As a result, I conclude that the money paid by the Byrnes to their son is not a family debt as described in s. 86 of the FLA

Mr. Justice Armstrong began his analysis at paras. 41 and 42:

[41] Payments from a parent to an adult child are generally not presumed to be gifts; they are presumed to form a resulting trust in which the parent keeps an interest in the property. However it is open to a party claiming the transfer is a gift to rebut the presumption of a resulting trust by providing evidence to that effect:Pecore v. Pecore
[42] In Pecore, the Supreme Court of Canada addressed how the presumptions operate in the context of transfers from a parent to an adult child:

(a) the focus in any dispute over a gratuitous transfer is the actual intention of the transferor at the time of the transfer …

(b) When the transferor’s intent is unavailable or unpersuasive, the presumptions of advancement (a gift) and resulting trust are useful guides and will apply …

(c) gifts from parents to independent adult children are not presumed to be gifts; rather the presumption of a resulting trust applies …

(d) there may be circumstances where a transfer between a parent and an adult child was intended to be a gift and 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 that claim …

(e) the burden on the party claiming a gift was made is proof on a balance of probabilities …
40      At para. 43, the court noted that in Kuo v. Chu, 2009 BCCA 405 (B.C. C.A.) at para. 9, the Court of Appeal adopted the following factors from Locke v. Locke, 2000 BCSC 1300 (B.C. S.C.), as applicable to the question of whether a loan or a gift was intended:

(a) Whether there were any contemporaneous documents evidencing a loan;

(b) Whether the manner for repayment is specified;

(c) Whether there is security held for the loan;

(d) Whether there are advances to one child and not others, or advances of unequal amounts to various children;

(e) Whether there has been any demand for payment before the separation of the parties;

(f) Whether there has been any partial repayment; and,

(g) Whether there was any expectation, or likelihood, of repayment.
41      The Locke factors are items of circumstantial evidence relevant to the transferor’s actual intention. They are not exhaustive and are to be weighed by the trial judge, along with all of the other evidence, in order to determine the transferor’s actual intention as a matter of fact: Beaverstock at para. 11.
42      Whether the opposing spouse was aware of the transaction is not determinative of the question of whether a loan was made: Byrne at para. 47.
43      In Beaverstock, the Court held that the trial judge had erred in law by failing to begin his analysis with the presumption of resulting trust and in failing to make a finding concerning the appellant’s actual intention when she advanced the funds to her son.
44      In Puri v. Puri, 2011 BCSC 1734 (B.C. S.C.), the wife received funds from her mother for the purchase of the family home. The issue was whether the funds were a loan or a gift. The court applied Beaverstock and held that the onus was on the husband to demonstrate the mother intended a gift: Puri at paras. 95 and 96. In the result, the court accepted the mother’s evidence that when she provided the funds to her daughter, she intended a loan. The mother had borrowed the funds from a line of credit she held with her husband and the daughter had signed a promissory note.
45      More recently in Savost’Yanova v. Chui, 2015 BCSC 516 (B.C. S.C.), where the husband’s father had advanced $60,000 to assist with the purchase of the matrimonial home, Mr. Justice Weatherill held that in determining the intent of the person of who advances money in a family context, the court must weigh all of the evidence to determine whether the presumption of resulting trust has been rebutted: Chui at para. 77.
46      At para. 75, the court adopted the following summary of the applicable legal principles:
[75] The law regarding whether a transfer made by a parent to an adult child is a loan or a gift was summed up by Madam Justice Brown in Hawley v. Paradis, 2008 BCSC 1255 at para. 30, after a review of the applicable authorities:
[30] Based on the case law presented to me, I conclude:

1. that the presumption of advancement no longer applies between adult children and their parents;

2. that as between adult children and their parents, the presumption is a resulting trust when the parents make gratuitous transfers to children;

3. that the court must consider all of the evidence in determining whether the parent intended the transfer as a gift or a loan;

4. that the factors considered in Wiens and Locke will assist the court in determining whether the advance was a loan or a gift.
47      The respondent relies upon a line of authorities that holds that where a parent advances funds to a child for the purchase or maintenance of the family home, there is a rebuttable presumption that the funds are a gift to both the child and his or her spouse: Cabezas v. Maxim, 2014 BCSC 767 (B.C. S.C.) (appeal pending); B. (J.) v. C. (S.), 2015 BCSC 2136 (B.C. S.C.); C. (H.) v. C. (H.P.), 2014 BCSC 1775 (B.C. S.C.); and Madruga v. Madruga, 2015 BCSC 1605 (B.C. S.C.).
48      In Cabezas, the issue was whether funds paid by the respondent’s parents toward the mortgage on the family home were a gift or an inheritance to the respondent, so that any property derived from them might be excluded property under s. 85(1) of the FLA. At para.
49, Chief Justice Hinkson cited Wiens v. Wiens [1991 CarswellBC 511 (B.C. S.C.)] for the principle that:
… where the parents of a married child advance money to facilitate the purchase or the improvement of the matrimonial home, and the spouses later do not agree as to the nature of that advancement, the court must presume that the money advanced is a gift to the child which on a presumption of advancement becomes a gift to the wife.
49      After considering the Locke factors, the court concluded that when the funds were advanced, the respondent’s mother intended them as a gift for the benefit of both the respondent and the claimant: Cabezas at para. 67.
50      At para. 68, Chief Justice Hinkson stated:
[68] Had Mrs. Maxim’s intentions been unclear, I would nonetheless have found that, in keeping with the statement of Harvey J. in Wiens, the funds used to pay off the mortgage on the Madeira Park Property were provided by the respondent’s parents as a gift to avoid the foreclosure of the property, resulting in a presumption of advancement to the claimant. This presumption of advancement is limited in scope, and does not apply to all gifts or inheritances received by a spouse from his or her parents. Generally, such gifts are excluded property under s. 85(1)(b) of the Act, as was the Camaro received by the respondent from his father in this case. However, where a parent chooses to provide funds to a child for the purchase or maintenance of the family residence (to use the language of the Act), those funds are presumed to be a gift to both the child and his or her spouse. Absent evidence rebutting that presumption, the funds and any proceeds derived from them are family property under s. 84 of the Act. None of the evidence presented is capable, in my view, of rebutting that presumption.
51      In cases dealing with issues of excluded property under s. 85 of the FLA, judges of this Court have followed and applied Cabezas in B. (J.) v. C. (S.) at para. 99, C. (H.) v. C. (H.P.) at paras. 69 to 71, and Madruga v. Madruga at paras. 16 to 18.
52      It does not appear that Beaverstock was brought to the attention of the court in Cabezas or the other authorities cited by the respondent.
53      On the case law cited on this application, I conclude that the governing authority is the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Beaverstock. I must determine whether the actual intention of the claimant’s parents was to make a gift or a loan. Because the advance was gratuitous, the respondent bears the onus of demonstrating that the transferors intended a gift, “since equity presumes bargains, not gifts”. In determining the transferors’ intention, the court must take into account the Locke factors, along with all of the other evidence

Equity Protects Unpaid Vendor’s Liens

Unpaid Vendor's Liens

Unpaid Vendor’s Liens

Hall v Hall 2015 BCCA 96 reviews the law of equitable vendor’s liens, which is similar to the law of resulting trusts, in that if you receive a significant benefit or gift, equity intervenes to scrutinize the transaction, based on the presumption in equity that one should pay for one’s benefits.


A great number of cases on the topic are incorporated into Chu v Chen 2004 BCCA 209


In Chu v. Chen, 2004 BCCA 209, Southin J.A., at paras. 46-66, traced and analyzed the law of equitable vendor’s liens. She quoted at length from Storeys Equity Jurisprudence, which she described as one of the great legal texts of all time. As set out in that text, the origin of the doctrine can, with high probability, be traced back to Roman law, from which it was imported into the equity jurisprudence of England. The leading English authorities begin with Hearn v. Botelers (1604) Cary 25, 21 E.R. 14 and include subsequent decisions such as Hughes v. Kearney (1803), 1 Sch. & Lef 132, Mackreth v. Symmons (1808), 15 Ves. Jun 329, 33 E.R. 778, Rice v. Rice, 2 Drewry 73, 61 E.R. 646, In re Albert Life Assur. Co. (1870), L.R. 11 Eq. 164at 178; Lysaght v. Edwards (1876), 2 Ch.D. 499, at 506, 45 L.J. Ch. 554; Kettlewell v. Watson (1882) 21 Ch.D. 685, 51 L.J. Ch. 281, at 283, aff’d 26 Ch.D. 501, 53 L.J. Ch. 717, and Allen v. Inland Revenue Commrs., [1914] 2 K.B. 327, 83 L.J.K.B. 649.


29      The foundation of the equitable vendor’s lien is that a person who has received the estate of another ought not, in conscience as between them, be allowed to keep it and not to pay the full consideration. The equitable lien secures the sum for which the property was sold rather than capturing any interest in the property. Unlike the situation of a resulting trust, the lien holder does not receive the benefit of any appreciation in the value of the property after it is sold.


From Chu v Chen aforesaid, Southin stated: 47] The short point is that yes, a vendor’s lien arises by operation of law, but the ultimate issue is whether in all the circumstances the Court will exercise its equitable jurisdiction and enforce such a lien: Freeborn et al v. Goodman, 6 D.L.R. (3d) 384 (S.C.C. 1969) at 409-410.



What Evidence Courts Examine to Determine Gift or Not

What Evidence Courts Examine to Determine Gift or Not

Schouten Estate v Swagerman-Schouten 2014 BCSC 2320 examines the range of evidence and its significance when attempting to determine the intention of the donor when he transferred title to his farm to himself and one of his 6 children as joint tenants in 1995.

In the will of the deceased 14 years later, he showed an intention to gift the same property to the same child.

The Court reviewed the type of evidence it will consider when determining whether the defendant has rebutted the presumption that he held the property as a resulting trustee for the estate:

5. “What type of evidence may be considered to determine the transferor’s intention? Once the court has determined the proper presumption to apply, all of the relevant evidence should be weighed, depending on the facts of the case (Pecore at para. 55). The type of evidence that may be considered was discussed in Pecore at paras. 56-70. The Supreme Court of Canada at para. 59 expanded the traditional rule that evidence of intention ought to be contemporaneous with the transaction and said that evidence of intention subsequent to a transfer that is relevant to intention at the time of transfer should be assessed for reliability and weighed. Generally, the types of evidence germane to ascertaining intention include declarations and conduct contemporaneous with the transfer, evidence subsequent to the transfer, the documentary record as it relates to the asset, subsequent control and use of the property, other legal instruments, and tax treatment (Pecore at paras. 56-70; Doucette v. Doucette Estate, 2009 BCCA 393 (B.C. C.A.) at paras. 56-64; Fuller at paras. 48-50, 66-67; Chung at para. 49; Anderson v. Anderson, 2010 BCSC 911 (B.C. S.C.) at para. 161 [Anderson]). The grant of a power of attorney at the same time as a grant of joint ownership may indicate that the transferor intended to give more than management control of property (Pecore at para. 67). A Property Transfer Tax Return filed in relation to a transfer is a factor to consider in relation to intention and may suggest the intention of gift if the presumption of advancement was the applicable presumption at the time of transfer (Chung at paras. 52-54). Evidence of intention that arises subsequent to a transfer must be relevant to the intention of the transferor at the time of transfer (Pecore at para. 59; Turner v. Turner, 2010 BCSC 49 (B.C. S.C.) at para. 57). Continuing control and use of property after the transfer by the transferor may not be conclusive because it may not be inconsistent with a gift (Pecore at paras. 62-66; Fuller at paras. 66-67; Zukanovic v. Malkoc Estate, 2011 BCSC 625 (B.C. S.C.) at paras. 134-135).

6      Care must be taken to guard against after the fact evidence that may be self-serving (Pecore at para. 59; Fuller at para. 49; Chung at para. 51; Anderson at para. 164). The credibility of a witness should be gauged by its harmony with the preponderance of probabilities which a practical and informed person would readily recognize as reasonable in that place and in those conditions (Faryna v. Chorny (1951), [1952] 2 D.L.R. 354 (B.C. C.A.), at 357, Aujla at para. 36). Care must also be taken not to treat any single type of evidence as determinative but to weigh all of the evidence (Pecore at paras. 55, 68-69). D. Smith J.A. for the court in Fuller at para. 49 put it in a nutshell: “In short, the court must consider if the transferor had any rational purpose for the transfer other than a gift”.

Credibility in Gift vs Resulting Trust Actions


Credibility in Gift vs Resulting Trust Actions

One of the most common types of estate litigation is the conflicting stories of one party testifying that the asset was gifted to him or her, while others in the family argue resulting trust, and the Judge must decide who to believe.

Examples of such findings and determination of the case are found in the following examples:

It is clear that many cases where a transferee seeks to persuade a court that a gratuitous transfer was intended to be a gift turn on questions of credibility;

. Madsen Estate v. Saylor, 2007 SCC 18at para. 18,

Aujla v. Kaila, 2010 BCSC 1739at paras. 42, 62, 104, aff’d 2013 BCCA 158;

Modonese v. Delac Estate, 2011 BCSC 82at para. 69, aff’d 2011 BCCA 501;

Bakken Estate v. Bakken, 2014 BCSC 1540at paras. 33-35.

Resulting Trust Presumption Applies to Real Property

Presumtion and ignoranceResulting Trust Presumption


The decision Schouten Estate v Swagerman- Schouten  2014 BCSC 2320 confirmed the case law that the law relating to resulting trust presumption law also apply to real property (land).


There had been some issue in law at one time due to the provisions of the Land Title Act.


3) in gratuitous transfer situations, the actual intention of the transferor is the governing consideration (Pecore at paras. 43-44; Kerr v. Baranow, 2011 SCC 10 at para. 18; Bergen at para. 38). In the case of an interest in land as joint tenants, it does not follow as a matter of law that an immediate irrevocable gift was given: the transferee must still rebut the presumption of resulting trust by bringing evidence of intention (Bergen at para. 22).

[4]             It appears settled now in British Columbia that the equitable presumptions established in Pecore apply to real property transfers (Fuller at paras. 41-45; Chung v. La, 2011 BCSC 1547, at paras. 45-46, 55 [Chung]; Aujla v. Kaila, 2010 BCSC 1739 at paras. 31-37 [Aujla]; Modonese v. Delac Estate, 2011 BCSC 82 at paras. 141-142; Suen v. Suen, 2013 BCCA 313 at paras. 35-38). Thus, the presumption of title in s. 23(2) of the Land Title Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 250 as conclusive proof of title may be displaced by equitable presumptions that take into account the equitable interests between the parties in certain circumstances (Chung at para. 47; Aujla at para. 32). This is so even though title to the property in question may have been settled before 2007 when Pecore was decided (Kuo v. Kuo, 2014 BCSC 519 at paras. 225-227).

Transferor’s Intention Is Key to “Right of Survivorship”


The Transferor’s Intention when the “gift” in dispute was created is the key indicator as to whether a right of survivorship is valid or not as 2013 BCCA 492 Bergen v. Bergen reviews leading case law confirms.

the case involved a dispute between respondents and their son (‘R’) regarding proceeds of sale of property purchased by respondents for their retirement home.

The son R constructed a house on the property (for which the parents paid) and expected they intended for him to own it. At one point, they made him a one-third owner as joint tenant, but later severed the joint tenancy.

The trial judge accepted the evidence of the mother (the father having died by the time of trial) that the parents had put the property into joint tenancy thinking it would become R ‘s “eventually”, but that they had not intended to give him a beneficial interest in the property during their lifetimes. The property was sold pursuant to court order prior to trial.

Trial judge found that the parents have not intended to “gift ” the property to R and thus that the presumption of resulting trust had not been rebutted. The Court did not refer to Pecore v. Pecore 2007 SCC17.

The  BC appeal Court dismissed the appeal and found that the “gift” was not valid

CA did not agree with R ‘s submission that once the right of survivorship  is conferred (through the setting up of a joint account, or placing a party of title as a joint tenant) a “complete and perfect” inter vivos gift has been made both with respect to the legal title as well as immediate beneficial interest.

Leading authorities, including Pecore, indicate that the transferor’s intention is the key factor. Discussion of right of survivorship  in respect of bank accounts, contrasted with joint tenancy in personalty or realty. In the latter context, any joint tenant may sever the joint tenancy at any time – a fact that undermined R ‘s argument that as a matter of law, a joint tenant receives a “full and perfect” inter vivos gift of the survivorship as well as the property itself. When severance occurs, nothing remains of the right of survivorship.

The presumption of resulting trust not having been rebutted, the respondents had not made an immediate gift of the beneficial interest in the property itself and the mother was entitled to the entire proceeds of sale.

The trial judge had not erred in fact in finding that no gift was intended.

The Appeal Court determined that Pecore SCC would not have changed the decision of the trial Judge despite the fact that it was not argued at the trial level and quoted inter alia:

7]       It is the third major holding in Pecore, however, with which we are concerned in the case at bar. Under the heading “How Should Courts Treat Survivorship in the Context of a Joint Account?”, Rothstein J. considered the operation of the presumption of resulting trust in the context of joint bank accounts. He began as follows:

In cases where the transferor’s proven intention in opening the joint account was to gift withdrawal rights to the transferee during his or her lifetime (regardless of whether or not the transferee chose to exercise that right) and also to gift the balance of the account to the transferee alone on his or her death through survivorship, courts have had no difficulty finding that the presumption of a resulting trust has been rebutted and the transferee alone is entitled to the balance of the account on the transferor’s death.

In certain cases, however, courts have found that the transferor gratuitously placed his or her assets into a joint account with the transferee with the intention of retaining exclusive control of the account until his or her death, at which time the transferee alone would take the balance through survivorship. …

There may be a number of reasons why an individual would gratuitously transfer assets into a joint account having this intention. A typical reason is that the transferor wishes to have the assistance of the transferee with the management of his or her financial affairs, often because the transferor is ageing or disabled. At the same time, the transferor may wish to avoid probate fees and/or make after-death disposition to the transferee less cumbersome and time consuming. [At paras. 45-7.]

Ryan Fights For the Warhol of Farrah Fawcett (worth maybe 12 million)

Ryan O’Neal testifies about disputed Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett

Love is never having to say your sorry, and that she gave me the $12 million dollar painting that I talk to each day so I own it and not the claimant University, says Ryan O’Neill..

Ryan O’Neal told a jury that an Andy Warhol portrait of Farrah Fawcett that hangs in his home is one of his deepest connections to his long-time partner and that he does not believe he should have to hand it over to the actress’s alma mater.

The University of Texas at Austin is suing O’Neal to try to gain possession of the portrait. Fawcett left all her artwork to the school and it claims O’Neal improperly took it from her condo days after her death.

The Oscar-nominated actor took the stand for the second time in the trial to assert his ownership of the portrait and why it’s important for him to keep it.

“I talk to it,” O’Neal said. “I talk to her. It’s her presence. Her presence in my life. In her son’s life.”

The actor’s portion of the trial is drawing to a close, with jurors hearing for the past several days from some of Fawcett’s closest friends. Each has said Fawcett told them that one of the Warhol portraits belonged to her and the other one was owned by O’Neal. They also recounted the same origin story for the artwork: Fawcett told them that O’Neal arranged for two portraits to be made, and both actors picked them up from Warhol’s New York studio at the same time.

One of Fawcett’s former caretakers, Maribel Avila, testified on Tuesday that the “Charlie’s Angels” star told her that one of the Warhol portraits of her belonged to O’Neal.

Avila was allowed to testify about Fawcett’s words despite coming forward with her story just days before opening statements began on Nov. 25. Avila saw a story in the New York Post about the case and contacted O’Neal’s attorneys.

O’Neal told the same story about the portrait’s origins on Wednesday, adding that his daughter Tatum O’Neal accompanied him to the photo shoot with Warhol.

The actor does not deny that he took one of the portraits from Fawcett’s condominium in the days after her death, but said he was given permission by her estate’s trustee. The artwork was kept in both his home and Fawcett’s homes over the years.

He said he considers the portrait a family heirloom and he plans to leave it to his son with Fawcett, Redmond. Both treasure the portrait for its connection to Fawcett, O’Neal said.

“We lost her,” he said. “It would seem a crime to lose it too.”

Redmond O’Neal is expected to testify on Thursday.

Jurors will also hear from Karen McManus, a contemporary art appraisal expert who told the panel Wednesday that she estimates that O’Neal’s portrait is worth $800,000 (U.S.) to $1-million. An expert for the university testified last week that the portrait was worth up to $12-million.

The Use of Discretionary Trusts in Estate Planning


I always fell asleep during my law school trusts class. I could never have imagined then what an important role trusts would come to play in my day-to-day career as a Wills and Estates lawyer. I suspect that there are many other lawyers, notaries and estate planners who have sometimes been mystified about this area of law.

Over the years the use of trusts has grown dramatically to the point that they are now a major cornerstone of estate planning and commercial law. The purpose of this article is to attempt to explain some basic trust principles, with an emphasis on the use of discretionary trusts in estate planning.


Trusts have been with us for hundreds of years and they are playing an increasingly greater role in estate planning. Trusts are most commonly used to distribute property to family members and others under either a will or an inter vivos agreement. The trust developed through the interaction of England’s two parallel legal systems, being the common law and equity. Its origin lies in the concept of the “use”, which was simply a transfer of property by A to B, who was bound by conscience to hold the property for the use of C. While the common law did not recognize C’s rights under such a transfer, the courts of equity would intervene to enforce the moral obligations associated with the use. Thus, the trust was developed by the courts of equity to overcome the inflexibility and harshness of the common law.

Essentially, a trust is an equitable obligation binding one person (the trustee) to deal with property over which he or she has control (the trust property) for the benefit of one or more other persons (the beneficiary or beneficiaries). The trust arises when the owner of the trust property (the settlor, in the case of an inter vivos trust, or the testator, in the case of a trust created by a will) transfers the property to the trustee on specified terms (the trusts), which the trustee accepts. The trustee may also be a beneficiary and any one of the beneficiaries may enforce the obligation. In law, a trust is not a separate legal entity (as a corporation is), except for specific purposes such as income tax. Rather, it is a relationship where one party holds and administers property for the benefit of others.


The most important characteristic of a trust is that it is a fiduciary relationship (i.e. a relationship based on confidence or trust). The fiduciary relationship exists between the trustee, who holds title to and administers the trust property, and the beneficiaries, for whose benefit the trust property is held. As a fiduciary, the trustee is subject to onerous obligations, including the obligation to act only in the best interests of the beneficiaries.

Another distinguishing characteristic of a trust is the dual nature of the ownership of the trust property as between the trustee and the beneficiaries. That is, while the trustee has the legal ownership of the property (i.e. the title and legal control), the beneficiaries are entitled to the beneficial ownership of the property (i.e. the rights to use and enjoyment).


Three criteria–commonly called “the three certainties”– must be met in order to establish a valid trust. These are:

1. Certainty of intention: It must be clear that the settlor intended that the property transferred to the trustee be held in trust, as a binding obligation. The language used by the alleged settlor must be imperative and not merely an expression of wishes.

2. Certainty of subject-matter: This “certainty” has two aspects. First, it must be possible to identify clearly the property which is to be subject to the trust. Secondly, it must also be possible to define clearly the interests in the trust property to which the beneficiaries are entitled.

3. Certainty of objects: The objects of the trust–that is, the beneficiaries or the purposes for which the trust property is held–must be clearly identified. The word “objects” is a neutral word since a trust may be created either to benefit individuals or to further a particular purpose (e.g. to support cancer research). In each case, however, the objects of the trust must be defined clearly enough that the trust can be carried out.

All three certainties must be present or the trust will fail.


Estate planning is the process whereby an individual identifies and implements steps to achieve the following:

1. the individual’s personal and family objectives for the control and enjoyment of his or her property during his or her lifetime; and

2. the orderly succession to the individual’s property following his or her death.

Estate planning steps may be implemented to take effect either during the individual’s lifetime or following his or her death. In either case, a primary concern will be to achieve the individual’s objectives with as much certainty as possible. Put another way, the goal will be to ensure that the estate plan will be as free as possible from the interference of others, including the courts. While each family and individual is different, in order to achieve estate planning certainty, the estate plan will often involve the use of trusts.

One reason why trusts are used so frequently in estate planning is that they enable an owner of property to give the benefits of the property to others, without having to relinquish ownership or control of the property.

Another reason for the increased use of trusts in estate planning is that there are generally few compliance or reporting requirements, which allows a significant degree of estate planning privacy.


In appropriate circumstances, the discretionary trust may be a particularly effective estate-planning tool. In his text, The Law of Trusts in Canada, Professor Donovan Waters defines a discretionary trust as follows:

A discretionary trust arises when property is vested in trustees and a class of beneficiaries or named persons appear as the trust objects, but the trustees have complete discretion as to the payment of the income, or the capital, or both. The trust may obligate them to distribute all the trust property among the class, but give them a discretion as to whom they make payments within the class, and as to how much they pay to each.

The essence of a discretionary trust is that the trustee cannot be compelled to pay anything to a beneficiary–that any payment of either income or capital, is completely within the discretion of the trustee. Thus, the beneficiary will have no determinable or vested interest in the assets of the trust.

A discretionary trust may be established during the lifetime of the settlor, or alternatively, through a testamentary disposition made under a will.


The flexibility of the discretionary trust as an estate-planning tool is illustrated in the following estate planning situations.

1. Supplementing Government Disability Benefits

A common use of discretionary trusts in estate planning is to provide additional benefits to a disabled person who is receiving government benefits (e.g. a guaranteed annual income) without disentitling the person to the government benefits. Careful planning is often required to avoid the reduction or cancellation of such benefits. In British Columbia, for example, if a disabled person receives an outright inheritance, the amount inherited is deducted dollar-for-dollar from the amount of the government benefits.

Since a discretionary trust gives the trustee an absolute discretion as to whether or not to pay any income or capital to the beneficiary, it can be successfully argued that the beneficiary does not have an equitable interest in the trust. Accordingly, there are certain payments that can be made for a disabled person that will not disentitle him or her to government benefits. Such payments may include medical costs, certain caregiver costs, home repairs and renovations, educational costs and the like. It may also be possible for the trust to purchase capital assets such as a house or vehicle for the use of the beneficiary, without the beneficiary losing entitlement to benefits.

2. Avoiding Wills Variation Challenges

For many British Columbia residents, estate planning must involve a careful consideration of the potential impact of the Wills Variation Act. However, since the Act contains no anti-avoidance provisions, an individual is free to arrange his or her affairs so as to avoid its provisions.

For example, an individual may concerned about a substance-addicted or spendthrift child or spouse challenging his or her will. The individual might use a discretionary trust to provide adequately for the addicted or spendthrift beneficiary, so that any challenge brought by that beneficiary under the Wills Variation Act might fail. The trustee, in his or her discretion, could provide for the beneficiary so that he or she is adequately maintained, but not able to have access to the capital and spend it unwisely.

Furthermore, the Wills Variation Act applies only to those assets that form part of a testator’s estate. If an inter vivos trust is established by a settlor prior to his or her death, and assets are transferred by the settlor to the trustee before the settlor’s death, those assets will not form part of the settlor’s estate. Since the assets are not part of the estate, those assets will not be subject to claims under the Wills Variation Act.

3. Protecting Assets

Almost every individual who undertakes to plan his or her estate will seek a plan that protects his or her assets from the claims of general creditors. In appropriate situations, a discretionary trust may be used to achieve that objective.

If an individual establishes a trust primarily for the purpose of protecting his or her assets from the claims of his or her creditors, and if the individual voluntarily transfers of assets to the trust without consideration, then the trust may be voidable under the Fraudulent Conveyances Act.

On the other hand, if the primary reason for creating the trust is estate planning, then achieving protection against the claims of creditors is simply an ancillary benefit flowing from the creation of the trust. Since the primary purpose for its creation is not to avoid creditors, then the trust should be valid and enforceable. The principal goal is to remove assets from the individual’s estate, before creditor problems arise, so that the assets cannot be attacked by creditors that the individual may subsquently acquire. If placed in a discretionary trust, the assets may be used for the benefit of the individual’s family but may also be protected from the individual’s creditors.

4. Avoiding Claims of Spouses Under the Family Relations Act

With careful drafting, a discretionary trust can be a valuable estate planning tool to enable an individual to enjoy the beneficial use of and interest in property while at the same time protecting the property from claims of his or her spouse under the Family Relations Act.

Consider, for example, an individual who is embarking on a second marriage and wishes to shelter certain property from potential claims of his or her intended spouse under the Family Relations Act. The individual could transfer the property to an irrevocable inter vivos trust under which the individual and his or her children from a previous marriage would constitute the class of beneficiaries. The trust could provide for a discretionary distribution of income and capital during the individual’s lifetime and for an equal distribution of the remaining trust property to the children on the individual’s death. The existence of the trust should effectively prevent the trust property from any subsequent claim by the new spouse under the Family Relations Act.


The discretionary trust is a powerful and flexible legal tool that can be used for estate planning in many different situations and .for many different purposes. Discretionary trusts are increasingly being used to address unique needs and to achieve specific goals that require a flexible vehicle to suit personal estate planning objectives.

Rebutting the Presumption of a Resulting Trust

Dhaliwal v Ollek 2012 BCCA 86 discusses rebutting of the presumption of a resulting trust, and upholds that the recipient done bears the onus of proof, on the balance of probabilities, to rebut the presumption of a trust and to attempt to prove a gift.

Madam Justice Fenlon’s decision in Demir v. Peyman, 2009 BCSC 445, 68 R.F.L. (6th) 319, sets out a useful statement of the legal principles governing the ownership of property. The case arose from the breakdown of the marriage between James Peyman and Seylan Demir. The mother of Mr. Peyman, Elizabeth Peyman, had contributed a large sum of money to Mr. Peyman and Ms. Demir for the purchase of a residential property. Ms. Demir viewed her mother-in-law’s contribution as a gift, but Mrs. Peyman and her son James testified that the mother’s money had been advanced to enable the young couple to purchase a home containing a guest suite to house Mrs. Peyman.

[6] If Mrs. Peyman’s contribution was not a gift, then she would own about 80% of the property and the married couple would own about 20% based on their respective contributions to the purchase price. In the course of her reasons, Fenlon J. said:

[9] I turn first to a preliminary matter, which is the burden of proof in these proceedings. James Peyman and Seylan Demir are registered as the owners of the property and, under the Land We Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 250, s. 23(2), such title is conclusive at law and in equity that the person named in the title as registered owner is indefeasibly entitled to an estate in fee simple to the land described in the title. In short, the law begins with the presumption that if your name is on the title in the Land Title Office, you own that property. That statutory presumption is, however, subject to equitable principles, one of which is the enforcement of an agreement between the parties in order to prevent unjust enrichment if the face of the title is upheld.

[10] In a case such as this where property is purchased with funds provided by a third party without consideration the law presumes that the person receiving the funds holds the property in trust. This is known as a resulting trust. As stated by the Supreme Court of Canada in Pecore v. Pecore, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 795, the presumption of a resulting trust is rebuttable. The effect of the presumption, though, is to alter the general rule that in a civil case the person who wants to challenge the names on title in the Land Title Office bears the legal burden of proof.

[11] In the case at bar Ms. Peyman challenges the legal title to the property on the basis that she made a gratuitous transfer of funds to her son and daughter-in-law so that they could purchase the property. A resulting trust is presumed with respect to the portion of the property paid for with those funds. It follows that Ms. Demir bears the burden of rebutting that presumption, that is. she bears the burden of proving that the money was a gift.

[Emphasis added.]

In the case of Pecore v. Pecore, 2007 SCC 17, [2007] 1 S.C.R. 795, the Supreme Court of Canada established that, as a general rule, ownership will be determined having regard to the intentions of a party at the time the transfer of property occurs:

56 The traditional rule is that evidence adduced to show the intention of the
transferor at the time of the transfer “ought to be contemporaneous, or nearly so”, to the
transaction: see Clemens v. Clemens Estate, [1956] S.C.R. 286, at p. 294, citing Jeans
v. Cooke (1857), 24 Beav. 513, 53 E.R. 456. Whether evidence subsequent to a
transfer is admissible has often been a question of whether it complies with the Viscount
Simonds’ rule in Shephard v. Cartwright, [1955] A.C. 431 (H.L.), at p. 445, citing Snell’s
Principles of Equity (24th ed. 1954), at p. 153:

The acts and declarations of the parties before or at the time of the purchase, [or of the transfer] or so immediately after it as to constitute a part of the transaction, are admissible in evidence either for or against the party who did the act or made the declaration ….But subsequent declarations are admissible as evidence only against the party who made them….

The reason that subsequent acts and declarations have been viewed with mistrust by courts is because a transferor could have changed his or her mind subsequent to the transfer and because donors are not allowed to retract gifts. As noted by Huband J.A. in Dreger, at para. 33: “Self-serving statements after the event are too easily fabricated in order to bring about a desired result.”

57 Some courts, however, have departed from the restrictive — and somewhat
abstruse — rule in Shephard v. Cartwright. In Neazorv. Hoyle (1962), 32 D.L.R. (2d)
131 (Alta. S.C., App. Div.), for example, a brother transferred land to his sister eight
years before he died and the trial judge considered the conduct of the parties during the
years after the transfer to see whether they treated the land as belonging beneficially to
the brother or the sister.

59 Similarly, I am of the view that the evidence of intention that arises subsequent to a transfer should not automatically be excluded if it does not comply with the Shephard v. Cartright rule. Such evidence, however, must be relevant to the intention of the transferor at the time of the transfer: Taylor v. Wallbridge (1879), 2 S.C.R. 616. The trial judge must assess the reliability of this evidence and determine what weight it should be given, guarding against evidence that is self-serving or that tends to reflect a change in intention.

[40] In the recent case of Kerr v. Baranow, 2011 SCC 10, [2011] 1 S.C.R. 269, Cromwell J. writing for the Court, noted that it is the intention of a transferor (or donor of funds) that is significant and that the concept of a joint intention trust is discredited.

Sham Trusts and the Three Certainies

Sham Trusts

The three certainties: certainty of intention and the issue of sham trusts

In order to be valid, trusts must comply with the three certainties at the time of settlement:

It is of course trite law that for a valid trust to come into existence, the three certainties -certainty of intention, objects and subject matter – must be met…. If the first requirement is not met — i.e., a transfer of property is construed as not intended to have been subject to a trust obligation – the transferee takes the property beneficially … If the first test is met but the intended trust fails due to uncertainty of subject matter or objects, then … the property is held on a resulting trust in favour of the settlor…(Lewis v. Union of B.C. Performers, (1996) 18 B.C.L.R. (3d) 382 at para. 21 (C.A.) [Lewis]).

To meet the first certainty, there must be an intention on the part of the settlor to impose enforceable trust obligations on the trustee. The language used by the settlor is critical and must show a clear intention that the recipient of the trust property holds that property on trust: Lewis at para. 22.

The issue of sham trusts is treated in different ways by different authors. WJ. Mowbray et al, Lewin on Trusts, 17th ed. (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2000) at paras. 4 -19 to 4 – 28 [Lewin] considers that whether a trust is invalid as a sham depends primarily on the intention of the settlor at the time the trust is created (citations omitted):
The sham concept…would appear to involve a finding of fact akin to, but nevertheless falling short of, actual fraud. In the trust context, a finding will be necessary that, whilst an apparent settlor did not in fact intend to part with the beneficial interest in the trust property, nevertheless he executed documentation with the apparent effect of so parting (Lewin at paras. 4-21).

If at the [time of execution] the settlor genuinely intends the documentation to take effect according to its terms, and those terms are such as to create a trust, then nothing the settlor or trustees do thereafter can render a valid trust a sham (Lew/77 at paras. 4 – 22).

Mere examination of the deed itself will, of course, be incapable of revealing its sham nature (Lewin at paras. 4-22).
[Courts have] distinguished between the class of case where parties entered into a written agreement which was “a sham intended to mask their true agreement”, and the distinct class of case where, without any question of sham, there “has been held to be some objective criterion in law by which the courts can test whether the agreement the parties have made does or does not fall into the legal category in which the parties have sought to place their agreement {Lewin at paras. 4-24).
The difference [between a sham and merely an improperly constituted trust] is that between an apparent settlor who has no relevant intention to create a trust, but executes documentation by which he pretends to have such an intention; and the quite distinct settlor who fully intends his documentation to take effect according to its terms, but, as a matter of proper legal analysis, fails to create a trust (Lewin at paras. 4 – 25, emphasis in original).
[A] finding of sham makes it unnecessary for the court to consider the requirement of certainty of intention at all, because it has evidence before it that the settlor’s documentation has been crafted to mislead {Lewin at paras. 4-27).

[7]he mere retention of wide beneficial powers and interests by the settlor does not of itself make the trust a sham, so long as the trustee genuinely has control over the assets and exercises his own independent discretions in respect of those matters where the terms of the trust require him to do so (Lewin at paras. 4 – 28).

Simply put, Lewin distinguishes between a settlor with devious intent and a settlor who signs
a document that does not have the legal effect he or she thought it would have. The discussion in Donovan Waters et al., Waters’ Law of Trusts in Canada, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Thomson Carswell, 2005) at 145-149 [Waters] is consistent with the Lewin approach.

A transaction is no sham merely because it is carried out with a particular purpose or object. If what is done is genuinely done, it does not remain undone merely because there was an ulterior purpose in doing it (Lewin at paras. 4-26 citing Miles v. Bull, [1969] 1 Q.B. 258 at 264 [Miles v. Bull]).