It’s not uncommon for people to leave a part of their estate to a charity they feel close to or value the work of. One of the most important reasons to write a will is to make sure that your wishes, including charitable donations, are followed through. Without a will, your estate would be distributed to your family according to statute, and a charity would receive nothing unless a beneficiary donated something in your name. However, even if you write a charity into your will, it’s important to be specific about what you want to leave to the charity. This can be applied to all instructions in a will, which should be as clear as possible. A recent story published by the CBC shows how a failure to be specific about charitable gifts can lead to will challenges and the litigation that comes with them.

Residue of estate to go to the SPCA

The deceased wrote a will in 2003, which granted the British Columbia SPCA the residue of her estate. When she eventually passed away, the “residue” of the estate was valued at $1.46 million and made up 80% of the estate as a whole.

The deceased’s great-niece said that the will was not an accurate representation of her great aunt’s wishes, stating that on her 99th birthday in 2017 the deceased wrote a note limiting the portion of her estate that would go to the SPCA, capping the amount to be donated at 0,000. She died five months later, but her will was not updated to reflect the changes expressed in the note. The niece told the CBC “she intended something to go to the SPCA, but not to the tune of $1.5 million.”

Value of home increases the value of residue of the estate

While the deceased left about $400,000 to family members, the residue of the estate was largely the value of her home. Between the years when her will was written, and her death in 2017, her Vancouver home rose drastically in value. The CBC points out that the monetary bequeaths made to her family remained static, but the residue began to take up a larger share of the estate as a whole.

Charity discounts reference to the handwritten note

The CBC story includes a statement from the SPCA, which said,

“There are several relatives who allege that a short handwritten note — unsigned, undated and not witnessed — with a number of names and amounts, represents (the deceased’s) final testamentary wishes. They rely on that note and a meeting (the deceased) had with two friends who came to celebrate her 99th birthday in May of 2017, a time when there were issues with (the deceased’s) mental capacity,”

The deceased’s great-niece said there were two witnesses who saw the note being written and have signed affidavits to support its veracity.

A trial on the issue has been scheduled for January 25, 2021. We will be sure to update our readers on how the story develops.

In the meantime, Derfel Esates Law advises people to work with an experienced estate lawyer when drafting a will. Conversely, if you are considered an application to challenge a will, our experienced estate lawyers can help you determine whether your claim is a strong one,and can help you explore options while also helping you understand your rights and responsibilities. Call us at 416-847-3580 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.