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What Is a Spouse? How Courts Award Spousal Benefits Under BC Estate Law

by | May 24, 2019 | Wills & Personal Planning

You probably have a clear-cut idea of what makes a spouse. A marriage certificate with both your names is a good start. So is sharing a home for at least two years.

For the courts, however, determining spousal status isn’t always simple. Recent rulings based on the Wills, Estates and Succession Act have taken a case-by-case approach, scrutinizing evidence to determine whether a marriage-like relationship existed.

The Spring 2019 issue of The Scrivener looks at the legal nuances behind these decisions and summarizes cases where BC courts took a detailed view of relationships to rule on spousal benefits. I wanted to post about these cases and remind everyone that preparing a legal will is the best way to ensure you have a say in what happens to your estate when you die.

Examples of Unexpected Rulings

For instance, there’s a case about a couple who were involved in an eleven-year affair, yet they never lived together.

When the affair began, he was married, and his pension documents listed his wife as his spouse. This was never updated. Other documents, filed later, listed his marital status as separated.

She described herself as single on her tax documents, and listed him as a friend on hospital contact forms. When she died, her will couldn’t be found, yet he claimed that she had left him a sizable amount of money. Her siblings opposed the claim.

The case went to court. Based on the details of the relationship, the court ruled that he was entitled to spousal benefits, even though the couple never shared an accommodation, finances or domestic duties. In the past, these factors had significant influence in determining whether or not a relationship was marriage-like. Going forward, courts are factoring the complexity and context inherent to every relationship.

Another case involved a long-time housekeeper who cooked and cleaned for a man without being paid. When he died, she claimed spousal benefits and the courts sided with her. Here, there was no romantic relationship, but for the courts, the services she provided—for free—were enough evidence to confirm that a marriage-like relationship existed.

Preparing a Will Gives You a Voice

As the definition of what is and isn’t a marriage-like relationship changes with recent court rulings, it’s essential to prepare a will, so this type of decision isn’t left to the courts. By creating a legal will, you can take charge of how your estate is divided, and eliminate confusion and conflict among family and friends when you pass away. If you want to learn more about creating a will, contact us today. All it takes is a couple of brief appointments. The peace of mind is worth it.


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