4 B.C. sisters victorious in court after parents left them tiny share of $9M estate

When they died three years ago, Nahar and Nihal Litt left behind an estate valued at more than $9 million. They willed 93 per cent of that to their two sons, leaving their four daughters to split what was left.

That's despite the fact that the daughters, now in their 50s and 60s, took on most of the work of caring for their aging parents in the years before they died, according to a B.C. Supreme Court judgment. They also helped build their parents' fortune, working on family-owned farms beginning when they were children.

And so the sisters decided to contest their parents' will in court, arguing that their parents discriminated against them based on outdated traditional Sikh values, the judgment says.

"One of the reasons that they wanted to pursue the claim was not just out of self-interest, but so other South Asian women in the same position would also have the courage to do so," their lawyer, Trevor Todd, told CBC News.

This week, Justice Elaine Adair agreed to redistribute the Litt estate, granting about $1.35 million to each of the sisters: Jasbinder Kaur Grewal, Mohinder Kaur Litt-Grewal, Amarjit Kaur Gottenbos and Inderjit Kaur Sidhu.

That adds up to 60 per cent of the family fortune, much higher than the $150,000 each they were initially promised.

Their two brothers, Terry Mukhtiar Singh Litt and Kasar Singh Litt, will split the remaining 40 per cent, or about $1.8 million each.

The brothers both agreed that their parents had failed to meet their "moral obligations" to their daughters, though they argued in court for larger inheritances for themselves. Terry Litt testified that he had tried to convince his mother and father that the wills were unfair, but he was unable to persuade them to make changes. 

'The hurts were deep'

Adair's judgment lays out more than five decades of history in an immigrant family whose frugal lifestyle and hard work helped build a multi-million-dollar legacy. It reveals a network of complicated family relationships touched by resentment that led one daughter to become estranged from her parents for 20 years.

The Litts arrived in B.C. from India in 1964, when their children were between the ages of three and 14 years old, according to the judgment.

Dad Nahar found a job at a sawmill, and the family gradually began acquiring real estate, including a number of farms.

"As soon as they were old enough, the siblings were expected to work during the summers alongside their mother, picking fruit and vegetable crops," Adair wrote.

Farms in B.C.

The difference, according to the daughters, is that they were expected to take care of household chores, while their brothers were not. They testified that, as girls, they were treated as less valuable.

"There is little doubt that Nihal, over her lifetime and without justification, treated her daughters very cruelly. Jasbinder and Mohinder, the two oldest, were particular targets," Adair wrote.

"The hurts were deep and are still keenly felt."

Despite that cruelty, the two eldest daughters took on most of the work caring for their ailing parents in the years before they both died in the span of two months in early 2016.

'They consider it a victory'

Today, the siblings all have their own families and are financially independent. Even before they receive their inheritance, some of them have assets valued in the millions of dollars.

But Adair wrote that the parents' wills were not adequate to support their daughters.

B.C.'s Wills, Estates and Succession Act gives judges wide leeway to make drastic changes to a will to make sure there's a "just and equitable" distribution to someone's surviving spouse and children. At the same time, they're expected to consider the "testamentary autonomy" of the dead person — in other words, a person's right to decide who gets their money.

Todd said he believes the judge did a good job of balancing those two concerns.

"The clients are very happy with the result. They consider it a victory," he said.