B.C. SPCA $1.4M richer after court upholds will of deceased Vancouver woman
Relatives argued a handwritten note proved they, not the SPCA, should get most of her money
The B.C. SPCA will receive the lion's share of an almost $2 million estate settlement after a B.C. Supreme Court justice found that a handwritten note of murky provenance was not enough to override the valid will of a Vancouver woman who died almost four years ago.
Eleena Violette Murray was 99 when she died Oct. 4, 2017.
Her will, written in 2013, bequeathed a total of $440,000 to nine family members. A niece, two grandnieces and one grandnephew were each given $60,000. Another five relatives were left $40,000 apiece.
The only other party named in the document, the B.C. SPCA, was left the residue of her estate — the money remaining after assets were liquidated and expenses and distributions paid out.
In Murray's case, the residue of estate amounted to approximately $1.4 million for the B.C. SPCA after the sale of her Collingwood Street home in Kitsilano for $1.9 million.
Last year, a group of Murray's relatives filed suit alleging a handwritten note with "SPCA" and "100,000" written beside it was proof she intended for the animal welfare agency to receive the much smaller amount of $100,000.
The note also purported to increase how much certain family members would receive while deleting the inheritances of others.
Written on a piece of yellow notepad paper, the note was found in a lockbox in Murray's home alongside her will.
In her 62-page decision, Justice Heather MacNaughton listed the many problems with the note, including that it was without a date and title and was unsigned and unwitnessed.
Marks made by different people in different ink
Although there was no evidence disputing that the note was primarily in Murray's handwriting, MacNaughton also found that it "appears to have markings on it made by different people as they are in different ink."
"It is not clear who crossed out some of the names on the note," she wrote. "It's also not clear who increased the amount of the gifts from the amounts in the 2013 will."
The decision also points out that if the note was, in fact, valid, 75 per cent of the estate would end up with three nephews Murray had made abundantly clear she had no intention of leaving anything to.
"It's difficult to see how Ms. Murray could have had knowledge and approved of this result," MacNaughton wrote.
In her decision, MacNaughton found that Murray was aware of and approved the residual bequest to the B.C. SPCA and that her will could not be rendered invalid by the handwritten note.
"The note does not reflect Ms. Murray's fixed and final intention to change the 2013 will and is not fully effective as a codicil or alteration," she said.
In an interesting twist, counsel for the B.C. SPCA informed the court that the $40,000 gift set out in the note for Murray's friend John Basich would be honoured.
According to court documents, Basich acted as Murray's driver in her later years but did not appear in her 2013 will.