When The Family Doesn’t Agree with a Bequest
In November 2020, a Vancouver family contested in court a bequest made in their great-aunt’s will in favour of the SPCA. The deceased, Eleena Murray, had created a will written in 2003 that granted the B.C. SPCA the residue of her estate (money left over after assets of the deceased are liquidated, and all the expenses and distributions paid out). Murray’s relatives were paid a fixed amount, and the residue was to go to the SPCA. The value of Murray’s home in Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood dramatically increased in the years after her death. Since the amount saved for the relatives’ inheritance stayed the same, the residue of the estate grew considerably. In the end, the residue was nearly $1.46 million, or about 80 percent of the $2 million estate. However, her niece says Murray composed a handwritten note on her 99th birthday in May 2017 limiting the amount the animal protection agency would receive to $100,000. Murray died within five months and never updated her official will.
Here is the problem: the family can disagree with the bequest, but because they are not the children or spouse of the deceased, they technically do not have grounds for variation.
When a Bequest Is Challenged
The first consideration that must be made is whether or not the plaintiff is the child or spouse of the deceased. In the above case, the plaintiff was not, so they did not have the legal standing to vary the will. But that did not leave them optionless.
The family members submitted the handwritten note written by the deceased to probate to reflect her true testamentary intentions – which they argue limits the gift to the SPCA to $100,000.
Even though the note isn’t a will, is it still applicable in court? It could be.
Under Section 58 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA), the court is allowed to probate a document/record that does not meet the technical requirements of a will.
In the case of the Murray estate, the handwritten note was unsigned, undated and unwitnessed, and the deceased did not take any steps after writing the note to change her will to make it consistent with the note. In addition, there is a question of whether the deceased had true testamentary capacity at the time of writing the note.
Though the estate was set for trial in January 2021, it is unlikely the final verdict will become public information as often these bequest challenges are resolved outside of court via negotiations.
Bequest Challenges and Issues with the Estate: Call Klein Lawyers
If a loved one has left behind a bequest that does not match their intentions, you may have a claim to submit to probate court. However, you must act quickly. If you are the spouse or child of the deceased, you may be able to vary the will.
Contact Klein Lawyers at (604) 874-7171 today for a free, confidential case evaluation. Our wills variation lawyers serve clients throughout British Columbia from offices in Vancouver, Abbotsford, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Langley, and Surrey.