Denis Bellemore and Sylvie Dussault maintained somewhat independent lives but were in some kind of relationship when he died in 2009. Bellemore also had three children from a previous union, but during his lifetime never told them clearly about his relationship with Dussault. At issue in Bellemore (Succession de), 2012 QCCS 4283, was the inheritance of his estate, in particular the benefits under his company pension. In a document Bellemore had composed on his computer and called his ‘2009 Personal Will’, he left most of his estate (including his pension entitlement) to Dussault, except for interests in the will of his parents, which he left to his kids. Bellemore had printed and signed the document, but hadn’t done so before a notary – so it was invalid as a will in the traditional sense. Could the electronic version nevertheless qualify as a valid holograph will? Did it amount to a beneficiary designation for the purposes of his company pension? And was Dussault his common-law spouse (conjointe de fait), entitled to death benefits under the pension?
Laberge CJS found that the ‘will’ was adequate as a beneficiary designation because the applicable legislation only required a designation in writing. The judge also concluded that, in spite of their somewhat separate lives, Bellemore and Dussault were at the time of his death conjoints de fait for the purposes of the pension scheme, thus entitling her to death benefits. So far, so good for Dussault. The printed and signed version of the will wasn’t valid, nor was it OK as a holograph because it hadn’t been written entirely in Bellemore’s hand (which, as the judge pointed out, is what ‘holograph’ means). Provisions of the Civil Code which can cure a defective will weren’t available and the functional equivalency rules for electronic documents did not extend to testamentary dispositions. Dussault got the pension money (and a third of Bellemore’s ashes), but not the remainder of the estate.
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