Wills Variation Claims by Adult Independent Children

In B.C., a spouse or child of a deceased person (the “will-maker”) can bring an action to vary a will if it fails to make adequate provision for their proper maintenance and support. This includes adult independent children.

When determining whether a will-maker has made adequate provision, the Court will consider the will-maker’s legal and moral obligations. Legal obligations are owed to a spouse or dependent children and do not usually factor into the analysis of claims by adult independent children (unless the child contributed to the estate).

Moral obligations are found in society’s reasonable expectations of what a judicious person would do in the circumstances by reference to contemporary community standards. Moral obligations to adult independent children are “tenuous”, but there may be entitlement if the size of the estate justifies it.

The moral obligation may be negated where the will-maker has just cause, consisting of objectively valid and rational reasons, to disinherit the child.

Cases in B.C. have identified factors to be considered when determining the existence and strength of a will-maker’s moral duty to independent adult children:

  • relationship between the testator and claimant, including abandonment, neglect, and estrangement by one or the other;
  • size of the estate;
  • contributions by the claimant;
  • reasonably held expectations of the claimant;
  • standard of living of the will-maker and claimant;
  • gifts and benefits made by the will-maker outside the will;
  • will-maker’s reasons for disinheriting;
  • financial need and other personal circumstances, including disability, of the claimant;
  • misconduct or poor character of the claimant; and
  • competing claimants and other beneficiaries.

Every case is fact specific.

These principles were recently applied in Bautista v. Gutkowski Estatei 2023 BCSC 1485. In Bautista, the will-maker had one child, a son. The will-maker moved to Canada from the Philippines when her son was three months old. She abandoned him, and despite making a life for herself in Canada, she did not petition to have him join her. She did provide for his support by giving money to her parents, who were raising him. At times they had a close relationship, but as her son became an adult, the will-maker disapproved of the lifestyle she was being told that he was leading (although it appears she was being misled). This lead to an estrangement that was the will-maker’s choice (and her son attempted to reach out to her by email and text).

The will-maker made a will leaving 25% of her estate to her son, and 75% to her sister and her niece. The estate was valued at $881,119.

The Court considered the various factors, including the son’s modest standard of living in the Philippines. The Court varied the Will to provide that the son will receive 60% of the estate, instead of only 25%.