I recently attended a replay of a Continuing Professional Development webinar, hosted by Ms. Lisa Toner and our own Mr. Ian Hull, in which a number of estates lawyers had the opportunity to give six-minute presentations on select, relevant subjects in estates law in 2021.
A presentation on holograph wills by Ms. Clare Burns particularly caught my attention.
Normally, when drafting a will, strict formalities are required, including the signatures of two or more witnesses. The one major exception in Ontario is the “holograph” will – a will written and signed entirely in the testator’s own handwriting.
However, as of January 1, 2022, a new section added to the Succession Law Reform Act, namely Section 21.1, will allow courts to order validation of an improperly executed document if it “sets out the testamentary intentions of a deceased.” The previous passing of similar “substantial compliance” legislation in other provinces has resulted in attempts to probate documents such as diary entries (B.C.), memoranda of an accountant (Manitoba), and sticky notes (Alberta) as testamentary documents, to varying degrees of success.
Ms. Burns suggests that Ontario will likely follow the lead of the British Columbia Court of Appeal in applying this new legislation. In the landmark decision of Re: Hadley Estate, the B.C. Court of Appeal applied the following two-part test: 1) is the document authentic?; and 2) if it is authentic, but not compliant with the formalities for holograph wills, does it represent the deceased’s intentions at the time that document was created? The Court also added that any valid document should have been drafted with the knowledge and consent of the deceased, if it was not in their own handwriting.
Furthermore, certain factors will support the finding of testamentary intention, including: if it was signed by the deceased, if there are witness signatures, if there are references to the revocation of previous wills, if executors are named, and if there are specific bequests. Conversely, there are facts that will weigh against a finding of testamentary intention, including: if written in pencil, if a document is incomplete, if using a pre-printed will form, and if a person has a previous formal will.
Nonetheless, it remains to be seen how this legislation will play out in litigation with the courts in Ontario.
Thank you for reading!
In Ontario, the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26 allows a deceased person’s dependants, to whom the deceased has not made adequate provision for his or her proper support, to seek an order for support to be made to the dependant out of the deceased’s estate. In order to qualify as a “dependant”, a person must be a spouse, parent, child, or sibling 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.” There are therefore several conditions for a person to be able to obtain an order for dependant’s support:
- they must have one of the required relationships with the deceased (spouse, parent, child, or sibling);
- the deceased must have been providing them with support, or have a legal obligation to provide support, immediately before the deceased’s death; and
- any provision made for the person in the deceased’s Will (if any) must be inadequate.
British Columbia deals with dependant’s support differently than Ontario. In B.C.’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act, S.B.C. 2009, c 13, s. 60 provides that if a testator does not make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of his or her spouse or children in his or her Will, the court may order the provision that it thinks adequate, just, and equitable in the circumstances for the spouse or children out of the testator’s estate. Unlike the Ontario law, it is not a requirement that the testator had been providing support to his or her spouse or children prior to death. This difference is significant because in Ontario, independent adult children are typically not able to obtain dependant’s relief as they do not meet the requirements of a “dependant”. In BC case law, there is also a greater emphasis on a testator’s moral duty to his or her dependant’s than there is in Ontario.
The BC Supreme Court decision in Jung v Poole Estate, 2021 BCSC 623 provides an example of how the difference in the law in Ontario vs. B.C. can result in vastly different outcomes. In Jung v Poole, the testator was survived by his two twin daughters, Courtney and Chelsea. Courtney and Chelsea’s mother had been dating the testator when she became pregnant. The testator suggested an abortion but the mother chose to keep the twins, and raised them as a single mother without any involvement or financial assistance from the testator. The mother died when the twins were 4 years old, and a custody battle ensued between the testator and the twins’ grandmother on their mother’s side, on the one hand, and a couple who were friends of the mother’s and whom the mother had named in her Will to be the twins’ joint guardians, on the other hand. The testator expressed a desire to be involved in raising the twins at that time.
Ultimately, the court determined that the couple chosen by the mother to be the twins’ guardians would become the twins’ custodial parents. The testator and the grandmother were allowed specific and generous parenting time, access, and consultations regarding major areas of the twins’ lives. However, the testator never exercised any of these rights and, with the exception of one attempt to contact the twins the year after the custody decision, ceased to have any involvement in their lives.
The testator executed two Wills after the custody decision, both of which disinherited the twins. In one Will the testator referred to the twins as his illegitimate children, and in the other he explained that one of his reasons for disinheriting them was that they had not made efforts to contact him.
As stated by the court, if the court concludes that the testator owed a moral obligation to the twins and did not make adequate provision for their proper maintenance and support, the court has the authority to vary the testator’s Will to make the provision for them that, in its view, is adequate, just and equitable in the circumstances.
The court did ultimately conclude that the testator abandoned the twins from the outset, as well as after the custody battle, and had a strong moral obligation to them, which he failed to meet during his lifetime. As a result, the court varied the testator’s Will to provide 35% to each of Courtney and Chelsea, and 15% to each of the two friends of the testator who had been named as estate trustees and sole beneficiaries of his estate. The court was of the view that the testator had blamed the twins for the decision in the custody battle, even though that was beyond the twins’ control, and also blamed them for the lack of relationship, notwithstanding what the court found were valid and rational reasons given by the twins in this regard (including that they were hurt that the testator had wanted their mother to abort them, and the testator’s actions during their lives made it clear to them that he did not want them in his life).
It is unlikely that the same decision would have been reached had this situation occurred in Ontario. The fact that the twins were independent adults, and that the testator had not been providing them with support, nor under a legal obligation to provide them with support, immediately before his death, would likely have resulted in a decision that the twins were not entitled to support, regardless of the unfortunate circumstances between the twins and the testator.
Thanks for reading,
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Like many in the estates world, we have been closely following the evolvement of Bill 245, the Accelerating Access to Justice Act, 2021. Initially introduced in February of 2021, Bill 245 significantly alters Ontario’s estate laws. Bill 245 was proposed by the government in an effort to modernize an outdated system – a proposal that was welcomed by those in the estates community. The Estates Bar welcomes these developments and commends the Attorney General’s office for taking these significant steps in updating our legislation to better reflect the realities of life in the 2020s.
On April 19, 2021, Bill 245 received royal assent. The changes to Ontario’s estate laws are enumerated in Schedule 9 of Bill 245 and include the following:
- The Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) is amended to provide for the remote witnessing of wills through the means of audio-visual communication technology for wills made on and after April 7, 2020. The execution of a will in counterparts will now be permitted.
- Section 16 of the SLRA, which provides for the revocation of a will upon marriage, except in specific circumstances, is repealed.
- Subsection 17(2) of the SLRA is amended to include separated spouses. As such, any gift bequeathed to a spouse will be revoked upon separation.
- Section 21.1 is added to the SLRA and provides the Superior Court of Justice with the authority to, on application, make an order validating a document or writing that was not properly executed or made under the Act, if the Court is satisfied that the document or writing sets out the testamentary intentions of a deceased or an intention of a deceased to revoke, alter, or revive a will of the deceased.
- Section 43.1 is added to the SLRA to exclude separated spouses from inheriting on an intestacy.
Bill 245 does not, however, affect the rights of common-law spouses.
The repeal of the provision under the SLRA with respect to the automatic revocation of any pre-existing wills by marriage is an important first step in protecting vulnerable older Ontarians from predatory marriage scenarios. Similarly, the updated rights of separated spouses will, in most cases, result in a more appropriate treatment of separated spouses who do not take the step of obtaining a formal divorce.
The new will validation provision to be added to the SLRA will provide the courts with a mechanism to allow the intentions of individuals who may not be aware of the formal requirements for a valid will to be honoured. In the past, we have seen technicalities prevent what was clearly intended to be a will from functioning as one from a legal perspective.
These changes also have the potential to improve access to justice. In particular, the permanence of virtual witnessing provisions for both wills and powers of attorney has the potential to increase access to justice while preserving necessary safeguards in the will execution process. The emergency measures introduced during the pandemic will allow Ontarians improved access to legal assistance in their estate planning, regardless of where in the province they may be located.
The amendments relating to the remote witnessing of wills and counterpart execution are currently in effect. The remaining legislative amendments will not come into force until a day proclaimed by the Lieutenant Governor, which will not be earlier than January 1, 2022.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day,
Suzana Popovic-Montag & Tori Joseph
The great thing about having a Last Will and Testament is that it clearly spells out what happens to your estate upon your passing. Conversely, the terrible thing about not having this document in place when you die is that you have no control over how your assets are distributed, which may cause anguish and hardship to loved ones you would have otherwise chosen as beneficiaries.
When you die without a will, or intestate, Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) sets out how your estate is distributed. It provides that unless someone who is financially dependent on the deceased person makes a claim, the first $350,000 is given to the deceased person’s spouse.
A problem that immediately arises is defining the meaning of spouse. For the purposes of intestacy, the SLRA adopts the definition of spouse found in section 1 of the Family Law Act, which reads: “‘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.”
As such, only married spouses are entitled to benefit under the intestacy regime. You may have had a long and loving common-law relationship with a person you regarded as a spouse, but if there is no formal wedding declaration, they could be denied the inheritance you wanted them to receive. A common-law spouse may potentially seek redress by making a dependant’s support claim against your estate, though it is an effort and expense that could have been avoided with a proper will.
If you have no spouse, your children will inherit the estate. Sounds simple enough, but again there may be an issue with the way in which the SLRA defines child, as it only accepts biological offspring or those who were adopted as children. With blended families, many people have developed loving and long-lasting relationships with their step-children. In the eyes of the SLRA, however, they are not given the same inheritance rights as biological and adopted children.
Things get a bit complicated from here. Allow me to summarize:
- If any children have died, that child’s children will inherit their share.
- If there is no spouse or children or grandchildren, the deceased person’s parents inherit the estate equally.
- If there are no surviving parents, the deceased person’s brothers and sisters inherit the estate.
- If any of the brothers and sisters have died, their children (the deceased person’s nieces and nephews) inherit their share.
- If there are no surviving brothers and sisters, the deceased person’s nieces and nephews inherit the estate equally. (If a niece or nephew has died, their share does not pass to their children.)
- When only more distant relatives survive (cousins, great-nieces or nephews, great aunts and uncles), the rules are complex and a lawyer’s advice is a good idea.
There are many other problems that arise with those who die intestate, such as deciding who will be executor and oversee the estate distribution. The closest relative is usually chosen by the courts for the position, which may mean that your children are in charge and not your common-law spouse, which could create tension and expensive legal battles.
If you have minor-age children and there is no other legal parent alive, the appointment of the guardian will be out of your control.
Perhaps you have promised your grandson that he will inherit your valued coin collection when you die. That probably won’t happen, since all assets of the estate will be valued and divided up under the SLRA rules. However, in a will you can leave specific instructions, directing who receives what items you are leaving behind.
You may feel indebted to a charity, church, or hospital for their work while you were alive, and you want to leave that institution some money. Again, that can’t happen without a will.
The final point to consider is that if you have no next-of-kin and you die without a will, your entire estate goes to the Ontario government, with the Office of the Public Guardian & Trustee stepping in to administer your estate and seize your assets.
Drawing up a Last Will and Testament is a simple way to avoid all these issues, saving anguish and needless paperwork when the time comes.
Thanks for reading, and have a great day!
The commencement of an Application for support as a dependant under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (the “SLRA”) can be an extremely stressful event for the Applicant. Not only is the Applicant likely commencing court proceedings against fellow family members and/or close friends of the deceased, but there may also be a sense of urgency to the Application to ensure that steps are taken before the estate has otherwise been administered and/or distributed to those who would be entitled to the estate but for the support Application. As a result of these concerns it is not uncommon for the Applicant in the early stages of the Application to seek some form of court intervention to stop and/or stay the administration of the estate until the Application has been adjudicated, thereby ensuring that there are assets remaining in the estate to satisfy any support award should it ultimately be made. But is such court intervention actually necessary?
Under section 67 of the SLRA, once an Estate Trustee has been served with an Application for support under Part V they are automatically required to cease all distributions from the estate unless certain conditions are met. Specifically, section 67(1) provides:
“Where an application is made and notice thereof is served on the personal representative of the deceased, he or she shall not, after service of the notice upon him or her, unless all persons entitled to apply consent or the court otherwise orders, proceed with the distribution of the estate until the court has disposed of the application.”
Section 67(3) provides that any Estate Trustee that makes a distribution in violation of section 67(1) once they have been served with an Application under Part V of the SLRA is personally liable to pay any shortfall should a support order ultimately be made. As a result, any distribution made by the Estate Trustee once an Application for support has been commenced would be at great potential personal liability, as they could personally be required to pay any support order.
Although section 67 of the SLRA automatically stops any external distributions being made once an Application for support has been commenced, it does not stop the internal administration of the estate itself. As a result, the Estate Trustee would, for example, still be at liberty to collect and/or liquidate any estate assets, including any real estate. They just could not distribute those funds to the beneficiaries once the assets had been liquidated. In the event the Applicant should seek a particular asset as part of their support order, such as the transfer and/or use of particular real property, additional steps would need to be taken by the Applicant to ensure that the Estate Trustee did not dispose of the asset while the Application remained before the court. These additional steps would likely be in the form of an order under section 59 of the SLRA, while allows the court to issue an order “suspending” the administration of the estate either in whole or in relation to a particular asset (i.e. the real estate) for such time as the court may decide.
Thank you for reading.
I recently came across an article discussing a court’s decision in respect of what appears to be a claim for dependant’s support in Tasmania. In the decision of Booth v Brooks  TASSC 35, the deceased died with a Will that did not leave anything to his estranged daughter. The deceased was also survived by a long-term partner and two adult sons, who were mentioned in his Will.
The daughter made a claim under a Tasmanian statute, the Testator’s Family Maintenance Act 1912 (the “TFMA”). Section 3(1) of the TFMA states as follows:
3 (1) If a person dies, whether testate or intestate, and in terms of his will or as a result of his intestacy any person by whom or on whose behalf application for provision out of his estate may be made under this Act is left without adequate provision for his proper maintenance and support thereafter, the Court or a judge may, in its or his discretion, on application made by or on behalf of the last-mentioned person, order that such provision as the Court or judge, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, thinks proper shall be made out of the estate of the deceased person for all or any of the persons by whom or on whose behalf such an application may be made, and may make such other order in the matter, including an order as to costs, as the Court or judge thinks fit.
By comparison, section 58(1) of Ontario’s Succession Law Reform Act, (the “SLRA”) seems to have quite similar language. Section 58(1) provides:
58 (1) 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.
Under the SLRA, in order to qualify as a “dependant”, one must be a spouse, parent, child, or brother or sister of the deceased, to whom the deceased was providing support or was under a legal obligation to provide support immediately before his death. The TFMA, on the other hand, provides in section 3A that the persons who may make an application pursuant to section 3(1) are the:
- parents (if the deceased person dies without a spouse or children); and
- person who had a certain relationship with the deceased, and who was entitled to receive maintenance from the deceased at the time of his or her death.
In Booth v Brooks, the court concluded that the daughter had been left without adequate provision. One of the factors that lead to this conclusion was that the deceased had not had a good relationship with the daughter throughout her life and had not provided her with any direct financial support. In particular, the court stated that the deceased’s “abnegation of parental responsibility during childhood increases the moral obligation of the testator to the child”.
It seems that the key difference in the law in Tasmania versus Ontario that came into play in the Booth v Brooks decision, which would likely have resulted in a different outcome had the scenario arisen in Ontario, is that the TFMA does not require that a spouse, child, or parent be receiving or entitled to support or “maintenance” at the time of the deceased’s death. Interestingly, the Tasmanian law seems to lean the other way—if the deceased has not provided adequate support during his or her lifetime, it may increase the ability of a child or spouse to obtain support from the deceased’s estate.
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When making testamentary gifts in a Will, if a specific bequest fails for any reason, the assets in question will fall into the residue of the estate. However, if a gift of residue fails, the distribution of whatever assets are affected by the failure will be governed by the intestacy provisions set out in Part II of the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26.
The recent decision of Sabetti v Jimenez, 2018 ONSC 3523 in part considers the interpretation of a residue clause in order to determine whether there is a partial intestacy in respect of the estate of Ms. Valdes.
The applicant, Mr. Sabetti, was Ms. Valdes’ second husband. She had three adult children from her prior marriage. Ms. Valdes’ Will provided that the residue of her estate was to be divided into four equal shares. The first share was to be held in trust for Mr. Sabetti during his lifetime, and on his death, whatever amount was remaining was to fall into and form part of the residue. The remaining three shares were to be transferred to Ms. Valdes’ three children.
Mr. Sabetti claimed that because of the gift-over of his share of the residue, which provides that it is to form part of the residue, the beneficiaries of the first share of the residue were not named with sufficient certainty, and a partial intestacy must result. Ultimately, the Honourable Justice Dunphy concluded that Ms. Valdes’ intention was clear on the face of the will, and found that there was no partial intestacy.
In its decision, the Court goes through an interesting analysis of the residue clause, outlining the rules applicable to construction of documents. Where there are two possible interpretations, one of which creates an absurd result, and one of which is in line with the apparent intention of the maker of the document, the latter is to be preferred. It is also preferable to construe a will so as to lead to a testacy over an intestacy, if it is possible to do so without straining the language of the Will or violating the testator’s intention.
In this case, the Court found that to interpret the term of the residue according to Mr. Sabetti’s position would lead to an absurd result. In terms of Ms. Valdes’ intention, the Court was of the view that the intended beneficiaries of the remainder interest were clearly the other three shares of the residue. The Court found no difficulty in discerning the testator’s intention or in applying it, and was able to read the Will in such a way as to avoid an intestacy.
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On December 10, 2015, private member Bill 137 (also referred to as Cy and Ruby’s Act) passed its second reading at Queen’s Park. Bill 137 seeks to amend various statutes that deal with parental recognition, most notably, the Children‘s Law Reform Act (“CLRA”).
As it currently stands in Ontario, same-sex parents who make use of third party genetic material to assist with their reproductive efforts or are involved in surrogacy arrangements, must navigate red-tape and incur legal costs to ensure that the non-biological parent becomes the parent of their child. Accordingly, the non-biological parent must go through the process of legally adopting the child after the birth in order to be recognized as the parent. Bill 137 would, among other things, allow for the parents to enter into a parentage agreement that would recognize the non-biological parent earlier on and without requiring adoption proceedings.
At least four other Canadian provinces have already adopted similar legislation to reflect the changing ways we recognize parentage. This includes Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia. For instance, in Quebec, article 538 of the Civil Code of Quebec recognizes the concept of the “parental project” and provides the following:
538. A parental project involving assisted procreation exists from the moment a person alone decides or spouses by mutual consent decide, in order to have a child, to resort to the genetic material of a person who is not party to the parental project.
538.1. As in the case of filiation by blood, the filiation of a child born of assisted procreation is established by the act of birth. In the absence of an act of birth, uninterrupted possession of status is sufficient; the latter is established by an adequate combination of facts which indicate the relationship of filiation between the child, the woman who gave birth to the child and, where applicable, the other party to the parental project. This filiation creates the same rights and obligations as filiation by blood.
Furthermore, article 538.2 of the CCQ adds that the donor of the genetic material is not considered to be the child’s parent merely as a result of the contribution (with some exceptions), language that is similar to the proposed amendments under Bill 137.
In a recent article published on this topic, the consequences of the proposed Bill are explored from an estates perspective. The author notes that Bill 137 does not contemplate any parallel amendments to the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”). The concern raised is that under the SLRA, intestate succession rights are bestowed upon the “issue” of the deceased. “Issue” is defined under section 1 as including “a descendant conceived before and born alive after the person’s death” which suggests that a genetic lineal relationship must be present.
In the event that changes are made to parental recognition under the CLRA, it is unclear what the effect would be on children born through the use of third party genetic material under the SLRA and, in particular, whether these children would meet the definition of “issue” under the SLRA.
Thank you for reading.
Both the Family Law Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. F.3 (“FLA”) and the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26 (“SLRA”) contemplate the support of spouses. The FLA is focused specifically on spouses, while the SLRA deals with support of dependants, which includes a spouse of a deceased, as well as a parent, child, or sibling, to whom the deceased was providing support or legally obligated to provide support. Should these regimes be kept separate, or is there some meshing of the two, allowing for the FLA to influence the determination of spousal support under the SLRA?
The relevant sections of the FLA and the SLRA are as follows:
- FLA 30: “Every spouse has an obligation to provide support for himself or herself and for the other spouse, in accordance with need, to the extent that he or she is capable of doing so.”
- SLRA 58(1): “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.”
As far back as 1984, in Mannion v Canada Trust Co., (1984) 24 ACWS (2d) 363, the Ontario Court of Appeal considered the predecessor to the FLA, the Family Law Reform Act, holding that “[a]lthough the matters to be considered under the Family Law Reform Act in the case of a spouse parallel in many respects the matters to be considered under the Succession Law Reform Act in the case of a widow, they are not identical. In many aspects the Succession Law Reform Act is broader.”
There have also been attempts to apply the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines to the determination of quantum of support payable to a surviving spouse. In Fisher v Fisher (2008), 88 OR (3d) 241 (Ont CA), it was held that the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines are not applicable in every case, and are intended to be a starting point in determining the amount of support that is fair. However, four years later in Matthews v Matthews, 2012 ONSC 933, the Court remarked that “the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines do not have any relevance…because those guidelines are based on income sharing and the formulas in the Advisory Guidelines generate ranges of outcomes rather than precise figures for amount and duration. Here the Respondent is deceased and there is no income on his part to share.”
Ultimately, the major distinction between the family law context and the succession law context is that in family law both parties continue to require support and sustenance to live on, while in the succession law context, only one party remains in need of such support. Therefore the balancing act that must often be undertaken in order to consider the needs of both spouses in a divorce, is not present in the case of a deceased and a surviving spouse. This is a significant difference between the two statutes, and it cannot be assumed that the FLA can be applied in the estate law context.
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Alberta, like Ontario, has enacted a statute to address the financial support of dependants. While Ontario has Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”), Alberta has Part 5 of the Wills and Succession Act. Given the analogous provisions, case law in one jurisdiction may be helpful in the other. The recent decision in Dabrowski (Re), from the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, is such an example, addressing the need to produce evidence regarding an applicant’s financial status in dependant support claims.
Alina Dabrowski passed away in 2012, leaving an Estate comprised primarily of a condominium in Calgary. The Will named her daughter (the Applicant) and her grandson (the Respondent) as personal representatives of the Estate. According to the Will, the condominium passed to the Respondent. Partly as a result of this, the Applicant commenced an application for dependant support seeking a life interest in the condominium.
On the basis that the Applicant met the definition of a family member (and therefore qualified as a dependant), the Court turned its focus to the factors to consider in an application for the maintenance and support of a family member.
Specifically, the Court focused their attention on section 93(c), which has the Court consider “… the family member’s capacity to contribute to his or her own support, including any entitlement to support from another person”. This is similar to section 62(1) of the SLRA, which requires the Court to consider (amongst other things), the dependant’s capacity to contribute to his or her own support.
The Court dismissed the claim for support (and awarded costs to the Respondent) on the basis that insufficient information was provided by the Applicant with respect to her sources of income or expenses. As a result, the Court was unable to determine whether the Applicant was able to contribute to her own support. In fact, the Court stated, “It is impossible to award a sum for the benefit of the applicant when her financial information is little more than a guess”.
Therefore, in pursuing a claim for dependant support, it is clearly necessary to provide sufficient evidence as to the alleged dependant’s sources of income or expenses. It seems that this may assist the Court, whether it be in Alberta or Ontario, in determining whether a dependant is able to contribute to their own support.