In Ontario there is a family property regime set out in the Family Law Act (FLA) which provides for the equal sharing of property accumulated by married parties during their marriage. Note, this provision does not apply to common-law spouses. What happens if, after the death of one married spouse, it is discovered that the deceased spouse has given all of his or her wealth to someone other than his or her surviving spouse?

Suppose Harold was married to Wendy for 42 years. After his death his last will and testament left most of his estate to his “close friend” Susan. Harold left Wendy $50,000.00. Wendy feels betrayed (especially if her will left everything to Harold). What can Wendy do?

In Ontario the FLA permits the surviving married spouse of the deceased to elect to take either under the will or to make a claim against the estate for an equalization of net family property (NFP) pursuant to Part I of the FLA.

Assuming Harold had a NFP greater than Wendy, Wendy may wish to elect to make a claim for a monetary payment equal to one-half the difference her NFP and Harold’s NFP. For a more thorough discussion of NFP equalization, please click here to read a post by Philip W. Augustine.

When spouses separate, the valuation date is typically the date of separation. This means that the assets and liabilities of each spouse would be calculated based on their value at the date of separation. But, where one of the spouses has died, the FLA deems the valuation date to be the day before the date of death.

The surviving spouse has six months from the date of death to elect to take an equalization payment pursuant to the FLA rather than taking pursuant to the will of the deceased.

An example will illustrate how this election works.

At the date of his death Harold had Net Family Property of $600,000.00

At the date of Harold’s death Wendy had Net Family Property of $300,000.00.

Pursuant to the FLA Wendy is entitled to $150,000.00 calculated as follows: $600,000.00 – $300,000.00= $300,000.00

$300,000.00 /2 = $150,000.00

Pursuant to the will Wendy is entitled to $50,000.00 (see facts above)

Unless Jim’s will had expressly provided that Sally could both make the election under the FLA and take under the will, Sally would be forced to choose only one of the two options.

If forced to choose, it is obviously more beneficial for Wendy to take pursuant to the FLA ($150,000.00) than pursuant to the Will ($50,000.00). Wendy would be well advised to make an election to take pursuant to FLA. Wendy has 6 months to make that election, failing which she shall be deemed to take pursuant to the will.

Should a surviving married spouse feel that he or she has not received a proper division of property upon the death of their spouse they should promptly seek out legal advice so they are in a position to make the necessary election should it be in their interests to do so.

– Michael D. Heikkinen and Philip W. Augustine for abblaw.ca

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