Unger Estate (Re), 2022 BCSC 189

Can a person who murdered another person inherit from the latter’s estate? If no, who stands to inherit in place of that person? Those were the questions in Unger Estate (Re).

In Unger Estate (Re), 2022 BCSC 189, the Deceased, Lois Unger, died on February 24, 2016. She was survived by her two sons, Clayton and Logan. Sadly, Lois had been killed by Clayton who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in her death and was sentenced to life in prison.

Eleven days after Lois’s murder, Clayton’s girlfriend gave birth to his child and only heir; a daughter named Adeline.

Lois’s will divided her estate equally between Logan and Clayton. It further stipulated that, if Logan or Clayton died before her with children of their own, those children should inherit their father’s share. Finally, if the gifts to Logan or Clayton failed to vest (ie. because either son died before Lois without children of their own), his share was to be divided equally between two charities.

The executors of Lois’s estate sought the Court’s advice on whether Clayton could still inherit his share of Lois’s estate, or whether his share should go to his brother Logan, his daughter Adeline, or two charities named as alternate beneficiaries in Lois’s will.

The Court quickly concluded that Clayton, by murdering Lois, had disentitled himself to a share of his mother’s estate. The Court based this on a long-standing rule of public policy that prevents a person responsible for the death of another from taking any benefit because of their criminal act. 

The more difficult decision was what to do with Clayton’s share. On a strict interpretation of the will, as Adeline was born after Lois’s death, Clayton’s share would pass to the two charities.

Logan and the Public Guardian and Trustee, on behalf of Adeline, responded to the executors’ court application. Logan argued that he should receive Clayton’s share while the PGT argued that Adeline should receive it. The executors took the same position as the PGT.

In coming to its decision, the Court relied on section 46 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, which states:

46   (1)If a gift in a will cannot take effect for any reason, including because a beneficiary dies before the will-maker, the property that is the subject of the gift must, subject to a contrary intention appearing in the will, be distributed according to the following priorities:

(a)to the alternative beneficiary of the gift, if any, named or described by the will-maker, whether the gift fails for a reason specifically contemplated by the will-maker or for any other reason;

(b)if the beneficiary was the brother, sister or a descendant of the will-maker, to their descendants, determined at the date of the will-maker’s death, in accordance with section 42 (4) [meaning of particular words in a will];

(c)to the surviving residuary beneficiaries, if any, named in the will, in proportion to their interests.

(2)If a gift cannot take effect because a beneficiary dies before the will-maker, subsection (1) applies whether the beneficiary’s death occurs before or after the will is made.

In the end, the Court held that Clayton’s share of Lois’s Estate was to pass to Adeline. It did this because Lois clearly intended to benefit her sons and, in the case the one or both failed to survive her, to benefit their children. Further, Adeline, not Logan, was an alternate beneficiary of the gift to Clayton. 

Given that Adeline was a minor, the Court ordered that her share of the Estate was to be paid to the PGT in trust.