Unjust Enrichment

In wills variation disputes, unjust enrichment occurs when one person manipulates the testator into naming a beneficiary at the expense of the testator’s own interests and against his or her actual, familial beneficiaries. But how does a family establish unjust enrichment in wills variation claims?

Establishing Unjust Enrichment

Under British Columbia law, three elements of unjust enrichment must be met to reach a claim:

  1. An enrichment of or benefit to was enjoyed by the defendant;
  2. There was a corresponding deprivation to the plaintiff; and
  3. There was an absence of a juristic reason for the enrichment.

However, these elements have often been debated under legal precedent.

Unjust Enrichment in Wills Variation | Klein Lawyers

Legal Precedent for Unjust Enrichment Claims

There are two main legal cases that provide the basis of unjust enrichment in British Columbia wills variation claims: Garland v Consumers’ Gas Co., 2004 SCC 25 and Blake v Wells Estate, 2007 BCCA 617.

Garland v Consumers’ Gas Co.

As a result of the 2004 case Garland v Consumers’ Gas Co., the Supreme Court of Canada refined the three-part test for claims for unjust enrichment. Prior to the Garland decision, Canada had already established a general test for unjust enrichment–unfortunately, it was laden with uncertainties on how the test should be applied based on particular facts.

Up until the Garland decision, much discussion of the unjust enrichment test focused on the third element of the test–an absence of a juristic reason for the enrichment. Scholars and legal professionals had often debated what constitutes a juristic reason, if the plaintiff must establish the absence of every possible juristic reason, or if the defendant can show at least one juristic reason which illustrates the lack of unjust enrichment.

In so searching, the court ruled that:

  1. An economic approach is used to determine whether there has been an enrichment of the defendant and a resulting deprivation of the plaintiff;
    and 
  2. The plaintiff must show that no juristic reason from an established category exists to deny recovery. Categories under Garland include the existence of a contract; disposition of law; a donative intent; and valid common law, equitable or statutory obligations.

In essence, the court found “enrichment” must be a tangible benefit that may include a positive benefit like the payment of money, or a negative benefit like the sparing of an expense. This means that both enrichment and deprivation must be economic in nature, and thus create a monetary claim against the estate.

Blake v Wells Estate

Under Blake v Wells Estate, the British Columbia Court of Appeal confirmed that in cases of unjust enrichment in wills disputes, once the enrichment–a tangible benefit–is found, deprivation will almost always follow. As a result, the court will only need to consider whether or not there was a juristic reason for the enrichment which was received.

However, in order for the claim to be considered unjust enrichment, the detriment suffered must be substantial before unjust enrichment can be met.

Examples of substantial detriment that would make a claim for unjust enrichment include things like:

  • Paying the deceased’s living and/or medical expenses;
  • A child caring for smaller siblings while also performing household duties which allow the parent(s) to work outside the home and not pay for housekeeping and caregivers; and
  • Taking care of elderly parents resulting in sacrifices to the individual’s career and personal life.

While there are numerous factors at play, understanding the basics of unjust enrichment claims will be monumental to preserving the wishes of the deceased’s’ will.

Unjust Enrichment, Wills Variation: Klein Lawyers

You want to protect the best interests of your loved one, and that includes carrying out their wishes left within a will. However, when you suspect unjust enrichment, know that you have rights.

Call Klein Lawyers at (604) 874-7171 today for a free, confidential case evaluation. Our wills variation lawyers serve clients throughout British Columbia from offices in Vancouver, Abbotsford, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Langley, and Surrey.