British Columbia

Deceased millionaire's family sues after DNA test reveals heir isn't related

The family of a self-made millionaire in Vancouver who left millions to the person he thought was his son is suing the heir after a DNA test revealed the two aren't related.

Vancouver entrepreneur left his estate to man he called his son, and that heir says they had a special bond

Elis Gosta Hjukstrom with a family member in Sweden. The family says his last visit there was in 2005. (Mikael Nordgren)

Elis Gosta Hjukstrom was born out of wedlock in a tiny hamlet in northern Sweden. He died in Vancouver a self-made millionaire, bequeathing most of his fortune to the man he called his son.

But a paternity test conducted after Hjukstrom's death revealed he wasn't biologically related to his heir.

Now, Hjukstrom's extended family in Sweden is suing the heir in B.C. Supreme Court, claiming he and his now-deceased mother deceived Hjukstrom for decades in order to benefit financially. 

Hjukstrom, a lifelong bachelor known to many as Gus, moved to Canada from Sweden in his 20s. He died of cancer in 2017 at age 87, leaving behind a Vancouver-based import and distribution business and a family estate in Sweden worth a combined total of about $14 million, of which he bequeathed most to Swedish resident Kenth Lundback. 

In a notice of civil claim filed last May, the family alleges that Lundback and his mother intentionally defrauded Hjukstrom for over 50 years in a "calculated, callous and selfish way" by leading him to believe Lundback was the man's biological son.

In or around 1994, Hjukstrom, centre, treated some of his Swedish family to a month-long trip to Vancouver. The family says he was very generous during this trip, and rented an apartment for them and paid for all their expenses. "Gosta was very proud to show us around Vancouver and to introduce us to his close friends and staff," the family said. (Onyx Law)

The family — Hjukstrom's surviving siblings, nieces and nephews — wants Lundback to be removed from Hjukstrom's will and the trust.

In his response to the family's claim, filed in the B.C. court, Lundback denies the allegations and argues instead that Hjukstrom knew it was possible that he wasn't his biological son. Lundback says he and Hjukstrom enjoyed a "warm, happy and encouraging" rapport in recent years that was "akin to a father/son relationship."

The case reveals family secrets kept quiet for decades, now exposed as Hjukstrom's relatives and his heir argue over who should rightfully benefit from the fortune he left behind. 

Impoverished background

According to court documents, Hjukstrom grew up in a small parish in northern Sweden, born to an unwed mother and the eldest of seven children.

Hjukstrom never knew his biological father, and two of his siblings were adopted out because his mother couldn't afford to care for them. In 1957, he moved to Canada and began what is now a successful business in Vancouver currently worth about $7 million. 

While visiting Sweden in 1960, Hjukstrom had a brief romantic relationship with Ingrid Jonsson, a childhood friend. The family claims that, soon after, Jonsson began a relationship with Nils Joel — listed as Lundback's father on his birth certificate, and to whom he "always bore a striking physical resemblance."

The couple split up sometime after 1962. In 1964, Hjukstrom wrote to Jonsson and told her of his entrepreneurial success.

Hjukstrom, centre right, in the black vest, sometimes travelled with his family to northern Sweden, where he had a cabin. (Mikael Nordgren)

In her reply, Jonsson told him she had a young son born a few months after they had been together. 

'I will of course take responsibility'

"If I am in fact Kenth's father, I will of course take responsibility," Hjukstrom wrote in a letter filed as part of an affidavit. 

"Yes, that is the case," Jonsson later replied. "I don't think you need to tell anyone about it." 

Hjukstrom trusted Jonsson, the family says, because they were childhood friends. And he was a stubborn man who wouldn't be told what to do, despite the family's concerns that he was being taken advantage of. 

The family says Hjukstrom soon started sending Jonsson money, and he first included her and her son in his will in 1966. Jonsson died in 2008. By 2014, Hjukstrom left the bulk of his estate to Lundback. 

After Hjukstrom died in 2017, the family questioned Lundback's relationship to him. The executor of Hjukstrom's estate ordered a DNA test. The results showed there was no probability of paternity.

In his response filed with the court, Lundback says Hjukstrom always knew it was possible he wasn't the father.

Established a special bond

Lundback says Hjukstrom wanted him to be his heir, regardless of whether he was his biological son, because the two had established a special bond over the years.

Lundback also claims that he didn't know Hjukstrom was his father until 2002, when he got a letter from him stating as much. Soon after that, Hjukstrom visited Lundback in Sweden on a few occasions, and the pair exchanged phone calls and letters. 

Lundback also claims he asked Hjukstrom, twice, if they could do a DNA test, but he says Hjukstrom replied it was unnecessary. Lundback says he didn't know how much Hjukstrom's estate was worth.

A photo of Hjukstrom, his sister Asta, and his nephew Mikael Nordgren at their house in the 1980s. (Mikael Nordgren)

Hjukstrom's family in Sweden are the ones trying to take advantage of the millionaire, Lundback says, claiming they only contacted him when they wanted money and gifts. Lundback says the entrepreneur never intended to leave them his fortune.

The family disputes Lundback's assertions. As evidence, they have submitted photos of family visits over the years, many of which they say Hjukstrom paid for. 

They say Hjukstrom was mindful of family legacies and never would have left his estate to Lundback knowing that he wasn't his biological son.

One thing both parties do agree on is that Hjukstrom was a generous man who gave freely to family and those he was close to. 

It will be up to a judge to decide whether Hjukstrom left his estate freely to Lundback because he was deceived or because he considered them to be close. 

The court recently ruled that it will hear the suits against both the trust and the estate at the same time. The case is expected to go to trial in 2020. 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.