A person who is left out of a will may believe he or she has a valid claim, but not have access to the evidence required to prove it. That predicament arose in a recent Vancouver estate litigation matter, Jahanbani v. Mohseni, 2020 BCSC 2140. In that case, a son claimed that his mother gave money and assets to his uncle, to hold and invest on her behalf. When the uncle died, his estate (including amounts allegedly held on behalf of his sister), passed to his wife. The son sued, alleging that some of the property in his uncle’s estate was held in a constructive trust for his mother. The son did not have access to information to determine what portion of approximately $5 million in estate assets might in fact belong to his mother. The BC court agreed that given the special circumstances, it was appropriate to appoint an estate administrator to secure assets, conduct investigations to determine the scope of the uncle’s obligations under a constructive trust, and facilitate document disclosure.
Vancouver estate litigation pits two sides of a family
The Vancouver estate litigation claim in Jahanbani v. Mohseni concerned two siblings: Seyffedin and his sister, Amineh. Both were born in Iran and eventually moved to North America. Amineh had one son, John. Seyffedin married but did not have any children. The key sequence of events played out as follows:
- Seyffedin died on August 20, 2014. All of Seyffedin’s property passed to his wife, Nahid, either pursuant to the terms of his Will or outside his estate, via beneficiary designations or joint tenancy. Nahid was appointed executor pursuant to Seyffedin’s Will.
- Amineh died on February 25, 2017.
- Nahid died on October 4, 2017. Pursuant to Nahid’s Will, her entire estate passed to her nieces and nephews (i.e., her brother’s children).
Neither Amineh, Amineh’s estate, nor John received any amounts under Seyffedin’s Will, Nahid’s Will or from either of their estates. John alleged that his mother, Amineh, gave money and assets to Seyffedin throughout her lifetime, for Seyffedin to hold and invest on her behalf. John also alleged that Seyffedin received Amineh’s inheritance from their mother’s estate. John claimed that his Uncle Seyffedin was the patriarch of the family, trusted as caretaker of financial matters and family assets (including real estate and other personal property). As a result of this arrangement, John claimed that portions of approximately $5 million in estate assets were held in a constructive trust for his mother, Amineh, and that property which passed to Nahid on Seyffedin’s death were similarly impressed with that trust.
Nahid’s beneficiaries opposed John’s claims, taking the position that they were entitled to the full beneficial interest in the aunt’s estate. John commenced a lawsuit. By that point in time, Seyffedin’s estate had been fully administered (all property went to Nahid), and further, his estate no longer had a personal representative, since his executor (Nahid) had since died. The executor named in Nahid’s Will could have assumed the role of Seyffedin’s executor by operation of the chain of executorship, pursuant to s. 145 of the Wills, Estates, and Succession Act, SBC 2009, c. 13 (“WESA”), but refused to do so.
Application to appoint administrator due to special circumstances
John applied for orders that would appoint a Vancouver estate lawyer as the administrator of Seyffedin’s estate and provide that the lawyer’s fees be paid on a joint and several basis by Seyffedin’s and Nahid’s estates.
Section 132 of WESA grants power to the court to appoint as administrator of an estate any person the court considers appropriate if, because of special circumstances, the court considers it appropriate to do so.
In this case, the court was satisfied that special circumstances justified the appointment of an administrator for the limited purpose of defending John’s Vancouver estate litigation, despite objections from Nahid’s beneficiaries. A personal representative for Seyffedin’s estate was necessary to carry out investigations into the estate to determine the extent of property Seyffedin held in a constructive trust for Amineh at the time of his death. The work to be done by the court-appointed administrator would ascertain the interests of Nahid’s beneficiaries and would answer the question of how much of the estate, if any, should be carved out for what Seyffedin held in a constructive trust for Amineh. In the broad discretion conferred by s. 132 of WESA, the court held that was appropriate to order that the fees and expenses for the work of the administrator be paid jointly and severally by Seyffedin’s and Nahid’s estates.
Take home point on court-appointed estate administrators
Special circumstances of an estate litigation claim may justify the appointment of an administrator under s. 132 of WESA. The administrator may be appointed generally, or for special or limited purposes such as defending a lawsuit, securing assets, conducting investigations to determine the scope of obligations under a constructive trust, and facilitating document disclosure.