In a recent Alberta case, a court had to interpret the meaning of the word “awhile” in a will.
The deceased passed away in 2010 at the age of 87. He left behind six adult children.
The deceased’s will was a holograph will, meaning it was handwritten and not witnessed. The will was dated December 1, 1995.
The last sentence in his will read as follows:
“[My youngest son] can live in the house for awhile, to be determined by Him and his brothers + sisters.”
The youngest son and one of his siblings believed his father intended for him to remain in the home indefinitely. He also claimed that he and his siblings were all aware that his father intended to “leave the home to him”, not necessarily that he would own it, but that he could stay in it for as long as he wanted. He stated that he witnessed many conversations in the few months prior to his father’s death where his father expressed those intentions to some of his children and grandchildren.
Two of the deceased’s other children submitted that “for awhile” meant for a short period of time, sufficient to allow the youngest son to get his affairs in order and to vacate the house so that it could be sold and the proceeds distributed. They claimed that “awhile” did not mean forever.
At issue before the court was the interpretation of the phrase “for awhile” that appeared in the final sentence of the will.
The court explained that it had to determine the deceased’s testamentary intentions by giving the words in his will their natural and ordinary meaning; what the deceased had meant when he said the youngest son could live in the house “for awhile” had to be ascertained from the will itself.
The court determined that the intentions of the deceased were evident on the face of the willand stated:
“Relying on the natural and ordinary meaning of the words in the will, I am satisfied that [the deceased]’s intention was to permit [the youngest son] to remain in the house after his death but only for so long as was agreed upon by all of the surviving siblings. […]
When the words “for awhile” are read in context, I am satisfied that [the youngest son]’s entitlement to remain in the home vested on his father’s death but was subject to the condition that the gift would terminate as agreed by the siblings. The nature of the gift that [the deceased] made to [the youngest son] was conditional and the requirement for its continued validity was the agreement amongst [the youngest son] and his siblings as to how long he could remain in the house.”
Therefore, because the siblings could not agree on how long the youngest might remain in the home, the court determined that his entitlement to do so had to end.
As a result, the court ordered the youngest son to vacate the home within a reasonable amount of time.
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