Who Can Set Aside a Transaction Under the Fraudulent Conveyances Act?
The Fraudulent Conveyances Act, RSO 1990, c F.29 (the “FCA”) is designed to prevent a debtor from hiding assets from creditors by fraudulently transferring the assets to a third party. If the FCA applies, the Court shall make the property that was fraudulently conveyed available for creditors of the transferor.
Based on the general description and purpose of the FCA, it would appear as though it is a means of redress for frustrated creditors, only. However, that is not the case.
In accordance with section 2 of the FCA, the Court is authorized to set aside transactions that are entered into with the intent to defeat an action (amongst other things), for the benefit of “creditors and others”. The specific wording of this section of the FCA is as follows:
“Every conveyance of real property or personal property and every bond, suit, judgment and execution heretofore or hereafter made with intent to defeat, hinder, delay or defraud creditors or others of their just and lawful action, suits, debts, accounts, damages, penalties or forfeitures are void as against such persons and their assigns.”
Although the FCA does not define what is meant by “others”, it is clear that the statute specifically delineates “others” to signify that it is a group of entities that could otherwise not be defined as “creditors”.
The Ontario Court of Appeal in Hopkinson v Westerman (1919) 45 OLR 208, 48 DLR 597 (ONCA) defined “others” as those persons who, though not judgment creditors, had pending actions in which they were sure to recover damages.
Since then, the definition of “others” has been used in many cases, including in the family law context, such that, a spouse could qualify as a person who is intended to be protected from conveyances of property made with the intent to defeat his or her interest.
The court in Robins v Robins Estate  OTC 285, 121 ACWS (3d) 1104 (ONSC) held that a spouse who brought a claim against her husband’s Estate could not make a claim under the FCA.
The Court held that if the spouse was found to be a “creditor” it would have to be based on the Deceased’s obligation to support her as a spouse. The Court held that “[B]oth spouses have an obligation to support themselves and each other” and if the theory of the surviving spouse was accepted, spouses in a marriage would be in a “constant creditor-debtor relationship throughout cohabitation and marriage unable to alienate any property, the result of which may leave them unable to pay support at a later time.”
In deciding that the spouse in this matter was not a “creditor” the Court gave particular weight to the fact that the relationship was relatively short-term and that the spouse was able to support herself. In addition to that, the conveyance in question took place before the date of marriage, which reasonably made the surviving spouse’s argument that it was made with a fraudulent intent of defeating her support claim, all the more difficult.
In contrast, the Ontario Court of Appeal in Stone v Stone, 55 OR (3d) 491,  OTC 412 (ONCA), in interpreting the same obligation of spouses to support themselves and each other, found, in the context of an election under section 6 of the Family Law Act, following the Deceased’s death, that the FCA did apply. Particular weight was placed on the fact that the Deceased did know that his wife would survive him and was aware that the value of her assets was less than the value of his and that she would not accept her legacy under the Will.
The Court in Robins v Robins Estate found that the Stone v Stone decision was different because it addressed the claim of equalization of property rather than the issue of support under the Family Law Act. The Court further held that unlike the conveyance of property accumulated during a 24 year marriage in Stone v Stone, the case of Robins v Robins Estate addressed an asset owned by the Deceased before the cohabitation date and the marriage.
Of interest is the fact that the courts do not seem to significantly distinguish between the category of “creditors” and the category of “others”. Perhaps, if more of a difference is seen between the two, concerns regarding creating an overarching creditor-debtor relationship between spouses would not seem as significant.
The question remains whether the FCA category of “others” could extend to a spouse in the context of a claim as against an Estate? That remains to be seen, however, based on the assessment made by the courts in the two cases discussed, it very well could – it just depends on the factual circumstances.
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