Be aware of your Relationship!
Because I am not sure how many people know about this unique legal aspect of spousal type relationships in B.C., I start with a quote from the reasons for judgment of the B.C. Supreme Court in a case called Turner v. Stabeck:
“Although WESA refers to people living with each other, a relationship can be “marriage-like” for purposes of the statute even when each person retains their own residence”
“WESA” refer to the Wills Estates and Succession Act, which was proclaimed into force in B.C. in 2014. Reasons in this case were handed down by the Court last week and, in my opinion, they are significant.
The deceased, a resident of Kamloops, died in 2018, suddenly, at age 64, and without having made a Will. He was survived by two adult children. The Plaintiff claimed that she was his “spouse” because they had lived together in a marriage-like relationship at least two years before the deceased died.
The deceased met the Plaintiff in August, 2015. She had been living in New Westminster. In the early going, they saw each other a few days, as work schedules allowed. The Plaintiff came to Kamloops for Christmas. The “couple” decided that the Plaintiff would eventually come to live in Kamloops with the deceased but because of her childcare obligations (to her grandchild), she could not move to Kamloops immediately. On visits, to either New Westminster or Kamloops, items would be brought up or brought back to Kamloops, so that the Plaintiff’s furniture and some of her clothing gradually went to Kamloops.
Important evidence of the relationship came from the deceased’s brother, who seemed to suggest that the couple were, in 2016, going back and forth between the two cities to see each other (the deceased and his brother, who also lived in Kamloops, spoke daily, usually by telephone. The deceased’s children both lived in Vernon). The evidence from the brother seemed to be that the deceased and the Plaintiff planned to eventually live together in Kamloops. The deceased’s children seemed to be less informed and they felt that their Father had been seeing various persons on a more “casual” basis. They did not see the Plaintiff in 2016 when they were together with their Father. Nonetheless, the deceased’s brother saw them together regularly in Kamloops in the summer of 2016, especially when she did not have childcare duties. In the fall of 2016 the Plaintiff resumed her childcare duties in New Westminster and so the couple resumed their visits. They were together at Christmas. They were together in the summer of 2017. When her childcare obligations ended in the fall of 2017, the Plaintiff moved to Kamloops. They lived together until the deceased died, in September, 2017.
The deceased’s Estate was valued at approximately $600,000. No Will was found.
In the Court’s review of the law, the Judge pointed to the weaknesses in the legislation, which leads to some confusion as to how to characterize a relationship. Thus, Courts now, in B.C., look to several factors in order to determine the nature of a couple’s relationship and whether either are thereby entitled to legal status, such that they would have various rights.
Generally, those factors include (and are not limited to):
- The couple’s intentions;
- Financial arrangements;
- Whether the couple were mere roommates;
- Social activity/lifestyle;
- Intimacy and fidelity.
The Court said that although the deceased’s children relied strongly on the issue of “co-residence”, it was not the essential factor in this case. The Court relied on the evidence of the deceased’s brother, and concluded that by the spring of 2016, the deceased and the Plaintiff were a “couple”. The Court considered what it felt was the “intention” of the couple and it was clear to the Court that they were by 2016 in a marriage-like relationship. The Plaintiff was held to be a surviving spouse of the deceased.
Because there was no Will, the B.C. rules of intestacy allow the “spouse” the first $150,000 of the Estate and half of the residue. Thus, the Plaintiff’s share of the Estate was considerable, while the childrens’ share was less than they surely expected (likely around $125,000 each, before consideration of legal costs). It does not appear that the deceased or the Plaintiff addressed any Estate planning, especially since the deceased died unexpectedly and at a young age. But given the current law, persons who choose to enter relationships, even if they do not want to marry or live together, must seriously consider entering an Agreement, in order to protect their assets and, potentially, their children.
This ad ran in the Richmond News on October 30, 2020.