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Quinn v Carrigan: How Courts Quantify Dependant’s Relief Claims

The  Divisional Court decision in the Quinn v Carrigan case (Quinn)1, is useful for both lawyers and non-lawyers to determine the range of support that a court may award when a dependant is disinherited.

The Divisional Court decision in Quinn provides helpful, in-depth guidance on determining the quantum of support owed in dependant’s relief claims under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act.2 Notwithstanding the concept of testamentary freedom3, a dependant’s relief claim may be one way for a disinherited person to obtain a share of the deceased’s estate. Such a claim involves an analysis of whether a person qualifies as a dependant, and whether a person was receiving or was entitled to receive support from the deceased immediately before his or her death. If an individual passes this two-part legal test, the next issue is determining the amount of support owed to the dependant, also known as the quantum.4

The facts of Quinn are as follows: Mr. Carrigan died suddenly in June of 2008. He had been separated from his wife, Ms. Carrigan, for 12 years. He also left two adult independent children and his common law spouse of 8.5 years, Ms. Quinn. Mr. Carrigan’s net estate assets totaled $2.4 million. Mr. Carrigan’s last will and testament left his entire estate to Ms. Carrigan and his two daughters, while providing nothing for his common law spouse.

At first Ms. Quinn went to court and argued that she was Mr. Carrigan’s common law spouse and therefore entitled to Mr. Carrigan’s pension death benefit.  Ms. Carrigan disagreed.  She argued that she was designated as the beneficiary and was the legal wife and therefore entitled to the pension death benefit. The initial trial dealing with the pension death benefit 5 and appeal6 dealt with the entitlement of the parties to pursuant to section 48 of the Pensions Benefits Act.7 After the Court of Appeal decision, which awarded the pension death benefit to the named beneficiaries (Mrs. Carrigan and her children) , and after being denied leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada,8 Ms. Quinn pursued relief as a dependant under Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act.  So what happened at the new trial.  Ms. Carrigan won.

The first trial on the issue of dependant’s relief was before Justice Patterson. Patterson J. applied three different analyses to determine the quantum owed to the common law spouse. These analyses were:

  1. The intentions of the Deceased with his estate which had gone unfulfilled, for which evidence existed;
  2. A calculation of Ms. Quinn’s entitlement under the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines(SSAG);9
  3. A division of Ms. Carrigan’s inheritance between Ms. Carrigan and Ms. Quinn based on the relative time of each woman as a spouse of Mr. Carrigan, or, a “relative entitlement analysis”.10

Based on the above reasoning, Patterson J. awarded the common law spouse $350,000.11 As pointed out by the Divisional Court, and as most readers will agree, “$350,000 is a lot of money”.12 However, taking into account money that Ms. Quinn had already received from periodic support and costs awards against Ms. Quinn from earlier litigation, Patterson J.’s award left Ms. Quinn in the position of owing approximately $86,000 to the respondents.

D.L. Corbett J., writing for the Divisional Court, identified substantial errors in principle which undermined Patterson J.’s analysis. The errors identified were:

  1. the misapplication of the SSAG, thereby understating Ms. Quinn’s entitlement;
  2. an improper reliance on Mr. Carrigan’s unimplemented intentions; and
  3. the improper use of a “relative entitlement analysis”.

Due to these errors, the trial judgment was set aside. The Divisional Court then confirmed that the appropriate analysis in determining quantum in a claim for dependant’s support involves the following steps:

  1. identifying who the dependants are and tentatively quantifying their entitlement to support;
  2. identifying other claimants against the estate and tentatively quantifying all legal and moral claims against the estate; and
  3. balancing these competing claims.

In applying the above steps to the case at hand, Ms. Quinn’s entitlement to dependant’s support was increased significantly. The Divisional Court’s application of the above steps also reveals important principles in determining the quantum owed in SLRA Part V dependant’s support claims.

Identifying the Dependants

The Divisional Court found that only Ms. Carrigan and Ms. Quinn were dependants of the estate.

Valuing the Dependants’ Claims

In valuing Ms. Quinn’s claim for support, the Divisional Court took into consideration many of the factors set out in section 62(1) of the SLRA, while paying particular attention to Ms. Quinn’s vulnerability. The Divisional Court stated,

“Ms. Quinn is financially weak and vulnerable. She has no ability to seek a variation if she becomes ill and cannot work or incurs unexpected medical costs. She has no assets from which to acquire housing. She has significant debts. She has little education, and her income potential is low.”13

By painting the picture of Ms. Quinn as the vulnerable and weak litigant, and Ms. Carrigan as the powerful one, the Divisional Court decided that Ms. Quinn should receive the maximum amount suggested by the SSAG. This award came to $550,000, which, on its own, is considerably higher than the $350,000 that Ms. Quinn was awarded at trial.

The Divisional Court went further to evaluate the moral claims of the dependants.14 2 SCR 807, a dependant’s relief analysis is not limited to a needs-based economic analysis.] Ms. Quinn’s moral claims were valued as lower than Ms. Carrigan’s moral claims. The basis for this was the unimplemented intentions of the deceased, which was to leave the majority of his estate to Ms. Carrigan, as well as the ultimate inheritance of the deceased’s estate by Mr. Carrigan’s children and grandchildren, which would be implemented through the eventual transfer of Ms. Carrigan’s estate.15 Ms. Quinn’s moral claims against the estate were valued at $200,000, bringing her total award to $750,000.

Identifying and Valuing Claims of Non-Dependants

The non-dependant adult daughters were found to have no moral claim to the estate beyond their legal claim, which comprised of a bequest of $10,000 each, as well as a one-third share of Mr. Carrigan’s pension death benefit, which was valued at $1 million.

Balancing Competing Claims

At paragraph 149 of Quinn, the Divisional Court described that the final step in the quantum analysis must account for the following facts:

  • the size of the estate;
  • the strength of the claims; and,
  • the intentions of the deceased.

The objective at this final step is to “arrive at a judicious distribution of the estate”.16

While the Divisional Court pointed out that, “in some cases it might be appropriate to apply a small discount to support claims so that there may be some recognition of moral claims that would otherwise go unacknowledged,”17 this was not necessary in Quinn. The Divisional Court strongly emphasized that the size of the estate allowed for all legal and moral entitlements to be paid.

The intentions of the testator were given strong consideration under this stage of analysis. Mr. Carrigan’s intention to leave the bulk of his estate to Ms. Carrigan played an important role in finalizing the quantum owed to Ms. Carrigan, however the Divisional Court emphasized that this intention does not supersede the policy of the law and principles under which a dependant is entitled to relief under the SLRA.

The Divisional Court concluded by awarding the common law spouse the high end of the range suggested by the SSAG,18 as well as the moral claim of $200,000, for a total of $750,000. It was decided that this award would leave “Ms. Carrigan comfortable, Ms. Quinn secure, and leave the daughters handsomely acknowledged and in a position to inherit substantial additional wealth if their mother predeceases them.”19

As can be expected, this balancing analysis is easier for the court when there are significant assets in the estate to fulfill all legal and moral claims. The balancing of claims will likely face much more scrutiny where the estate is smaller, or where there are more than two dependants claiming a piece of the estate. In all cases, a close analysis of the principles in the Quinn decision will be useful in determining the quantum of relief owed to a dependant.

  1.   (2014) ONSC 5682 (Div. Ct.)(Quinn)
  2.   RSO 1990, c S.26 (the “SLRA”).
  3.   As a general rule, testators have freedom to decide who inherits their property.  It does not make a difference if the will – See more at:
  4.   For more information visit the following blog by Charles Wagner for a primer on dependant’s support claim under Part V of the SLRA:
  5.   Carrigan v Quinn, 2011 ONSC 585.
  6.   Carrigan v Quinn, 2012 ONCA 823.
  7.   RSO 1990, c.P.8.
  8.   Quinn v Carrigan et al., 2013 CanLII 15563
  9.  The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (the “SSAG”) suggest appropriate ranges of support in a variety of situations for spouses entitled to support. For more information, visit the Department of Justice webpage on SSAG:
  10.   This turned out to be a 75/25 split between Ms. Carrigan and Ms. Quinn, respectively.
  11.   Patterson J. noted at paragraph 55 that an award for dependant’s relief should not be based purely on need.
  12.   Quinn, at para 2.
  13.   Quinn, at para 141.
  14.   The court noted at paragraph 80 that based on the decision in Tataryn Estate, [1994
  15.   Quinn, at para 142.
  16.   Quinn, at para 149.
  17.   Quinn, at para 151.
  18.   The Ontario Court of Appeal and other appellate courts have accepted the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines as a cross-check or starting point for assessing spousal claims for dependant’s support. See Weatherdon-Oliver v. Oliver Estate, (2010) O.J. No. 3857 at para. 58; Fisher v. Fisher, (2008) O.J. No. 38 at paras. 96 and 100; and Csomos (Litigation guardian of) v. Csomos Estate, (2002) O.J. No. 3291 at paras 7-8.
  19.   Quinn, at para 163.

The authors of this blog are Charles B. Wagner and Aaron Pearl. Charles is a Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts and partner at Wagner Sidlofsky LLP and Aaron was an associate. This Toronto office is a boutique litigation law firm whose practice is focused on estate and commercial litigation.

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This blog is not intended to serve as a comprehensive treatment of the topic. It is not meant to be legal advice. Every case turns on its specific facts and it would be a mistake for the reader of this blog to conclude how it might impact on the reader’s case. Nothing replaces retaining a qualified, competent lawyer, well versed in this niche area of practice and getting some good legal advice.
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