Estate calls woman ‘former spouse’ in application, later disputes this status

Evidence strongly points toward a marriage-like relationship: BC Supreme Court

Estate calls woman ‘former spouse’ in application, later disputes this status

Evidence supporting that a relationship returned to being marriage-like from late 2019 until the decedent’s death outweighed evidence suggesting that a couple separated for good in 2018, said a BC court in a recent estates law case.

In late 2010, Lisa Hoy and John Wagemans met and became romantically involved. At the time, he lived with his ex-wife though they were estranged. In January 2011, the ex-wife permanently moved out.

Hoy and Wagemans maintained their properties in Powell River, BC, which they each claimed as their principal residence. In December 2016, she accepted his marriage proposal. They set no date for the wedding but discussed formal steps for merging their assets. They ended up never marrying.

In late 2017 or early 2018, their relationship became strained. They both had romantic involvements with other people. In 2019, their relationship started showing signs of recovery. From the fall of 2019 until his death, she wrote a series of cheques to assist him with financial difficulties amid a strike in the logging industry.

Wagemans, a falling contractor with a logging company for many years, died unexpectedly at work in June 2020. He had no will. In November 2020, one of his sisters received a grant of administration. The application was not served on Hoy but named her his “former spouse.”

Hoy filed against the estate an action seeking, among other things, recognition as Wagemans’ spouse at the time of his death. The estate opposed this alleged spousal status. It made the following arguments:

  • Wagemans kept his household and finances separate from Hoy’s because he was unwilling to remarry
  • They separated in 2018 and remained apart until he died
  • They remained in contact as friends, not as spouses
  • She stayed at his property after 2018 only temporarily and to care for his dogs in his absence
  • He moved on and was in a relationship with another woman at the time of his death

The estate pointed toward the following evidence to support its arguments: Hoy’s and Wagemans’ independent tax filings, their romantic involvement with others, and the long gaps and changes in tone in their exchanges of text messages.

Marriage-like relationship shown

In Hoy v Wagemans, 2023 BCSC 682, the BC Supreme Court ruled that Hoy met her evidentiary burden to be declared Wagemans’ spouse under BC’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act, 2009.

According to the court, the following evidence strongly favoured that Hoy and Wagemans had a marriage-like relationship, which lasted until at least 2018:

  • They resided together at Wagemans’ property for a long time
  • Their families and friends considered them spouses
  • They were engaged to be married
  • The estate called Hoy a “former spouse” in its application for a grant of administration

The court held that if they separated, evidence strongly suggested that they reconciled by late 2019. First, Hoy provided Wagemans with financial assistance during that period. Second, he chose to turn down his sister’s offer to have Christmas dinner at her home in favour of spending the holiday with Hoy.

Third, the logging company’s owner gave evidence stating that Wagemans expressed a desire to repay Hoy for the money that she advanced to him during the strike. In that conversation, which occurred weeks before the death, the owner told Wagemans to prepare a will so that he could protect Hoy.

This conversation would only make sense “if it was understood between them that Hoy was effectively Wagemans’ life partner and deserved to be formally recognised as such,” wrote Justice Warren Milman for the court.

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