Question: Is My Romantic Partner Entitled to My Things When I Die?
THE (SHORT) ANSWER:
If you don’t have a Will when you die, your estate is divided first between your spouse and your descendants (if any) in accordance with the default distribution scheme outlined in the Wills, Estates And Succession Act (“WESA”).
If you do have a Will when you die, your estate will generally be divided according to your Will. However, a spouse may bring an action to vary your Will under WESA on the grounds that the Will does not make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of the spouse.
Under WESA, two people are spouses if they are married to each other, or have lived in a “marriage-like relationship” for at least two years. Whether you are in a “marriage-like relationship” with a romantic partner is a complicated question. There is no definition or checklist of factors that definitively make a relationship “marriage-like”; rather, courts will look at factors including economic interdependence and sexual behavior holistically to determine whether a relationship is “marriage-like.” Whether or not a couple lives together is an important factor, but it is not the only factor.
In short, whether your romantic partner is entitled to your things when you die depends on whether that partner is a spouse. Whether that partner is a spouse depends on whether you are married to, or in a marriage-like relationship with, that partner.
If you have any questions about estate planning and spousal status, a member of our Wills, Estates + Trusts team would be happy to assist you.