A message often delivered by estate lawyers is that it’s incredibly important to have a will in order to provide as seamless an experience as possible for your beneficiaries in the event of your death. However, it’s not always the case that more is better, and as we see in a recent case heard by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, having multiple wills with different beneficiaries can lead to litigation concerning which will is valid.

Multiple wills lead to negotiation

The parties involved in the matter were the “moving party”, who was the daughter of the deceased’s common-law partner (who was also deceased), and the “responding parties” who were a small group of neighbours and friends of the deceased.

The deceased died on September 12, 2018. He was 91-years-old at the time. His estate was estimated to be worth about $1.7 million. The deceased had signed a will in 2011 that left his estate to the moving party. However, the responding parties took the position that an August 8, 2018 holograph will, and an August 24, 2018 will, which left the estate to them, should be enforced instead.

This impasse led to negotiations which began in January 2019. The responding parties asked for draft minutes of settlement, which were produced and negotiated over. There was an agreement between the parties that the settlement would be signed.

Parties want to retract offer to settle

In mid-July, 2019, the responding parties retracted all prior offers to settle, hired new lawyers, and refused to sign the agreement.  The issue getting in the way of negotiations involved insurance on an apartment building owned by the deceased, which was part of the estate.

The court looked at Rule 49.09 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which addresses what happens when a party who accepts an offer to settle then refuses to comply with the terms. The rule allows the other party to seek enforcement of the agreement.

The court stated that the notion of finality is important, and that “parties who reach a settlement should usually be held to their bargains.” The court also noted that agreements to not have to be in writing to be valid, but did cite a 1959 Supreme Court of Canada decision which stated, “Where parties contemplate the execution of a written agreement before their legal obligations become enforceable, then the failure to execute the written agreement is fatal to its enforceability.”

The moving party stated that the main part of the settlement was an offer of $300,000 to the responding parties, and that the areas they disagreed on were merely “fine-tuning” and should not lead to disposing of the entire agreement.

But in looking at the negotiations, the court found that the parties were discussing specific terms of the settlement right up to July, 2019, and that the responding parties had never indicated acceptance of any of the terms through the negotiation and had failed to sign them. It was only after the moving party demanded a signature that negotiations stopped and the responding parties decided to pull out of the settlement altogether.

As a result of this, the court found that the moving party could not enforce the settlement, which would have led to her dictating its terms.

If you are considering filing an application to challenge a will, contact the estates lawyers at Derfel Estates Law before you proceed. We can help you determine whether you are eligible to bring such a claim, can help you understand your options and rights, and can represent you throughout the challenge process. Call us at 416-847-3580 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.