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Case Brief - The Slayer Rule and Will Interpretation

In The Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Company v. Rogers, 2021 ONSC 1747, the Superior Court considered the case of a man who murdered his parents. While the "slayer rule" prohibits him from benefiting from his crime and inheriting their estates, the court grappled with how to interpret a will when this criminal forfeiture rule applies.

The Facts

Cameron Scott Rogers ("Cameron") killed his parents, David and Merill, in 2016. In 2018, he plead guilty to murder and was given a life sentence with no chance of parole for 20 years. Cameron has no siblings and no children.

David and Merill made mirror wills in 2014. Each will left the estate to the other spouse. If the other spouse had also died, then the residue of the estate would go towards:

  • Hiring a counselor for Cameron
  • Cameron's Registered Disability Savings Plan ("RDSP")
  • A trust for Cameron's benefit during his lifetime. After 21 years, any unpaid income would go to Autism Canada Foundation, Salvation Army Ottawa Booth Center, and/or an organization treating mental health and addiction.

Upon Cameron's death, the balance of the trust would then go to any of Cameron's children. If Cameron had no children, then the balance would go to annuities for Merrill's three brothers (Stephen, Graham, and Gordon). Anything leftover would go to Autism Canada Foundation and another organization treating mental health and addictions.

The Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Company, acting as Estate Trustee for David and Merill's estates, brought an application for direction on how to interpret the wills.

The Issue

How should David and Merrill's wills be interpreted in light of the fact that Cameron killed his parents?


General Principles

The "slayer rule" is grounded in public policy and says that a criminal should not benefit financially from their crimes, i.e. by inheriting the estates of their murdered parents. The Supreme Court reaffirmed this rule in Oldfield v. Transamerica Life Insurance Co. of Canada, 2002 SCC 22, [2002] 1 S.C.R. 742.

Once we agree that the slayer rule applies, the question is, how do we treat the disentitled killer for the purpose of interpreting the wills?

Labrosse J. identifies three different approaches in Canadian law:

  1. Deemed Death - Interpret the will as if the killer is deceased.
  2. Literal Reading - Read the will literally, i.e. "gifts over" that require a beneficiary to be deceased cannot occur because the killer, while disentitled, is still alive.
  3. Implied Intention - Read an implied condition into the will that the killer needed to be a legal beneficiary.

Labrosse J. considers these approaches in light of the general principle that courts should avoid interpretations that result in intestacies, if possible (Re MacDonnell (1982), 1982 CanLII 1844 (ON CA), 35 O.R. (2d) 578 (C.A.)).

David and Merrill intended that their estates would go to Merrill's brothers in the event that they couldn't go to the each other, Cameron, or any grandchildren. This rules out the Literal Reading approach, since it would result in an intestacy (i.e. since Cameron is not deceased, the "gifts over" to Merrill's brothers would fail).

The Deemed Death and Implied Intention approach result in the same outcome, since they are different ways of allowing the "gifts over" to occur. Labrosse favours the Implied Intention approach, since it reflects the testator's intentions, avoids an intestacy, and better reflects reality than pretending someone died.

Application to the Facts

Having murdered his parents, Cameron is not a legal beneficiary of their wills.

As Cameron has no children, the court should accelerate to the next beneficiaries (Merrill's brothers) rather than manage the estate for the benefit of any children Cameron might have. For public policy reasons, it does not make sense to interpret the will in a way that would incentivize Cameron to have children who will then be entitled to a $2M trust.

Patrick Hartford

Patrick Hartford

Patrick is the Founder of NoticeConnect.

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