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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Equity ensures farm goes to intended beneficiary after codicil failed

This was an estate case involving a horse farm.  The farm had been owned jointly by Mr. and Mrs. von Hopffgarten before the husband died in 2006.  In 2011, Mrs. von Hopffgarten died - her will said she left the farm to a Ms. Rommel.  However, the von Hopffgartens had for a long time taken a man named Jesse Sabey under their wings and intended to leave the farm to him.  They both executed codicils to their wills (changing the beneficiary from Ms. Rommel to Mr. Sabey), but the codicils were invalid under the Wills Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 489 because they were witnessed by only one person.

Sabey commenced an action the B.C. Supreme Court to claim ownership of the farm based on proprietary estoppel - statements made to him by the von Hopffgartens.  Alternatively, he made claims based on unjust enrichment and trust.  He alleged that he had worked extensively on the farm, with less remuneration than other workers, with the promise that he would someday take over the farm.  Interestingly, Sabey was not aware of the codicils that the von Hopffgartens had attempted to make (and, therefore, the codicils couldn't assist in making the case of proprietary estoppel). 

The Court accepted Mr. Sabey's evidence; no one challenged his credibility about the statements made to him.  The Court concluded that he had made out the case for proprietary estoppel and that "equity must be satisfied" by granting Mr. Sabey the farm. 

Read the decision at: Sabey v. Beardsley.