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Court decision impacts beneficiaries

Some Ontario residents may think that they can draw up a will and bequeath their assets to anyone they choose. However, a recent court ruling in another province has some estate lawyers raising their eyebrows as people scramble to figure out the implications of the court's decision.

The case in question centres around the 2004 death and will of a man who had recently moved to New Brunswick. He left his entire estate to an organization in the United States that, those who questioned the will claimed, is racist and has questionable intentions. His sister, with whom he had had no contact for years, was among those who contested the will. In addition, the New Brunswick government and at least two Jewish organizations also expressed their concern regarding the will's validity; the Jewish organizations believes the U.S. organization is anti-Semitic.

The case eventually went to the Court of Queen's Bench of New Brunswick, which made a final ruling June 5. The judge sided with the decedent's sister and those opposed to the will's bequests and found the behaviour of the organization illegal because of its purported promotion of hate speech. The court ordered payment of court costs for the sister and the parties on her side and voided the will.

Notably, the court did not question the legality of the will or the man's full mental capabilities. His estate was worth an estimated $250,000 and included valuable coins and other objects from the ancient world that were once on display in a museum.

When individuals draw up an estate plan, they want to be sure that their wishes are honoured. A wills and estate planning lawyer might be able to help a client set up appropriate beneficiaries when establishing a trust in order to avoid contention over the will after the person passes on.

Source: Troy Media, "Court ruling limits right to name beneficiaries", June 10, 2014

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