All About Estates

Deleon v DeRanney and the Definition of “child” Under the SLRA

In Deleon v. DeRanney, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice awarded some dependant support to a non-biological child who was part of the deceased’s unconventional family.

As blog readers may be aware, the Succession Law Reform Act (SLRA) does not require that a child be the biological offspring of the deceased in order to receive dependant support – under section 57, the definition of “child” includes “a person whom the deceased has demonstrated a settled intention to treat as a child of the family”. A dependant includes a child of the deceased to whom the dependant was providing support. Section 58 allows a dependant to apply to the court for a support order where the deceased has not made adequate provisions for such.

Raymon DeRanney died without a will at age 68. He was survived by his only biological child, Sonya DeRanney, and his two siblings Jean and Carlton. Though Mr. DeRanney had multiple romantic relationships in his lifetime, including one with Fritzie Deleon from 1993 to 1999, he never married.

About one year after the end of Mr. DeRanney’s and Fritzie’s romantic relationship, Fritzie gave birth to Caseylynn Deleon. Mr. DeRanney remained supportive of and friendly with Fritzie, and invited her and Caseylynn to live at his residence. At the time, Caseylynn was just one year old and Sonya was 13.

Caseylynn lived primarily in Mr. DeRanney’s residence for the following 15 years. Fritzie lived at other residences for some of those years, and both Fritzie and Mr. DeRanney maintained other romantic relationships during that time and spent time in other residences. Mr. DeRanney and Fritzie never had a romantic relationship while living together. Caseylynn did not have a relationship with her biological father, though he paid child support to Fritzie.

After Fritzie and Caseylynn moved out, Mr. DeRanney arranged for them to live together in a two bedroom bungalow; Mr. DeRanney rented the bungalow and sublet it to Fritzie and Caseylynn at less than market value rent as Fritzie would have had difficulty paying full rent. Fritzie and Caseylynn lived there at the time of Mr. DeRanney’s death, and continued to live there afterwards.

After Mr. DeRanney died, Caseylynn brought an application with her mother (Caseylynn was 17 years old when Mr. DeRanney died) seeking dependant relief under the SLRA on the basis that she was Mr. DeRanney’s child for whom he did not provide adequate support. If successful, Caseylynn and Sonya would share Mr. DeRanney’s intestate estate as equal beneficiaries. Sonya opposed Caseylynn’s claim for dependant support, and argued that Mr. DeRanney treated Fritzie and Caseylynn as friends. Further, Sonya argued that Mr. DeRanney’s generosity was not unique to the Deleons, and he was generous towards many people including Sonya’s mother and her family. In the alternative, Sonya argued that if Caseylynn was found to be a dependant, she would be an adult dependant and as such would not be entitled to benefit as significantly from the estate. The estate’s net assets, as listed on the probate application, were valued at about $1.5 million.

The court noted that most of the regular indicia of parenthood was not present. For instance, Caseylynn referred to Mr. DeRanney as “Uncle Raymon” and not as her father, and Mr. DeRanney did not hold himself out to be her father. Mr. DeRanney did not discipline Caseylynn, rather Caseylynn described Mr. DeRanney as someone who “spoiled” her. Caseylynn did not participate in DeRanney family activities to the same extent as Sonya. Mr. DeRanney would drive Caseylynn to sports and dance competitions on occasion, but would not stay to watch. There was little evidence to show that Mr. DeRanney was actively engaged in specific discussions about Caseylynn’s education, and no evidence that he attended parent-teacher meetings. Through this lens, the evidence pointed to Mr. DeRanney being a very generous benefactor, but not an influential father figure.

However, the court found that Mr. DeRanney’s provision of shelter and other financial support to Caseylynn, Fritzie and Sonya, while they were all residing together, demonstrated a settled intention from Mr. DeRanney to treat Caseylynn as a member of his family.  Mr. DeRanney provided Caseylynn with safe and comfortable shelter in his home for more than 15 consecutive years following her first birthday. His home was Caseylynn’s childhood home where she spent the majority of her formative years. While Caseylynn lived there, Mr. DeRanney provided her with food, some clothing and paid for all of her extracurricular activities.

In awarding dependant support to Caseylynn, the court found that Mr. DeRanney’s support of Caseylynn rose above affection and generosity, and demonstrated a settled intention to treat her as a member of his unconventional family.

Notably, the quantum of dependant support awarded was only $40,955 (significantly less than the roughly $750,000 claimed) under the rationale that Mr. DeRanney was planning for retirement and would have been unlikely to continue providing support to Caseylynn, but would have probably contributed to her university education. After deducting $25,000 on account of Caseylynn’s income and student loans from the four year university costs of $65,995, the court arrived at $40,955 as the appropriate amount of support.

About Noah Haynes
Noah Haynes is a lawyer at de VRIES LITIGATION LLP. His practice focuses on estates, trusts, guardianship, and capacity disputes.

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