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Estate Planning for a Future Marriage or Common Law Relationship: A BC Perspective

    Essential estate and property considerations for new couples

    Should you decide to marry or enter into a common-law relationship in British Columbia, there are crucial considerations you must keep in mind, particularly from the perspective of property rights and estate planning.

    Defining “Spouse” in BC

    In BC, the Family Law Act defines “spouse” to include married people and common-law spouses. The latter refers to two individuals living together in a marriage-like relationship for a continuous period of at least two years. It’s important to note that determining spousal status is a matter of fact, not based on tax filings, marriage, prior divorce, or any other formal agreement. Common-law spouses possess the same property division rights as married spouses upon a relationship breakdown. 

    Unpacking Property Division

    In the realm of property division, the existing regulations stipulate that assets brought into the relationship by either partner – including inheritances, gifts, and properties held within discretionary trusts where a spouse is a beneficiary – are exempt from division. However, any appreciation in asset value during the relationship or acquisitions made by either partner throughout its duration are subject to division in the event of a relationship breakdown.

    Crafting Your Property Division Strategy

    Enter the Marriage or Cohabitation Agreement – a potent tool that can redefine the property division narrative. This legal document outlines the manner in which property would be divided should the relationship come to an end. While such agreements primarily address potential breakdown scenarios, they may not comprehensively cover estate distribution concerns in the aftermath of a spouse’s demise. Therefore, it’s imperative to complement such agreements with a revised Will that accurately reflects your cohabitation and estate distribution intentions.

    Seek Professional Counsel

    The intricacies of property division and estate planning are multifaceted and can significantly impact your financial security and that of your loved ones. As life’s circumstances are ever-evolving, consulting with a knowledgeable lawyer well-versed in estate planning is a prudent step.

    Ratcliff’s Wills and Estates team can provide you with tailored advice and and recommend whether adjustments to your estate plan are warranted in light of your changing family dynamics. By aligning your choices with your personal aspirations, we can help you forge a steadfast foundation for a prosperous future