/ Case Law

Case brief - Applying the armchair rule

In Moolla v. Rundle et al., 2021 ONSC 7488, the Superior Court considered an application for directions regarding how to interpret an ambiguous provision in a will.

Facts

Mr. Moola died on August 5, 2013 at age 76. He never married and he had no children. He'd had ten siblings, five of whom pre-deceased him, and he had 36 nieces and nephews. There was evidence that Mr. Moola was generous with his family throughout his lifetime.

Mr. Moola had made a will on November 24, 2004. Paragraph 3 of the will states:

{in standard form}I Give Devise and Bequeath all my Real and Personal Estate of which I may die possessed in the manner following, that is to say
{in hand printing} TO MY BROTHERS[‘] [&] SISTER[‘]S LATE BROTHERS [&] SISTERS NEPHEWS [&] NIECES
AND TO SCOTT RUNDLE of CAMBRIDGE ONT. $25,000 CANADIAN
[square brackets indicates possible symbols and punctuation in the handwritten copy]

Issue

Mr. Moola's estate trustee brought an application for directions to determine the meaning of the phrase, "my brothers sisters late brothers sisters nephews and nieces".

The court considered three possible interpretations:

  1. The residue would be split into ten equal shares, with Mr. Moola's five surviving siblings receiving one share each and the five remaining shares split between the children of his pre-deceased siblings (i.e. each pre-deceased sibling would be allocated one share, which would be split equally between that sibling's children).
  2. The residue would be split into 46 equal shares, with Mr. Moola's five surviving siblings receiving one share each, the estates of the five deceased siblings receiving one share each, and the 36 nieces and nephews receiving one share each.
  3. The residue would be split into 41 equal shares, with Mr. Moola's five surviving siblings receiving one share each and his 36 nieces and nephews receiving one share each.

Analysis

Several principles and precedents guide the judicial construction of wills.

  • The purpose of this exercise is to determine the intentions of the testator. If that can't be done with the natural and ordinary meaning of the words in the will, then the court moves to the established rules of construction (See National Trust Co. Ltd. v. Fleury et al.,1965 CanLII 18 (SCC), [1965] S.C.R. 817 at pp. 828-829)
  • There is a presumption against intestacy, especially if there is a residual clause at play (See Babion v. Bird, [1994] O.J. 1929 at para. 18)
  • Courts should try to determine the testator's actual intent, which involves looking at the words as the testator would have used them. This means the court should account for any quirks of how the testator used language (See Moyls Estate (Re),2010 BCSC 1150 (CanLII) at paragraph 31)
  • The court's approach to interpretation should follow the "armchair rule", which means taking the perspective of the testator and interpreting the will in light of his knowledge, facts, and relationship with his family (See Ross v. Canada Trust Co.,2021 ONCA 161, paras. 37 – 41)

Applying these rules to the facts, the court noted that Mr. Moola was close with his siblings, nieces, and nephews. He regularly sent and loaned them money to help them out. There was nothing in his behaviour or his will to suggest that he meant to favour the family of one sibling over any other.

Accordingly, the court found that Interpretation 1 best reflected the intention of Mr. Moola.

Patrick Hartford

Patrick Hartford

Patrick is the Founder of NoticeConnect.

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