Barbara De Angelis v. Annie Siermy, et al.

(British Columbia) (Civil) (By Leave)


Wills and estates — Wills — Unjust enrichment — Doctrine of unclean hands — Testamentary contract — Legacy agreement — Testator alleged to have formed testamentary contract to reward niece for personal and professional services — Testator changed will so that niece no longer benefitted — Whether testamentary contract formed — Whether certain evidence of testamentary contract forged — Where and how a trier of fact may depart from admitted and uncontradicted expert evidence — How doctrine of joint family venture applies in unjust enrichment claims advanced outside spousal relationship.


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Ms.  De Angelis claims that her aunt, Ms.  Siermy, is bound by a testamentary contract to leave the bulk of her $30 million estate to her, but that she breached that contract by changing her will in favour of others. Ms.  Siermy, her husband and her siblings were all involved in the family business to some extent. In the 1960s, the Siermys held a property adjacent to a property owned by Ms.  De Angelis’s father. The properties were combined and developed into an apartment block. Vancouver Park Lane Towers Ltd. (“VPLT”) was incorporated to hold that property. The Siermys, Ms.  De Angelis’s father and another of Ms. Siermy’s brothers each received 25 percent of VPLT’s shares. Later, Ms.  De Angelis was heavily involved in managing VPLT. Her role was formalized in 2011, when she became a salaried employee of VPLT.

From the 1980s until 2016, Ms.  De Angelis helped the Siermys, who had no children, with their health care and health-related issues. She also assisted with their company and an apartment building it held. Ms.  De Angelis claimed that Ms.  Siermy agreed to leave her the bulk of her estate in exchange for these services. Prior to 2015, Ms.  Siermy had numerous wills, with various primary and residual beneficiaries. Some of them benefitted Ms.  De Angelis. In 2002, with Ms.  De Angelis’s assistance, Ms.  Siermy executed estate documents leaving most of her estate to Ms.  De Angelis. She also created a reversible alter ego trust in the Siermys’ VPLT shares. Ms.  De Angelis said that the estate documents formalized a legacy agreement, and that Ms.  Siermy had confirmed that agreement in three letters to her husband. In 2016, Ms.  De Angelis became aware that she was no longer Ms. Siermy’s beneficiary. She immediately confronted Ms.  Siermy, their relationship deteriorated, and this litigation ensued.

On summary judgment, the judge dismissed Ms.  De Angelis’s claims in breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

Lower Court Rulings

January 11, 2022
Supreme Court of British Columbia

2022 BCSC 31, S171068
Applicant’s application for summary judgment dismissed; applicant’s action dismissed; applicant’s application for summary judgment granted; respondents’ action dismissed.
December 1, 2022
Court of Appeal for British Columbia (Vancouver)

2022 BCCA 401, CA48059
Appeal dismissed.