Admitting to Probate a Document that does not meet the Formal Requirements of a Will – New B.C. Case

In B.C., there are formal requirements for making a will.  These include requirements that the will be in writing, signed at the end by the will-maker in the presence of two or more witnesses who are present at the same time, and signed by two or more of the witnesses in the presence of the will-maker (see s. 37 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (“WESA”).

However, the court may make an order a document be fully effective as though it was the will or part of the will of the deceased person even though it does not comply with WESA, if the court is satisfied that the document represents the testamentary intentions of the deceased person (see s. 58 of WESA).

I have previously posted about s. 58 cases here.

The B.C. Supreme Court recently set out a succinct summary of the principles to be considered on a s. 58 application in Re: Clarke Estate 2023 BCSC 103:

[39]       From the foregoing authorities, I derive the following principles:

a)  The onus in this matter is on the petitioner to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that:

i)  the document is authentic; and

ii) the document embodies the fixed and final, as opposed to irrevocable, testamentary intentions of the deceased.

b)  The factors to take into account in determining whether the document contains the testamentary intentions of the deceased include:

i)  the presence of the deceased’s signature,

ii)  the deceased’s handwriting,

iii)  witness signatures,

iv)  revocation of previous wills,

v)  funeral arrangements,

vi)  specific bequests,

vii)  the title of the documentation,

viii)  such other factors as may be relevant given the context, and

c)  the material time for determining the testamentary intentions can vary depending on the circumstances, but in many if not most cases the material time is when the document was prepared and executed.

In Clarke, the Court was presented with two documents:

  1. A document that was prepared by a lawyer or notary and dated December 22, 1994, which was properly witnessed.  This document left the residue of the deceased’s estate to the deceased’s stepdaughter; and
  2. A document that was handwritten and had only one witness, dated April 25, 2013.  This document left the residue to the deceased’s brother.

The Court concluded that the handwritten will represented the fixed and final testamentary intentions of the deceased and that it was fully effective as the will of the deceased.

The types of documents that parties seek to have declared to be effective as wills vary, as does the extent to which these documents have the characteristics you would expect to find in a “proper” will.

The handwritten document at issue in Clarke had had many of the characteristics of a will although it did not meet all formal requirements. The document was in the deceased’s handwriting, it described itself three times as the last will and testament of the deceased, and it revoked all former wills.  It was also signed by the deceased and signed by one witness.  In the circumstances, the Court was prepared to order that the handwritten document was fully effective as the will of the deceased.

It should be noted that both parties were entitled to their full costs and expenses to be paid from the estate.