BC Supreme Court clarifies the scope of solicitor-client privilege in estate administration

One of the joint executors questioned her entitlement to certain estate documents

BC Supreme Court clarifies the scope of solicitor-client privilege in estate administration

In a recent ruling, the BC Supreme Court clarified the issue of solicitor-client privilege in the context of estate administration.

In Holmes v Holmes, 2024 BCSC 510, the petitioner, Cheryl Anne Holmes, sought a declaration regarding the assets and liabilities of her mother's estate, raising questions about the existence of a solicitor-client relationship between herself and the estate solicitors, DLA Piper. Furthermore, Cheryl inquired whether such a relationship entitled her to documents related to the estate's administration under the general and restricted wills.

The court noted that Cheryl, alongside her brother Stephen, served as joint executors under the general will, with the estate also governed by a restricted will executed by Cheryl's niece, Andrea Stephanie Holmes.

Central to Cheryl's petition were questions about her entitlement to certain estate documents and the scope of solicitor-client privilege between estate solicitors and beneficiaries. The court addressed these concerns by highlighting the legal boundaries of solicitor-client privilege in estate administration.

The respondents argued against the appropriateness of Cheryl's requested relief, particularly questioning her standing to request opinions, advice, or directions under s. 86 of the Trustee Act, as her queries pertained primarily to the restricted estate, of which she was neither an executor nor a beneficiary. They emphasized that the section was not designed to resolve conflicts regarding estate assets.

The BC Supreme Court explained that solicitor-client privilege is well established in the context of estate administration, aimed at protecting the interests of beneficiaries. However, this privilege does not extend to situations where an adversarial relationship between a trustee (or executor) and a beneficiary precludes the disclosure of certain communications.

The court ultimately declined to grant Cheryl the declarations and orders she sought, including her request for the disclosure of documents based on solicitor-client privilege. It emphasized that while beneficiaries have a right to estate administration documents, this right is limited and does not automatically overcome established privileges, especially in adversarial contexts.

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