Marriage Like Relationships and WESA Intestacy problems are more common now that more people don’t go through a formal marriage yet live in committed long term relationships. Our Vancouver Marriage Like Relationships and WESA Intestacy lawyers handle these cases frequently. Eleanor Surajballi discusses the key principles from a new BC Appeal Court decision. In this case a man handled the deceased’s medical needs, shared her bed without conjugal relations, gave her financial advice, shared meals and celebrations with her, ran errands for her, and spent significant portions of his day with her while cohabiting with her for 3 years. As a result he inherited the entire estate being her house.
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In British Columbia, when a person dies without a will – or intestate, as it is referred to in the Wills, Estate and Succession Act S.B.C. 2009, c13 (“WESA”)- their estate is distributed to their spouse if they do not have any surviving descendants, or alternatively, to a preferential share of the intestate estate if there are surviving descendants. For the purposes of defining who a spouse is, WESA states that 2 people are spouses of each other if they were married to each other or they had lived with each other in a marriage like relationship for at least two years. WESA is silent on what the test for marriage like relationship is. The case of Coad v Lariviere 2022 BCCA 222 shed some light on this issue.
In Coad v Lariviere, the Deceased died without a will but left behind an array of documents which purportedly indicated her testamentary intent. The Deceased was survived by her former spouse, her siblings, her mother and Mr. Coad who alleged that he was in a marriage like relationship with the Deceased at the time of her passing. At trial, the Judge found that the Deceased died intestate and that Mr. Coad was not in a marriage like relationship with the Deceased. In so finding this, the Court determined that the Deceased’s mother, who had passed away during the trial, was the beneficiary of the Estate.
On appeal, Mr. Coad argued that the Trial Judge had erred in misapprehending the evidence in concluding that Mr. Coad and the Deceased were not in a marriage like relationship. In addressing this ground of appeal, the Court at paras 127 to 131 noted the following key points:
- There was no specific definition of whether a marriage like relationship exists and that a checklist approach could no longer be applied to determine one;
- The parties’ intention may be of some importance in determining whether a relationship was a “marriage like relationship” but that objective evidence of the parties’ lifestyle and interaction would also provide guidance on the issue of whether there was a marriage like relationship;
- Conjugal relationships have essentially the same meaning as “marriage like relationships”. Whilst conjugal relationships include shared shelter, sexual and personal behaviour, economic support – these elements may be present in varying degrees and are not all necessary for a relationship to be found to be conjugal.
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Turning back to the case, the Court held that whether or not a party was in a marriage like relationship was a question of mixed fact and law, subject to deference absent a palpable and overriding error. The Court of Appeal, after reviewing the evidence against the above principles, held that the Trial Judge had made a palpable and overriding error in that he failed to consider what the relationship between the Deceased and Mr. Coad was at the relevant period (which was two years prior to the Deceased’s passing). The Court of Appeal held that Mr. Coad was a spouse according to the definition in WESA.
If you have questions on Vancouver and BC Marriage Like Relationships and WESA Intestacy, contact our lawyers at any of our offices in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Surrey and Richmond.