This discussion is not a variation of Elizabeth Browning’s famous poem. It is about the tragedy described in the case Brown v. Pearce Estate (whose reasons for judgement were recently released).
The case is a claim for variation of a mother’s Will by her son, the Plaintiff.
The deceased died in late-2012. She had married twice and had a common law relationship. In her first marriage, she had two children, one of whom was the Plaintiff. That marriage ended in divorce, and in 1973, the deceased remarried.
Her second husband had a child from a previous relationship. That child, a daughter, died tragically in a car accident in 1989.
After that incident, the deceased’s second marriage eventually ended in 1995. In 1999, the deceased entered a relationship which was happy, until the husband died unexpectedly in 2004.
After that relationship, she declined into depression and alcoholism, and died at age 68.
Her eldest child, the Plaintiff, was born in 1965 and married in 1990. That marriage ended in 1993. In 1995, he started living with his second wife (they married in 2001). They had a daughter who never met the deceased. That marriage ended as well.
The Plaintiff’s relationship with his mother was poor, though seemingly not as poor as described in his evidence. He testified to an abusive relationship, including not having enough food when he was young and never being appreciated.
The relationship seemed to end in 1995, when the deceased moved out of her house to end her second marriage. The deceased asked the Plaintiff to help her, and when he arrived at the house, he started moving things out onto the front lawn, embarrassing the deceased.
The ensuing fight seemed to cause considerable frustration on both sides, and the Plaintiff seemed to have lost interest in their relationship. There was only sporadic contact afterward, which caused the deceased considerable sadness.
Around 2005, the deceased sold her home and gave the Plaintiff’s sister $200,000 of the proceeds. She did not give the Plaintiff anything and, in her Will, bequeathed him $10,000. The Plaintiff sought to vary her Will.
The Court heard evidence from eight witnesses, several of whom contradicted the Plaintiff’s evidence – including his sister, who testified that they observed no shortage of food in the household.
The Court analyzed the law of Wills Variation, referring to the most important case (Tataryn v. Tataryn) and subsequent cases, and discussed the obligations of a Will maker with respect to their legal and moral duties toward children.
The Court considered the abuse the deceased endured, and the Plaintiff’s apparent unwillingness to have a relationship with her over some years.
The Court held that the deceased’s reasons for not leaving the Plaintiff a more generous bequest were valid and rational. Since their estrangement was the Plaintiff’s fault, her bequest was not “unjust or inequitable,” and her moral duty toward him was negated.
The Plaintiff’s claim was dismissed, and the Will stood.
The Court delivered a thorough and thoughtful analysis of a family’s tragic circumstances. On the evidence, the Plaintiff chose not to have or rekindle a relationship with his now deceased mother. The reasons are not wholly clear, but are probably complex.
The Will gave reasons for the modest bequest, and due to the nature of the relationship, the Plaintiff had a difficult case to meet, and failed.
In these cases, and in many ways, relationships are an important factor for the Court in deciding whether to vary a Will.