Blended Families

In cases involving blended families, the courts have addressed both the financial contributions made by a first spouse and the needs of a dependent second spouse. In one such case (Picketts v. Hall (Estate), 2009 BCCA 329), the British Columbia Court of Appeal moved away from the position expressed in previous decisions that common law spouses are entitled to maintenance payments but not to a share in the residue of an estate. The Court found that a long-term common law spouse who was financially dependent upon her wealthy husband was entitled to a significant share in the value of his Estate, despite the moral claims advanced by independent adult children of the deceased and his first wife.

The deceased’s first wife had participated in the accumulation of his wealth, which has in the past been a key consideration in awarding assets to the children of the first marriage. Therefore in 2009, Picketts marked an important milestone in estate planning for modern blended families, particularly where a legal marriage has not been entered into.

Another case covering this topic, also in 2009 was, Sikora v. Sikora, 2009 BCSC 195, in which the Court supported the claims of adult children of the deceased, whose will left the bulk of his assets to his second wife. In this case, the second wife was not financially dependent upon her husband. In fact, she and her husband had enjoyed a far greater standard of living than he and his first wife had. Significant to the Court’s decision to vary Mr. Sikora’s will was the fact that, at the time the will was drafted, the residue of the Estate would have included several properties that he subsequently sold. Given that the children were to inherit the residue of the Estate, it was clear to the Court that the deceased had intended to provide for his children in a substantial manner.

Unfortunately, upon the sale of his investment properties, the deceased did nothing to either modify his will or express a change in his intent. This case exemplifies the need to review our estate planning documents whenever there are significant changes in the nature of our assets or the way they are registered.