The Alberta Court of Appeal recently handed down a decision regarding the distribution of the estate of the late Illeen Peters who died without a will in 2013, the outcome of which will not surprise most estate and trust practitioners. However, what caught my eye, was the very eloquent way in which the original trial judge expressed as a by-product of his conclusion. Before I get to that, I will provide a brief case outline.
Illeen Peters and her late spouse, Lester Peters, who died in 2009, shared one biological child (“Gordon Peters”). Lester Peters also had four daughters from a previous marriage (“the step-daughters”).
As noted earlier, Illeen Peters died without a Will. As a resident of Alberta at the time of her death, the devolution of her estate was governed by The Alberta Wills and Succession Act, which essentially directed the estate to be distributed to the children. One of the step daughters argued that descendants and children should include step children. The judge ruled that, in estate and trust matters, ‘children’ means biological children and, as such, Illeen Peters’ estate should be distributed exclusively to Gordon Peters, the only biological child of Illeen Peters.
The step daughter did not accept the judge’s decision and went to the Court of Appeal. The appeal judge’s decision noted how the children (step and biological) all assisted both financially and otherwise in the maintenance of Lester and Illeen Peters. It even noted that they functioned as a family unit for many years and all five of the adult children worked together to provide for Illeen. Furthermore, when Lester Peters died intestate, the five adult children agreed that Illeen Peters should receive all of their father’s estate. That however, did not change the result, and the appeal judge upheld the original decision that Gordon Peters was the sole beneficiary of Illeen Peters’ Estate.
It was however, the original trial judge’s decision that contained a certain amount of eloquence that caught my eye; “This case is an example of the personal difficulties and harm to relationships which can occur when individuals do not have a will. The distribution of this modest estate has become an instrument with the potential to create, enhance or perpetuate ill will amongst five family members at a time when they should instead be benefiting from good memories of their mother and father. The Court encourages them to advance those purposes despite the legal outcome here.”