Vancouver family heading to court in $1.5M inheritance fight with SPCA

A Vancouver family is headed to court to contest almost $1.5 million the SPCA stands to gain in the estate settlement of a deceased relative.

Gina Hancock says her great aunt Eleena Murray composed a handwritten note on her 99th birthday in May 2017 which limited the amount the animal protection agency would receive upon her death to $100,000.

Murray died five months later without ever changing her will.

Because of it, the SPCA is in line to receive $1.46 million or roughly 80 per cent of her almost $2 million estate, funded by the sale of Murray’s long time Point Grey home.

“She intended something to go to the SPCA,” said Hancock. “But not to the tune of $1.5 million.”

The potential windfall is the result of Murray granting the SPCA “residue of estate” in her original will from 2003, said Hancock. 

Residue of estate is the money left over after assets of the deceased are liquidated, and all the expenses and distributions paid out.

In Murray’s case, the residue of estate skyrocketed during the years preceding her death in lock step with the value of her house on Collingwood Street, while the amount earmarked for relatives in inheritances remained static.

Hancock believes her great aunt never wanted the SPCA to receive more money than family members and says the charity is being “greedy” by fighting her final requests.

In a statement, the B.C. SPCA said the courts are in the best position to rule on the handwritten note and what it calls a  “challenging situation” for all parties.

“There are several relatives who allege that a short handwritten note — unsigned, undated and not witnessed — with a number of names and amounts, represents Mrs. Murray’s final testamentary wishes. They rely on that note and a meeting Mrs. Murray had with two friends who came to celebrate her 99th birthday in May of 2017, a time when there were issues with Mrs. Murray’s mental capacity,” said the statement. 

According to the SPCA, Murray bequeathed $440,000 to various relatives.

Estate planning lawyer Sukhminder Virk said, generally, he advises clients to leave a fixed amount to charities to avoid conflict when it comes time to settling an estate. 

“Leaving any party the residue estate gives them a lot more leverage over the rest of the estate,” he said. “It makes it easier to deal with a charity … if you cut a cheque, as opposed to leaving a certain percentage.”

Hancock says there were two executrixes who witnessed Murray writing the note on her 99th birthday and both have signed affidavits attesting to its veracity. 

A trial date is set for Jan. 25, 2021.