In a recent Saskatchewan decision, a testator’s family attempted to challenge his will and testamentary capacity based on “cognitive difficulties” and alcohol consumption. The court rejected their arguments.

Testator Leaves Estate to Distant Cousin’s Children

The testator lived his entire life on a family farm near Semans, Saskatchewan. He had three surviving siblings and one nephew. He never married and had no children.

The farm had been owned and operated by the testator’s parents. However, his father passed away in 2012 and his mother passed away in 2014. By way of bequest, the testator received two quarter sections of the farmland from his mother’s estate while his siblings received one quarter section each.

After his mother’s death, the testator continued a mixed farming operation on the farmland he received from his mother’s estate, combined with other land owned by him.

In 2018, the testator decided to revise a previous will from 1993. In the 1993 will, his parents were his executors and the sole beneficiaries of his estate. In his revised 2018 will, he directed that his entire estate be distributed to the two children of a distant cousin. The 2018 will also named the cousin as the executrix. The cousin and her children had helped him on the farm after his parents’ deaths.

The testator died on May 2, 2020 at the age of 66.

Testator’s Family Challenge of Will Based on “Cognitive Difficulties”

The testator’s siblings suspected that he lacked testamentary capacity and/or was unduly influenced by the cousin and went to court. Specifically, they alleged that the testator had “cognitive difficulties” from a young age. In support of this assertion, they submitted that the testator had difficulties with school and had failed to complete grade 11. They also submitted that he had difficulties managing the farm operations and had struggled to administer his mother’s estate following her death.

Additionally, the family submitted testimony that the testator had issues with alcohol consumption. They also presented the coroner’s report, which indicated that while the testator had died of heart disease, alcohol consumption and/or withdrawal may have been contributing factors in his death.

Court Rejects Family’s Arguments

First, the court rejected the family’s assertions relating to the testator’s “cognitive difficulties”, stating:

“This evidence does not rebut the presumption of testamentary capacity. Difficulties in school, administering an estate, or managing a farming operation do not, whether singly or collectively support an inference that [the testator] in fact suffered cognitive difficulties much less an inference that [the testator]’s cognitive difficulties impacted upon his testamentary capacity at the time he signed the will.”

In response to the family’s submissions on the testator’s alcohol consumption, the court first held that there was no direct evidence that he was intoxicated at the time he executed the 2018 will. Additionally, citing previous case law, the court noted:

“[T]he established chronic and longstanding alcoholism of the testator is not sufficient to raise a genuine issue to be tried in the absence of medical evidence of alcoholism eroding capacity and/or evidence that the testator was intoxicated at the time the will was executed.”

As such, the court held that the family had not presented sufficient evidence as to whether the testator had lacked testamentary capacity due to alcohol abuse.

The court therefore held that the presumption of testamentary capacity had not been displaced.

Finally, the court rejected the family’s claims of undue influence, stating:

“In my respectful view, the circumstances raised by the [family] are nothing more than “suggestions of irregularity or evidence on peripheral points”. They do not, whether considered individually or cumulatively, constitute probative evidence on the issue of undue influence.”

In the result, the family’s challenge was dismissed and the 2018 will was upheld.

Contact Campbells LLP for Experienced Advice on Drafting Your Will

Protecting your assets and ensuring your family and other loved ones are provided for in the future is not something most people want to think about. However, effectively managing your wealth and protecting your spouse, children, and your estate is something that everyone should do at some point to ensure that your express wishes are carried out.

An effective estate plan goes far beyond just creating a will. You should also consider securing other important legal tools including powers of attorney (for personal care and for property), trusts (including Hansen trusts if you have disabled children or other dependants), as well as the designation of beneficiaries on life insurance policies, pensions, and other key documents.

The best way to guarantee that your wishes will be carried out exactly as you would like them to is to consult with an experienced estate lawyer. At Campbells LLP in Oakville, our wills lawyers have been helping clients with Wills and estates matters since 1999. We will meet with you to help you clarify your long-term objectives and will create a personalized, effective estate plan designed to meet those goals. As your family grows or changes, we will ensure your estate plan is amended as required to ensure it continues to protect your ultimate objective.

At Campbells LLP, we are proud of the strong, long-lasting relationships we build with the clients for whom we craft Wills and estate plans. With our help, you can ensure that your family and loved ones are taken care of, that your wealth is distributed as you wish, and that the risk of any potential litigation is minimized.  Our overall mission is to provide the right solution for each and every one of our clients. Contact us online or at (905) 828-2247 to learn more about our services.