When an estate is being distributed, it is not uncommon for disputes to arise over sentimental objects that belonged to the deceased, often of low or no monetary value. On occasion, a dispute over a sentimental family heirloom may be the only truly contentious issue between the beneficiaries. Parties may agree on the distribution of the majority of the estate (i.e. the monies, real estate, etc…), but refuse to budge on certain of the deceased’s personal possessions. In some cases, parties may become entrenched in their positions on the distribution of a sentimental object, and that hostility may result in a much larger (more expensive) dispute over the estate.
This could have been the case in the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision in Rhodes v. Myers 2021 BCSC 2043. In Rhodes, a will-maker made a will dividing her estate into four equal shares, with each share to be given to one of her four adult children. Two of the children were named as co-executors of the estate.
There were disputes and disagreements between the children prior to their mother’s death, which only intensified after her death. One of the co-executors sought the removal of the other co-executor (“Donald”). Donald consented to the relief sought, including his removal, on the condition that his brother (“Allan”) receive the deceased’s bolt ring.
The ring was made by the deceased’s husband out of a bolt. The deceased never took it off. The Court observed that it clearly had “tremendous sentimental value to the children, but no monetary value”. The bolt ring was identified by the Court as the “sticking point” in the children being able to resolve the estate issues.
The petitioner (the other co-executor, “Patti”) claimed that the deceased gave her the ring sometime in the last months of her life.
The Court held that since the ring was an asset of the estate, they had jurisdiction to deal with it, and dealing with it now may enable the court to move forward with concluding the estate without further litigation. This is consistent with the object of the Supreme Court Civil Rules of securing the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every proceeding on its merits. The bolt ring, which has no monetary value, should be dealt with now, if it will avoid further proceedings later.
The Court considered the circumstances of the ring in detail, and concluded that the deceased intended the ring to go to Allan, and that this was well-known to all four siblings. The deceased lacked the capacity to gift the ring in the last months of her life. In this regard, the Court held that a geriatric consultation assessment was compelling. As a result, the ring was an asset of the estate, and Patti was directed to distribute it to Allan in accordance with the Deceased’s wishes.
In settling the issue of who was to receive the ring at this early stage, the Court likely assisted the parties in avoiding further time consuming and expensive estate litigation.