In my estate litigation practice I have noticed that a high percentage of children that are disinherited and seek a remedy under for wills variation under S. 60 WESA have been estranged for many years from a parent or parents.
The question I always have is why were they estranged?
If it was not the “fault” of the disinherited child, and they Ahd good reason to distance themselves, then they may still well have a good claim for wills variation.
J.R.v J.D.M. 2016 BCSC 2265 discusses in great detail the law and related facts of the case in a wills variance case brought by the estranged child of the deceased.
No explanation was left by the deceased for the disinheritance other than the notaries notes that he had not seen his daughter for over ten years.
The daughter’s evidence that she had been sexually and emotionally abused by her father, together with his lack of financial contribution to her education and general welfare was accepted by the court.
As is often the case in estrangement cases that I have dealt with, the child left home at an early age (15).
Any attempt by her in subsequent years to make amends with her father was rejected by him. The court accepted her evidence that there had been nothing positive or healthy in her relationship with her father and that she reasonably believed that her father had no genuine interest in making amends are pursuing any reconciliation.
Generally speaking in my experience, when children leave home at an early age and deliberately have little or no contact with either or both parents, there is usually a valid reason that amounts to the fault on behalf of the parents to have caused the estrangement.
The court somewhat recognize such behavior and are receptive to the notion that the failure of a parent to financially contribute to a child support during his or her minority is a factor in assessing his or her moral claim for a variation of a parents will when the child has been disinherited.
The court found that any telephone calls between the daughter and the father were distressing and demeaning to the daughter. She was not invited to his second wedding but did attend his funeral.
The court found as a fact that it was the father’s mistreatment of his daughter and his voluntary abdication of his parental obligations that cause the fracture of the father daughter relationship. As such, the onus for repairing the relationship and seeking any form of reconciliation with his daughter rested squarely with the father and his moral duty to her was enhanced as a result of his blameworthy conduct.
When faced with a long period of estrangement as in this case, the court will inquire into the role played by the testator. If the estrangement is largely the fault of the testator, it will likely not negate a testator’s moral duty to an adult child. McBride, at para. 132; Gray v. Nantel, 2002 BCCA 94 at paras. 17-21. The Court’s summary at para. 132 of McBride is of particular relevance to this case:
“In the early development of the caselaw, a long period of separation, abandonment or estrangement between a child and testator was frequently, though not invariably, taken to militate against finding a moral duty to an adult child. The modern judicial trend indicates that the court will enquire into the role played by the testator in the estrangement or relationship breakdown, and where it is seen to be largely the fault of or at the insistence of a testator, it will likely not negate a testator’s moral duty, and may even enhance it. The weight of the authorities also indicates that the court may discern a moral duty as a means of rectifying the testator’s childhood neglect of the children: Gray v. Gray Estate, 2002 BCCA 94, 98 B.C.L.R. (3d) 389,”
Doucette v. Clarke, 2007 BCSC 1021, 35 E.T.R. (3d) 98 [Doucette]; Tomlyn v.Kennedy, 2008 BCSC 331, 38 E.T.R. (3d) 289; Wilson v. Watson, 2006 BCSC 53, 21 E.T.R. (3d) 285; P.S.G. v G.G. Estate, 2005 BCSC 1855; Ryan.
 The comments of Donald J.A. in Gray in addressing the moral claim of an adult child in a WVA claim are apposite in this case:
“I cannot accept that a child so neglected for his first 18 years and then treated shabbily during a brief reconciliation can be said to forfeit the moral claims to a share in his father’s estate by abandoning any further effort to establish a relationship. The fault in this sad story lies with the father and, in my opinion, the onus to seek further reconciliation was on his shoulders. The testator gave the appellant virtually nothing in an emotional or material way; the will was his last opportunity to do right by his son.”