Millionaire's handwritten notes count as final wishes, court rules

A lawyer who specializes in estates and trusts says handwritten notes can end up costing more than updating a will.

Dorothy Gwendolyn Jones died in 2015 at the age of 92 with a $6.7M estate

A lawyer who specializes in estates and trusts says it's important wills be kept up to date. (Shutterstock / Robert Hoetink)

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia ruled a deceased millionaire's handwritten notes count toward her final wishes, but a lawyer who specializes in estates and trusts says keeping a will updated is a more cost-effective alternative.

"As this decision evidences — and it refers to other decisions in it — all of those executors still had to spend time and money going to court to have those documents proven as valid documents," said Jessica Lyle, a lawyer with Sealy Cornish Coulthard in Dartmouth.

Dorothy Gwendolyn Jones died Sept. 1, 2015, at the age of 92, leaving behind an estate worth $6.7 million. 

'Testamentary intention'

Although she had a last will and testament dated 2009, Jones's personal representative, Gary Armsworthy, found two handwritten memos with more direction about her final wishes in her safety deposit box.

The notes were not signed or witnessed and "were obviously self-made without the involvement of legal counsel," Justice Robert Wright noted in his written decision dated Dec. 8, 2017. But the justice found the notes indicated a "testamentary intention."

Lyle said it's possible Jones wrote the notes with the intention of eventually updating her will. She said it's also possible Jones may not have wanted to go through the process of updating her will again.

More expensive than wills

"For a lot of people it's, 'Oh, I'll just do it, it's cheaper,' and then they don't realize that it's still going to be several thousands of dollars to go to court later when they're dead," said Lyle. "I mean, maybe they don't care because they're not living anymore but somebody has to go to court and get a judge to agree that that was your intention.

"You can probably get a pretty solid will for $1,000, $1,500 and you've avoided all of that."

After legal fees, Jones' money will go to family members, the Victorian Order of Nurses, Autism Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia division of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Nova Scotia division of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, St. George Anglican Church in McAdam, N.B., the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Halifax division of the Salvation Army and Feed Nova Scotia.

About the Author

Anjuli Patil

Reporter

Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.