Does the Court have jurisdiction to set aside a Family Law Act election, or is such an election irrevocable?
This question was recently considered in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision of Iasenza v. Iasenza Estate 2007 CanLII 23351.
As background, Ontario’s Family Law Act (“FLA”) allows a surviving spouse to elect to either receive benefit under the deceased’s will (or on an intestacy if there is no will), or receive an equalization of net family property under the FLA. Normally, the surviving spouse seeks information regarding each of the options, and then elects for the greater benefit.
However, information regarding the values of each option is not always forthcoming in a timely fashion. The election must be filed within 6 months of the date of death, or the surviving spouse is deemed to elect to take under the will or on an intestacy.
The Court held that it did have discretion to set aside an election made in favour of an equalization. However, the Court noted that the discretion will be exercised sparingly and only in “restrictive circumstances where the interests of justice require it and where the balance of the interests of effected parties clearly warrants it.”
In considering whether to exercise its discretion, the Court will consider:
a. Was the election filed as a result of a material mistake of fact or law made in good faith?
b. Was there any responsibility or culpability on the part of the effected parties in relation to the election?
c. Was the notice of intent to seek revocation of the election given in a timely way, and in particular, how long after the 6 month filing period was notice given?
d. Has the estate been distributed or would interested parties otherwise be adversely effected?
e. Does the election result in an injustice to the surviving spouse in all of the circumstances?
On the particular facts of Iasenza, the Court decided to exercise its discretion and set aside the election filed by the surviving spouse. As a result, the spouse was entitled to receive 1/3 of the estate under the will, whereas she would have received nothing under the election.
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