Does Jointly Owned Property Pass to the Surviving Spouse?
Many people are aware of the presumption which was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada in Pecore v. Pecore that assets which are held jointly between the deceased and certain individuals (including their adult children) are presumed to be held by the surviving joint owner on a resulting trust for the deceased owner’s estate unless they can rebut the presumption and show evidence that the deceased intended them to receive the property by right of survivorship. While the application of such a presumption is clear when the property is owned jointly between a parent and an adult child, what about when the property is owned jointly between two married spouses? Does a similar presumption to that in Pecore apply, such that the surviving spouse is forced to show that the deceased spouse intended them to receive the asset upon their death, failing which it is presumed to form part of the deceased spouse’s estate?
The common law presumption that joint assets are held on a resulting trust for the benefit of the deceased owner’s estate has been altered in Ontario as it relates to married spouses by the Family Law Act. Section 14 of the Family Law Act provides:
“The rule of law applying a presumption of a resulting trust shall be applied in questions of the ownership of property between spouses, as if they were not marries, except that,
(a) the fact that property is held in the name of spouses as joint tenants is proof, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that the spouses are intended to own the property as joint tenants; and
(b) money on deposit in the name of both spouses shall be deemed to be in the name of the spouses as joint tenants for the purposes of clause (a).”
As a result of section 14 of the Family Law Act, property which is held jointly between two married spouses is presumed to pass to the surviving spouse by right of survivorship. That being said, it is a rebuttable presumption, such that if there is evidence that the deceased spouse did not intend the property to pass to the surviving spouse upon death, the deceased spouse’s estate could seek a declaration that the asset in question is held on a resulting trust for the benefit of the deceased spouse’s estate. Section 14 of the Family Law Act effectively reverses the presumption as described in Pecore in the case of married spouses, whereby property held jointly between two married spouses is presumed to pass to the surviving spouse by right of survivorship unless there is evidence to the contrary such that the presumption can be rebutted.
Notably, section 14 of the Family Law Act only reverses the presumption as it relates to married spouses. As a result, an argument could be raised that in circumstances where common law spouses own property jointly, that the standard presumption as confirmed by Pecore would apply, such that the surviving common law spouse is presumed to hold the asset on a resulting trust for the benefit of the deceased spouse’s estate unless they can show evidence to rebut the presumption.
Thank you for reading.