Should cultural norms and religious values affect who inherits what? A recent article on the abovethelaw.com website explored a case in British Columbia, Canada where four sisters challenged a will in which they had been left 1.7 percent of their parents’ estate, compared to their two brothers who received 93 percent between them.

The estate was worth US $6.8 million and last month, the British Columbia Supreme Court awarded each sister $1 million, overturning the will and making each one’s share 15 percent, with the brothers each receiving 20 percent instead of what had originally been specified.

The challenge to the last will and testament was based on “tradition-based preference”. In British Columbia, the Wills Estates and Succession Act (WESA) has a provision that meant the sisters could challenge their parent’s last will because of unequal treatment based on their sex.

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Cultural norms

In some sections of society, certain parents argue that is a cultural norm to treat their sons and daughters differently in a will, and that this should be allowed. According to the abovethelaw article, it has become a recurring issue in British Columbia especially among the East Asian population.

The family in question owned a farm. The parents’ will did not explain why the brothers were to receive the bulk of the estate, but in previous legal documents relating to the farm, the father referred to the custom of leaving property just to sons. Despite not mentioning the imbalance in the will, the British Columbia court said the estate’s distribution “fell far short of the moral standards of Canadian society”, and that men and women should be treated equally.

No failed relationship reference

The daughters had said the will didn’t refer to reasons for the discrepancy such as a failed relationship between them or their parents or disappointment, as this can be used as a reason for disinheritance. The cultural views were what applied, and thus the daughters could object to the will. The redistribution meant the brothers still received more than the sisters as nod to the parents’ cultural belief.

Abovethelaw commented that the case highlighted the complexity of issues that arise in estate planning thanks to cultural and religious differences. The article referred to “primogeniture”; the right by law or custom for the firstborn son to inherit his parents’ entire estate, seen through monarchies over the centuries. The practice could come from the Book of Deuteronomy, which refers to the father acknowledging the firstborn and giving him a double share in all that he owns.

 

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