The cases of Richardson Estate v. Mew and Tower Estate v. Tower Estate considered whether a
provision in a separation agreement can revoke a prior beneficiary
designation. In Orpin v. Littlechild, at issue was a
provision included in the will of the deceased, and whether it had
the effect of revoking a prior beneficiary designation made under
an insurance policy.
In March of 2009, Mr. Littlechild transferred his RRSP to London
Life Insurance Company, applied for a segregated fund policy and
designated Ms Orpin, his spouse, as the beneficiary of the
On March 14, 2011 the deceased executed a new will, under which
he left his estate to his two adult sons. On March 15, 2011 the
deceased signed a change of beneficiary designation with London
Life, by which he deleted Ms Orpin and designated his sons as the
beneficiaries of the London Life policy. On March 25, 2011 the
deceased executed a new will, leaving his estate to Ms Orpin. The
will included very broad language regarding his investments, as
III. I HEREBY DESIGNATE my spouse,
LOUISE CLARE ORPIN as the sole beneficiary of all moneys that I may
have at the date of my death in any registered retirement savings
plan, registered retirement income fund, registered pension plan,
registered investment fund or any other similar device. I DIRECT my
Trustees to make all necessary arrangements to transfer such funds
to my spouse as soon as is reasonably practicable following the
date of my death.
Mr. Littlechild did not, however, contact London Life to change
the beneficiary designation for the London Life policy –
his sons remained the designated beneficiaries on file with London
The Court first had to decide whether the investment held by
London Life should be characterized as a Registered Retirement
Savings Plan or RRSP, in which case the Ontario Succession Law
Reform Act would apply to beneficiary designations made in
respect of the investment, or whether it should be characterized as
a policy of insurance, in which case the Ontario Insurance
Act would apply. The Court examined the policy and held that
it was "an insurance contract based on the life of the
insured", and hence the Insurance Act applied.
Under the Insurance Act, beneficiary designations may
be made or revoked by a "declaration", which in turn is
defined as "an instrument signed by the insured". An
"instrument" includes a will. Therefore beneficiary
designations may be made or revoked by will. In order to be
effective, the declaration must "identify the contract"
or "describe the insurance or insurance fund or part
The issue, therefore, was whether the wording in the
will, shown above, sufficiently identified the policy held at
London Life such that it designated Ms Orpin as the beneficiary of
the policy and revoked the designation in favour of Mr.
The Ontario Superior Court held that while the will did not
specifically refer to an "insurance policy", the words
used were sufficient to constitute a declaration for purposes of
the Insurance Act.
[T]he testator implicitly revoked the
prior designation of the life insurance policy and designated the
applicant as the person for whose benefit the insurance money was
to be payable.
The Court held that Mr. Littlechild, in using such broad
wording in his will, including the phrase "or any other
similar device", intended to include all moneys held in
investment vehicles, including the policy at London
Douglas Rienzo practises exclusively in the
area of pensions and employee benefits, with a particular focus on
pension surplus issues and family law issues related to
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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