Punctuation mistakes in Wills could cause your beneficiaries more grief than solace.
When Dawood Moola, a Brampton emigrant with no family or spouse in Canada, died at 76, his large, extended South African family no doubt grieved his loss. His generosity in life was repeated in his personal Will (Moolla v Rundle et al, 2021 ONSC 7488).
What his five surviving siblings, and 36 nieces and nephews, weren’t expecting to bear up under was Canadian common law on punctuation mistakes in Wills.
Top 5 mistakes in Wills – avoid these if you can.
Why Punctuation Mistakes in Wills Can Be Costly
Making punctuation mistakes in Wills may seem like a minor matter, but Canadian common law on per stirpes and per capita distribution of estates can be unnerving. So it was that, when Moola’s Will left out needed commas, his executor needed the court’s opinion on punctuation mistakes in Wills.
Per stirpes distributions allow testators (Will makers) to bequeath assets to a beneficiary, and have that pass on to a beneficiary’s own heirs. Per capita distributions give a proportionate share of a testator’s personal possessions and real property to all their living beneficiaries, but not future generations. In Moola’s case, five of 10 siblings had predeceased him.
As punctuation mistakes in Wills often do, Moola’s lack of attention to detail created general confusion. As a scribbled note in his Will read, the intended beneficiaries of his estate residue (what’s left over after debts, funeral and burial expenses are paid) were: “my brothers sisters late brothers sisters nephews and nieces”.
Correcting Punctuation Mistakes in Wills
But what did that scribble actually mean?
- Did Moola plan to give his assets to all 10 siblings, with the nieces and nephews of those who predeceased him inheriting their parents’ share (per stirpes)?
- Or was his estate to be shared equally by all his beneficiaries, including siblings, nieces, and nephews, but only those who survived him (per capita)? That meant any share his deceased siblings’ children would have received under a per stirpes distribution would be redistributed instead to Moola’s surviving brothers and sisters.
Tips for correcting mistakes in a Will.
Sitting in Moola’s place (or “armchair”, as it’s called), Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled the Brampton senior probably intended to share his wealth with all his family. Without the appropriate punctuation, the court’s armchair ruling concluded Moola meant to bequeath his own nephews and nieces. His estate was divided equally among the five surviving sisters and brothers, and the children of his deceased siblings.
Why You Need a Wills and Estates Lawyer
Poor punctuation can make your final Will and testament, like Moola’s, hard to decipher. Axess Law drafts your Ontario Will error free. Handwritten or holographic Wills you make yourself are perfectly legal, but they may not hold up in an Ontario court if the punctuation is open to interpretation. Ensure yours is clear by having the legal professionals at Axess Law prepare a new Will for you.
Essentials you need to know about Wills and estates in Ontario.
Your estate trustee will have an easier task of distributing your personal property and investments if your Will is up to date, and reflects the latest changes to Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act. Axess Law recommends reviewing your Will yearly to ensure it includes changes to your personal or financial circumstances that could affect your estate.
New family members, marriage, divorce, or separation can all have an impact on who you want to receive your final estate. Neglecting, or simply forgetting, to revise your Will’s contents can place your family at a disadvantage.
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Recent changes to the Succession Law Reform Act no longer automatically revoke a Will when you remarry. Unless you take the necessary steps to change your Will, your ex-spouse may unwittingly inherit the bulk of your estate.
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We include appointees for executor, personal representative, or estate trustee, and add alternate or substitute trustees in case your first choices are unavailable or unwilling to administer your estate. Regardless of how experienced your executor may be, our basic Wills are easy to follow.
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Other Ontario law firms may charge significantly more for Wills services you may not necessarily require. Axess Law’s Wills and estates lawyers keep it basic, and your legal fees reflect it. You get no hidden extras or surprises when we give you our bill because our services are all inclusive.
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If you haven’t used virtual Wills lawyers before, you may be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to make a Will using your home computer, laptop, or any compatible mobile device. You can access lawyers anytime via our secure, online video conferencing service. Drop by any of our open law offices in Greater Toronto Area or Ottawa to finalize your Will by signing it.
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