What happens when you leave your Estate to be preserved for “historical purposes” and have no heirs? The answer is a mess. Now the issue of the Binning Estate has ended up in the BC Court of Appeal.
Jessie Binning, widow to famed Canadian artist Bertram Binning, no doubt had the best of intentions when she Willed her husband’s historic home and all its furnishings, to be preserved for the public’s benefit. But she very likely underestimated the difficulty that Trustees would have fulfilling the terms of her Will.
A properly prepared Will appoints Trustees whose job it is is to cary out the wishes of the deceased person.
Jessie died in May 2007. Her estate, and West Vancouver historical home, has been the subject of a Wills dispute action ever since.
Jessie Binning’s Will stipulated that if the Trustees decided not to retain the house and furnishings but to sell it, that the proceeds would be transferred to the Binning Memorial Fellowship Fund administered by the University of British Columbia (U.B.C.).
The Binning home, at 2968 Mathers Crescent, was designated a Canadian national historic site in 1998. It was designed and constructed by Bertram Binning in 1941, and considered to be one of the first and best examples of the West Coast modern architectural movement. The home also contained personal furnishings and drawings belonging to the artist.
After she died, the Trustees of Mrs. Binning’s Will set up a society called the Binning Heritage Property Society (“BHPS”). They then immediately transferred the estate to the Land Conservancy, as a “Deed of Gift”.
The Land Conservancy (TLC) is a non-profit charitable land trust in British Columbia, known for purchasing and running significant gardens and properties such as the Abkahzi Gardens and Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary. It ran into financial difficulties and applied for creditor protection in 2013.
The TLC did not have the funds to pay for required maintenance of the Binning House, and wished to sell the property to satisfy some of its creditors. The TLC sought court approval to sell the property to developer Bruno Wall, who offered $1.6 Million dollars for the estate.
The proposed sale of the home attracted the attention of U.B.C lawyers, who argued that they were entitled to the estate because the original terms of the will could not be guaranteed. Thus, the proceeds of sale should revert to U.B.C. under the terms of Jessie’s Will.
The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in January 2014, that U.B.C was not entitled to the estate and required that the TLC find another trustee to take responsibility for the Binning House. It did not approve the sale, choosing to adjourn that issue generally.
That first order was set-aside in the BC Court of Appeal decision on December 3, 2014. The Honourable Mr. Justice Tysoe, speaking for the three Justices of Appeal, ordered the transfer of Binning House back to the original estate, and stated:
“I would declare the transfer of the Binning House by the Trustees to the New Society to have been a fraud on the power given to the Trustees in the Will and the transfer to be void.”
Moreover, the costs of UBC and the TLC were to be paid from the estate.
What will come of the Binning Estate, how it will be run, and whether or not the public will have access to it, has yet to be determined.
Jayne Embree M.A.
Divorce Coach and Child Specialist
Jayne holds a Masters in Psychology and is a highly experienced Divorce Coach and Child Specialist. Currently on sabbatical, Jayne is conducting research in the area of family dynamics and parental conflict.
Areas of Practice: Family law including separation, divorce, mediation, arbitration, child & spousal support, support variations, guardianship, parenting time, access, property division and more. Victoria BC