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Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Gust v. Langan: The napkin will

If you wrote something on a napkin while you were at a fast-food restaurant, could that napkin be your will? This is something the court in Saskatchewan recently had to consider. The following post was written for this blog by James Steele, an estate litigation lawyer in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Read on to see James' summary of what the court thought about the napkin will:

This article offers an overview of an interesting recent Saskatchewan estate litigation decision, in Gust v Langan, 2020 SKQB 42.

A handwritten document had been written on a McDonald’s napkin. The issue for the court was whether the napkin could be legally accepted as a valid holograph will. A holograph will is a will that is entirely written, dated, and signed in the handwriting of the testator (i.e the person making the will).

Some time before he died, one Philip Langan had written in pen on a very thin, brown-coloured, paper restaurant napkin. The text he wrote read as follows:
                        Ron Langan
                        Dennis Langan
                        Sharon Langan
                        Landry Langan
                        Philip W. Langan
                        Maryann Langan (Gust)
                        Dallas Langan
                        Split my property evenly,
                                                            “Dad Philip Langan”

Did this napkin meet the requirements of a valid will? This particular holograph document was drawn informally. As such, the issue before the court was whether Mr. Langan intended to create a will when he wrote on this napkin in the restaurant.

The challenger to the probate, Maryann, was skeptical that the napkin was written by her father. However, she offered no handwriting samples to disprove it was his writing. Maryann also stated that her father told her in November 2015 that he would not leave a will because “he wanted us kids to fight like he had to.”

Other evidence, however, told a different story. Apparently, Mr. Langan had created the document while at McDonald’s when he thought he was having a heart attack.

Sharon Langan and her brother, Ronald Langan, stated that they had never heard their father say that he had chosen not to create a will so that the children would have to fight over the estate. Indeed, Sharon stated that her father would often mention, “Sharon has my will, that napkin.”

Sharon stated that she was not present at the McDonald’s restaurant when her father “started writing on the napkin,” but she observed him signing his name after, when he gave the document to her and said, “This is my will[.] I want you to keep this in case something happens.” Sharon stated that the document was in her possession until she gave it to her brother to deliver to a lawyer, Mr. Stephaniuk.

Finally, another son, Philip, stated that he was at the McDonald’s restaurant, not when his father created the document, but when his father “gave…the handwritten document to…Sharon Langan.” Philip states that his father told Sharon, “This is my will and I want you to keep this in case something happens to me.”

Ultimately, the court found sufficient evidence to show that Mr. Langan had the requisite testamentary intention to create a will, and that the document showed Mr. Langan’s final wishes.

This napkin will episode is but the latest in the line of various Saskatchewan holographic wills. In 1948, farmer Cecil Harris scratched a note on the fender of a tractor as he lay dying, being pinned underneath. Cecil wrote, “In case I die in this mess I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris.” This fender was probated, and found to be a valid will. The fender may now be seen at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law.

It remains to be seen what will be the next holographic device to test the limits of what is a will. One thing is clear: as interesting as some holographic cases can be, obtaining a professional lawyer-drawn will remains the safest and generally cheapest way to ensure your final wishes are followed.

James Steele is a lawyer with Robertson Stromberg LLP in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan ( He practises extensively in the area of estate litigation in Saskatchewan. He can be reached at or 1 306 933 1338. The readers are advised to consult a lawyer for specific advice. 

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