Case Brief Wiki

Watt v Watt Estate[]




Watt v Watt Estate (1987), 28 ETR9 (Man CA)


Shirley Watt


Estate of Richard John Watt




Manitoba Court of Appeal


Lyon JA



Area of law[]

Property division, Gifts Inter Vivos


Did R. Watt give S. Watt ownership of his boat?


Watt and Watt[]

Richard Watt befriended Bill and Shirley Watt (no relation). Over the course of 20 years, Richard and Shirley became especially close, and bonded over the maintenance of Richard's boat, The Thunderbird. One witness described Shirley as Richard's "right-hand man" in relation to the boat.

In the 1970s, Richard gave Shirley a copy of the keys to The Thunderbird, that she and her family could have use of it until his death.

On 10 May 1980, Richard wrote a document in the presence of Shirley, which read as follows:

"To Whom it May Concern
I Richard John Watt of 25 Talbot Avenue and owner of Buchanan Marine boat yard being of sound mind & good health do hereby declare that on the 10 day of May 1980 declare that [sic] the boat commonly known as the "Thunderbird" is now owned jointly by myself RJ Watt and Mrs. Shirley Watt of 330 Thompson Drive"
Signed, "RJWatt"
P.S. If the boat is ever sold for money while under this joint ownership, moneys relized [sic] will be divided evenly."

He then gave this document to Shirley Watt in a sealed envelope, instructing her to "put it away". She did not know the contents of the envelope until after Richard passed away.

Richard passed away on 14 March 1984. On 8 June 1984, Shirley's lawyer wrote to Jean Watt, Richard's widow, claiming possession of the boat. Jean denied the claim.

At trial, the judge awarded Shirley Watt sole title to The Thunderbird.


  1. Did R. Watt give S. Watt ownership of his boat?


At the Court of Appeal, appeal was allowed in part: the judge found that Shirley was given a one-half interest in The Thunderbird.


Lyon JA, for the court, decided that in giving Shirley the keys and the document, Richard was creating a one-half interest in the boat, to be held in trust by him. In other words, Shirley was given equitable title to one-half of the boat; upon Richard's death, Jean Watt became the trustee for Shirley's interest in the boat.

Since Richard did not give Shirley the only set of keys to the boat, this does not constitute a gift outright. Moreover, the letter features the word "jointly", thereby demonstrating that Richard was not relinquishing all of his interest in the boat. Lyon relied on Cochrane v Moore (1890), 25 QBD 57 (CA) for his reasoning.


  • It is possible for courts to find a declaration of trust if the criteria for a gift have not been met.