Don’t spend that life insurance money too quickly!

Life insurance can be an effective way to leave a legacy.  It allows you to benefit a loved one and, unless the insured’s estate is the beneficiary, avoids the requirement that funds pass through probate.  However, life insurance proceeds are not entirely free and clear of estate obligations in Ontario – so beware before spending that money (and do not disregard notice of court proceedings) – as one man’s daughter learned in the recent case of Bormans v. Bormans Estate.

Sections 72(1) (f) and (f.1) of the Ontario Succession Law Reform Act deem life insurance proceeds to be an estate asset for the purpose of determining the rights of a dependant to support from the estate.  Insurance proceeds therefore may be available to pay support if the other assets of the estate are insufficient to do so.  In Bormans, Mr. and Mrs. Bormans divorced after 38 years of marriage.  Mr. Bormans was to pay support to Mrs. Bormans and warranted to her that she was named as beneficiary of his company life insurance policy.  When he died, without assets, Mr. Bormans was in arrears of his support obligations.  To Mrs. Bormans’ surprise, the company policy had been cancelled but Mr. Bormans had purchased another life insurance policy, naming his daughter as beneficiary.  The proceeds of that policy had been paid to the daughter.  The daughter, despite notice of a  court application by Mrs. Bormans for dependant’s relief, proceeded to dispose of most of the insurance proceeds.

The Court found that Mrs. Bormans was a dependant of Mr. Bormans’ estate.  As a result, the Judge determined that most of the policy proceeds paid to the daughter should have been available to satisfy the estate’s support obligations to Mrs. Bormans.  The Court placed emphasis on the fact that Mr. Bormans had warranted that Mrs. Bormans was the beneficiary of a life insurance policy.  The daughter was ordered to pay to Mrs. Bormans most of the insurance proceeds, with the exception of some amounts spent prior to her receiving notice of the court application.  As the daughter had already used a large part of these proceeds, she became personally liable to repay these amounts.

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