On March 5, 2014, the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench
released the decision of Justice Belzil in Re Young
Estate, 2014 ABQB 125. The decision concerned an Application
under the Dependent's Relief Act (which was in force
at the time of the deceased's death) by a spouse of the
deceased. The decision is remarkable not in terms of the assessment
of the Applicant's needs, but rather in the form of remedy that
was granted to her.
The Applicant and the deceased were married on December 15,
1990, and had lived together for five years prior to their
marriage. By the time the deceased died in June 2010, they had been
in a relationship for over 25 years. Despite this, the only
provision that the deceased made for the applicant was the ability
to remain in the matrimonial home "for as long as she requires
use of the premises." The matrimonial home was held in joint
tenancy by the deceased and his 91 year old mother, who was the
primary and residuary beneficiary of the rest of the deceased's
estate under his will. It appears from the case that the only asset
of any value in the estate was the matrimonial home, which was an
acreage estimated to be worth approximately $313,500. Outside of
the estate, the applicant also receives a life insurance policy and
an RRSP, each of which had a value of $50,000.
At the time of her application, the Applicant was 68 years old
and suffering from a congenital muscle disease which will progress
to the point where she will require assisted living accommodations.
At the time of her husband's death, the applicant had been
fully retired for some time, and was "completely financially
dependent" on him. By contrast, the deceased's mother had
never been financially dependent on the deceased.
It is not a surprise that the Court found the deceased to have
failed to make "adequate provision for the proper maintenance
and support" of the applicant, under the terms of the
Dependent's Relief Act. Justice Belzil explicitly
stated that he found the applicant's future care requirements
to be of "overarching importance". However, in order to
remedy that failure, the Court ordered that the title to the
matrimonial home should be transferred into the applicant's
This can only be seen as a remarkable remedy, which completely
ignores the interest of the deceased's mother who became the
sole owner as the surviving joint tenant. Surely she was not
expecting to lose all of her interest in the property that she had
held jointly with her son. If there were extenuating circumstances,
such as any nefarious motives by the deceased's mother, or any
attempt to hide assets from the applicant in order to defeat her
claim, they are not laid out in Justice Belzil's reasons. On
the face of the judgment, it appears as though a perfectly valid,
titled interest in real property was ignored in favour of a
dependent's claim against an estate.
The case illustrates the primary importance of considering the
needs of dependents in the course of estate planning. Lawyers in
this practice area need to be aware of the lengths that the Court
will go to ensure that there are funds available for dependents,
even if that means effecting the property of a third party.
No doubt the applicant in this case was a very sympathetic
claimant, and the facts supporting her application cry out for a
remedy. However, to order that title be transferred solely into her
name, and completely remove the interest held by the deceased's
mother, seems to signal that the Court will take extraordinary
steps to provide for dependents who can establish their need for
greater support. Clients who are preparing their estate plans need
to understand that jointly held property is not safe or immune from
a successful claim by a dependent.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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