Wills and Separation Agreements
The effect that separation agreements may have on the entitlements of spouses upon the death of one of the parties has fuelled a great deal of litigation.
One of the issues that can arise is the effect that the separation agreement has on the last will and testament of the deceased spouse. While the Succession Law Reform Act provides that a bequest in a will to a former spouse is revoked upon the termination of a marriage by judgment absolute of divorce, that is not the case where there is only a separation.
In Makarchuk v. Makarchuk, 2011 ONSC 4633 (CanLII), the parties separated, and entered into a separation agreement. The separation agreement provided that, subject to any additional gifts made in any will validly made after the date of the agreement, the parties released all rights that they may acquire under the laws of any jurisdiction in the estate of the other.
The husband died, without making a new will, and without revoking a prior will which provided that his entire estate was to pass to his now separated spouse.
The court was asked to interpret and apply the separation agreement so as to exclude any benefit to the surviving spouse. The court refused to do so. The court held, applying Eccleston Estate v. Eccleston, 3 R.F.L. (5th) 54, that the language of the separation agreement was not broad enough to apply to rights acquired under the will. The release in the separation agreement applied only to statutory rights. The release did not “trump” the will.
It is important for separating spouses to consider bequests made in prior wills, and consider revising their estate plan.
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Paul E. Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle.