Will Variation: Daughter Awarded Entire Estate

Will Varied to Give Daughter Entire Estate

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

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

The daughter in turn had great financial need.

The Court Stated:

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

Entire estate

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

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

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

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

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