Tractor Fender Wills - Still Valid in Saskatchewan

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The title is somewhat amusing (and legally true), though the circumstances of Cecil George Harris' death are unfortunate. Harris knew he'd been mortally injured while farming with his tractor near Rosetown, Saskatchewan, in 1948, and his last act was to ensure his wife received his Estate. 

Here's part of Harris' story:

Originally from Britain, Harris immigrated to Canada and pursued a career in farming. He settled near Rosetown, Saskatchewan, married Bessie Mae Harris at 46 years old, and died at 56.

On the morning of June 8th, 1948, Harris told his wife that he was off to work, would be plowing the fields, and would be back at about 10pm. When Harris didn't return at the time promised, Bessie Mae went out to look for him. Bessie Mae found Harris that evening, near dark, with the tractor tipped over, and Harris underneath, with his leg caught under one of the tractor's metal wheels. The tractor's metal wheel caused a serious and ultimately mortal wound to Harris' leg. Bessie Mae ran to a neighbouring property to seek assistance, and with the help of a number of people, transported Harris to the Hospital, where he died 2 days later. 

Harris apparently laid there, under that tractor, for about 12 hours before he was found. 

The day after the funeral, neighbours were assisting with the tractor that still laid tipped over. One neighbour noticed that one of the tractor's fenders was etched (by Harris' pocketknife), with the following statement: 

"In case I die in this mess, I leave all to the wife. Cecil Geo Harris"

In 1948, it was apparently sufficiently descriptive to say "the wife" and everyone knew who you meant. Classic. No need to refer to her by name. The issue was, and the issue of all holographic wills generally, is whether (a) the fender was in the handwriting of the deceased; (b) sufficient to dispose of the deceased’s testamentary intent; and (c) the instructions were sufficiently instructive in the distribution of the deceased’s Estate. 

For the legal nerds out there, the application was not for a determination as to the validity of a holographic will; rather, it was an application for letters of administration, as an executor was not named (on the fender). 

For the non-legal nerds, the takeaways are: 

  1. Keep a tractor fender close by, at all times; 

  2. Not enough people are named Bessie Mae anymore; 

  3. Even Harris died with a Will - what (seriously) is your excuse?

The application was granted by the Courts. The tractor fender resided at the Courthouse for 50 years, as an exhibit to the application made, until it finally came to rest at the U of S, first floor of the library. I sat next to this thing for almost three years, and only later in life did I appreciate its significance.  

The application included numerous affidavits from persons close to Harris, as well as the local bank manager, who attested to Harris' handwriting. 

Harris' testamentary intention was codified in his last will, etched in his own hand by a pocketknife in the hours before his death. The Court's role in this extraordinary yet unfortunate story showcases the judiciary's ability to be flexible. It demonstrates how principles of law can be applied to extraordinary and unusual events, leading to a logical and practical decision.

It's also a dramatic demonstration of the lengths one man went to provide for his loved ones in the face of death.

So - Just in case no tractor fenders are around, the below shall serve as my last testament:

"All to the Wife"