Rainbow

Rainbow

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ambiguity in will leads farm case to Saskatchewan Court of Appeal

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court decision regarding the meaning of "oil well rights" in the will of the late Frederick J. Wernicke.  The problem was that Wernicke didn't have any rights in an oil well.  He did own an undeveloped freehold mineral title of nominal value in Alberta.  He also owned five quarters of farm land in Saskatchewan on which he received surface rental payments for gas wells.  In his will, Mr. Wernicke bequeathed 1/2 of his "oil well rights" to one son and 1/2 of the rights to another son.  On the basis of these bequests, the executors of the will, including one of the sons, transferred the Alberta mineral title to the two sons.

Other parties interested in the will sued the two sons over the Alberta property.  The trial judge ruled that "oil well rights" in the will meant freehold mines and minerals on the Alberta property.  The other interested parties then appealed that decision to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the ordinary meaning of "oil well rights" could not be mines and minerals.  The two sons argued that the expressed intentions of Mr. Wernicke were "clear, unambiguous and without equivocation".  The mineral title in Alberta included the rights to oil beneath the ground and it was his intention that the mineral title go to the two sons.  The Court of Appeal agreed.

Read the decision at: Wernicke v Quirk.