Carolyn England family dispute illustrates the dangers of last minute will changes

A recent story on CBC News Online about a family in Northwest Territories reminds us of the dangers of late life, last minute will changes. The story is about the estate of Carolyn England, one of the founders of Yellowknife Hardware. Ms. England passed away on September 3, 2014 at the age of 93. The dispute is over a codicil signed on June 4, 2014. The codicil changed what her four children inherit from the estate and the family business.

One of the children, Patricia Winter, believes the signature on the codicil is not the signature of her mother. According to her, the codicil surfaced two months after Ms. England’s death. It was delivered to her lawyer by her sister, Diane. The changes in the codicil  resulted in Ms. England’s son, Frank, attaining control in the family business through a 52% share in Yellowknife Hardware. The matter is before the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories. None of the allegations have been proven in Court.

I have written several blogs commenting on different scenarios where last minute will changes result in costly estate litigation. All changes to succession documentation must be done so that they can best survive a will challenge. The changes must be clear and unambiguous, and if an estate lawyer is involved he or she should advise the testator about the potential for future litigation and carefully document the reasons for the change. This is true even if the changes are minor. A will challenge is almost certain to follow if the changes are made under clandestine or suspicious circumstances, or if they drastically alter the distribution of the estate. If some beneficiaries suddenly receive more favourable treatment at the expense of others, estate litigation usually follows.

For more on the Carolyn England estate dispute click here.