In Thiemer Estate, a decision of the B.C. Supreme Court, 2012 BCSC 629 (CanLII), the deceased left an estate having a value of $20m. He left a will that provided for various specific legacies. The will also included a clause that directed the payment of “the balance of any money which I may have at the time of my death” to a common-law spouse. The will went on to define “money” as including “the balance of any money which I may have in any savings and current accounts in my name, any savings certificates, shares and bonds but excluding” insurance proceeds and RRSPs.
At the time of his death, the deceased had bank accounts, GICs, a mortgage receivable, and most relevant to the proceeding, shares in private companies having a value of $14m.
At issue in the interpretation application was whether the definition of “money” in the will, which referred to “shares”, meant that the value of the private companies was to be paid to the common-law spouse.
The decision sets out the relevant guiding principles, and case law on the definition of “money”.
The court decided that the reference to “shares” in the definition of “money” was not intended to include the shares in the private corporations. Essentially, the items included in the meaning of “money” were items that were in the form of cash, or which could be readily converted into cash. This might, then, include shares in publicly traded corporations. It was held, however, that the definition did not extend to shares in a private corporation, which by their very nature could not be readily liquidated.
This conclusion was fortified by other terms of the will. For example, the will established a spousal trust. If the spouse’s position on the definition of “money” was accepted, there would be very little left in the spousal trust. Further, the will provided extensive administrative powers to the trustees with respect to the ongoing operation of the companies. The spouse’s interpretation of “money” would render these powers “superfluous”.
The case is very instructive in the interpretation of wills, generally, and the application of those principles of interpretation in a specific context.
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Paul Trudelle - Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle.