S.58 WESA Allows Extrinsic Evidence Re Intention

Re Chou 2022 BCSC 783 reviewed the test to be applied in determining whether a S 58 WESA order should be made to remedy a defective will and that extrinsic evidence was admissible re the testator’s intention.

In Estate of Young, 2015 BCSC 182 the court inter alia stated:

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

A determination of whether to exercise the court’s curative power with respect to a non-compliant document is inevitably and intensely fact-sensitive.

Two principal issues for consideration emerge from the post-1995 Manitoba authorities.

The first in an obvious threshold issue: is the document authentic?

The second, and core, issue is whether the non-compliant document represents the deceased’s testamentary intentions, as that concept was explained in George.

The court confirmed that 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’s 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 burden of proof that a non-compliant document embodies the deceased’s testamentary intentions is a balance of probabilities. A 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 the deceased’s signature, the deceased’s handwriting, witness signatures, revocation of previous wills, funeral arrangements, specific bequests and the title of the document: Sawatzky at para. 21; Kuszak at para. 7; Martineau at para. 21

While imperfect or even non-compliance with formal testamentary requirements may be overcome by application of a sufficiently broad curative provision, the further a document departs from the formal requirements the harder it may be for the court to find it embodies the deceased’s testamentary intention:

The Court of Appeal in Hadley Estate (Re), 2017 BCCA 311 stated:

Sitting as a court of probate, the court’s task on a s. 58 inquiry is to determine, on a balance of probabilities, whether a non-compliant document embodies the deceased’s testamentary intentions at whatever time is material. The task is inherently challenging because the person best able to speak to these intentions – the deceased – is not available to testify. In addition, by their nature, the sorts of documents being assessed will likely not have been created with legal assistance. Given this context and subject to the ordinary rules of evidence, the court will benefit from learning as much as possible about all that could illuminate the deceased’s state of mind, understanding and intention regarding the document. Accordingly, extrinsic evidence of testamentary intent is admissible on the inquiry: Langseth Estate v. Gardiner (1990), 75 D.L.R. (4th) 25 at 33 (Man. C.A.); Yaremkewich Estate (Re) at para. 32; George. As is apparent from the case authorities, this may well include extrinsic evidence of events that occurred before, when and after the document was created: see, for example, Bennett; George; Estate of Young; Re MacLennan Estate (1986), 22 E.T.R. 22 at 33 (Ont. Surr. Ct.); Caule v. Brophy (1993), 50 E.T.R. 122 at paras. 37–44 (Nfld. S.C.).
IV. Discussion

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