All too often, transactions between family members (loans, gifts, property transfers, etc…) are not properly documented or are not documented at all. I see this repeatedly in transactions between parents and children. The other children (i.e. the transferees’ siblings) seek to challenge the transaction after the parents’ deaths, so that the transferred asset forms part of the parents’ estates, causing fractures within the family.
This was the case in the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision in Cadwell Estate v. Martin 2021 BCSC 1089. The Court observed:
 As this case shows, when a significant financial transaction is casually entered into between parents and their adult children, tragic consequences may occur, if the terms of the transaction are not clear to the members of the family at the outset, or are not properly, legally documented
In 2004, Bill and Ruth Cadwell (the parents) paid $170,000 to their daughter and her husband (the defendants). The payment was used to assist with the purchase and construction of a new house by the defendants. The house was modified to include a suite suitable for the parents.
The house was built, and the defendants and the parents moved into the house in 2005. No agreement was put in writing. Bill Cadwell died in 2007. Ruth Cadwell lived in the suite for 12 more years until she died in 2019.
The $170,000 payment lead to “considerable friction over the years” between various family members, and eventually lead to this litigation.
The plaintiff (the executor of Ruth Cadwell’s estate) claimed that the payment was an equity investment in the property, or that a resulting trust in the property was created. In the alternative, the plaintiff claimed in unjust enrichment, or for repayment of the amount as a loan, with interest.
The defendants said that the payment was a loan, which was paid off by notional payments of rent applied against the loan over the years. In the alternative, they argued that the loan claim was statute barred because the limitation period had expired. The defendants relied upon a loan repayment schedule document initialed by Bill Cadwell. The plaintiff argued that this document was a forgery, created for the purpose of the litigation.
The Court concluded that there was no equity investment. While Ruth may have referred to the payment as an “investment”, that was not sufficient to establish that the parents were investing the $170,000 to acquire a beneficial interest in the property. The Cadwells had some business experience. They knew they were not going to be registered on title. There was no evidence of any discussions regarding proportionate ownership shares, sharing of expenses, etc… On the evidence, the parents did not expect to have an ownership interest in the property. Instead, they expected to remain in the suite, free of charge, for some period of time, and the parents would be able to rely upon the defendants for help as needed.
The Court concluded that the parents intended the $170,000 payment to be a loan. The next issue was whether there had been repayment. The Court concluded there was no agreement for repayment by way of notional rent.
The Court held that the repayment schedule document was a forgery: “it represents the agreement that the defendants wish they had made with the Cadwells, but did not make.” It’s existence did not make sense in the circumstances, which included a conversation that Ruth surreptitiously recorded between her and one of the defendants, in which she asked for the return of her money. The plaintiff went so far as to call an expert in computer fonts, who testified that the font used for the repayment schedule document did not reach public use until January 2007 (the defendants claimed the document was prepared in 2004).
However, the defendants were fortunate because the Court held that the claim was statute barred. The former Limitation Act applied to the claim, and so the six-year limitation period for the demand loan began to run on the day the loan was made. It should be noted that the current Limitation Period provides for a two year limitation period, which starts on the date that a demand is made.
As a result, the defendants did not have to repay the $170,000 amount due to the passage of time, even though they attempted to rely upon a forged document at trial (although they were not awarded their costs at trial due to their conduct).
There is a lesson here. As observed by the Court:
 As I am confident that everyone involved now recognizes, it would have been quite easy to document an agreement about the payment at the outset, thereby avoiding years of conflict.