BC Supreme Court rules 'My Children' in will refers only to children from deceased's second marriage

The testator intended to exclude his children from his first marriage as beneficiaries: court

BC Supreme Court rules 'My Children' in will refers only to children from deceased's second marriage

In a recent ruling, the BC Supreme Court has ruled that "My Children" in the will refers only to children from the deceased's second marriage.

In Ritchie v Hamilton, 2024 BCSC 941, the court addressed a dispute regarding the interpretation of the will of the late Danny Lee Ball. The court ruled on a petition filed by Troy William Ritchie, who sought a declaration that the term “My Children” in the will referred only to himself and Tina Nicole Coell, excluding the deceased’s other biological children from a previous marriage.

The court noted that the will defined “My Children” to include Ritchie and Coell but lacked precision and consistency in its language, leading to confusion about the intended beneficiaries.

The court found that the will used the term "My Children" but did not capitalize it consistently, creating ambiguity. Additionally, the will contained a general definition section explaining that terms like "includes" were not intended to limit the generality of the preceding expression. This definition section, however, conflicted with the specific bequests in the will.

In considering the legal framework, the Supreme Court referenced several key principles from previous cases, including the necessity to ascertain the testator's intention by reading the will and considering any admissible extrinsic evidence. The court applied the “armchair” approach, putting itself in the position of the testator at the time the will was written, to determine Ball's subjective intentions.

The court found that the will's language and the surrounding circumstances indicated that Ball intended to benefit only Ritchie and Coell. The notary public who drafted the will deposed that Ball only mentioned Ritchie and Coell when asked to name his children. Moreover, Ball’s sister confirmed that he had expressed his intention to leave his estate to Ritchie and Coell.

The court ruled that extrinsic evidence was admissible in this case due to the ambiguity in the will. The evidence, including testimonies and the notary public's notes, supported the conclusion that Ball intended to exclude his biological children from his first marriage as beneficiaries.

In conclusion, the BC Supreme Court declared that the definition of “My Children” in Ball’s will was intended to include only Troy William Ritchie and Tina Nicole Coell. The court's decision clarified the intended distribution of Ball’s estate, ensuring that the petitioner and Coell were the sole beneficiaries.

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