Can This Will be Remedied under S. 58 WESA to be Valid?

Can This Will be Remedied under S. 58 WESA to be Valid?

I had two enquiries today in which both questions posed were essentially – is this document, email, diary entry, hand written note, video deposition,  alterations to a previous will and so forth, a will that can be remedied under S. 58 WESA, so as to be valid?

An unsigned will was found to be valid under section 58 WESA as representing the deceased persons fixed and final testamentary intentions that varied an earlier will in the decision Skopyk Estate 2017 BCSC 2335.

The application to cure the will, under the provisions of section 58 of the Wills Estates and Succession act was unopposed, and the order was granted.

The deceased had made a prior 1995 will that was found to be validly varied by the subsequent unsigned will that was not dated, but was in handwriting reasonably similar to the handwriting in a letter entered into evidence, that was signed by the deceased. That letter was found in a drawer in the deceased’s apartment next to the 1995 will.

The unsigned and undated document referred to the will dated November 16, 1995 and purported to change the distribution of the residue of the estate.

Legal Principles

The court referred to S 37(1) of WESA that stated that in order for a will to be valid, it must be in writing, and signed at its end by the will maker, or the signature the end must be acknowledged by the will maker as his or hers, in the presence of two or more witnesses present at the same time, and signed by two or more witnesses in the presence of the will maker.

S 37(2) further provides that if the will does not comply with section 1, then it is invalid unless the court orders it to be effective as a will under section 58, known as the curing deficiency provision of WESA.

S. 58 WESA authorizes the court to order the document that is not comply with the requirements of section 37 be fully effective as though it had been made in compliance with those requirements.

To make such an order, the court must be satisfied that the document represents the testamentary intentions of the deceased.

The court followed the Court of Appeal decision in Re Hadley estate 2017 BCCA 311 that held that the document must be a deliberate or fixed and final expression of intention as to the disposal of property upon death.

Re-Lane estate 2015 BCSC 2162 held that extrinsic evidence of testamentary intent is admissible on the inquiry as to whether a noncompliant document and bodies a deceased intent. The extrinsic evidence of events might include events that occurred before, when and after the document was created.

The court found a number of relevant details that supported a finding that the unsigned and undated document represented such an expression of intention:

  • It was pinned to a bulletin board in the apartment of the deceased where it could easily be found
  • The distribution was rational and a previous beneficiary had died
  • The document directed a division of the residue in certain specific shares with language that mirrored the language of the 1995 will
  • Although it was not signed or witnessed the word witness was written near the bottom
  • Although the document was not dated there was a reference at the top of the deceased will dated November 16, 1995, and it also corrected a typographical error in the 1995 will
  • The handwriting was reasonably similar to handwriting in a letter entered into evidence
    the day before heart surgery the deceased said that he had been working on his will, and that his wishes were different from that of the 1995 will

S.58 WESA: Computer Message Found to be Valid Will

S.58 WESA: Computer Message Found to be Valid Will

In re Hubschi Estate 2019 BCSC 2040 found a message on the deceased’s computer that the court “cured” and found to be a valid will.

Specifically, the court found that the electronic Microsoft Word document found in the deceased password – protected personal computer after his death, is the last will of Mr.Hubschi.

The case did not appear to be opposed but the Judge thoroughly reviewed the law under S.58 WESA.

The computer message will is stated as follows:

“ Get a will made out at some point.A5-way assets split for remaining brother and sisters. Greg, Annette or Trevor as executor.”

As the document was cured by the court, the deceased’s assets were to be distributed to the foster siblings who he grew up with in accordance with the intention set out in the document.

Had the document not been cured, he would have died intestate, and his assets would have been distributed in accordance with  S.23 WESA to blood relatives in Switzerland with whom he had no relationship.

The deceased was given up at birth and at age 3, placed in a foster home in which he grew up with the five siblings whom the court divided his estate equally.

He died without any children, nor did he marry.

The Law

Section 58 of WESA allows the court to make an order that a “record, document or writing or marking on a will or document” represents the testamentary intentions of the deceased person, even though the making of the will does not comply with WESA.

The court may, as the circumstances require, order that a record or document or writing or marking on a will to be fully effective as though it had been made as part of the deceased will.

The court needs to be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the record represents the full and final testamentary intentions of the deceased and can be saved by section 58. WESA.

The court extensively quoted the Court of Appeal decision In re Hadley Estate 2017 BCCA 311 .

Under section 58 WESA there is no minimum level of execution or other formality for a testamentary document to be found fully effective ( Hadley estate at paragraph 35). If the court grants an order under section 58(3) a document may be admitted to probate, regardless of its form.

The party seeking an order under section 58(3) must demonstrate on the balance of probabilities, that:

1) The testamentary document is authentic;
2) the testamentary document contains the full, final and fixed intention of the will maker

The case law has established that the testamentary intention means much more than the expression of how a person would like his or her property to be disposed of after death.

The key question is whether the document records a deliberate or fixed and final expression of intention as to the disposal of the deceased property on death. A deliberate or fixed and final intention is not the equivalent of an irrevocable intention, given that a will, by its nature is revocable until the death of its maker. Rather, the intention must be fixed and final at the material time, which will vary depending on the circumstances.

A very wide range of factors may be relevant to establishing their existence in a particular case.

Although context specific, these factors may include the presence of such matters as the deceased’s signature, the deceased’s handwriting, witness signatures, revocation of previous wills, funeral arrangements, specific bequests, and the title of the document.

In re Bailey estate 2016 BCSC 1226 and unsigned draft will was found not to represent the deceased fixed and final testamentary intentions.

The draft had been drawn up by her lawyer based on her instructions, but there had been several back-and-forth drafts leading up to that draft. Despite several reminders from the lawyer the deceased never confirmed nor signed the will. The court accepted evidence that the deceased had said she needed to set up an appointment “to complete “the draft will.

The court said that that statement taken at its best, indicates she wanted to replace her 2008 will with the new will, and that the statement could have meant she had changes to make, but that she intended on signing the draft as it stood. The deceased had also not revoked her previous will.

The court concluded the draft will was not the deceased fixed and final testamentary intention, and the application under section 58(3) was denied.

S.46 WESA: When Gifts Cannot Take Effect

S.46 WESA: When Gifts Cannot Take Effect

S.46 WESA applied to the following simple fact pattern that I recently met:

A will left everything to my children in equal shares, share and share alike. One child had predeceased the will-maker, leaving two children.

Applying the provisions of S46 WESA effected that the predeceased child’s share went to his two children, ie the grandchildren of the deceased.

S.46 WESA states:

46.(1) if a gift in a will cannot take effect for any reason, including because a beneficiary dies before the will-maker, the property that is the subject of the gift must, subject to a contrary intention appearing in the will be distributed according to the following priorities:

A) to the alternative beneficiary of the gift, if any, named or described by the will-maker, whether the gift fails for a reason specifically contemplated by the will-maker or for any other reason;

B) if the beneficiary was the brother, sister or a descendant of the will-maker, to their descendants, determined at the date of the will-maker’s death, in accordance with section 42(4) ( meaning of particular words in a will)

C) to the surviving residuary beneficiaries, if any, named in the will, in proportion to their interests.

(2) If a gift cannot take effect because a beneficiary dies before the will-maker, subsection 1 applies whether the beneficiary’s death occurs before or after the will is made.

Terezakis Estate 2018 BCSC 805 discusses section 46 of WESA relating to an interpretation of the residue of a will that dealt with its interpretation with respect to two of five children who had predeceased the will maker.

The two children who had predeceased the will maker also left children.

The residue clause of the will was confusing as to whether it was the intention of the will maker to leave the share of any child who might have predeceased the testator to the children of the predeceased children ie to the grandchildren of the deceased.

The court applied the armchair rule of construction that requires the court to put itself in the position of the testator at the time when the will was made and to construe the language from the vantage point in order to determine the actual or subjective intent of the testator –Re Burke (1960) O.R. 26 (C.A.).

The court noted that the will information sheet reflected that the testator presumed wishes to ensure that her grandchildren receive a share of the residue of her estate in the event that any of her children predeceased her. This was the expressed intention of the testator at the time the will was drafted, and the court applying the rule armchair rule, stated that it was the best evidence upon which the will should be interpreted by the court.

The court referred to both sections 42 and 46 of WESA.

Section 42 WESA states:

42. This section is subject to a contrary intention appearing in a will.

42(4)  gifts of property to a class of persons that:

a) is described as a will makers issue or descendants, or by a similar word and
b) b) encompasses more than one generation of beneficiaries, must be distributed as if it were part of an intestate estate to be distributed to descendants.

The court was also mindful of the presumption that a testator does not intend to create an intestacy- Milwarde-Yates v Sipila 2009 BCSC 277 at para. 49.

S.46 WESA states:

1) if gifts in a will cannot take effect for any reason, including, because of beneficiary dies before the will maker, the property that is subject of the gifts must, subject to a contrary intention appearing in the will, be distributed to the following priorities:

a) to the alternative beneficiary of the gifts, if any, named are described by the will maker, whether the gifts fail for a reason specifically contemplated by the will maker, or for any other reason;

b) if the beneficiary was the brother, sister, or a descendent of the will maker, to their descendants, determined that the date of the will maker’s death, in accordance with section 42(4) WESA (that refers to the particular words in a will);

S 46(2) states:

2) if gifts cannot take effect because of beneficiary dies before the will maker, subsection(1) applies whether the beneficiary’s death occurs before or after the will is made.

The court accordingly ordered that the distribution of the estate be made equally among her children and grandchildren, being the grandchildren of the predeceased children.

S. 58 WESA: Fixed Intention of Asset Disposal Required

S. 58 WESA: Fixed Intention of Asset Disposal Required

Re Cook Estate 2019 BCSC 417 applied Hadley Estate 2017 BCCA 311 that the applicable test under section 58 WESA has two main parts:

1) whether the record, document or writing is authentic and,

2) whether the record, document or writing represents the deliberate or fixed and final intention of the deceased person.

Section 58 of WESA is a broad curative provision that allows the court to have the discretion to validate a document that is not been made in compliance with the formalities of will making as found in section 37 WESA, and allows the document to be admitted to probate, if satisfied that the document represents the testamentary intentions of the will maker.

The purpose of the remedial provision is to avoid the defeat of a will makers genuine intentions due to some technical defect.

The Court of Appeal in Hadley Estate approved of the following passage from the Estate of Young 2015 BCSC 182:

“Testamentary intention means much more than the expression of how a person would like his or her property to be disposed of after death. The key question is whether the document records a deliberate or fixed and final expression of intention as to the disposal of the deceased property on death. A deliberate or fixed and final intention is not the equivalent of an irrevocable intention, given that a will, by its nature is revocable until the death of its maker. Rather, the intention must be fixed and final at the material time, which will vary depending on the circumstances.

The Young Estate ibid. at paragraph 36 listed relevant factors to consider:

“ A wide range of factors may be relevant to establishing the deceased testamentary intentions in the particular case. Although context specific, these factors may include the presence of the deceased signature, the deceased’s handwriting, witness signatures, revocation of previous wills, funeral arrangements, specific bequests, and the title of the document.

Other factors identified in the authorities also include whether the language in the document connotes a sense of finality, or is precatory ( non binding words such as “wish” or “hope for”) in nature. Lane Estate 2015 BCSC 2162

What Makes It a Will?

Special costs unfair

Quinn Estate v Rydland 2019 BCCA 91 visited the old Chestnut Bennett v Toronto General Trusts to set out the bottom line of what makes a document a will.

Section 58 of WESA enables a court to give testamentary effect to documents that were intended to be testamentary. It does not enable a court to give testamentary effect to a document that the will maker never intended would be a will. It is clear on the evidence that the Trust was never intended by the Deceased to be a will, or a testamentary document of any kind.

69. The best evidence of whether a writing was intended to be a testamentary act is the document itself: Bennett v. Toronto General Trusts Corp., 9 D.L.R. (2d) 271 (MBCA) at 375, aff’d [1958] S.C.R. 392 [“Bennett’]. In that case the court of appeal gave significant weight to the fact that the letter in issue did not purport to be a will. Similarly, the Trust was and is a revocable, amendable inter vivos trust that reserved for the will maker the ability to change his testamentary dispositions at any time without complying with the formalities.

The facts in Bennett v Toronto General Trusts revolved around whether the following letter amounted to a halograph will or not.

The Court held that it did not- some of the case’s passages are :

There is no controversy, either in the reasons for judgment in the Courts below, or between the parties, that under the authorities, a holographic paper is not testamentary unless it contains a deliberate or fixed and final expression of intention as to the disposal of property upon death, and that it is incumbent upon the party setting up the paper as testamentary to show, by the contents of the paper itself or by extrinsic evidence, that the paper is of that character and nature: Whyte et al. v. Pollok2; Godman v. Godman3; Theakston v. Marson4.

6 Whether the letter of September 27, 1952, contains per se a deliberate or fixed and final expression of intention must be determined by the phrases immediately preceding and following the intermediate part of the letter where the wishes of Mrs. Gray are expressed; for, read as a whole, the letter has one single subject-matter, indicated as follows by Mrs. Gray: “I Promised to let you know how I would like my will to be made out.”

7 In the opening and closing phrases of the letter, Mrs. Gray conveys to Mr. Dysart sentiments of unreserved trust, reliance and dependence. Born, as admittedly shown by extrinsic evidence, out of an intimate relationship of many years between Mr. Dysart, on the one hand, and Mr. and Mrs. Gray and their children, on the other, these sentiments were those accompanying the mind of Mrs. Gray when, after expressing them, she wrote: “I will try to outline the way I would like to leave the little I have.” And having done so, she closed the letter by informing Mr. Dysart that she would be in Winnipeg in a few days and that she would call him.

8 I am unable to dismiss the view I formed that, read as a whole and according to its ordinary and natural sense, this letter amounts to nothing more than what is a preliminary to a will. While Mrs. Gray indicated to Mr. Dysart the legacies she then contemplated her will to contain, it is clear, in my view, that she did not want that letter to operate as a will. Indeed, by her letter, she is committing to future consultation with Mr. Dysart both the finality of her decisions, if not of her deliberations, and that of the form in which they should eventually be expressed in a regular will, the preparation of which is entrusted to Mr. Dysart himself. If this interpretation properly attends the document, the letter has not per se, and cannot acquire without more, a testamentary nature, and the proposition stated in Godman v. Godman, supra, at p. 271, “that a document which is in terms and instruction for a more formal document may be admitted to probate if it is clear that it contains a record of the deliberate and final expression of the testator’s wishes with regard to his property

S. 52 WESA: Presumption of Undue Influence Claims

S. 52 WESA: The Presumption of Undue Influence

Trudeau v Turpin Estate 2019 BCSC 150 is a recent decision dismissing a claim for undue influence and discussing in particular section 52 WESA and the presumption of undue influence that it sets out.

Section 52 of the Wills, Estates and Succession act WESA provides as follows:

52. In a proceeding, if a person claims that a will or any provision of that resulted from another person

a) Being in a position where the potential for dependents or domination of the will maker was present, and
b) using that position to unduly influence the will maker to make the will or the provision of it that is challenged, and establishes that the other person was in a position where the potential for the dependents or domination of the will maker was present, the party seeking to defend the will or the provision of it that is challenged or to uphold the gift has the onus of establishing that the person is in the position where the potential for dependents or domination of the will maker was present did not exercise undue influence over the will maker with respect to the will or the provision of it that is challenged.

Undue influence is influence which over bears the will of the person influence, so that what he or she does is not his or her own act Longmuir v Holland 2000 BCCA 538 at 71.

Rebutting the Presumption of Undue Influence

In Stewart v McLean 2010 BCSC 64 the court summarized the legal approach to the question of whether the presumption of undue influence has been rebutted, at paragraph 97:

• To rebut the presumption of undue influence, the defendant must show that the donor gave the gift as a result of her own full, free and informed thought
• a defendant could establish by showing:

a) no actual influence was used in the particular transaction or the lack of opportunity to influence the donor;
b) the donor had independent legal advice or the opportunity to obtain independent advice;
c) the donor had the ability to resist any such influence
d) the donor knew and appreciated what she was doing
e) undue delay in prosecuting the claim, acquiescence or confirmation by the deceased
f) another factor may be the magnitude of the benefit or disadvantage

The statements of law were confirmed by the BC Court of Appeal in Cowpar-Smith v Morgan 2016 BCCA 200 at paragraphs 49–53.

In the Trudeau v tTurpin Estate decision, the court found that the plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant was in a position where the potential for dependents or domination of the will maker was present.

The court found that the evidence was overwhelming that the defendant did not exercise undue influence over the will maker.

In particular the court relied upon journal entries and various notes written by the deceased about her testamentary intentions. The court found them “illuminating”.

The evidence called by the defence was typical of undue influence defence testimony-and usually persuasive to the court, to demonstrate that throughout her adult life, the deceased was a stern, strong-willed, no-nonsense and domineering woman. She had strong points of view and unrelenting opinions and philosophies and was not easily dissuaded from them. She was well able to stand up for herself, defend her beliefs, and was quite prepared to assert her views. Anyone who defied her suffered her wrath.

Wills Drafting: The Myth of the “Simple Will”

Wills Drafting- The Myth of the “Simple Will” _ Disinherited

It must be stressed that any document that has consequences as permanent and far-reaching as a Will can never be “simple.”

Even a straightforward Will can be fraught with drafting problems and potential liability.

A Will speaks from death and cannot be altered after death. Thus Wills can be viewed as potential
“time bombs” of liability. Although sections 58 and 59 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act now allow an opportunity to correct errors, to confirm what the testator really meant, to fill in the gaps, or to modify the ambiguous, a small drafting error can create an ambiguity that may take years to resolve in the Courts.

A Will is a very personal document, quite literally, a testator’s last word about how his or her
estate is to be disposed of. The only constraints on the testator’s wishes are public policy and the law. If neitheris contravened, the testator can make almost any type of Will.

Duties of the Wills-Drafter

The Wills practitioner has several important duties, including the following.

1. Spending sufficient time to properly canvass with the client his or her instructions, and then understanding those instructions precisely after giving appropriate advice with respect to same

2. Translating the instructions into testamentary provisions that are valid and clearly express the testator’s intentions

3. Gathering all the information required to properly prepare the Will and to give effect to the testator’s wishes

4. Taking into account other documents to which the testator is a party, such as those dealing with assets that pass outside of the estate, and applying legal principles that may affect the provisions of the Will

Simply put, it is the Wills practitioner’s duty to ask the right questions and draft the Will properly in accordance with the client’s instructions.


1. Fees should be based on the practitioner’s actual time and not the supposed “going rate.”

2. The practitioner should explain to the client the amount of time it properly takes to prepare a Will, the amount of expertise required for same, the risk of liability, and the value of the assets that are being dealt. That will help persuade the client that the cost may be higher than he or she wishes to pay, but that it is still good value in the “big picture” of things. It should be stressed that the Will is dealing with the client’s lifetime accumulated assets.

3. If the client is unwilling to pay, then it is open to the practitioner to refuse to do the work.

4. If the practitioner accepts the work, he or she accepts the responsibility of doing it properly and promptly.

Getting the Necessary Information From The Client

Clients frequently attend at the Will- drafter’s office with firm instructions about how they want to dispose of their estates. It is the Will-drafter’s duty to properly examine and scrutinize such instructions because many of them may be neither practical nor advantageous to the interest of the estate or to the beneficiaries. The Will-drafter must educate the client and explain to him or her the nature and consequences of the proposed testamentary provisions.

It is not uncommon for the client’s initial instructions to be flawed. Clients often have firm opinions as to what they want to achieve with their Will that are often simply not practical, or even possible, and would almost certainly end in litigation. It is the job of the drafting practitioner to provide proper objective counsel in this regard.

To get the correct information, the practitioner must ask the right questions. The Will practitioner can simply never have too much information to give proper advice.

The bottom line is there is a duty on the Will-drafter to carry out the client’s instructions as closely as possible, but there is an equally important duty to make sure that clients understand they should not necessarily do what they want to do, and if they insist after proper advice, they must accept and approve the consequences.

Probing the Client’s Mind

I would be remiss in any discussion regarding the taking of Will instructions, especially from the elderly and frail, not to start with a wise quote from Chalmers v. Uzelac 2004 BCCA 533.

1. Every solicitor who, as part of his or her practice draws Wills, should read, mark and inwardly digest at least once each year the judgment of Sir John Alexander Boyd, C. in Murphy v. Lamphier (1914), 31 O.L.R. 287, the Canadian locus classicus on a solicitor’s duty in taking instructions, especially at pages 318-321.

2. That duty is owed not only to those who might, or ought to be, objects of the testator’s bounty but also to the testator, for only the solicitor can be the testator’s voice from the grave; the solicitor discharges that duty by making proper inquiries of the testator at the time of the making of the will and by taking and preserving proper notes of the responses and of any observations relevant both to capacity and to knowledge and approval of the contents of the will. The reason for the latter obligation ought to be obvious but, lest it is not, I state it: How can a judge put confidence in the testimony of a solicitor who says, years (here 9) after taking instructions, but keeping no notes of those instructions, that the testator said this or that as the reason for changing an earlier will?

In Murphy v. Lamphier, as cited in the Chalmers case, the duty of a lawyer taking Will instructions was discussed as follows.

It is an error to suppose that, because a person can understand a question put to him and give a rational answer, he is of sound mind and capable of making a Will: the competency of the mind must be judged by the nature of the act to be done, and from a consideration of all the circumstances of the case.

The grand criterion by which to judge, whether the mind is injured or destroyed, is to ascertain the state of the memory. Memory affords all the materials on which to exercise judgment and to arrive at a conclusion or resolution.

In the case of a person enfeebled by old age or with faculties impaired by disease, and particularly in the case of one labouring under both disabilities, a solicitor called in to prepare a Will does not discharge his duty by simply taking down and giving expression to the words of the client, without being satisfied by all available means that testable capacity exists and is being freely and intelligently exercised in the disposition of the property; and, in dealing with a person needing protection and advice, it is important for the solicitor to find out if there be a former Will, and its nature, with a view of getting at the reasons for any variations or changes therefrom, if such changes be contemplated.

The notes of haste, stealth, and contrivance attached to this transaction, and were not removed by the evidence.

The duty was similarly described by Kroft J. in Friesen v. Friesen Estate (1985) 33 Man.R. (2d) (Q.B.) at para 77, as follows.

6. The duty upon a solicitor taking instructions for a Will is always a heavy one. When the client is weak and ill, and particularly when the solicitor knows that he is revoking an existing Will, the responsibility will be particularly onerous.

7. A solicitor cannot discharge his duty by asking perfunctory questions, getting apparently rational answers, and then simply recording in legal form the words expressed by the client. He must first satisfy himself by a personal inquiry that true testamentary capacity exists, that the instructions are freely given, and that the effect of the Will is understood.

Sample Organizational Chart for a Will

One tried-and-true technique of Will-drafting is to break the Will down into its basic components, to demystify the task at hand. Here is a sample of how most Wills can be broken down.

Part One: Initial Matters

(A) Revocation of prior Wills

(B) Appointment of executor and trustee

(C) Appointment of alternate executor and trustee

(D) Appointment of guardian, if applicable

Part Two: Disposition of Estate

(A) Vest property in trustee

(B) Payment of debts, testamentary expenses

(C) Disposition to beneficiaries

(a) Specific bequests
(b) Legacies
(c) Residue
(d) Alternative gift(s) of residue

Part Three: Administration of Estate

Powers of Executor/Trustee
(1) Power of sale or conversion

(2)  Trust for minors

(3)  Payment for minors

(4)  Investment powers

(5)  Power of distribution in specie

(6)  Power to carry on business and other powers that may be necessary or appropriate

Part Four: Closing Matters

Miscellaneous provisions, for example

(1) Charging clause
(2) Funeral wishes

Remember that the client must “know and approve the contents” of the Will. So that can be achieved, 5. the goal should be to draft a Will the client may read and understand for him or herself. The use of a logical arrangement of paragraphs and clauses such as displayed in the above-noted organizational chart will assist the client in that endeavour. The use of headings and definitions and the numbering of paragraphs and clauses will also assist in that regard. Bearing 6. in mind the aging population, using a reasonably large font is advisable.

It should be noted that words used in a Will are given their ordinary meaning by the Courts. Also, a judge should consider only the Will and the facts and circumstances known to the client at the time the Will was made to determine the client’s testamentary wishes.

Style of Drafting: 20 Dos and Don’ts

1. Strive for simplicity without sacrificing precision.

2. Be brief without sacrificing comprehensiveness.

3. Be consistent in the use of tense and the use of terms. All of the clauses to be used must then be looked at together to ensure a uniform drafting style throughout. The Will created must not look like a patchwork quilt of style and language as this could lead to interpretation problems and possible negligence claims.

4. Use modern plain language rather than verbose and archaic expressions. For many years now, there has been a movement toward the use of plain language to replace legalese and bureaucratic writing. Plain language is straightforward prose, carefully written with the needs of its primary readers in mind. Strive to make your average sentence length shorter and to simplify your sentence structure.

5. Eliminate redundant words and phrases. Will-draftspersons have the tendency to use couplets and triplets when one word carries the intended meaning. For example the words “nominate, constitute, and appoint” could be condensed to simply “appoint.” The words “give, devise, and bequeath” could be shortened to simply “give.”

6. Strive to not use foreign words in Wills unless you are referring to foreign places or persons. For example, do not use Latin phrases such as “bona fide” when the English “good faith” conveys the same meaning. Similarly, do not use expressions such as “cy-pres” or “en ventre sa mere,” when they can be replaced with “as near as possible” and “in its mother’s womb.”

7. Do not use the word “issue” that ordinarily means all of a person’s lineal descendants, but instead use the words “child,” “children,” “grandchild,” and/or “grandchildren,” as appropriate. Similarly, do not use the words “per stirpes” or “per capita” but instead describe the method of distribution.

I once litigated the following clause from a Will that used the word “issue.”

To divide the residue of my estate between my daughters Mary and Joan who survive me in equal shares per capita but if any child of mine predeceases me leaving issue him or her surviving, the issue of that deceased child surviving me shall take (and if more than one in equal shares per stripes as tenants in common) the share which his or her or their parent would have taken if living.

The deceased had a son who had predeceased him by 10 years leaving two children. At the time the deceased executed his Will, he had only the two daughters Mary and Joan. The Will was poorly drafted in that it used both the words “any child of mine” as well as the words “leaving issue him or her surviving.” I argued that the issue of the deceased son, namely the deceased son’s children and grandchildren, should share equally in the estate with Mary and Joan.

Leaving aside the poor draftsmanship that resulted in the litigation, I have never yet met a client who wishes to provide for all of his or her lineal descendants. Clients usually wish to provide only for their children, but if a child has predeceased, leaving children of his or her own, then for those children, that is the grandchildren of the client, in the place of the deceased child.

8. Do not do a codicil to revise an existing Will, as it is too easy to make a mistake. Disregard the client’s concerns about costs in this regard. If the client wants to make a change to a Will, then draw a new Will.

9. When providing for the distribution of the estate residue, try to use percentages or shares rather than specific amounts. Then add the percentages or shares several times to ensure they add up to 100 per cent. In Sarkin v. Sarkin Estate, 36 E.T.R.139, the draftsperson did use shares, but the shares added up to only 55 per cent of the residue. As a result, the remaining 45 per cent went by way of a partial intestacy.

10. Do not use precatory words such as “wish” or “request,” as they are not binding on the executor.

11. Be precise in your description of assets to avoid ambiguities.

12. Check carefully for inconsistent clauses.

13. Check to see that no intestacy or partial intestacy has been created. I once litigated a homemade Will where the testatrix included a specific clause stating she did not wish her brother to ever share in her estate by reason of bad past behaviour. She executed the Will without having included a residual beneficiary clause and thus created a partial intestacy. The effect was that her next-of-kin, namely, her brother, inherited.

14. Sufficiently identify each beneficiary and record his or her contact information. Charities can be a particular problem, as it is necessary to understand the structure of the charity and to ascertain which part of the charity the testator wishes to benefit, as well as to ensure the charity’s name is stated correctly. If possible, the charity should be contacted to ensure accuracy. Leaving a bequest to “charitable and educational institutions” will undoubtedly lead to much litigation among various charities and education institutions.

15. Be consistent in the words you use.

16. Try not to include a gift of a specific parcel of property to a beneficiary as there is a good likelihood the testator will not own the property at the time of his or her death. A better way to accomplish such an intention is to use a clause such as “to transfer to Mary, if she survives me, whatever house and property I own at the time of my death,” or such similar-type wording.

17. Only attempt to do the type of Wills with which you are completely experienced and are totally comfortable doing.

18. Review the Will clause by clause very carefully with the client. It should never be a cursory review. It may be helpful to paraphrase each clause to the client in simple terms, as many clients will not really understand what most of the clauses mean. It is suggested that where possible and practical, email, fax, or mail a copy of the Will to the client to review prior to seeing him or her in your office. That will give the client time to consider and reflect on the Will and to make any changes he or she considers appropriate. That is preferable to the client attending at your office and requesting changes to be made on the spot, as such changes are often rushed.

19. Use technology but beware that it sometimes does strange things, like leave out paragraphs and make other such unexplained mistakes.

20. Do not rely solely on a checklist- type Will instruction sheet. Make real notes, including observations confirming you probed the Will- maker’s mind to check for mental capacity and noted his or her statements as to next-of-kin and the value of assets. On completing a Wills file, avoid using a form reporting letter that has clauses that do not relate to the particular instructions.


I again stress there is no such thing as a simple Will. While a Wills practice can be enjoyable and rewarding, the draftsperson can never let his or her guard down for one instant regarding the myriad potential problems that can arise in this type of practice.

The client needs firm advice and guidance throughout the taking of instructions and again during the review of the Will at the time of execution.


This article was originally published by The Scrivener Volume 27 Number 4 Winter 2018.

Simultaneous Deaths and Survivorship

Simultaneous Deaths and Survivorship | Disinherited Estate Litigation

The law relating to simultaneous deaths and survivorship is set out in section 5 WESA.

If two or more persons die at the same time or in circumstances that make it uncertain which of them survive the other or others, unless a contrary intention appears in an instrument, rights to property must be determined as if each had survived the other or others.

S 5(1) states that if two or more persons hold property as joint tenants, or hold a joint account, and both of them all die at the same time or in circumstances that make it uncertain which of them survive the other or others, unless a contrary intention appears in an instrument, for the purpose of determining rights to property, each person is deemed to have held the property or account as tenants in common with the other or with each other or others.

Under previous legislation the younger person was to have been presumed to outlive the older, and thus the younger persons estate would inherit everything.

The new provision in WESA is designed to ensure the default joint tenant’s perish in a common disaster, their respective estate should benefit from their shares in the jointly held property rather than the estate of only the youngest of the joint tenants.

This is also what is meant by rights to property will be determined as if each deceased person survive the other or others.

It is also a requirement of section 10 WESA that there is a mandatory five-day survival rule in order to inherit.

S 10 (1) WESA states that a person who does not survive a deceased person by five days, or longer period provided in an instrument, is conclusively deemed to have died before the deceased person for all purposes affecting the estate of the deceased person or property of which the deceased person was competent to give by will to another.

(2) if two or more persons hold property as joint tenants, or hold a joint account,

a) in the case of two persons, it cannot be established that one of them survive the other by five days,

1) one half of the property passes as if the person survive the other person by five days, and

2) one half of the property passes as if the other person referred to in subparagraph one had survived the first person referred to in subparagraph 1 x 5 days,

b) in the case of more than two persons, cannot be established that at least one of them survive the other by five days, the property must be divided into as many equal shares as there are joint tenants or persons holding the joint account, and the shares must be distributed respectively to those persons who would have been entitled to a share in the event that each of the person said survived.

Under the Interpretation act, to calculate five days one excludes the first day and includes the last day.

Wills Variation Explained

Wills Variation Explained | Disinherited

JR v JDM 2016 BCSC 2265 explained the criteria in assessing a wills variation claim.

[81] The key provision of the WVA is s. 2 ( now Section 60 WESA) . That section provides that if, in the Court’s opinion, a will fails to make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of the testator’s spouse or children, the Court is empowered, in its discretion, to vary the will to make provision that it considers adequate, just and equitable in the circumstances.

[82] Tataryn v. Tataryn Estate, [1994] 2 S.C.R. 807, is the governing authority in British Columbia on the WVA. McLachlin J., as she then was, writing for the Court, articulated the relevant considerations and principles that animate the application of the WVA. The fundamental approach is anchored in her observation that “[t]he search is for contemporary justice”: Tataryn, at 815. The courts must read the WVA “in light of modem values and expectations” and “are not necessarily bound by the views and awards made in earlier times”: Tataryn, at 814-815.

[83] The Court in Tataryn stated that the determination of whether a will makes adequate provision and, if not, what provision would be adequate, just and equitable, are “two sides of the same coin”: Tataryn, at 814.

[84] The primary statutory objective of the WVA is the adequate, just, and equitable provision for a testator’s spouse and children. As identified in Tataryn, the other protected interest is testamentary autonomy. However, testamentary freedom must yield to the extent required to achieve adequate, just, and equitable provision for the applicant spouse and/or children. In that sense and to that degree only, testamentary autonomy will be curtailed by the application of the WVA: McBride v. Voth, 2010 BCSC 443 at para. 125. The Court of Appeal in Chan v. Lee (Estate), 2004 BCCA 644 at para. 43 affirmed that courts should not approach the WVA as a means “to right all the perceived wrongs of the past” or “to improve upon the degree of fairness of a will” if the testator has met his obligations under the WVA.

[85] In addressing the adequacy of the testamentary provision, Madam Justice McLachlin clarified that the question of whether a testator has acted as a judicious parent or spouse is measured by an objective standard, assessed in light of current societal legal norms and moral norms. As outlined in Tataryn, legal norms are the obligations that the law would impose upon the testator during his or her life if the question of provision for a claimant’s spouse or child were to arise. A testator’s moral duties are grounded in “society’s reasonable expectations of what a judicious person would do in the circumstances, by reference to contemporary community standards”: Tataryn, at 820-821.

[86] The concept of adequate provision is a flexible notion which turns on the particular circumstances of the case: Dunsdon v. Dunsdon, 2012 BCSC 1274, at para. 131. Tataryn expressly acknowledged that moral duties are more susceptible to being viewed differently by different people because there is no clear legal standard by which to judge such duties: Tataryn, at 822. However, the analysis in Tataryn underscores that the court must apply an approach that accords with a contemporary view of marital and parental obligations.

[87] The Court in Tataryn recognized that the foregoing assessment necessarily involved the balancing of competing claims, and held that where the size of the estate permits, all moral and legal claims should be satisfied. Where prioritization is necessary, generally, claims that would have been recognized as legal obligations during a testator’s lifetime take precedence over moral claims. The court must also weigh the competing moral claims and assign each its priority according to their relative strength: Tataryn, at 823. The Court recognized that such an analysis would produce a range of options for the distribution of assets which might be considered appropriate in the circumstances. The court should only make an order to vary a will where the testator’s chosen distribution falls outside of this range.

[88] The jurisprudence also establishes that in determining whether the will-maker has fulfilled his or her obligations, the court may consider gifts made outside the will. If a will-maker has made inter vivos gifts to individuals other than the claimant or has arranged his affairs to facilitate a passing of assets to such individuals outside the framework of the will, the moral duty to a claimant may be intensified: Wong v. Soo, 2015 BCSC 1741. Conversely and depending on the circumstances, a will-maker’s moral duty may be diminished or negated entirely where he or she has made gifts to a claimant either before death or in consequence of it: Dundson at para. 185; Doucette at para. 84.

[89] The legislated scheme of intestate succession does not serve as a guidepost in determining whether adequate provision has been made under the WVA: Wilson at para. 379; Hall v. Korejwo, 2011 BCCA 355 at para. 46.

[90] In reference to the moral claim of independent adult children, the Court in Tataryn observed that while they “may be more tenuous” than that of a spouse or dependent child, some provision for adult independent children should be made if the size of the estate permits and in the absence of circumstances that would negate the existence of such an obligation: Tataryn,
at 822-823.

[91 ] In Dunsdon Madam Justice Ballance conveniently summarized the considerations that inform the existence and strength of a testator’s moral duty to independent children:

[134] In the posi-Tataryn era, the following considerations have been accepted as informing the existence and strength of a testator’s moral duty to independent children:

  • relationship between the testator and claimant, including abandonment, neglect and estrangement by one or the other;
  • size of the estate;
  • contributions by the claimant;
  • reasonably held expectations of the claimant;
  • standard of living of the testator and claimant;
  • gifts and benefits made by the testator outside the will;
  • testator’s reasons for disinheriting;
  • financial need and other personal circumstances, including disability, of the claimant;
  • misconduct or poor character of the claimant;
  • competing claimants and other beneficiaries:

(See Clucas v. Clucas Estate, [1999] B.C.J. No. 436; McBride v. McBride Estate, 2010 BCSC 443; Yee v. Yu, 2010 BCSC 1464; Wilson v. Lougheed, 2010 BCSC 1868)

[92] In assessing the strength of the legal and moral obligations owed by a testator to a second
spouse, the court will consider factors such as:

(a) The length of the marriage;
(b) When and how the testator’s assets were acquired;
(c) The contribution of the second spouse;
(d) How family assets would be divided under the applicable family legislation upon marriage breakdown;
(e) Competing obligations with the children from the first marriage;
(f) Financial circumstances of the spouse;
(g) The size of the estate; and
(h) The magnitude of assets passing to the spouse outside of the estate in consequence
of other pre-death transactions undertaken by the testator.

[See Wongv. Soo, 2015 BCSC 1741 at paras. 73-82; Saugestad v. Saugestad, 2006 BCSC 1839, varied on different grounds 2008 BCCA 38; Mawdsley v. Meshen, 2010 BCSC 1099, affirmed 2012 BCCA 91; Ciarniello v. James 2016 BCSC 1699]

S.58 WESA Refused to Cure Defective Will

Poulk Estate 2018 BCSC 1321 is a good review of the law relating to section 58 of WESA and after a review of the facts and law, found that the said curative provisions of section 58 could not be applied.

The deceased was admitted to hospital where he underwent surgery for bowel obstruction where it was discovered he had bowel cancer and he died days later.

The deceased had only one child, the applicant daughter and he was not married at the time of his death.

The deceased had distanced himself from his daughter after separating from her mother when she was less than one year old.

The daughter had attempted to re establish contact with the deceased when she was 16 years old but the relationship did not develop, and at the time of his death the deceased and his daughter had little contact with each other.

A will was drafted following the surgery and it purported to leave the deceased’s estate to his four siblings in equal shares. The will was not drafted by the deceased and it was not signed by him prior to his death.

The daughter sought an order under section 58 WESA seeking determination of whether the will represented the intention of the deceased.

The will was a fill in the blanks form that was not completed by the deceased.

It was not disputed that the will did not meet the requirements of validity as set out in section 37 of WESA.

The will was not completed by the deceased and it was inferred that it was completed by his sister, the will was not signed by the deceased, and there was nothing on the face of the will to indicate the deceased knew and approved of the contents of the will.

Absence of any objective evidence that the deceased knew and approved the contents of the will was particularly concerning is the will was drafted by one of the beneficiaries and was not consistent with previously expressed intentions of the deceased.

The deceased long time friend opposed the deceased was told by him that he was going to will everything to his daughter.

Notes of the social worker in the hospital were troubling to the court, as they suggested that it was the family of the deceased who are focused on preparing the will, rather than the deceased himself, and that the deceased wanted some time to think. Even if there was sufficient evidence to establish the deceased knew and approved the contents of the will, it was far from clear that the will was fixed and final as to the expression of the deceased testamentary intention. It was clear that the deceased might not have appreciated the severity of his illness or imminence of his death.

The will departed from the requirements for validity in section 37 of WESA to a significant degree, and the evidence fell far short of establishing that the will was final and authentic.

On the balance of probabilities, the court found that the will did not represent a deliberate and final expression of the deceased testamentary intentions, and refused to invoke the provisions of section 58 WESA “to cure“ any deficiency.

The court followed the leading case in British Columbia Re Young 2015 BCSC 182 at paragraph 17:

“S 58 is a curative provision. It confers a discretion on the court to relieve against the consequences of noncompliance with testamentary formalities in the record, document or writing or marking on a will or document”. And prescribed circumstances, section 58 permits the court to address and cure issues of formal invalidity in such documents. It cannot, however, be used to uphold the will that is invalid for substandard reasons such as testamentary incapacity or undue influence.

The court also referred to Re Lane estate 2015 BCSC were the court summarized the principles from the Manitoba decision George v Daily that has largely been followed in British Columbia in decision such as Re Young.

1) The standard of proof on an application under the curative provision is proof on a balance of probabilities
2) the greater the departure from the requirements of formal validity, the harder it may be for the court to be satisfied that the document represents the deceased testamentary intention;
3) the requirements for formal validity of a will serve several purposes or functions, including an evidentiary function by providing the court with reliable and permanent evidence of testamentary intention and the terms of the will; and a cautionary function by impressing upon the testator the solemnity, finality, and importance of his actions in making his last will and testament the evidentiary and cautionary functions are particularly relevant to the determination of whether or not our writing or document embodies the testamentary intentions of the deceased not every expression made by a person, whether orally in writing, concerning the disposition of  his or her property on death embodies his or her testamentary intentions

The court held at paragraph 65:

The term “testamentary intention” means much more than a person’s expression of how he would like his or her property to be disposed of after death. The essential quality of the terms that there must be a deliberate or fixed and final expression of intention as to the disposal of his or her property on death Bennett v Molinary v Winfrey (1961) SCR 91