Evolution or revolution concerning wills and testaments: the unique example of the province of Quebec in North America
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undisposable estate
public order
family assets
freedom to bequeath


In Canada, Quebec is the only province to have a legal system under which civil matters are regulated by a Civil Code and not by common law. Nonetheless, Quebeckers had unlimited “freedom of willing” until 1989. Henceforth, although Quebeckers remain free to determine via their last wills and testaments to whom they wish to bequeath their property, their margin of freedom is limited by legislative measures governing the survival of the obligation to provide support after death and the partitioning of the family patrimony. Such limitations on the freedom to bequeath are based upon a family interpretation of public order whereby the deceased must share the value of given property with his or her spouse and look after the immediate family’s need for support.

Despite this, the Civil Code makes still no provision, as in French law, for an “undisposable estate” (réserves héréditaires) and it is fitting to question the reasons motivating this decision. The author attempts to identify the social context in which freedom to bequeath came to be limited. As such, she seeks to make known the material sources underpinning the adoption of the Bill that introduced the primary limitations on freedom to bequeath. Her study shows that within the framework of discussions on relevancy to limit this freedom, the issue being debated shifted its objective. Participants widened the initial debate then focused on the transmission of the patrimony by redefining it to encompass the questions of sharing family assets. This transformation contributes to explain how the law of successions in Quebec has drawn closer to family law.

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