Mussio Goodman is pleased to announce our success in the British Columbia Supreme Court case of Ciarniello v. James, 2016 BCSC 1699. The case involved a BC wills variation claim by the Plaintiff, who was the second wife of a Vancouver dentist and businessman.
The Plaintiff sued her husband’s estate, claiming that he did not adequately provide for her in his will. The deceased had five children, two with the Plaintiff and three from a previous marriage. The will split the estate equally between his five children but left out the Plaintiff.
In this case, Wesley Mussio and Anthony Eden of Mussio Goodman represented the Defendants, the three children from the first family.
British Columbia Wills and Estate law is very unique when compared to other jurisdictions, as it features legislation which allows adult children or spouses to apply to the Court to vary the will of a deceased person.
A Court will overturn a will of a deceased person and vary it with terms it deems to be “just, adequate, or equitable”, if a variety of criteria are met. However, the criteria which warrants variation of a will is routinely a point of contention between the parties, especially when there are millions of dollars at stake.
The BC wills variation regime often pits family members against each other in lengthy and contested litigation. A particularly common family dynamic in BC wills variation claims involve blended families. Where the deceased has multiple children with different spouses, there is typically an increased possibility for animosity between family members. This age-old problem can lead to some fairly complex litigation. The lawyers at Mussio Goodman are well versed in the legal and practical aspects of such situations and the impact on Wills and Estate law in British Columbia.
The first family disagreed that the deceased’s will ought to be varied in the Plaintiff’s favour, mainly because their father had transferred significant assets to the Plaintiff before his death. Furthermore, they argued that their father relied on complicated tax planning reasons for leaving the Plaintiff out of his will.
Mr. Justice Sigurdson heard arguments from all the parties over four days of trial. The evidence revealed that the estate was over $11M in total, and that the Plaintiff had been transferred significant assets prior to the death of the Deceased. In spite of this, the Plaintiff argued that she should have received half of the marital assets on the death of the Deceased, as would have been required on a divorce. Furthermore, the Plaintiff argued that she had not been maintained by the deceased to continue a standard of living to which she had grown accustomed.
On the other hand, we argued on behalf of our clients that the court should give due consideration to the considerable assets already transferred to the Plaintiff, and the taxes paid by the estate for which the Plaintiff was not responsible.
Of importance, it was revealed through the course of litigation that a company transferred to the Plaintiff before the death of the deceased owed debts of close to $1.5M dollars to the deceased’s estate. This key evidence was uncovered through the discovery process of the litigation by the efforts of the Mussio Goodman team.
After reviewing all the evidence, Mr. Justice Sigurdson ordered that the will be varied so that the Plaintiff is entitled to 25% of the Estate. In making his decision, Mr. Justice Sigurdson placed a great deal of weight on the fact that without a variation of the will, the Plaintiff would be unable to re-pay the debt to the Estate. So while the Plaintiff will receive an increased share from the estate, the practical consequence is that the she must use her increased share to satisfy the debt owing to the estate.
This case demonstrates how complicated BC Wills and Estate litigation can be. There are often significant investigations in the course of litigation as well as complicated practical issues to take into account, such as tax planning consequences. Litigation can be a very risky endeavour and there are very rarely “slam dunk” cases. At Mussio Goodman, we provide our BC Wills and Estate litigation clients with the experience, knowledge, and expertise to deal with any situation that may arise throughout the course of a lawsuit.