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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Male-only inheritance overturned

The link below goes to a news story on the CBC news website about a recent case at the BC Supreme Court. In the case, the court overturned a Will in which a man left his whole estate to his son, leaving out all four of his daughters. The news story talks about how the judge decided that the daughters were entitled to compensation for the fact that their father was so mean and controlling when he was alive.

CBC News - British Columbia - Male-only inheritance overturned

I found this to be kind of a startling judgment and thought I'd look into it. I found the CBC news story to be a bit skimpy on details. The case is called Werbenuk vs Werbenuk Estate and you can read the reasons for judgment yourself on the Supreme Court website here.

The statements about this case being based on the father's controlling and demeaning manner are a bit sensationalist. The headline would lead a reader to believe that the case was about sexism. The father's behaviour is mentioned in the judgment but is only one factor.

To try to determine what kind of a precedent this case is going to set, I took a look at the law that the case is based on, namely the Wills Variation Act of BC. It's interesting to me (since I don't practice in BC) to see how that law is written. It allows a testator's spouse or children to apply to change the distribution under the Will if it doesn't make adequate and fair provision for the spouse and children.

This is different from, say, Alberta law. In Alberta, in order to make a claim for a more equitable distribution of the estate, a child would have to be either a minor, or handicapped to the extent that he can't make a living. The spouse or child has to be a financial dependent of the deceased. To me, this indicates that a similar application wouldn't necessarily fly in Alberta or other jurisdictions with similar legislation.

It's interesting though that I am hearing more and more about moral obligations towards beneficiaries who are not financial dependents. We'll see where this goes.

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