The Alberta Court of Appeal recently decided a case in which it had to determine what the word “home” meant when used in a will.
The deceased’s will declared that his intention was to leave his “home to my daughters” and the “residue of my Estate to my brother”.
A dispute arose between the daughters and the brother as to who would inherit some of the testator’s personal property, which included the contents of the home, four motorcycles, a truck and a motorcycle trailer parked in the garage, scrap metal stored elsewhere, a tax-free savings account and bank accounts.
The lower court concluded that the daughters should inherit their father’s four motorcycles, motorcycle trailer, truck and other personal property found in the garage and all the personal property found in the deceased’s residence, as well as the residence and the attached garage and the land on which these structures are located.
The issue on appeal was what the deceased meant when he left his “home” to his daughters.
The Court of Appeal began by explaining that in interpreting a will, a court must give effect to the testator’s intention, which is a subjective test, as set out in s. 26 of the Wills and Succession Act. The court set out the four fundamental principles that govern the interpretation of a will:
- A will must be interpreted to give effect to the intention of the testator. No other principle is more important than this one.
- A court must read the entire will, just the same way an adjudicator interpreting a contract or a statute must read the whole contract or statute.
- A court must assume that the testator intended the words in the will to have their ordinary meaning in the absence of a compelling reason not to do so.
- A court may canvas extrinsic evidence to ascertain the testator’s intention.
The court then stated:
“A court must read the entire will and give the contested text its ordinary meaning. In the absence of clear evidence to the contrary, the testator is presumed to have selected words to convey his or her intention using their ordinary meanings. A party that asserts a contrary intention must satisfy the court on a balance of probabilities that the testator attached to the contested words a meaning other than their ordinary meanings. […] If the text may bear more than one plausible meaning, the court must select the one that best promotes the testator’s intention.”
The court found that the noun “home” in this case’s context could bear two plausible interpretations. It stated that, read broadly, the word “home” included not only the testator’s residence, garage and the land on which these structures were located, but also personal property owned by the testator and located on the land that contributed to the testator’s enjoyment of his home. However, read narrowly, the word “home” included only the testator’s residence, garage and the land on which these structures are located and excluded personal property, without regard to whether the deceased kept it in his home or garage or elsewhere, and the enjoyment he derived from it.
The court found that the lower court judge did not commit a palpable and overriding error in concluding that the testator intended “home” to have a broad meaning. It found that it was reasonable to conclude that the deceased’s intention was to generously provide for his daughters. Therefore, giving the word “home” a broad meaning best promoted his intention.
As a result, the appeal was dismissed.
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