Having a valid Will is one of the best ways to mitigate the risk of estate litigation. However, disputes can arise when a testator passes away without making arrangements for their child support obligations in their Will. This was the central issue in the recent case of P.C.L. et al. v. The Estate of B.L. et al. before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.
The litigation was triggered by the death of B.L., who passed away in March 2019. The applicant, E.C., had been romantically involved with B.L. for eight years before his death. About five months before B.L. passed away, E.C. gave birth to a child.
In the days following B.L.’s death, E.C. reached out to his employer to state that she and B.L. were involved in a common-law relationship and had a child together. She advised the employer that she and the child were his dependants and entitled to receive his pension and benefits. E.C. then applied to the courts to make a claim to B.L.’s estate under the Succession Law Reform Act, which states:
“Where a deceased, whether testate or intestate, has not made adequate provision for the proper support of his dependants or any of them, the court, on application, may order that such provision as it considers adequate be made out of the estate of the deceased for the proper support of the dependants…”
As evidence was presented to the Court, it became clear that the relationship between E.C. and B.L. was not understood equally amongst those who knew them. While E.C. initially insisted she was the common-law wife of B.L., she later stated that they simply had a history of romantic involvement. She had also initially sworn that B.L. was her child’s father. The evidence received by the Court included the following:
- B.L. and E.C. were not common-law spouses, and their relationship was not a permanent one;
- E.C. knew at the time of the child’s birth that B.L. may not be the child’s father;
- E.C. did not convey any information regarding uncertainty of parentage to B.L.;
- DNA testing took place after B.L.’s death proved that he was not the child’s biological father;
- B.L. allowed himself to be entered as the child’s father at the hospital, on the child’s birth certificate, and with the Children’s Aid Society;
- B.L. was involved in the child’s life from her birth until his death.
Although B.L. was not the biological father of the child, the Succession Law Reform Act defines “dependant” as including “a person whom the deceased has demonstrated a settled intention to treat as a child of his or her family.” As a result, a lack of biological connection between a child and an adult does not negate responsibilities around supporting that child.
In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision in Chartier v. Chartier, which still serves as the leading case for determining whether someone is standing in the place of a parent. One of the differences between the facts in Chartier and that of B.L.’s estate is that in Chartier, the person standing in place as father knew he was not the child’s biological parent, whom the mother had in a previous relationship. However, the factors the Supreme Court used to determine whether someone had the intention to stand in place of a parent can still be applied broadly. They include whether the person provided financially for the child and whether the person represented to the child or the world that they are the child’s parent.
The Court wrote that no post-Chartier cases share facts that are the same as those in B.L.’s estate dispute. Most situations where this issue arises involve someone having a long-term relationship with a child instead of the period of less than the one year that B.L. had with the child.
The Court found that even though B.L. was led to believe he was the child’s biological father, his direct involvement in the child’s life was for just a few months. The court wrote that B.L.’s lack of knowledge of the facts about the child’s parentage should be considered one of the factors, but not the only one. In addition, his financial contributions towards raising the child were “modest and not fully fleshed out.”
The Court also noted the difference between an “intention” and a “settled intention,” stating that the latter is revealed over time and supported by evidence of people who know the adult and the child and how their relationship functions or appears in public. As a result, the Court determined the applicant mother had not met her onus to prove that before his death, B.L. had a settled intention to treat the child as his own. As a result, the mother and child were not entitled to any of B.L.’s estate.
At Derfel Estate Law, our estate litigation lawyers work with clients in all aspects of estate disputes, including Will challenges, trustee and executor issues, trust disputes, and passing of accounts. We provide personalized assistance to beneficiaries, guardians, executors, trustees, and any other party involved in estate matters. If you are wondering how we can help you, please don’t hesitate to reach out online or call 416-847-3580 to speak with an estate lawyer who will work tirelessly to resolve your dispute.