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Limitation Periods applicable to the Environmental Management Act

British Columbia’s Environmental Management Act sets out a comprehensive scheme with respect to the remediation of contaminated sites.  Central to that scheme is section 47 of the Act, which permits a party who has incurred the cost of remediating a site to bring a court action to recover the costs of remediation.  In a typical Environmental Management Act action, the party who has incurred the cost will seek contribution from the property’s previous owners and operators.  Even though the mechanisms in the Act are designed around the principle of “polluter pays”, the provisions of the Act make it difficult for parties who have owned or operated a site to escape liability, as the burden of proof is on those parties to show that they fall within one of the Act’s limited exceptions found in section 46 of the Act.  As a result, actions under the Act can often involve parties that have had no involvement with the property for decades.  As a result, a frequent question asked by parties finding themselves in such a dispute is whether or not the BC Limitation Act applies, or whether there are any time limits associated with bringing such a claim.

Although the Act does apply retroactively in the sense that all previous owners and operators the property can be found liable for the cleanup, a plaintiff does not have an indefinite time in which to bring their action.  In First National Properties Ltd. v. Northland Road Services Ltd., 2008 BCSC 569, the court confirmed that the BC Limitation Act does apply to remediation claims pursuant to the Environmental Management Act.  In that case, the court found that the limitation clock started running once the Plaintiff was aware of the cost to remediate.  In J.I. Properties Inc. v. PPG Architectural Coatings Canada Inc., 2014 BCSC 1619, the court confirmed that the six year limitation pursuant to the 1996 Limitation Act was applicable.

Prior to the passage of the 2012 Limitation Act, it appeared that an amendment would be made to the Environmental Management Act to the effect that an action could be brought at any time. However, when that legislation was passed, no consequential amendments were made to the Environmental Management Act, so it remains at this time that the Limitation Act applies.  Thus, a plaintiff who incurs remediation costs ought to bring their cost recovery action swiftly, as the Act’s two year limit will likely come into play.  Further, it remains to be considered in a future case what effect, if any, the discoverability provisions of the new Limitation Act have in respect of a cost recovery claim.

About the Author:

W. Eric Pedersen is a lawyer practicing in the civil litigation department at Velletta & Company. Mr. Pedersen has worked with the civil litigation department to achieve successful outcomes for individuals and businesses, appearing in Provincial Court, Supreme Court, and the British Columbia Court of Appeal.  Find out more about Eric by clicking HERE.

Relocating with Children: The Single Parent Know-Alls

Are you separated from your spouse and thinking about moving with your child? Before jumping on a plane, there are key questions that you need to ask and certain factors that you need to be aware of.

Firstly, does your child spend more time with you then they spend with your ex-spouse? If so, a court is more likely to allow you to relocate with your child than if the child spends equal parenting time with both parents. If your child spends equal parenting time with both you and your ex-spouse, then the only consideration a court takes into account is what is in the best interest of your child.

If you do not have equal, or near equal, parenting time with your ex-spouse then the considerations are different. A court will require that:

  1. You have made a proposal for reasonable and workable arrangements to preserve your child’s relationship with their other parent, persons who have contact with them, and persons who play significant roles in their lives; and
  2. Your proposed relocation is made in good faith.

What are reasonable and workable arrangements?

In the case of Hansen v. Ferguson, 2015 BCSC 588 the court found the mother proposed reasonable and workable arrangements to preserve the father’s relationship with the children by sharing all travel costs, returning to Victoria twice a year with the children, transferring all available travel points to the father for his use, and providing regular Skype contact and email reports when he was at sea.

Although every case is different, sharing the cost of travel, planning trips home, and ensuring the children remain in contact with the other parent are all factors that the courts will consider as reasonable and workable arrangements. Keeping in mind the courts want to see that your child will be able to maintain his or her relationship with their other parent.

What is the meaning of good faith with regards to relocation?

Good faith is defined in s.69(6) of the Family Law Act and includes:

  • the reasons for the proposed relocation;
  • whether the proposed relocation is likely to enhance the general quality of life of the child and, if applicable, of the relocating guardian, including increasing emotional well-being or financial or educational opportunities;
  • whether 60 days’ notice of an intention to relocate was given; and
  • any restrictions on relocation contained in a written agreement or an order.

Accordingly, if you can satisfy the court of the above, then the relocation is presumed to be in the best interests of the child and should thus be granted, unless the children’s other parent satisfies the court otherwise.

Returning to the case of Hansen v. Ferguson the court found that the mother had shown her cost of living would be substantially less in Ontario to that of Victoria, and the proposed move was well planned. The mother would have more emotional supports in Ontario through extended family and support of her boyfriend.  This would have a trickle-down effect on the children, given that she was the primary caregiver.

The court specifically stated that:

[48]As the primary caregiver, this improvement in the mother’s general quality of life will also benefit the children. However, neither the mother nor the children have personal connections with anyone in Pembroke other than R.W., and the children will be far away from their father, grandmother, aunt and cousin, with whom they have established close bonds. This is, of course, the primary concern, but it does not on its own show an absence of good faith. These children are very young and they have not yet established routines outside of their immediate family lives that are important for them. Adapting to a new life away from their father and his family may be challenging for them, but they will be with their mother with whom they also have very close bonds. And given the mother’s plan to have more time with them and to place them in daycare where they will meet other children, I would expect them to socialize in their new environment reasonably quickly.

[49] In this case, the mother has given a lot of consideration to the impact of this move on her children’s emotional well-being. Despite the separation from the father, I find that the relocation will likely enhance the general quality of their lives.

 

If you are thinking about relocating to a new city, with your child, please contact Velletta & Company today. We would be happy to advise you on the proper procedure and help you satisfy the above requirements.

 

About the Author:

Jade Fraser grew up in Shawnigan Lake and is very proud to call Victoria her home. Before pursuing her education in law, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia obtaining a Bachelor of Science. After living in places such as Saudi Arabia and France, Jade gained a unique set of experiences which contributed to her decision to travel abroad in pursuit of her legal education. Find out more about Jade by clicking HERE

The Do’s and Do Not’s for Examinations for Discovery

An examination for discovery is a critical part of any personal injury or civil litigation case in British Columbia’s Supreme Court. Generally, in a civil or personal injury case, each side has an opportunity to examine the opposing party. If the opposing party is a corporation, partnership, or other non-human entity, that party’s representative will be examined on their behalf. Examinations take place in a boardroom at the offices of specialized reporting companies that provide the space for the examination and a trained court reporter who produces a written transcript of everything said during the examination.

 

Examinations for discovery are very important because they allow each side to ask questions, gather information, and pin down the story of the other side. You can explore contradictions in the other side’s version of the facts. You can also find out about any records, correspondence, or other documents in the possession of the other side, and request that they disclose these documents if they are relevant. You will likely have a better idea of the strength and weaknesses of your case after both sides have conducted examinations for discovery. This helps you prepare for trial, and can even help the parties reach a settlement because they are better able to predict the outcome of the trial and more likely to compromise if they can foresee a low likelihood of success at trial.

 

What happens at an examination for Discovery?

 

Many people are understandably nervous about attending an examination for discovery, and it helps to know what to expect. The examinations take place in a boardroom around a big table. The court reporter usually sits at the head of the table between the two sides, and takes notes and marks exhibits throughout the examination. The party who is being examined will sit across from the opposing party’s lawyer who is examining them. Anyone who is a party to the litigation is permitted to attend the examinations, and usually, the party whose lawyer is conducting the examination will be there, sitting next to their lawyer. This is helpful because that party can take notes while their lawyer is conducting the examination, and can even discuss the examination with their lawyer during a break if they think of other questions that need to be asked or contradictions that should be explored.

 

If you are being examined and have a lawyer, your lawyer will attend with you to represent you and object to any questions that are irrelevant, or otherwise improper. While you are under examination, you cannot discuss the case with your lawyer, even during the lunch break.

 

The lawyer examining you will ask you questions about the events and facts that form the subject matter of the case. The examining lawyer may also ask you to look at specific documents and ask you questions about the documents. Generally, the questions are specific and leading questions, but you are not limited to a yes or no answer. You can give complete answers, although you should try to avoid rambling. The questions asked of you are designed to elicit specific information or admissions. The opposing lawyer may ask you to agree with them about how specific events happened. The lawyer examining you is representing the opposing party and is undoubtedly trying to undermine your case, but even with this adversarial situation, examinations are usually polite. On some occasions examinations become tense, but if you have a lawyer representing you at the examination you can rest assured that they will interject if things become inappropriate or the other side is being too aggressive – which is rare.

 

The length of an examination varies depending upon the complexity of the case. More complex cases take more time, and generally examinations last between 1 hour up to an entire day. There is usually a lengthy lunch break of at least one hour, because examinations are often taxing for everyone involved. The Supreme Court Civil Rules limit the length of examinations. In fast track actions they are limited to 2 hours and in regular Supreme Court Actions discoveries are limited to seven hours. The exception to the time limits is that a party can be examined for longer if they consent or unless the court extends the time limit by a court order.

 

Dos and Don’ts of Examinations

If you are the party being examined for discovery, your lawyer will meet with you before the examination to help you prepare and understand what will be expected of you. It is important that you are well prepared because once you are sworn under oath you will not be able to discuss your case or your testimony with your lawyer. Your lawyer’s advice and preparation for the discovery will vary depending on the nature of your case, but your lawyer’s advice will probably include:

 

  • Always tell the truth – You are under oath and have the same liability for perjury as if you were in court in front of a judge. You should take your obligation, to tell the truth extremely seriously.
  • Dress well, sit up straight, and look the examiner in the eye – the opposing lawyer is not just interested in your answers, but also in how you answer. You want to present yourself as a strong witness who will be calm and credible in court before a judge or jury.
  • Listen to the entire question and understand it before you answer -If you don’t understand the question, you shouldn’t answer until you do. You can ask for clarification.
  • Don’t interrupt – the court reporter will be taking a transcript of the examination, and it is important that the transcript is clear and easy to read, without people talking over one another.
  • Be polite in your answers, don’t raise your voice or become angry with the examining lawyer – you want to make it clear that you will not be goaded or become angry to the advantage of the other side.
  • If your lawyer makes an objection or interjects, stop talking immediately -wait until the lawyers have dealt with the objection and you are either allowed to continue or advised

 

Being examined for discovery in a personal injury or civil case is undoubtedly an intimidating experience, but with strong representation and good preparation, you have the opportunity to gather important information about the other side’s case, and to show them what a confident witness you will be at trial. Examinations for discovery are a vital fact-finding tool in almost every personal injury or civil case, and one which may help you win at trial or achieve a fair settlement.

 

About the Author 

Cadeyrn Christie is a civil litigation lawyer and business lawyer with Velletta & Company. A former tradesperson, business owner, and high-performance athlete, Cadeyrn focuses his practice on providing dynamic representation to individuals and businesses.

Since joining Velletta & Company, Cadeyrn Christie has helped clients achieve cost-effective legal solutions in a wide variety of contentious matters, including business disputes, debt collections, personal injury litigation, real estate disputes, and construction litigation. Cadeyrn has represented clients at all levels of court in British Columbia, including conducting an appeal in the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

 

Who Gets the Pet?

Most pet owners consider their pet to be a member of their family and not just another piece of property.

Normally when separating from your spouse pets are considered property and are therefore subject to be divided within the overall division of property in your family law case. A pet, therefore, would be subject to the property law principles in the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act.

This means that in British Columbia the courts consider the following when answering the question of, “who gets the pet?”

  1. Who purchased the pet?
  2. Was the pet a gift to one of the parties?
  3. Who has paid for the majority of the expenses related to the pet?
  4. Is one of the parties the registered owner of the pet?
  5. Who has had possession of and/or cared for the pet since the parties’ separation?
  6. Who was principally involved in the pet’s early training?
  7. Who was principally involved in the pet’s day-to-day care?

Additionally, courts have expressly stated that:

(a)  Pets will not be treated in a manner such as children;

(b)  Courts are unlikely to consider interim applications for pet possession;

(c)  Canadian Courts are unlikely to find that joint sharing or some form of constructive trust remedy is apt;

(d)  that pets are a variant of personal property;

As you can see, when a court considers the question of “who gets the pet” the question is more related to who the true owner is and not what arrangement is best for you and the pet. If you and your former partner both want to remain involved in your pet’s life, then it might be preferable to settle your pet custody dispute by consent in the form of a Consent Order or a Separation Agreement. This is because Judge’s tend to want to ensure some kind of finality for the parties while minimizing the likelihood for future conflict. Since, in the eyes of the law, pets are considered property, it is highly unlikely a judge would order some form of shared or joint custody of your pet.

Recent decisions, however, have challenged the status quo. The Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador case, Baker v. Harmina 2018 NLCA 15, involves a Bernese-poodle mix, Mya, who was “treated as a family member”. The couple had moved in together a short time after purchasing the dog, but when the couple separated a legal battle began over who got to keep her. Although In the end, the majority of the court considered the status quo property argument, Justice Lois Hoegg dissented in part, describing the issue of who owns Mya as being more complex than simply who bought her. Justice Lois Hoegg considered questions like:

  • Was the animal acquired during the relationship?

 

  • Who bore the burden of the care and comfort of the animal?

 

  • Who paid for the animal’s upkeep?

 

  • Who cared for it?

 

This could set the tone for future cases.

In conclusion, Velletta & Company can certainly help you in establishing an adequate way of dealing with the issue, or alternatively, moving forward in establishing your court case. Contact us today!

About the Author:

Jade Fraser grew up in Shawnigan Lake and is very proud to call Victoria her home. Before pursuing her education in law, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia obtaining a Bachelor of Science. After living in places such as Saudi Arabia and France, Jade gained a unique set of experiences which contributed to her decision to travel abroad in pursuit of her legal education. Find out more about Jade by clicking HERE

Our Newest Lawyer: Natalia M. Velletta

Velletta & Company officially welcomes Natalia M. Velletta as the newest lawyer to our firm.

Natalia joined Velletta & Company in May, 2016 and has since successfully completed one year of Articles and called to the Bar on December 1, 2017, as a practicing lawyer in British Columbia. Natalia completed her formal induction in front of the Supreme Court of British Columbia at the Victoria Courthouse on March 15, 2018.

 

Natalia Velletta Natalia obtained her Juris Doctorate from Bond University in Queensland, Australia. Bond University’s Juris Doctorate is an accelerated program that provided Natalia with experience in both Canadian and Australian Law. Receiving an advanced education at a prestigious, international law school has provided Natalia with a unique, global perspective, which gives her greater insight into all types of commercial transactions.

 

During her time at Velletta & Company Natalia has established a diverse Solicitor’s practice and focuses primarily on the areas of:

 

  • Corporate and Commercial transactions;
  • Wills and Estates;
  • Real Estate transactions; and
  • Personal Injury including motor vehicle accidents.

 

With a specialty in Corporate and Commercial transactions, Natalia specifically enjoys mergers and acquisitions, having successfully bought and sold many companies and businesses for her clients. Natalia also has a passion for representing plaintiffs in motor vehicle accidents and frequently negotiates with ICBC to achieve fair and justified compensation for her clients.

 

At Velletta & Company, Natalia wishes to develop her Solicitor’s practice and to continuingly broaden her scope of experience. Natalia is determined, hard-working, and prides herself on offering the very best service for each and every client.  She is friendly and approachable and is always keen to take on new clients.

Outside the practice of law, Natalia enjoys staying active by exploring beautiful British Columbia and exotic locations around the world. She has many accomplishments including ballet, scuba diving and multiple, week-long hikes over the rugged West Coast Trail. She has a passion for photography, cooking, and camping.

Removing a Lien by Posting Security

Once someone has filed a builders lien and started litigation, there are only a few ways that the builders lien is going to be removed from the title of the property on which the lien is registered. If there are defects in the lien, the owner of the property can apply to have it removed. Assuming that there are no defects, then the owner could potentially be stuck with the lien on title until the litigation is resolved and any judgment obtained by the lien claimant is satisfied. Of course, this poses a potentially huge problem for the property owner, who may want to clear the title of their property to arrange for new financing or to sell the property.

 

The Builders Lien Act [SBC 1997] c. 45 (the “Act”) creates two options for the property owner or other parties interested in the property to clear the lien from title. Section 23 of the Act allows removal of a lien upon paying into court the total amount recoverable under the lien. That amount will either be the total amount of the lien claim, or, in some circumstances, the amount that is owed by the person depositing security to the person who hired the lien claimant. The latter set of circumstances arises when the lien claimant was hired by a contractor or subcontractor, and the person seeking the discharge of the lien is an owner or someone higher up the contractual chain who has no direct contractual relationship with the lien claimant. Section 23 provides an easier avenue to have the lien discharged if you can provide the required amount of security, which will then be held in court until the lien claim is dealt with or the matter settled.

 

In many cases, it is cost-prohibitive to put up the full amount of the lien claim as security. The lien might be for an amount that seems excessive, or even if the amount doesn’t seem excessive it might be too large to place the full amount in court. Section 24 gives the court a broader ability to cancel a claim of lien if an owner, contractor, subcontractor, or other interested party posts security that the court considers sufficient for payment of the claim of lien. The concept of “sufficient security” opens up a broader range of alternatives than putting up cash as security. Two common forms of alternative security are letters credit and lien bonds.

 

Letters Credit

Letters credit are issued by a bank, and are essentially the bank’s guarantee that payment will be made. In the case of a lien claim, the bank would guarantee that the lien claimant’s judgment will be paid if the court awards judgment to the lien claimant. Banks are risk averse, and are often reluctant to issue letters credit in lien claims unless they have a long-term relationship with the party seeking letters credit. Many banks require 100% cash security as between the bank and the party who requested the letter of credit, and for this reason it is often impractical to use a letter of credit as security for a lien claim.

 

Lien Bonds

The more common alternative is a lien bond issued by an approved surety company. The Registrar of the Supreme Court of British Columbia maintains a list of companies approved to act as sureties. Those companies can issue bonds promising to pay the amount of any judgment obtained by the lien claimant, and those bonds can then be filed with the court to secure the removal of the lien under section 24 of the Act. The surety companies charge a fee for issuing the bond, and also require security to ensure that they will be paid back if they are required to make good upon their bond. That security however is usually less onerous than the 100% cash security often required by banks, making lien bonds a practical alternative to putting up 100% cash security.

 

Having a lien removed from the title of the property is often imperative, particularly when it can take some time for a lien case to go to trial and be finally resolved one way or the other. Construction projects usually involve financing that makes it necessary to deal with any lien claims before the next financing draw can be issued. The Act provides two avenues for the owner or other interested party to clear title by providing security, and both of those alternatives are designed to ensure that the lien claimant is not prejudiced by the removal of their lien from title.

 

If you are looking to have a lien removed, it is always useful to contact a lawyer and utilize the guidance and knowledge they offer. Contact us today to find out how we can help.

 

About the Author

Cadeyrn Christie is a civil litigation lawyer and business lawyer with Velletta & Company. A former tradesperson, business owner, and high performance athlete, Cadeyrn focuses his practice on providing dynamic representation to individuals and businesses.

Since joining Velletta & Company, Cadeyrn Christie has helped clients achieve cost effective legal solutions in a wide variety of contentious matters, including business disputes, debt collections, personal injury litigation, real estate disputes, and construction litigation. Cadeyrn has represented clients at all levels of court in British Columbia, including conducting an appeal in the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

How to contact individuals online without being considered SPAM

Individuals promoting their business or company online are now subject to Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (“CASL”). CASL deals with how businesses can contact people and what must be included in the content of online messages. One important question relating to this legislation is “how can I contact people online in order to promote my business and attempt to gain clientele without breaching this legislation.” This blog post attempts to answer that question.

 

Firstly, CASL only applies to commercial messages. Messages you send are commercial where the purpose of the messages are to encourage participation in a website. The three requirements that CASL has when sending commercial messages are:

 

  1. Having consent from the recipient in order to message them further;
  2. Identifying yourself in the message and including contact information of the sender; and
  3. Having an unsubscribe function so the recipient can choose when to opt out of your messages.

 

Please note that liability applies to anyone who sends, causes, or permits a commercial message to be sent, and whether or not the sender is in Canada. If the message is accessed from a computer in Canada then CASL applies and the sender can be liable.

 

  1. Having consent from the recipient in order to message them further

 

The first time you contact a potential customer you must ask their consent in order to contact them again. Exceptions to this requirement are where you have a personal or family relationship with the recipient or you are responding to an inquiry about your site. If the message falls within one of these categories, you do not need the above three requirements in order to communicate with them. This applies whether or not the message is commercial in nature.

 

Other exceptions exist where the message is sent solely for the purposes of providing a quote to a potential customer or contacting someone with whom you have a prior business relationship with.  In either of these scenarios, when responding it is recommended that you ask their consent in your response. An example would be “click here if you would like to receive further correspondence about upcoming and new developments from our site.” Otherwise, without consent, you cannot contact them with a commercial message.

 

If you are contacting an unknown person for the first time then consent is required and must be obtained before contacting the same unknown person a second time. Once you obtain consent you do not need to ask for consent again. An example of obtaining consent would be something like:

 

We are requesting your consent to provide you messages from our site. These messages will allow us, along with other members, to contact you about our services. By clicking below you are agreeing that you consent to receive these messages and therefore participating in our site.

 

If you would like to contact the manager of our site, or having any questions, please email us at…

 

After you have received consent any further correspondence in a message to the same address will require the two elements below:

 

  1. Identifying yourself in the message and include contact information of the sender

 

When sending a message you must identify yourself. This can be done by including the logo of Jobsdone.ca at the bottom of your messages.  Unless the message is sent to a recipient with whom the sender has a personal or family relationship with.

 

  1. Having an unsubscribe function so the recipient can choose when to opt out of your messages

 

Every message sent for a commercial purpose must have an unsubscribe function at the bottom of the message. Unless the message is sent to a recipient with whom the sender has a personal or family relationship with.

 

In conclusion, you can certainly contact people on the web and elicit customers to join your website. The recipients cannot be added to a send list, email list, or messaged the second time until you have received their consent in contacting them. Velletta & Company can certainly help you in establishing an adequate way of doing this, or alternatively, moving forward in establishing your website. Contact one of our associates today to get started-we would be happy to help.

 

Additional sources: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/E-1.6/page-1.html

 

About the Author, Jade Fraser

Before pursuing her education in law, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia obtaining a Bachelor of Science. After living in places such as Saudi Arabia and France, Jade gained a unique set of experiences which contributed to her decision to travel abroad in pursuit of her legal education. Jade is excited to be commencing her articles with Velletta & Company in August of 2017. Although her interests reside in family law, Velletta & Company offers a broad range of experience in many different areas of law which Jade will actively engage.

 

 

 

VIDEO | BENEFITS OF INCORPORATION

 

Incorporating your company in Canada has a variety of benefits to you as a business owner. Incorporation effectively means that your business becomes a  separate legal entity created under the Business Corporations Act or Canada Business Corporation Act offering a flexible array of ownership, control, and profit participation share structures. A statutory scheme with corporately established rules and governance. Although professional advice is recommended to best design a specific corporation, set up costs are surprisingly low.

A few of the benefits of Incorporation include:

  • Very flexible business structure
  • A two-year provincial tax holiday for most new businesses
  • Creates a marketable entity
  • Very flexible ownership options, allowing possible participation of family or key employees
  • Allows for different equity contributions, not all owners have to make the same investment
  • Allows for non-controlling ownership interests (i.e. non-voting shares) for family, key employees, etc.
  • Many income splitting options
  • Lower tax rates for high-income individuals
  • Limited liability in most areas (tax liability, employee taxes, and wages are not limited)
  • Allows preferred ownership interests through preferred share structures giving special rights to prescribed investors
  • A Corporation is immortal, creating a flexible and advantageous estate planning tool

There are a few fees associated with incorporation, including a legal fee to set up and an annual fee of to run. However, these are more than manageable and well worth it for the wealth of benefits incorporation offers you.

 

Are you thinking about incorporating your business? Or just want to learn about the process? Give us a call today to speak to one of our professionals:  250.383.9104. We would welcome the opportunity to work with you to start the steps to  incorporate your business

Challenging a Will in British Columbia

In British Columbia, the Last Will and Testament of a deceased may be challenged if there are doubts about its validity or fairness. Inheritance is a subject fraught with emotion for will makers and beneficiaries, especially when it comes to the allocation of assets. Sometimes feelings of unfair treatment can trigger disputes over the validity and fairness of a will. The Wills Estates and Succession Act (WESA) sets up ways in which a will may be challenged, and anyone thinking about changing or challenging a will in B.C. would do well to speak with legal counsel on the following:

 

Validity

Contesting a will for its validity is open to the executor and any person interested in obtaining a declaration as to the validity of the will. There are four primary ways that validity of a will can be contested in B.C., each of which relates to “suspicious circumstances.”

The first of these suspicious circumstances has to do with the formalities surrounding the preparation and execution of a will. Previously, failure to meet certain formalities was fatal to a will, now however, defective wills may be saved under WESA.

The second circumstance is where the will maker lacked the testamentary capacity to understand what was going on when they signed their will. This can be a complicated matter. Advanced age is often associated with diminished cognitive function, but there are varying degrees of mental capacity and there is no standard of perfection when it comes to determining what a person understands. Testamentary capacity requires that a will maker understand the nature and quality of the act in which he or she was engaged when they made their will, but this does not mean that a will maker must meet a stringent standard to be of sound and disposing mind and memory. In essence, what is required is an awareness of the effect of the will, and freedom from mental disorder.

The third way in which the validity of a will may be challenged is if the will maker did not know or approve of its contents.

Lastly, and perhaps the most contentious circumstance, is “undue influence”. The elderly can be vulnerable to coercion and fraud, particularly in situations of dominance and dependence. Traditionally, the burden of proving undue influence rested with the party challenging the will, and it was that party who had to prove coercion. Now however, under WESA, the party challenging a will must only establish that the alleged person of influence was in a position where there was potential for dependence or domination over the will maker and the onus of proof now shifts to the party being accused to prove that there was no undue influence.

 

Fairness

If a will is found to be valid, another way in which it may be challenged is on fairness. Unlike contesting the validity of a will, a claim to vary a will, due to fairness, is only open to the deceased’s spouse and children. Third parties and other family members do not possess the ability to make a claim to vary the will of a deceased.

The definition of “spouse” in WESA includes individuals who are legally married, or who have cohabitated for more than two years in a marriage-like relationship. It is important to note however that the definition of spouse is always changing, and courts will examine a variety of different factors to determine who qualifies. A recent B.C. Court of Appeal case affirmed a spousal relationship that existed between two partners late-in-life. Even though the couple had maintained separate residences, had kept separate finances, and demonstrated their intention to benefit their respective adult children from earlier marriages and not each other, the court upheld the decision to vary the deceased’s will in favour of his partner of 20-plus years. Conversely, a married individual can lose their entitlement to vary where the parties are separated, but not formally divorced. This is because the loss of status as a spouse happens upon separation, regardless of the duration of the marriage.

While WESA defines “spouse,” “children” are not formally defined, but the term does apply to both biological and adopted children. Neither grandchildren, stepchildren who have not been adopted, nor the will maker’s biological children who have been subsequently adopted have standing to challenge a will under WESA.

If the deceased’s spouse or children believe they have been unfairly provided for under the will then they may apply to have the will varied. Although a will maker is free to decide how he or she wishes to see their estate distributed and they have a right to how their wishes are carried out, will makers also have a legal obligation to make “adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support” of their spouse and children.

A question often asked is what can a will maker do if they are legally obligated to bequeath their estate to an estranged, abusive, or incorrigible spouse or child? In such cases, will makers can try to protect their will by including a supporting memorandum that explains their rationale for disinheritance. Such documents, however, are still reviewable, and although courts are generally reluctant to vary allocations where they fall within an acceptable range, they are still empowered to exercise their discretion if they think it is necessary to do what is just and equitable in the circumstances.

To avoid depleting the assets of an estate in order to fund litigation, will makers should be very clear about the content of their will. Individuals should consult an accountant and a lawyer about how to structure their estate to maximize the likelihood that their assets will pass as intended. It is also important that will makers are clear about where their will is located and what document or documents make up their will.

 

Natalia M. Velletta is an Articled Student at Velletta & Company. Before pursuing her passion for law, Natalia attended the University of Victoria where she obtained her undergraduate degree in Education. Natalia also worked for the Government of British Columbia under the Superintendent of Motor Vehicles.

VIDEO: Medical Malpractice

Here at Velletta and company we work in the area of medical malpractice, amongst other things.

We work with some top notch medical and healthcare advisers who give us advice on the technical medical matters in your claim, in order to allow us to better focus on the legal and technical issues to properly prepare your case for trial. Not every case is a viable medical malpractice action. If you’ve been the victim of what you believe is medical negligence consult with us. We pride ourselves on analyzing the case on figuring out what is the standard of care, whether there’s been a breach and whether that breach has led to damages

In the cases damages have occurred, we’re happy to assist in moving your case forward and getting you the compensation you deserve.

Gregory Rhone obtained his law degree at the University of Victoria after studying Sciences, English, Classics, Political Science and Philosophy as an undergraduate. He articled with Gordon & Velletta and was called to the bar in February, 1999. Before joining the firm as a civil litigator, he was in private practice.

 

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