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Rectification – the Equitable Remedy to Fix Errors in a Will

Sometimes even professionals just drop the ball. Imagine walking into your lawyer’s and asking him to make a few changes to your will. Instead of typing in a bequest of $2,500.00 the lawyer types $25,000.00. The Will is signed and no one notices the mistake until after the testator dies. That is what happened in Nugent v. Lang. The lawyer admitted the error was his and he testified that the testator wanted the bequest to be $2,500. It should be simple right? Not so fast.

The Plaintiff asked the court to fix the mistake. The legal term for this request is “Rectification”. Courts use this equitable remedy very carefully. Exactly what type of evidence a judge may consider is being debated in the courts. How sure does the court have to be to fix the mistake? Is the court limited in how it can fix the mistake? In exercising the remedy is the court limited to only being able to delete certain parts of the will? Can a judge add missing words? In this case the court rectified the draftsman’s error and changed the bequest from $25,000 to $2,500.

Cases like Lipson v Lipson, Binkley Estate v. Lang, (2009) 50 E.T.R. (3d) 44 and Balaz v Balaz, all involve situations where the courts fixed some form of lawyer mistake. Either there was an accidental slip or omission because of a typographical or clerical error, the testator’s instructions had been misunderstood, or the testator’s instructions had not been carried out. Despite these recent cases where judges fixed mistakes made in the will it is very important to remember that not every error will be rectified by the courts.

In Re Estate of Blanca Esther Robinson the court refused to fix the mistake. In that case the testator signed a Will dealing with her European property. She also signed a Canadian Will dealing with her Canadian property. Years later, she made a new Canadian Will but did not tell her new lawyer about the Spanish will. Since the lawyer had no knowledge about the Spanish Will the solicitor included the standard provision revoking all previous wills. The beneficiaries asked the court to fix the mistake. The court refused. The judge stated, “….if no errors were made by the solicitor and the words in the will were reviewed and approved by the testator, rectification will not be available simply because the testator was mistaken about their legal effect.” So it seems that not every mistake will be rectified.

Charles Wagner

The author of this blog is Charles B. Wagner. Charles is a Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts and partner at Wagner Sidlofsky LLP.

This Toronto office is a boutique litigation law firm whose practice is focused on estate and commercial litigation.

This blog is not intended to serve as a comprehensive treatment of the topic. It is not meant to be legal advice. Every case turns on its specific facts and it would be a mistake for the reader of this blog to conclude how it might impact on the reader’s case. Nothing replaces retaining a qualified, competent lawyer, well versed in this niche area of practice and getting some good legal advice.

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