Court's Power to Cure Deficiencies and Rectify Wills (16:V)

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by the Law Students' Legal Advice Program on June 30, 2023.

Section 58 of WESA gives the court the power to recognize any “record” that gives effect to the testamentary disposition of the deceased, even if it does not comply with the formalities of WESA and/or the common law. This means that the court can give effect to a document or other record that contains a testamentary disposition. As such, individuals should be cautious about drafting documents that may be construed as a testamentary disposition.

The leading case on section 58 is Estate of Young, 2015 BCSC 182, in which the court considers case law from Manitoba with a similar provision (section 22 of The Wills Act, CCSM W150) in order to interpret section 58.

The court observes that the curative power of section 58 is very fact-sensitive and that the purpose of the section is to cure formal invalidities and not to be used to uphold a will that is invalid for any substantive reasons. For example, the court can uphold a will that does not adhere to the format that a will should take under WESA; however, it cannot uphold a will that is deemed invalid because of testamentary incapacity or undue influence.

There are two principal issues for consideration that the court takes into account when assessing whether an impugned document should be recognized:

  1. Whether the document is authentic.
  2. Whether the non-compliant document represents the deceased’s testamentary intentions. The court then goes on to specify: “the key question is whether the document records a deliberate or fixed and final expression of intention as to the disposal of the deceased’s property on death.”

The court includes a non-exhaustive list of factors that may be taken into consideration when assessing a document:

  • the presence of the deceased’s handwriting;
  • witness signatures;
  • revocation of previous wills;
  • funeral arrangements;
  • specific bequests; and
  • the title of the document.

Although section 58 gives the court broad powers to give effect to the intentions of the will-maker, this power does have limitations. Therefore, every effort should be made to follow the proper procedure when drafting a will in order to avoid future complications. As the court notes in Estate of Young, 2015 BCSC 182, “[w]hile imperfect or even non-compliance with formal testamentary requirements may be overcome by application of a sufficiently broad curative provision, the further a document departs from the formal requirements, the harder it may be for the court to find it embodies the deceased’s testamentary intention.” See also Levesque Estate, Re, 2019 BCSC 927; Hadley Estate, Re, 2017 BCCA 311; and Dickinson-Starkey Estate (Re), 2022 BCSC 93.

Section 59 of WESA gives the courts the power to rectify an error or omission in a will in order to give effect to the intentions of the will-maker. Extrinsic evidence is permissible to determine the intent of the will-maker.

This is a significant provision, as it allows the courts to consider evidence that would otherwise not be admissible in order to determine the intent of the will-maker.

© Copyright 2023, The Greater Vancouver Law Students' Legal Advice Society.