B.C. Supreme Court sends out loud and clear message that estates will be reapportioned if women discriminated against

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Elaine Adair in a judgment that sends a loud and clear message to all communities in Canada that women cannot be discriminated against in wills, redistributed the estate of Nahar Singh Litt and Nihal Kaur Litt, giving about $1.35 million to each of the four sisters, Jasbinder Kaur Grewal, Mohinder Kaur Litt-Grewal, Amarjit Kaur Gottenbos and Inderjit Kaur Sidhu or 15 per cent each.

The four had been willed less than seven per cent of their parents’ $9 million estate, whereas their two brothers were willed the rest. The two men, Terry Mukhtiar Singh Litt and Kasar Singh Litt, will receive the remaining 40 per cent, or about $1.8 million each. The siblings are all now in their 50s and 60s.

Wally Oppal Photo by Chandra Bodalia

Former attorney general Wally Oppal told CBC that he was pressured to change to change B.C.’s laws in this regard but he refused because he wanted to “give those people who are aggrieved their right to challenge a will.”

CBC noted: “Inheritance matters in B.C. are currently governed by the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, which states that a judge can vary a will if it “does not, in the court’s opinion, make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of the will-maker’s spouse or children.”

But it added: “It is still possible to disinherit a child or cut a spouse out of a will if there are valid, rational and provable reasons for doing so. Judges are always expected to take the intentions of the deceased into account.”

THE judge did an excellent analysis of the circumstances surrounding the case and gave the full history of the family from the time they lnaded in B.C. from India in 1974.

Some interesting details from the ruling:

* “Nahar and Nihal had been farmers in India.  Nihal was uneducated, and Nahar had completed only Grade 7 in school.  When she was very young, Jasbinder was sent away to be looked after by an aunt, a memory that is still painful for Jasbinder.  According to Jasbinder, when she was about age 6, she returned to the family so that she could care for her brother Kasar while her parents worked.  Mohinder recalled being told that she was lucky because she had two brothers.  These early childhood memories reflect a very strong belief on the part of Jasbinder and Mohinder that, throughout their lives, they were treated as less valuable – especially by their mother – because they were daughters.  The sting and the hurt of those memories were apparent as they gave their evidence at trial.”

* “On the Litt family’s arrival in B.C., Nahar found work at a local sawmill, and he remained employed there until he retired in 1991.  In 1965, the parents were able to purchase their first family home, namely, East 62nd.  In 1968, the parents purchased property on Chester Street in Vancouver.  The family then moved there, and East 62nd was rented.  Despite the parents’ ability to purchase real estate, as Jasbinder recalled, the family had to make do with very little and lived very frugally.  This is not disputed by the other siblings.”

* “As soon as they were old enough, the siblings were expected to work during the summers alongside their mother, picking fruit and vegetable crops.  Jasbinder recalled that her first job in Canada was picking potatoes with her mother for 70 cents an hour.”

* “In addition to working at the sawmill, in the early 1970s and continuing throughout that decade, Nahar pursued farming and the acquisition of farm property.  Real estate eventually became parents’ (and the Estate’s) most valuable asset.”

* “By the end of 1971, Nahar had (with a relative, Mr. Sander) purchased 10 acres in Abbotsford (the “Huntingdon Road”) and (on his own) purchased 15 acres in Richmond (the “No. 6 Road Farm”).  The land was used to grow fruit and vegetable crops for sale.  All of the Siblings were expected to, and did, work on the farms, especially during the summer when they were out of school.”

* “The daughters all recall the parents being very strict with them.  On the other hand, they recalled that the parents were less strict with Kasar and Terry, and allowed both of them more freedom.  As all of the daughters recalled, the sons were never asked to do housework or domestic chores, or help with meal preparation and service, which the daughters routinely were expected to do.  Amarjit recalled that the daughters had no voice at home, and were controlled by the parents.  She recalled that the only way they received positive acknowledgment from the parents, especially their mother, was from working hard and like men on the farms.  In Amarjit’s memory, life at home was based on the parents’ traditional East Indian cultural views, where “boys were a blessing and girls were a disappointment.””

* “While the sisters recalled a clear division of labour between the daughters and sons around the house, on the farms, everyone (whether son or daughter) was expected to do essentially the same kind of work and to work equally hard.”

* “There is no serious dispute that all of the siblings worked hard on the farms.  Some of the daughters’ evidence (for example, that of Mohinder and Inderjit) implied that the farm work was never-ending, and that, between working on the farm and performing domestic chores, the daughters’ lives, apart from when they were attending school, were sheer drudgery without any meaningful respite, day in and day out, week after week, year after year.”

* “In 1974, Nahar purchased (together with Mr. Sander) a third farm (the “Hamm Road Farm”), which was 20 acres in Abbotsford.  In addition, that summer, Nahar purchased residential property on Rees Crescent in Richmond, jointly with Jasbinder, using the New Homeowner Grant program then in effect.”

* “At the end of 1976, Nahar purchased a fourth farm property, 10 acres on No. 5 Road in Richmond (“No. 5 Road”).”

* “n 1977, and for the first time, the parents sold one of the farm properties – Huntingdon Road.  However, the same year, they bought out Mr. Sander’s interest in the Hamm Road Farm.  By the end of 1977, 35 acres were being farmed on three properties (two in Richmond and one in Abbotsford).”

* “In November 1979, Litt Farms Ltd. was incorporated to run the farming operations, and purchased another farm, 60 acres in Abbotsford (“Ross Road”).  At $750,000, the purchase price was substantially more than what had been paid for any of the other farm properties.”

* “ In November [1980], Litt Farms purchased the Cambie Farm, which was then 80 acres, for $1,575,000.  This was the final acquisition of farm property.”

* “By the end of 1980, the Parents and Litt Farms owned five farm properties, covering 185 acres.”

* “Despite the hard work of the Siblings, and the financial support provided by all of the family members, Litt Farms very much struggled to make money.”

The ruling provides details of conflicts in the family and other matters.

You can read the full court decision at:

www.bccourts.ca/jdb-txt/sc/19/11/2019BCSC1154.htm#_Toc14158048

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