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Re: Estate of Constance Evelyn Stevenson 2022 ONSC 6416

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The estate litigation lawyers at Daniel & Partners LLP recently brought a motion for directions before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and asked for the court’s interpretation of a complex will which left a gift in the Estate with no clear beneficiary. The will was drafted in 1983 dividing the estate into two shares with each share leaving different gifts to the testator’s first husband’s niece and nephews, second husband, stepchildren and sister.

By the time of the testator’s death in 2016 her second husband, one of the stepchildren and her sister had all predeceased. While the majority of the gifts made in the will left contingencies in the event one of the named beneficiaries died, one half of the first share left no direction of what should occur if the testator’s sister predeceased.

The court was asked whether the half share should be distributed on an intestacy basis, in which next-of-kin would inherit, or it should be provided to the only surviving stepchild Cynthia. The court took into consideration the surrounding circumstances such as the testator’s knowledge about and relationship with her family, an approach known as the “armchair rule” to find contrary intention in the will. This saved the estate from distributing the gift based on a partial intestacy. Awarding the gift to Cynthia, Justice Broad held:

From a review of the Will, it is evident that its dispositive provisions are complex and well thought out. It is also clear that Connie had a special and close relationship with her named residuary beneficiaries being her husband Bruce, her sister Mildred and persons of the next generation with whom she was connected through her first husband Hugh (his nieces and nephews) and her second husband Bruce (his two children being her stepchildren) and she took care in drafting her Will to include all of them by name. I may infer from this that Connie only intended those persons she named to benefit from her estate.

I am unable to infer that, by omitting a gift over in the event of Mildred predeceasing her in respect of Mildred’s First Share, Connie intended to create a partial intestacy resulting in division of that share among a class of unnamed distant relatives.

The case serves as a reminder that it is important to have clear instructions in a will for a person’s estate to be distributed according to their intention. If you require assistance with estate planning or administration, or if you require assistance with estate litigation, including bringing a motion for directions, please contact Daniel & Partners LLP to schedule a consultation.

Blog post written by Jacob D.A. Harper, associate lawyer