Man had marriage-like relationship with deceased, inherits estate: BC Court of Appeal

He handled deceased's medical needs, shared bed, gave financial advice, cohabited for 3 years

Man had marriage-like relationship with deceased, inherits estate: BC Court of Appeal

A party living with a deceased woman at the time of her death was her spouse under BC’s succession legislation and was entitled to inherit her estate, the British Columbia Court of Appeal has ruled.

In Coad v. Lariviere, 2022 BCCA 222, Coad moved into Lariviere’s Vancouver home in 2013 and was living with her when she died in 2016. He argued that that Lariviere died intestate and that at the time of her death she was living with him in a marriage-like relationship, which would make him her estate’s sole beneficiary and administrator.

He was able to obtain a grant of administration based on intestacy and on his status as a spouse. On the other hand, the deceased’s ex-husband obtained a grant of administration in relation to a 2001 will.

The trial judge found that Lariviere died intestate, that Coad did not have a marriage-like relationship with her, and that the estate’s sole beneficiary was the deceased’s mother, who died during the trial. The judge appointed Lariviere’s sister as administrator. Shortly after the trial, the ex-husband also passed away and Coad appealed.

Cohabitant inherits estate: Court of Appeal

The appellate court allowed the appeal to the extent of setting aside the judge’s conclusion that Coad and Lariviere were not in a marriage-like relationship. Coad was in such a relationship with her starting shortly after he moved into the Vancouver property in 2013, he was her spouse by the definition in BC’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act, and he was entitled to inherit her estate, the appeal court said.

The court pointed out that Coad lived with the deceased, shared her bed, addressed her medical needs, gave her financial advice, shared meals and celebrations with her, ran errands for her, and spent significant portions of his day with her, according to the uncontested evidence. In these circumstances, their friends believed that they were in a marriage-like relationship.

The judge made errors by adopting a checklist approach, by failing to assess the evidence of two witnesses with first-hand knowledge of the relationship, and by failing to consider the nature of the relationship in the relevant period – after Coad moved into the Vancouver property in 2013 – under the legislation, the appellate court said.

A failure to consider uncontested evidence, to consider the entirety of the evidence, and to take a contextual approach to it led to the trial judge’s erroneous conclusion, the appellate court added.

However, the appeal court rejected Coad’s proposed fresh evidence and his argument that Lariviere’s ex-husband, mother, and sister lacked standing to challenge his status as a spouse. It further found that the trial was fair and resulted in no prejudice to Coad.

Lastly, the appellate court did not interfere with the judge’s order appointing the deceased’s sister as estate administrator. There was little left to do for winding up the estate because the only asset had been sold.

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