Tag: property rights
On Monday’s blog, I discussed the mechanisms available to Ontario courts under the Declarations of Death Act to deal with the estate of a deceased person who “returns from the dead.” In today’s blog, I thought it might be useful to look at similar provisions under Ontario’s Absentees Act and to distinguish between the purpose of each Act as well as the authorities of the court thereunder.
The most obvious distinction is evident in the titles of each Act. The Declarations of Death Act, unsurprisingly, concerns individuals that have been declared deceased by the courts. In contrast, and perhaps even more unsurprisingly, the Absentees Act deals with “absentees.”
An absentee is defined under section 1 of the Absentees Act as a person, ordinarily resident in Ontario, who “has disappeared, whose whereabouts is unknown, and as to whom there is no knowledge as to whether he or she is alive or dead.” Similar to the analogous provision in the Declarations of Death Act, section 2 of the Absentees Act allows the Superior Court of Justice to declare a person to be an absentee if a “due and satisfactory inquiry has been made.”
The difference in finality of an order declaring an individual to be deceased rather than merely an absentee is also reflected in the authority given to the courts in dealing with an individual’s property under each Act. Once an individual is declared deceased, that individual’s property is subject to distribution in accordance with any testamentary documents that he or she may have left, such as a will. Without going into significant detail, the property rights of the testator as well as those of any beneficiaries will be substantially impacted as a result of a declaration of death. The courts will be reluctant to trigger these rights absent a conclusive determination of death.
As a result of the foregoing, the Absentees Act gives no authority to the courts to order distributions of property pursuant to a testamentary document. In effect, the authority of the courts over the property of an absentee is severely limited, at least until he or she is declared as such in accordance with the Declarations of Death Act, or unless evidence of his or her death is produced.
Rather than create circumstances that may trigger distributions of an absentee’s property, the Absentees Act may require an individual to instead ensure its upkeep while the absentee is, well, absent. Section 4 of the Absentees Act allows a court to make an order to ensure the “custody, due care and management” of an absentee’s property by a committee, if needed.
This appointee would essentially function as a caretaker of the absentee’s property. The committee has all of the powers and duties of a guardian of property under the Substitute Decisions Act, including the authority to expend the absentee’s own funds for the purposes of determining whether he or she is alive or dead.
Thanks for reading.
Yesterday’s blog considered the fact that a common law spouse has no beneficial entitlement to his or her deceased spouse’s estate on an intestacy. There are, however, remedies available to the disappointed spouse.
The first of these is a claim for dependant support found in Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act, whereby a common law spouse (or any other “dependant” of the deceased) can ask for support where no adequate provision has been made for the dependant by the deceased.
The Court has broad discretion to grant relief that, according to section 62(3) of the Act, can take a variety of forms, including the transfer, use or occupation of specified property in satisfaction of the dependant’s need for support.
In many situations involving long-term common law relationships, there may also be an argument for equitable (as opposed to legal) ownership of property by the surviving common law spouse. These rights will be founded on the principles of unjust enrichment and include, for example, resulting or constructive trust, and proprietary estoppel.
The Supreme Court of Canada has recently considered two cases that provide guidance on unjust enrichment in the context of common law relationships. The Court released one decision in the matters of Kerr v. Baranow, and Vanasse v. Seguin, which I will be discussing in the next couple of blogs.
Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.
In our modern society more and more people choose to remain in common law relationships rather than to marry. Certainly many think that few differences distinguish a common law relationship from a married one as society has responded to practical reality by making common law spouses eligible for pension benefits, family insurance benefits and spousal support. No wonder some people think it is all the same whether they are married or not. However, what many fail to realize is that it makes a very big difference with respect to property rights – both in life and after death.
A common law spouse of a deceased who has died intestate (without a Will) has no entitlement as a beneficiary of the deceased partner’s estate. It is not uncommon that a dedicated common law spouse of 20 or 30 years is faced with the prospect of the estate of their loved one, which they helped to build over the years, going to the blood relatives, who are the legal heirs according to legislation; and often being people who never had any social relationship with the deceased whatsoever.
If a person dies intestate, Part II of the Succession Law Reform Act governs who is entitled to their estate. In the Act, a spouse is defined as a married spouse only. Here is the order in which family of a deceased is entitled to take:
1. If there is spouse and no children the spouse takes all.
2. If there is a spouse and children, the spouse gets the first $200,000.00.
3. If there is one child, the residue goes to the spouse and the child equally.
4. If more than one child, the spouse gets one-third of the residue and the children share the other two-thirds equally.
5. If there is no spouse, the estate goes to the children equally.
6. If no children, the estate goes to the deceased’s parents equally.
7. If no parents, the estate goes to the deceased’s siblings; if a sibling pre-deceased, that sibling’s share goes to the deceased sibling’s children.
8. If no siblings, the estate goes to the nephews and nieces.
9. If no nephews and nieces it goes to the next of kin of equal degree of consanguinity – that’s where it gets complicated and complete strangers end up inheriting.
10. If no next of kin, the estate escheats to the crown.
Lesson? Make sure you have a Will!
Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.