Estate Litigation – Varying the Will in Favour of a Spouse
Wills Variation: Unger v Unger Estate, 2017 BCSC 1946
In British Columbia, a person has an obligation to provide for his or her spouse and children in his or her Will. If a deceased person did not provide sufficiently for a spouse or any children, the spouse or the children can make an application to vary the deceased’s Will to receive a fair portion of the deceased’s estate. In deciding whether to vary a Will, a Court will weigh the will-maker’s wishes within the Will against his or her moral and legal obligations to his or her spouse and children. A Court will generally give more weight to the will-maker’s obligations to his or her spouse and children than to the will-maker’s wishes within his or her Will.
Unger v Unger Estate
In the recent case of Unger v Unger Estate, the British Columbia Supreme Court considered an estate litigation case in which a wife brought an application to vary her deceased husband’s Will. After 12 years of marriage, the Plaintiff and the deceased separated and a Court declared that the couple was legally separated. At the time of separation, the couple owned a home which was registered in joint names. As a result of the legal separation, the joint tenancy was severed leaving each person with half the home. However, after several months, the couple reconciled and were together until the husband’s death. The couple were together for approximately 34 years total.
In his Will, the deceased left the majority of his estate to his four children from a previous marriage. In the Will, the husband stated that he was not leaving anything to the Plaintiff under the Will because, when the couple separated, half of the family home was transferred to the Plaintiff.
The Court’s Decision
The Court considered the length of the couple’s relationship and the circumstances of their relationship and held that the deceased had an obligation to provide for his wife under his Will. The Court determined that, although the Plaintiff had received half of the matrimonial home by virtue of the separation, this did not satisfy the deceased’s moral and legal obligations to his wife. The Court ordered that the residue of the estate be divided in the following manner:
- 30% to the Plaintiff; and
- 70% to be divided between the deceased’s four children.