We have previously blogged about the limitation period that applies to claims for dependant support under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”), and the circumstances in which the Court will exercise its discretion to extend the period.
In the recent decision of MacDonald v Estate of James Pouliot, 2017 ONSC 3629, the Honourable Justice Nightingale considered whether the limitation period could be extended for a dependant’s support claim where the real property owned by the deceased had already vested in a beneficiary, by operation of section 9 of the Estates Administration Act.
Limitation period for dependant support claims
Under subsection 61(1) of the SLRA, no application for dependant support can be made more than six months after probate has been granted.
However, subsection 61(2) provides the Court with the discretion to allow an application to be made at any time “as to any portion of the estate remaining undistributed at the date of the application.”
As we have previously blogged, the Court has generally interpreted section 61(2) to allow claims that are made more than six months after probate as against the assets that remain undistributed as of the date of the application. In one recent decision, the Court granted leave even though the assets of the estate had been distributed due to the conduct of the estate trustee.
The issue in Pouliot
In Pouliot, the Applicant (“Mary”) was in a common-law relationship with the Deceased for 22 years. The Deceased died intestate on September 10, 2013.
The primary asset of the Estate was a house (the “Home”) that Mary and the Deceased purchased together in 1999. Although each contributed to half of the cost of the Home, title to the Home was in the name of the Deceased. The Court found that Mary and the Deceased shared the expenses of the Home during their relationship. Following the Deceased’s death, Mary continued to live at the Home and made all of the monthly mortgage payments on the Home.
As the Deceased died intestate, and given that common-law spouses do not inherit on an intestacy, the Deceased’s son was the sole beneficiary of the Deceased’s Estate. The Deceased’s son (the “Estate Trustee”) obtained probate on June 8, 2015. Mary commenced her Application on November 10, 2016, seventeen months after probate was granted.
Mary’s Application sought a declaration that she had an equal interest in the Home by way of a constructive or resulting trust. Mary also sought support as a dependant pursuant to Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act. The Estate Trustee opposed Mary’s Application, arguing that it was statute-barred due to section 61 of the SLRA and section 9 of the Estates Administration Act.
Under section 9(1) of the Estates Administration Act, real property that has not been disposed of, conveyed to, divided or distributed amongst the persons who are beneficially entitled to it within three years after the death of the deceased owner automatically vests in such persons. Mary’s Application was commenced more than three years after the Deceased’s death.
In the circumstances, although Mary was successful in her claim that she held an equal interest in the Home, Justice Nightingale held that “the applicant’s SLRA claim in this proceeding is barred as it relates to the only property of the estate that has already vested in the respondent….”
The Court concluded that there were no assets in the Estate against which an order for support could be made in Mary’s favour.
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Umair Abdul Qadir
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In a recent case, Ilott v. The Blue Corss & Ors,  UKSC 17 (15 March 2017), the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has affirmed that a testator has testamentary freedom to disinherit his or her child.
As outlined in a recent National Post article, the Court rejected a daughter’s proceeding to set aside her late mother’s will, which left the majority of the mother’s estate to several animal charities. In the will, the mother also directed the executors of her estate to resist any efforts her daughter may make to challenge the will.
The disappointed daughter exercised her rights pursuant to the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 (the “1975 Act”), which allows certain individuals such as spouses and children to make a claim for reasonable financial provision from an estate.
Unlike Part V of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, the 1975 Act does not require the deceased testator to have provided his or her dependant with support or to have been under a legal obligation to provide support immediately before his or her death. Rather, the 1975 Act requires the surviving child to prove that the deceased’s will did not include reasonable financial provision for his or her child in light of the child’s own financial resources and needs.
Interestingly, the daughter appealed the District Judge’s award of £50,000.00 to her and the Court of Appeal’s decision awarding her £143,000.00 to buy the house she lived in and an additional £20,000.00. On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal’s decision and restored the District Judge’s decision on the basis that the District Judge’s decision struck an appropriate balance between the mother’s testamentary wishes and the daughter’s claim for reasonable financial provision from the estate. In doing so, the Supreme Court upheld the long standing principal that people remain at liberty to dispose of their assets and property subject to provisions of the 1975 Act.
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A recent amendment to the definition of “spouse” within the confines of Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA“) has likely made it such that divorced spouses may no longer bring an Application for support as a dependant of their deceased ex-spouse’s estate. This is in stark contrast to the previous definition of “spouse” in Part V of the SLRA, which allowed divorced spouses to bring an Application for support.
Section 57 of the SLRA defines a “dependant” as including a “spouse” of the deceased to whom the deceased was providing support, or was under a legal obligation to provide support, immediately before his or her death. As an ex-spouse of the deceased would not qualify amongst any other class of individuals who may be a “dependant” of the deceased (not being a parent, child, brother or sister), the effect of removing them from the definition of “spouse” is to preclude them from being able to qualify as a “dependant” of the deceased.
The old definition of “spouse” within Part V of the SLRA was as follows:
‘spouse’ means a spouse as defined in subsection 1(1) and in addition includes either of two persons who,
(a) were married to each other by a marriage that was terminated or declared a nullity; or
(b) are not married to each other and have cohabitated,
(1) continuously for a period of not less than three years, or
(2) in a relationship of some permanence, if they are the natural or adoptive parents of a child” [emphasis added]
From the bolded section above, it is clear that divorced spouses previously qualified as a “spouse” of the deceased for the purposes of determining dependants. If the deceased was providing support, or was under a legal obligation to provide support, to their ex-spouse immediately prior to their death, and they did not make adequate provision for them from their estate, the court could make an order providing for their support under section 58(1) of the SLRA. This is likely now no longer the case.
The definition of “spouse” in Part V of the SLRA was recently amended by section 71 of the All Families Are Equal Act, which came into effect on December 5, 2016. The new definition of “spouse” in Part V of the SLRA is as follows:
” ‘spouse’ has the same meaning as in section 29 of the Family Law Act”
Section 29 of the Family Law Act (the “FLA“) defines “spouse” as follows:
” ‘spouse’ means a spouse as defined in subsection 1(1), and in addition includes either of two persons who are not married to each other and have cohabitated
(a) continuously for a period of not less than three years, or
(b) in a relationship of some permanence, if they are the parents of a child as set out in section 4 of the Children’s Law Reform Act.”
Section 1(1) of the FLA further defines spouse as follows:
” ‘spouse’ means either of two persons who,
(a) are married to each other, or
(b) have together entered into a marriage that is voidable or void, in good faith on the part of a person relying on this clause to assert any right.”
The definition of “spouse” in section 29 of the FLA, and section 1(1) of the FLA by extension, notably does not include any reference to divorced spouses being included amongst the class of individuals who could be considered “spouses”. As the definition of “spouse” in Part V of the SLRA now mirrors that of section 29 of the FLA, it appears that divorced spouses can no longer qualify as “spouses” under Part V of the SLRA, such that they may no longer qualify as a “dependant” of the deceased. As only a “dependant” may bring an Application for support, the effect of the change is that ex-spouses may likely no longer bring an Application for support under Part V of the SLRA.
While section 34(4) of the FLA contemplates that any previous order providing for the support of an ex-spouse would bind the deceased spouse’s estate unless the order provides otherwise, the inability for ex-spouses to proceed under Part V of the SLRA could have a significant impact in the context of insolvent estates. Under section 72 of the SLRA, assets which pass outside of the estate, including life insurance policies and/or joint-assets which pass by right of survivorship, can be made available to satisfy an order for support. The FLA does not appear to have an equivalent provision, such that any support order may likely only be paid for out of the estate. As a result, to the extent that there are insufficient assets in the estate to satisfy any outstanding support order, or to the extent that such an order has not yet been made, the divorced spouse may be out of luck. While previously the divorced spouse could have brought a claim under Part V of the SLRA, and seek the payment of any support order from assets such as life insurance policies and/or joint-property under section 72 of the SLRA, this option appears to no longer be available to them.
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With the aging population, there are increasing numbers of individuals who may require a caregiver. And that caregiver is not always privately employed, or a direct family member or a spouse.
Currently, the socio-economic situation of such unpaid caregivers has been documented as “financial hardship” due to the void created upon the terminated relationship A recent article published by Canadian Family Law Quarterly suggests a two-pronged statutory remedy be put in place in order to: (i) provide legal recognition of such relationships, and (ii) compensate sacrifices of the unpaid/altruistic caregiver.
Who Should Compensate Unpaid Caregivers?
An important consideration in the contemplation of providing support to unpaid caregivers is whether the state or the individual accepting care should have the onus of providing financial support. In the case of Egan v Canada,  2 SCR 513, Justice Sopinka ruled in favour of individual responsibility and stated “the government was not required to be proactive in recognizing new social relationships [and that]… it is not realistic for the court to assume that there are unlimited funds to address the needs of it all.”
On the other hand, Nicholas Bala in an article published in the Queens Law Journal states: “an adult who shares a home and provides care for another economically dependent adult should be entitled to the same level of state assistance (or tax relief) [as paid caregivers] whether the dependent is a spouse, parent, sibling, uncle or friend.”
Currently, aside from equitable and statutory remedies (not available to all and not certain), the only private law safeguard put in place to protect unpaid caregivers is through wills and estate planning. To protect an unpaid caregiver through a will or estate plan would require forethought by the recipient of the care. The plan would need to be instituted at a point when the individual had capacity, and was able to properly execute a will or testamentary document.
In the case of unpaid caregiving, the care provider who is a family member may be a beneficiary of an existing estate plan (outside of any caregiving obligations). Entitlement to an enhanced benefit would be a fair way to compensate for unpaid care to the testator.
Another recourse for an unpaid caregiver is to apply for dependant’s relief pursuant to section 58(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”).
Section 58(1) provides that:
Where a deceased, whether testate or intestate, has not made adequate provision for the proper support of his dependants or any of them, the court, on application, may order that such provision as it considers adequate be made out of the estate of the deceased for the proper support of the dependants or any of them
In the case of Cummings v Cummings, 2004 CanLII 9339 (ON CA), the Court of Appeal acknowledged that “caregiving may give rise to both legal and moral obligations to provide support.” Therefore, if an unpaid caregiver can establish themselves as a dependant of the deceased individual who was receiving their care, it is possible they may get some recourse under the SLRA.
It nonetheless bears repeating that the case for law reform relates to the person who does not meet the definition of dependant: the non-direct family member, non-conjugal caregiver who altruistically provides caregiving at significant personal sacrifice and is not named in the Will on the termination (i.e. death) of the caregiving relationship.
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Section 61(1) of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) provides that an application for dependant’s support must be made within 6 months from the issuance of the Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee (also known as “Probate”).
An application may be made beyond the six-month limitation period, with leave as, s. 61(2) of the SLRA provides the Court with discretion to allow an application to be made by a dependant “at any time with respect to any portion of the estate remaining undistributed at the date of the application”.
Generally, case law has interpreted s. 61(2) to limit any claim made after six months to the remaining, undistributed portion of the estate, and to bar any claim made after the assets have been fully distributed. Paul Trudelle previously blogged on this application of s. 61(2).
The recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Weigand v. Weigand Estate, 2016 ONSC 6201, deviates from this prior case law, in that it grants leave for an application for support, despite the fact that the assets of the estate had already been distributed.
In that case, the Deceased died on May 5, 2013. He was survived by his common law spouse and three children from a prior marriage. The Deceased left a Will, in which he named his common law spouse the Estate Trustee and sole beneficiary of his Estate. The Estate consisted of the matrimonial home, two promissory notes and the Deceased’s bank accounts.
The common law spouse obtained probate on November 5, 2013 and took steps to administer the Estate. Eleven months after the Estate had been fully administered, two of the Deceased’s three children brought an Application for leave to advance their respective claims for dependant support. They alleged to have been misled by the common law spouse and provided Affidavit evidence, which was corroborated by evidence from their grandfather. Specifically, they alleged that the common law spouse had told them she intended to sell the house and distribute the proceeds equally among the Deceased’s children. They relied on her promise, to their detriment, as the home was subsequently transferred into the common law spouse’s name after the limitation period had expired.
In deciding to grant leave, George J, stated that the discretion to extend (or refuse) is a question of what is equitable between the parties, in all the circumstances (para. 32). He stated that it would be wrong to allow the respondent to rely on the fact that she has distributed the Estate as a basis to not grant an extension and that it would be unconscionable to allow her to defeat a claim by virtue of a passed limitation period (para 34). He also reasoned that it was inconceivable that the language used in s. 61(2) was intended to shield administrators who engage in such behaviour (para 34).
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In making an award of dependant support, the court has a broad discretion under s. 58(1) and 63(2) of the Succession Law Reform Act.
Once a determination is made that a claimant is a dependant, and has not been adequately provided for by the deceased, the court has broad powers when ordering that provision for the dependant be made out of the estate. In addition to an expanded definition of the “estate” under s. 72, the court may make orders for lump sum payments, annual payments or otherwise, for a limited or indefinite period, or lump sum payments in addition to periodic payments, in addition to other powers.
A good example of the creative power of the court is demonstrated in Sorkos v. Sorkos Estate, 2012 ONSC 3196 (CanLII). There, the deceased died having an estate of approximately $2.6m. The claimant and the deceased appear to have been married for less than 10 years. The claimant was 69 years old, did not speak English, and was unable to work for medical reasons. The deceased had no other dependants.
In his Will, the deceased left the claimant $250,000. He also named her as the beneficiary of his RRIF, having a value of $287,000, and paying the claimant $1,200 per month. The residue of the deceased’s estate passed to the deceased’s siblings.
The court found that the claimant was a dependant, and that the deceased did not provide adequate support for her. In so finding, the court noted that it was not to undertake a strictly needs-based economic analysis. Further, the assessment of proper support was to be measured over the course of the dependant’s anticipated lifetime.
In making its award, the court reduced the bequest to the claimant from $250,000 to $150,000. However, the court awarded the claimant support of $3,000 per month ($36,000 per year) for the rest of the claimant’s life. As security, the estate was to purchase an annuity, payable to the Applicant, with a reversionary interest to the estate.
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Paul Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle.
Pursuant to dependant support legislation, courts have significant jurisdiction to provide support for those who qualify as dependants, and who have not been adequately provided for by the deceased. The remedies available to a dependant are broad, and the court has the jurisdiction to, essentially, rewrite the will so as to make adequate provision for the dependant.
The recent case of Soule v. Johansen Estate, 2011 ABQB 403 (CanLII) is a good illustration of such a rewriting of a will. There, the deceased died leaving a will that gave all of her estate, approximately $116,000, to the SPCA in Calgary, Alberta. The deceased intentionally disinherited her adult son. The son brought a proceeding against his mother’s estate, claiming that he was a dependant of the deceased and that he was not adequately provided for by the deceased.
In making its decision, the court referred to the common law recognition of a testator’s right to choose how to dispose of his or her property by will. However, the common law is changed by dependant relief legislation that seeks to balance testamentary autonomy with legal and moral obligations owed to dependant individuals in need. Under the legislation, a form of which is in effect across the country, a testator has a duty to make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of a surviving spouse and children. (In Ontario, the definition of “dependant” includes an even broader group.) If the testator fails to discharge this duty, the court may order provision from the estate that is “adequate, just and equitable”. Testamentary autonomy must yield, to the extent necessary, to provide such support to dependants.
In Soule, the court found that the son was a “dependant” under the legislation because he was unable by reason of mental or physical disability to earn a livelihood. (Note that the Ontario legislation does not contain the same definition of “dependant”.)
In the end, the court awarded $10,000 to the SPCA, and the remainder of the estate to the son.
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Paul E. Trudelle – Click here for more information on Paul Trudelle.
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Can a deceased person, immediately before his or her death, be found to have been in a common law spousal relationship with two persons, each of whom could assert a claim for support as a dependant? This was the interesting question recently considered on a motion for interim support under Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act ("SLRA").
In Blair v. Cooke, the Applicant commenced an Application against the Estate seeking dependant support, and subsequently brought a motion seeking interim support from the estate. In support of her application, the Applicant filed an extensive affidavit describing the history of her relationship with the Deceased and argued that she is a dependant spouse of the Deceased, thus, entitled to support under the provisions of the SLRA. The court was also provided with numerous affidavits of friends and acquaintances confirming the Applicant’s 11-year relationship with the Deceased.
The Respondent is the estate trustee of the estate for the Deceased, and also argues that she is the Deceased’s common law spouse. It is important to clarify that the Respondent does not make a claim for dependant support, but rather opposes the Applicant’s application. In doing so, the Respondent filed her own affidavit and the affidavit of friends and acquaintances, which would corroborate that she was the Deceased’s common law spouse. The Respondent argued the court should not make any finding of entitlement to support for the Applicant, because doing so would preclude her from claiming support (if she decided to make a claim at a later date) or claiming that she was in fact the “spouse” of the deceased.
In considering whether or not a person could have two spouses for the purpose of making a dependant support claim, the court considered section 57 of the SLRA, more particularly the following definitions:
1. “Dependent” can be a “spouse of the deceased…to whom the deceased was providing support or was under a legal obligation to provide support immediately before his or her death…”.
2. “Spousal” is further defined under the SLRA as “either of two persons who…are not married to each other and have co-habited…continuously for a period of not less than three years”; and
3. “Co-habit” is defined to mean living together “in a conjugal relationship”.
The “twist” that I found interesting in this case, was that the court found that there was enough evidence to conclude that the deceased may have co-habited with two different women, in different homes. The court stated that they did not have to determine that one party was a spouse and the other was not for purposes of awarding interim support; in fact both women could qualify. The Applicant was awarded interim support.
Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.
Part V of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act ("SLRA") establishes a mechanism whereby qualifying dependants can claim support from the estate of a deceased. Section 72 of the SLRA is a deeming provision that includes certain non-estate assets as part of the estate for the purposes of calculating the value of the estate, and allows such assets to be charged ("clawed back") by a support Order made under section 63 of the SLRA.
The recent case of Simson v. De Bartolo 2009 CanLII 38493 (ON S.C.) interprets section 72(1) and applies Cummings v. Cummings 2004 CanLII 9339 (ON C.A.), the Court of Appeals decision holding that support awards are subject to moral considerations. One issue following Cummings has been whether moral considerations justify a support award in and of themselves, or whether moral considerations are merely relevant to quantum of support following a determination that a support award is appropriate.
The applicant in Simson v. De Bartolo was litigation guardian for her child, born out of wedlock to the deceased and the actual support claimant. When the applicant told the deceased’s wife about their relationship and the child, the deceased transferred these properties to his wife (from joint ownership) and made a will disinheriting the child. Later, the deceased died virtually penniless. At issue in a motion was whether properties transferred by the deceased to his wife 10 years prior to his death could be deemed part of the deceased’s estate under any enumerated grounds in section 72(1).
Justice Lemon held that these assets could not be "clawed back" under s. 72(1). Most particularly, a transfer of land to another party in the absence of an express written trust instrument does not fall within section 72(1)(e). Of course, the transfer may still be impressed with a trust, as Justice Lemon pointed out, and if such trust pulls the asset into the estate, the SLRA provides for protection of the dependant pursuant to section 67. Moral considerations were relevant in determining quantum of support, but not whether an asset forms part of the estate.
The facts in Simson v. De Bartolo appear to have precluded the court from addressing the Cummings question, at least in the motion being heard. However, section 72 has been clarified.
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Chris M.B. Graham – Click here for more information on Chris Graham.
My colleague Natalia Angelini blogged on February 18 of this year about the increasing possibility that independent, adult children may be entitled to dependant support.
A 2009 Ontario Bar Association paper by Susan Woodley concluded that moral obligations of deceased parents in Ontario may require them to provide proper and adequate support to their children, spouse and dependants.
While the legislation in British Columbia clearly distinguishes any case from that province, a consideration of a recent case on point illustrates the roots of this evolving trend.
In Sikora v. Sikora Estate 2009 BCSC 195, two of four adult sons of the testator brought an action under B.C.’s Wills Variation Act. The Deceased had one child by his first marriage, three children with a subsequent common-law spouse, and at his death he was married to the defendant, San Meei Sikora. The Deceased’s residue to be divided amongst three sons equalled just over $11,500.
The two plaintiff brothers maintained contact with their father despite a difficult childhood. Each plaintiff provided evidence of respective incomes of about $90,000 and $35,000 and described their relationships with their father whom they assisted in his business and investment properties over the years. The Deceased’s wife’s responses created some credibility problems for her.
Justice Cullen reviewed the case law from the Supreme Court, Tataryn v. Tataryn Estate and a B.C. case, Clucas v. Clucas Estate (1999), 25 ETR (2d) 175 (BCSC) that summarizes the principles of the Wills Variation Act.
In Sikora, the Deceased’s wife accumulated her own assets while the Deceased did not. The plaintiffs showed that despite their independence their father had a moral obligation towards them. The residue of the Deceased’s estate diminished in a manner that favoured his surviving wife and his moral obligation to his spouse was less firmly established than in other cases.
The Deceased used his money to purchase the matrimonial home, allowing the defendant to invest her money and increase her own assets. The plaintiffs succeeded and were therefore registered as tenants in common on a property with a life interest to the defendant.
Thank you for reading this week. Enjoy your weekend.