You have met someone you really like and the romance is blossoming. Your kids are happy for you as you have been so lonely since your spouse died. All is going well but don't forget that there is a timer ticking on your relationship. In B.C. if you live in a marriage-like relationship for two years, then you may be considered to be "spouses" under the new B.C. Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA). This means should you die, your "spouse" would be entitled to make a claim on your estate if you have no Will and if you do have a Will, your "spouse" can apply to the court to vary the will in their favour.
A recent decision of the B.C. Supreme Court considered whether a couple were "spouses" under WESA: Connor Estate.
At the date of her death in 2015, Patricia had been in a sexually intimate relationship with Joe since 1993. They never lived together. In fact, Joe was married to another person. He had not told his wife about his relationship with Pat. When he left his wife, Joe did not move into Pat's condominium. He said they did not move in together because she had a hoarding illness. He did have a key to her place.
Joe and Pat did text or talk almost every day. They presented themselves to friends as being a couple, and frequently vacationed together. Pat had named Joe as the beneficiary of her RRIF, and stated that she had made a Will that named him as the primary beneficiary. However, the Will could not be found.
Without a Will, Pat's substantial estate would go on an intestacy. If Joe was her spouse, he would receive the entire estate. If he was not, it would go to her half-siblings, whom she did not know.
If you thought bigamy was illegal, consider this. Under B.C. law, it is possible for a person to have two spouses at the same time, a legally married spouse and a "marriage-like" spouse.
The court determined that Joe was Pat's "marriage-like" spouse, finding that: "Like human beings themselves, marriage-like relationships can come in many and various shapes".
The court confirmed that "there is no checklist of characteristics that will invariably be found in all marriages." "The parties' intentions - particularly the expectation that the relationship will be of lengthy, indeterminate duration - may be of importance in determining whether a relationship is marriage-like." But the question "will also typically depend on more than just their intentions. Objective evidence of the parties' lifestyle and interactions will also provide direct guidance on the question of whether the relationship was "marriage-like"."
In the end, the court was heavily impressed with the closeness of their relationship. Patricia considered Joe to be her "romantic and life partner." "[T]hey intended to spend their time together, and provide ongoing mutual emotional and intimate support, albeit maintaining separate residences should (Patricia) not have been able to overcome her hoarding challenges."
If you find yourself in this situation, contact us for advice.