A Divisional Court case from earlier this year considered whether a common law spouse can be considered a dependent entitled to support under the Succession Law Reform Act.
A common law spouse doesn’t have the same property rights as a married spouse. In Ontario, when a married individual dies, their spouse has the right to an equalization of net family property, even when they have been excluded from the deceased’s Will. In other words, if you’re married, you cannot unilaterally disinherit your partner.
When you write a Will, the court is bound to carry out your wishes. If your wishes are somehow unclear, the court must try and ascertain what your wishes were. Except in certain situations, you’re entitled to choose your beneficiaries and distribute your estate as you like. However, you’re not free to walk away from your financial obligations to those who are dependent on you.
In Morassut v. Jaczynski, the parties had enjoyed a 12 year common law relationship. When Ms. Jaczynski died, her estate was worth approximately 17 million dollars and, although she had no dependents other than her common law partner, Mr. Morassut, she had made no provision for him in her Will. That notwithstanding, her Estate did make a one million dollar payment to him 8 months after the death of the deceased and argued, on this basis, that he was not a dependent.
There was no evidence introduced to explain why the deceased had cut her partner out of her Will, and the trial judge drew an adverse inference from this omission.
The court found that Mr. Morassut was indeed a dependent within the meaning of the Succession Law Reform Act. He was 55 years old and would not be able to gain employment and support himself financially at his age. During his relationship with the deceased, he was employed at her car dealership business, and she left him on the payroll even after he stopped working there as an employee. The court concluded that the deceased had promised to “take care of him” financially, and that he would be allowed to continue living at their family home which she owned.
The court reaffirmed the decision of trial judge which awarded Mr. Morassut the family home worth 1.2 million, in addition to an annual payment of $100,000.00 for life, and $50,000.00 every 5 years.