In a case that made headlines last week, the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld a lower court decision settling an estate dispute between siblings that had lasted over 20 years and involved over $50 million dollars.

What Happened?

The estate dispute first began in 1997, when the father, Pierre Péladeau passed away. The father was the founder of Quebecor Inc., a Canadian media company with headquarters in the province of Quebec.

After his death, the father’s two sons and daughter became embroiled in a fundamental disagreement concerning the distribution of his large estate.

One of the sons, Pierre Karl Péladeau, also known by his initials PKP, is a Canadian businessman, billionaire and former politician, whose current net worth stands at $1.5 billion dollars. He is currently the CEO of Quebecor.

In 2000, the two sons and the daughter reached a settlement in which the sons offered the sister $50 million dollars for her shares in the family company.

Today, those shares are worth $900 million dollars.

However, by the time of her court application in 2019, the daughter had only received just over $16 million dollars from the sons due to a divergent interpretation of the agreement; according to the sons, there was no time frame or term in the agreement in which they had to pay out the amount owed.

Lower Court Decision

The lower court sided with the daughter and ordered the sons to pay the outstanding $36 million to the daughter, plus interest.

The court found that the sons’ interpretation of the settlement would mean that the daughter would have to wait an eternity before “perhaps” receiving payment of the sale price owed to her when the sons had in fact been in possession of the goods sold since October 2000. The court found that this interpretation would lead to an absurd result.

The court then stated:

“The court sincerely hopes that this judgment will be the final act in a family and judicial saga that has been as long – 20 years – as it has been unfortunate and costly. Family peace is an essential element of the happiness to which each party aspires.” [translated]

The sons appealed.

However, in the months before the appeal was heard, the sons paid the daughter $17 million; therefore, on appeal, only $19 million remained at issue.

Issue

On appeal, the sons argued that the settlement did not include any term and the amount owed to the sister was therefore not payable now and did not bear interest. The sons also claimed the judgment would cause them irreparable harm.

Court of Appeal Decision

The Court of Appeal was not convinced by any of the sons’ arguments on appeal.

The court did not find any weaknesses or errors in the lower court judgment and was not convinced that the sons would suffer any irreparable harm, as they had ample means to make the payment.

As a result, the Court of Appeal upheld the lower court decision.

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The knowledgeable estate lawyers at Cherkowski Marsden LLP have over 50 years of combined experience helping people in Vernon create Wills designed to protect their families’ futures. Everyone, no matter their stage in life or income bracket, should have a Will to retain control over the administration of their estate. We work with clients with both modest and robust estate planning needs, advising on matters including asset distribution, business considerations, foreign assets and trust considerations. For clients with business assets and those in need of assistance with succession planning, we also offer the benefit of our considerable business law experience. It is impossible to predict all of life’s variables but having an estate plan in place takes a great deal of stress out of the unknown.

Contact the knowledgeable estate planning lawyers at Cherkowski Marsden LLP in Vernon and Salmon Arm for trusted legal advice and guidance on your estate planning needs, including how best to maximize clarity and minimize financial implications for your estate trustees and heirs. We look forward to collaborating with you to achieve your goals with respect to your interests and the protection of your loved ones. We can be reached online or by phone at 250-308-0338 (Vernon office) or 250-803-9171 (Salmon Arm office).