Determining proper support in dependants’ relief claims is notoriously difficult and highly fact-driven. A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice is a helpful summary of the applicable law in dependants’ relief claims. It also includes an analysis of why the deceased’s framework and structure for her son’s support was appropriate in the circumstances, albeit falling short on quantum.
In Shafman v Shafman, 2023 ONSC 1391 (CanLII), the deceased was survived by her three sons. According to the mother, she did not need to worry about two of her sons but the third, the applicant, could not be trusted with money. The Court found that the mother supported the applicant throughout his life and that the money she gave to him on a regular basis were not gifts but intended to assist the applicant financially in meeting his needs. The Court stated:
“In my view, “providing support”, for the purposes of s. 57(1) of the SLRA, means more than periodic monetary transfers of gifts, made sporadically, and disconnected from the need to support or sustain the recipient’s well-being or shelter. The hallmark of these sporadic transfers is that they are more in the nature of gifts than sustenance. Rather, “providing support” for the purpose of establishing a relationship of dependency under the SLRA requires an ongoing, systematic provision of money or money’s kind, including food, shelter, or the funding of expenses, to support or sustain a recipient for the purposes of Part V of the SLRA.”
The Court found that the applicant was a dependant. The Court then needed to determine whether the mother provided proper support and, if not, how to address the shortfall. The applicant asked the Court to make provision based on what the Court would have done in the mother’s place. However, the analysis is not limited to that question and extends to a determination of whether the mother’s choice of support for her son comes within “the wide range of options, any of which might be considered appropriate in the circumstances”. (Tataryn v Tataryn Estate, 1994 CanLII 51 (SCC)). An additional issue is whether the support will allow the dependant to “live neither luxuriously nor miserably, but decently and comfortably according to his or her station in life”. (Re Duranceau, 1952 CanLII 102 (ON CA), MacDougall v. MacDougall Estate, 2008 CanLII 37061 (Sup. Ct.).
As part of her estate planning, the mother ensured that the applicant would receive a monthly income stream. A letter from the mother (after she signed her will and a codicil, and arranged for an annuity for the applicant), demonstrated that the mother agonized in her decision to provide for the applicant. The Court stated:
“I see a realization by Esther that it was best to transfer wealth differently to [the applicant] than to [her other two sons]. It was difficult for Esther to treat her sons differently, as she expressed in the August 2014 Letter…Esther had the means to leave [the applicant] with money that would be beyond his accustomed standard of living but chose purposefully not to do so.”
The Court rejected the applicant’s submissions that his mother sought to punish him for not being as accomplished as his brothers or that her testamentary decisions were due to a lack of understanding of the applicant’s mental health issues. The Court found that the mother’s “framework and structure” for supporting the applicant fell within a wide range of options that were appropriate. In particular, an income stream rather than a lump sum to the applicant was appropriate in the circumstances. That said, the income stream provided by the mother fell short in enabling the applicant to pay his expenses.
After consideration of all relevant factors, including the moral obligations of the deceased, the Court found that the applicant’s income stream should last for the rest of his life, be indexed for inflation and be slightly more per month than necessary to pay his expenses. The value of the estate was not insignificant and there were no competing dependant claims. However, the applicant was not granted a lump sum payment or a substantial increase to his income stream which could have allowed him to live more much comfortably than before. The modest increase to his income stream meant his standard of living would largely remain unchanged.