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Stepchildren Challenging A Will: Estoppel If Your Biological Parent Gifts Their Estate To Your Stepparent

Stepchildren Challenging a Will: Estoppel if Your Biological Parent Gifts Their Estate to Your Stepparent

In BC, courts can rule a will unfair and have it revised – or varied – if it does not make ‘adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support’ of the will-maker’s spouse or children. The Courts have the authority to prevent the disinheritance of spouses and children of will writers without sufficient cause. But, what about stepchildren? According to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA), a child is ‘a natural birth child or a legally adopted child’. Unless the stepparent has adopted a stepchild, WESA does not recognize them as a child.

It’s clear that a stepchild cannot apply to vary their stepparent’s will under WESA. However, there are other ways that stepchildren can challenge a will. These scenarios can arise if:

Estoppel for Your Biological Parent Gifting Their Estate to Your Stepparent

If a stepparent unfairly disinherits them, stepchildren lack the legal standing to directly request a variation of the will

Estoppel is a legal argument used to prevent a party from breaking a promise to benefit themselves. In the context of stepchildren challenging a will, estoppel can stop a stepparent from receiving more of an estate than their spouse intended. A parent might agree to gift the entirety of their estate to a spouse because the spouse promised to include their stepchild in their own will. If the spouse later changes their will to contradict their promise, the party impacted by the broken promise may be able to make an estoppel claim against the stepparent’s estate.

In order to have a successful claim for proprietary estoppel, the following must be present:

  • A promise is made,
  • That promise is reasonably relied on,
  • That promise is unfairly broken; and,
  • This causes detriment.

An Example of Proprietary Estoppel

Let’s examine a scenario that illustrates how a proprietary estoppel claim may arise. Chris is a man who has a daughter named Deb. He marries Jane, who becomes Deb’s stepmother. Chris plans to leave his estate to Jane if she outlives him, and then wants the property to pass to Deb once Jane and Chris have passed away. Chris gifts the whole estate to Jane because she has promised to include Deb in her own will. This should ensure that Deb will inherit indirectly from Chris’s estate. Deb trusts this pledge and relies on it reasonably. She chooses not to dispute the gift, because she doesn’t expect to be disinherited. Following Chris’s death, Jane breaks her promise, changing her will to pass the entire estate to her own child. Deb can no longer dispute the gift from her father’s estate, since 180 days have elapsed since his passing.

However, Deb may have a valid claim to receive the assets that were passed from Chris’s estate to Jane. If she can demonstrate the presence of the components of a proprietary estoppel claim in her circumstances, the Courts may vary Chris’s will.

Children and adults who have relied on a promise from their stepparent concerning their natural parent’s estate and suffered resulting loss should speak to an experienced estate lawyer as soon as possible. An experienced estate lawyer can support you in making a claim to vary a will.

Have a question about estate disputes or a different legal topic? Contact us for a free consultation. Reach us via phone at 250-888-0002, or via email at

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