Those who have read
Amy Mortimore's earlier blog on spousal status may recall
that spousal status is a "threshold question" in most
estate litigation because being recognized as a "spouse"
typically allows the person a claim or sometimes a greater claim on
Under WESA, a person is considered to be a spouse if the person
was married to the deceased at the time of the death or if the
person had lived with the deceased in a "marriage-like
relationship" for at least 2 years at the time of the
The BC Supreme Court recently released its first decision under
WESA with respect to the determination of a "marriage-like
relationship". In Re Richardson Estate, 2014 BCSC 2162,
Philip Richardson (the "Deceased") died leaving no will.
Nancy Chen applied for a declaration that she was the
Deceased's spouse and the sole beneficiary of his estate
pursuant to the intestacy rules under WESA. The Deceased's
brother, Stephen Richardson, disputed that Nancy lived in a
"marriage-like relationship" with the Deceased.
The parties agreed that Nancy and the Deceased had a loving and
intimate relationship for 15 years. However, other aspects of the
relationship were in dispute, in particular, the fact that it
involved two residences, one in Surrey and one on Gambier
Island. Nancy worked in Surrey and owned a home in Surrey,
and the Deceased worked on Gambier Island and owned a home
In determining the case, the Court confirmed the approach taken
by courts in the pre-WESA era. The Court confirmed that there are
many indicators to be considered when determining a
"marriage-like relationship", and those indicators may be
present in varying degrees and not all are necessary for the
relationship to be found "marriage-like".
The Court eventually ruled that Nancy was in a
"marriage-like relationship" with the Deceased and
therefore was a spouse of the Deceased. That decision was based on,
among other evidence, the following:
The parties had a ceremony like a traditional Chinese wedding
when they traveled to China;
Nancy cared for the Deceased's elderly parents and his
mother gave Nancy the wedding ring from her marriage;
The Deceased cared for Nancy during a significant health
incident in 2011;
Nancy cooked and cleaned for the Deceased, and the Deceased
made Nancy furniture;
They traveled together on a number of trips;
The Deceased contributed to the costs of raising Nancy's
sons, including school costs;
The Deceased named her as the beneficiary for his investment
account and Nancy did the same for her investment account;
The Deceased and Nancy were known as a couple on Gambier
The Deceased and Nancy traveled back and forth between Gambier
Island and Surrey, with Nancy being more often on Gambier Island;
The parties had an exclusive and intimate relationship in both
locations and each contributed to the two residences.
With respect to the issue of two residences, the Court concluded
that the couple structured their relationship so that they could
work in two locations and look after their respective families in
The Court also noted that there were some minor issues (such as
tax returns, on which the Deceased reported as
"divorced") that are inconsistent with a marriage-like
relationship but overall the evidence supports the conclusion that
Nancy and the Deceased had a marriage-like relationship.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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On March 31, 2014, BC's new Wills, Estates and Succession Act1 ("WESA") will come into force. WESA introduces new protections for beneficiaries of estates that are in danger of being disputed or deemed ineffective by a court.
It is not uncommon for parents to provide monetary gifts to their adult children. Parents may wish to help their child with a down payment on a property, or help pay out their child's existing mortgage.
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