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Vancouver Estate Litigation Proprietary Estoppel

Vancouver Estate Litigation Proprietary Estoppel lawyers deal with cases of estate trust disputes and cases involving people working on property owned by the deceased where promises were made that were not kept. Specifically, Vancouver Estate Litigation Proprietary Estoppel lawyers deal with Vancouver estate disputes where promises are made as to an estate asset going to the person who worked hard and contributed to the preservation, maintenance, and improvement to the asset owned by the deceased that the hardworking person relied upon such that they gave up other opportunities and worked hard to maintain or increase the promised asset’s value. These disputes often relate to farms and ranches as well as real estate and businesses.

So what is Vancouver Estate Litigation Proprietary Estoppel? In today’s blog, Fraser MacLean explains a recent case that explains just exactly what proprietary estoppel is in Vancouver estate litigation disputes.

Vancouver Estate Litigation Proprietary Estoppel 1 877 602 9900

A recent Vancouver Estate Litigation Proprietary Estoppel case pitted a son and daughter-in-law of the deceased against their deceased father and a First Nations Band. The son and daughter-in-law claimed they had worked hard on the ranch the deceased father promised would all be theirs one day. Instead the deceased gifted the entire ranch to the Esk’etemc First Nations Band. The son and his wife were ultimately successful in proving their case and they received the entire ranch and the First Nations Band gift was set aside. Here is what the judge said:

[3]             The dispute centers around Kenneth’s 623‑acre ranch, located approximately 30 minutes southwest of Williams Lake, B.C., (the “Ranch”), and various water and other licences held in relation to the Ranch. The plaintiffs seek a declaration that they are entitled to ownership of the Ranch on Kenneth’s death on the basis of the equitable doctrine of proprietary estoppel. They also seek a declaration that Kenneth’s purported gift of the Ranch to the Esk’etemc First Nations Band (the “Band”) in April 2017 be declared void as against their equitable interest.

PROPRIETARY ESTOPPEL

[23]         The law surrounding the equitable doctrine of proprietary estoppel is not in dispute. Equity enforces promises that the law does not. Howard and Beatrix claim that after over 50 years of Howard’s dedicated hard work on the Ranch and over 20 years of Beatrix doing likewise, and based on representations and promises made to them by Kenneth and Kathey, it was their reasonable expectation that they would inherit the Ranch when Kenneth and Kathey died.The question for adjudication is whether, despite the legal rights Kenneth has under the Trust Declaration, equity, and specifically the doctrine of proprietary estoppel, now binds Kenneth to his word.

[24]         The leading case in Canada on the doctrine of proprietary estoppel is Cowper-Smith v. Morgan, 2017 SCC 61. The principles that can be derived from that case are these:

[15]      An equity arises when (1) a representation or assurance is made to the claimant, on the basis of which the claimant expects that he will enjoy some right or benefit over property; (2) the claimant relies on that expectation by doing or refraining from doing something, and his reliance is reasonable in all the circumstances; and (3) the claimant suffers a detriment as a result of his reasonable reliance, such that it would be unfair or unjust for the party responsible for the representation or assurance to go back on her word [citations omitted]. The representation or assurance may be express or implied [citations omitted]. An inchoate equity [meaning one that is not fully formed, or that is uncrystallised] arises at the time of detrimental reliance on a representation or assurance. … When the party responsible for the representation or assurance possesses an interest in the property sufficient to fulfill the claimant’s expectation, proprietary estoppel may give effect to the equity by making the representation or assurance binding.

[16]      … Like other estoppels, proprietary estoppel avoids the unfairness or injustice that would result to one party if the other were permitted to break her word and insist on her strict legal rights [citations omitted]. …

Where a claimant has established proprietary estoppel, the court has considerable discretion in crafting a remedy that suits the circumstances. …. However, a claimant who establishes the need for proprietary estoppel is entitled only to the minimum relief necessary to satisfy the equity in his favour, and cannot obtain more than he expected.

[25]         The most essential requirement is that there must be proportionality between the expectation and the detriment (Cowper-Smith at para. 56). Estoppel claims “concern promises which, since they are unsupported by consideration, are initially revocable. What later makes them binding, and therefore irrevocable, is the promisee’s detrimental reliance on them. Once that occurs, there is simply no question of the promisor changing his or her mind” ([1998] R.L.R. 220 (W.J. Swadling), cited in Gillett v. Holt & Anor, [2000] E.W.C.A. Civ. 66, [2000] 3 W.L.R. 815 (C.A.) at 831 [Gillett]). It is the promisee’s detrimental reliance on the promise which makes it irrevocable. The detriment need not consist of expenditure of money or other quantifiable financial detriment, so long as it is something substantial. Generally speaking, the approach is to determine whether a purported repudiation of the promise or assurance is unconscionable in all the circumstances. The issue of detriment must be judged at the moment when the person who has given the assurance seeks to go back on it. “Whether the detriment is sufficiently substantial is to be tested by whether it would be unjust or inequitable to allow the assurance to be disregarded” (Gillett at 836).

Vancouver Estate Litigation Proprietary Estoppel 1 877 602 9900

[26]         I am satisfied on the evidence that Howard and Beatrix have proven the elements of proprietary estoppel. They both, particularly Howard, relied on Kenneth and Kathey’s assurances respecting inheriting the Ranch to their detriment. Howard worked on the Ranch all of his life for little pay, not only because he enjoyed the work and lifestyle, but because he understood the arrangement with Kenneth and Kathey was that he would inherit the Ranch on their passing. He was encouraged all his life by his parents to stay and work on the Ranch and not to follow other career paths. He was happy to do so for little or no compensation on the repeated assurances and expectation that he would inherit the Ranch on his parents’ death. Indeed, that understanding was mutual. Had those promises never been made, it is impossible to know what Howard may have done with his life. It would be a matter of pure conjecture as to what the future might otherwise have held for him. Likewise, the evidence satisfies me that when Beatrix arrived on the Ranch in 1996, she too deprived herself by not taking advantage of her other career opportunities in favour of working on the Ranch and helping out Howard and his parents on the strength of what I am satisfied were clear and repeated assurances that Howard and she would inherit the Ranch. I am also satisfied that there was a pattern of Kenneth and Kathey underpaying Howard, and later Beatrix, for their farm labour and that that underpayment was part of their overall family plan that they would inherit the Ranch when Kenneth and Kathey passed.

Contact Our Vancouver Probate Dispute Lawyers

If you have a dispute or a question that you think might raise Vancouver Estate Litigation Proprietary Estoppel issues, call our top-rated Vancouver Estate Litigation Proprietary Estoppel today as time limits do apply. Our Vancouver estate litigation lawyers have offices across BC and in Calgary.