Tag: Dependant Support Claims
Dependants and Their Entitlement to a Deceased’s Estate – A summary of Earl v. McAllister, 2021 ONSC 4050
In the recent decision of Earl v. McAllister, 2021 ONSC 4050, the Divisional Court ordered 100% of the net estate of the Deceased to be used for the benefit of the minor dependants, to the exclusion of the Deceased’s wife.
Leo McAllister (the “Deceased”) died on May 3, 2017. He is survived by his wife (Barbara McAllister) and his two minor sons (the “Sons”) from a previous relationship with Tammy Earl. When the Deceased learned he was dying, he started to put his affairs in order, including executing a Will and leaving his estate (the “Estate”) to his wife and signing consents required to transfer the designed beneficiaries on one of his pensions from Ms. McAllister to his Sons.
Ms. Earl brought an application on behalf of her Sons, for their support, pursuant to Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act. The Applicant argued that for the purposes of this application, the value of two pensions and a life insurance policy should be included in the value of the Estate of the Deceased, failing which, the Estate would have a shortfall of $12,926.82 due to the Estate’s liabilities. She also argued that the entirety of the Estate should be used for the benefit of her Sons, as they are both dependants of the Deceased.
The Application Judge agreed that one of the pensions and the life insurance proceeds should be included in the value of the Estate, valuing it at $167,062.52. The Application Judge ordered the net value of the Estate to be split in two halves, one to be used for the benefit of the Sons and one to be distributed to Ms. McAllister. The Application Judge also ordered $30,000 of the Sons’ half to be paid into Court, to be paid to the Sons when they turn 18.
Ms. Earl appealed this decision, arguing that both pensions should be included in the value of the Estate, the entirety of the Estate should be used for the benefit of her Sons and that the $30,000 which the Application Judge ordered to be paid into court should now be paid out to the Appellant, for the benefit of the Sons.
For the purposes of this article, we will focus on the Divisional Court’s decision in respect of the whether to include both pensions in the value of the Estate and the manner in which the Estate is to be distributed.
The Deceased had two pension plans. The first was from the Union’s Province of Ontario Pension Plan, the value of which was included in the Estate by the Application Judge. The second was the Union’s “Canada” Pension Plan (administered in the US), which provided for a pre-retirement surviving spouse benefit under which the Respondent, as a surviving spouse, was entitled to a lump sum payment of $88,117.40.
The Divisional Court found that it was not open to the Deceased to designate someone other than his spouse to receive the pre-retirement benefit under the second pension and while the Respondent could have waived her entitlement to the receipt of that benefit, she could not be deprived of that benefit without her agreement.
As a result, the second pension was not included in the value of the Estate.
Distribution of the Net Value of The Estate
The Divisional Court found that in determining the issues between the parties, the needs of the Sons in the balancing exercise should be paramount. The court weighed the financial circumstances of the Sons against the financial circumstances of the Respondent.
Particularly, the court noted that the Sons live in precarious financial circumstances and there is very little income to support them apart from public finances and loans. The Sons live in the home of their mother’s parents. The appellant’s affidavit contained information concerning monthly expenses and the loss of the Deceased’s group health benefits. The Applicant’s evidence was that her yearly expenses exceed her income. Further, the Deceased was active in his Sons’ lives and paid the Appellant $300 per week to support his Sons until his death.
In contrast, the Respondent was not financially dependant on the Deceased, had good income of approximately $100,000 annually, had no extraordinary expenses, owned a home (although with a mortgage) and had made some provisions for her own pension. The Respondent and the Deceased had been married for just over two years at the time of death. The Respondent was also to continue to receive the benefits from the second pension.
The Divisional Court cited Madore-Ogilvie v Ogilvie Estate (2008), 88 O.R. (3d) 481 (C.A.), noting the following:
“Where there are insufficient assets to adequately provide for any or all of a deceased’s dependants, the circumstances of the case may warrant the exercise of an application judge’s discretion to use the limited assets for the benefit only of the minor dependants, to the exclusion of his wife.”
The Divisional Court concluded that in the present case, the circumstances warranted the use of the limited assets for the benefit of the Sons only, to the exclusion of the Respondent.
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Occasionally, a person finds themselves in a situation in which, following their spouse’s death, they were either not adequately provided for under their spouse’s Will or were not provided for at all.
Especially in situations where the deceased fully supported his or her spouse, one viable option is for the surviving spouse to assert a claim for support under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act, RSO 1990, c. S. 26 (the “SLRA”).
A surviving spouse, either married or common-law as defined in the SLRA fits into the definition of a “dependant” and is thus entitled to support from the deceased spouse’s estate. The question for the Court is whether the deceased made adequate provision for his/her surviving spouse and, if not, what ought to be the quantum of support.
Under the SLRA, a “dependant” includes not just married spouses, but also either of two persons who,
- were married to each other by a marriage that was terminated or declared a nullity; or
- are not married to each other and have cohabited,
- continuously for a period of not less than three years, or
- in a relationship of some permanence, if they are the natural or adoptive parents of a child.
It is important to keep in mind that such a claim under the SLRA must be brought within six months of obtaining probate, unless the Court allows for an extension of time. Probate is another term for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee with a Will that is usually obtained by the Estate Trustee for proper administration of the Estate.
The Court may consider various factors in assessing the nature, amount and duration of support, including the eighteen factors listed under section 62(1) of the SLRA some of which are:
- The Dependant’s current assets and means;
- The Dependant’s capacity to contribute to their own support;
- The Dependant’s age and physical and mental health;
- The Dependant’s needs – with regard to accustomed standard of living;
- Any agreement between the Dependant and the deceased spouse; and
- The proximity and the duration of the Dependant’s relationship with the deceased spouse.
If a claim for dependant’s relief is successful, the Court has broad discretion and can make a variety of orders for support, including but not limited to:
- A monthly or annual payment, for an indefinite or limited period of time or until the occurrence of a specific event;
- A lump sum payment;
- The transfer of specified property, either absolutely, for life, or a specified number of years; or
- The possession or use of any specified property for life or for such period as the Court considers appropriate.
In any event, if a person believes that they may have a good case for a Dependant’s Support Claim under the SLRA, it is important to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible so as to file the claim within the allotted limitation period and discuss any other options.
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