Pavey Law Logo
Blended family

Part 9 – Understanding the Importance of Wills for Blended Families

In the intricate landscape of estate planning, the implications of blended families add an extra layer of complexity. In Ontario, the Succession Law Reform Act plays a pivotal role in defining the entitlements of family members in the absence of a will. Primarily, married spouses and children are automatically entitled to a share of an estate when someone passes away intestate. However, the evolving dynamics of modern families have outpaced estate laws, leaving common-law spouses and unadopted stepchildren in a precarious position.

Despite significant strides in recognizing the legitimacy of blended families, the law has not fully extended its protections to common-law spouses and unadopted stepchildren. Unlike their legally married counterparts, these individuals are not automatically entitled to the estates of their deceased partners or stepparents who have passed without a will. This disparity underscores the critical importance of proactive estate planning for those in blended families.

Under Ontario estate law, there exists a limited measure of protection for individuals in blended families. Notably, common-law spouses and unadopted stepchildren can turn to part 5 of the Succession Law Reform Act—the Support of Dependents Claim—for recourse. This particular provision enables those who were financially dependent on the deceased to seek ongoing support. While this avenue provides some relief, it does not grant automatic entitlement and necessitates a formal legal process.

Additionally, common-law spouses can assert a claim that the assets accumulated during their relationship with the deceased are rightfully theirs, held in trust. However, relying on such claims can be a convoluted and costly process. 

Recognizing the critical importance of clarity in estate planning, it is imperative to understand that merely expressing an intention for assets to pass to a common-law spouse or unadopted stepchildren, even if widely understood by those involved, falls short. The key lies in explicit documentation within a legally valid will.

In the context of blended families, precision in articulating your intentions within your will becomes even more crucial. In Ontario, a significant consideration arises: if your will specifies that your estate is to be inherited by your children or grandchildren, there exists a presumption that unadopted stepchildren or step grandchildren are not encompassed in this inheritance. To ensure your wishes are accurately reflected, it is paramount that your will explicitly state the inclusion of unadopted stepchildren or step-grandchildren. This can be achieved by expressly naming them within the document. By addressing this potential presumption head-on, you provide clear guidance and legal validity to your intention of bequeathing assets to all members of your blended family, fostering transparency and avoiding any ambiguities in the distribution of your estate.

Attempting to navigate these legal avenues without a clear will can result in protracted legal battles, consuming significant time and financial resources. The potential for creating animosity between common-law spouses and existing family members looms large in the absence of a comprehensive estate plan. To avoid such complications and ensure the fair distribution of assets, it is paramount for individuals in blended families to draft a will that explicitly outlines their wishes.

Takeaways

The importance of wills in blended families cannot be overstated. As the law evolves to keep pace with societal changes, individuals must take proactive steps to protect the interests of common-law spouses and unadopted stepchildren. By having a meticulously crafted will in place, one can navigate the complexities of estate distribution, providing clarity, security, and peace of mind for all family members involved.  Contact one of our estate planning lawyers at Pavey Law LLP to obtain the right advice to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled.