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Blended Families Beware: Delay and Changing Positions May be Costly
The following case demonstrates complexities that may arise in estate litigation as a result of blended families and how the varying positions of the parties can affect the outcome. In Psarros Estate v. Cook, 2017 ONSC 3903 (Ont. S.C.J.) [Psarros Estate], Nikolaos Psarros (“Mr. Psarros”) and Lorraine Cook (“Ms. Cook”) were married more than twenty years when Mr. Psarros died without a will on November 12, 2012. Mr. Psarros had one child from each of his previous three marriage. Ms. Cook had no children.
Mr. Psarros and Ms. Cook had entered into a marriage contract before they wed which was aimed at protecting the assets of each party from the other, in particular, Ms. Cook’s pension and Mr. Psarros’s business. Prior to their wedding, the couple bought a house together. They took the title as tenants in common, each holding a 50% interest. To make things more complicated, although they held the title as tenants in common, the marriage contract wrongly recorded that they owned the house as joint tenants.
When Mr. Psarros died, two of his children were appointed estate trustees.
After Mr. Psarros’s death, the estate offered to sell, and Ms. Cook agreed to purchase the estate’s interest in the property.
The Honourable Justice Akbarali held in her reasons for decision that at various times during the litigation, the positions of the parties changed. For example, Ms. Cook challenged whether the house was held jointly or by way of tenancy in common and the validity of her release of claims under the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990 c. S. 26 [SLRA]. Moreover, the parties also had disagreements about the process for valuing the property.
Two of the main issues to be decided at trial included:
- Whether there was a mutual mistake in the marriage contract about the manner in which title to the property was held such that Ms. Cook’s release of her claims under the SLRA was invalid, or alternatively, whether the entire marriage contract was invalid; and
- Which appraisal should be used to determine the purchase price of the estate’s interest in the property.
Justice Akbarali held that it was not appropriate to set aside Ms. Cook’s release of her claims under the SLRA because Ms. Cook had not established that she and Mr. Psarros had intended for her to have the house on Mr. Psarros’s death.
In coming to this conclusion, Justice Akbarali found that through the positions Ms. Cook took and assertions she made, it was apparent that she understood that it was intended that she owned half of the property with no right of survivorship. Justice Akbarali also found that the position that Ms. Cook was under the mistaken impression that she owned the entire house, was a position she adopted later in the litigation when the estate took a hard line on other issues.
Regarding which appraisal should be used to determine the purchase price of the estate’s interest in the property, Justice Akbarali held that the significant delay in the litigation, which was caused by the estate, did not justify using a current appraised value of the property. He concluded that the 2014 appraised value should be used, not the 2017 appraisal which the estate argued should be used.
Lesson For Blended Families in Estate Litigation
This case demonstrates the interplay between marriage contracts, estate litigation, blended families, and the complications that arise when married couples live as tenants in common.
Psarros Estate also reminds us that even with clearly worded marriage contracts, estate administration or litigation may be complicated when a deceased does not execute a will when planning for the future.
To learn more about Wills and Estate Planning contact our Wills & Estates Law experts here.