The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled that four Indo-Canadian sisters must inherit a much larger proportion of their parents’ estate, demonstrating the law’s power over traditional values.
In their parents’ original will, each of the sisters would have only received C$150,000 (US$114,000) from a C$9 million (US$ 6.8 million) estate, or a minuscule 1.7% of the total.
Apparently, their parents wanted to give the bulk of their assets — a whopping 93.4% — to their two brothers, who would then split it to at least C$4.2 million (US$3.2 million) each.
Vancouver lawyer Trevor Todd, who represented the sisters, described the will as “ridiculously unfair” in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
On July 17, the British Columbia Supreme Court overturned the will, granting each of the sisters C$1.35 million (US$1 million) or 15% of the estate. Meanwhile, their brothers will split the remaining 40%, amounting to C$1.8 million ($1.37 million) each.
“The clients are very happy with the result,” Todd said in another interview with CBC News. “They consider it a victory.”
The multimillion-dollar case puts a spotlight on British Columbia’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) — unique to Canada — which lets non-dependent adult children challenge the fairness of a parent’s will.
Clearly, the legislation allowed the sisters to fight against their parents’ preference for their brothers, a common bias in many Asian cultures.
“We’ve seen cases where Chinese parents wanted to give 100% of their estate to their sons or their spouse, and neglected others in the family,” Richmond lawyer Bernard Lau told SCMP. “By doing that, you’re risking a court battle, that will invariably damage relationships.”
The sisters, however, pursued the legal battle with another mission in mind. “One of the reasons that they wanted to pursue the claim was not just out of self-interest, but so other South Asian women in the same position would also have the courage to do so,” Todd told CBC News.
The WESA requires a will to “make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of the will-maker’s spouse or children,” including non-dependent adults.
The law applies to foreign wills as well, so long as the property to be handed is in British Columbia.