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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How can I make sure the beneficiary has to prove she deserves the money?

Have you ever seen someone inherit a substantial sum of money and thought that they didn't deserve it? It's an interesting concept - that the law should only allow deserving beneficiaries to receive an inheritance. A reader recently wrote to me to ask about a situation which clearly causes him or her a great deal of anger and sadness because someone apparently undeserving is about to inherit from an estate. Read on to see the question and my comments. And please add your own comment below if you'd like to share your thoughts.

The spouse is getting everything from this poor guy's estate. She only stayed with him for the money. She has had multiple affairs. She really neglected his sickness 5 full days prior to his last hospitalization, and once taken to hospital, she did not go with him, instead went to the lawyer dealing with fathers estate to ask about him dying without a will. Questioned if she should push for a will to be signed that day. How can I make sure she has to prove she deserves all this money? He died because of her.

I can see that this matter is really painful for you and that it has stirred up a lot of emotions. I don't think my answer is going to comfort you at all.

The simple answer to your question is: you can't make her prove she deserves the money.

Beneficiaries do not have to prove that they deserve their inheritance. I can't even imagine the mess that idea would make if we tried to implement it. Who would you prove it to? What evidence would you have to call? How could you prove something like "she only stayed with him for the money" when there is probably no evidence except for her thoughts? And how on earth would anyone ever set the standards for who deserved what? Whose moral code would we follow?

Our criminal law system is set up to judge and punish behaviour that elected legislators have made illegal for the protection of society. Even that has its limitations, since not visiting your husband in the hospital or staying with him for the money are not illegal.

I realize that you believe it is unfair for her to inherit from her husband, but inheritance law can't help you there. A legal right to inherit is not based on moral fitness. It is based either on the fact that you are a dependent (such as a spouse or minor child) or that the testator wanted you to have a share of the estate as evidenced by a will. Even though she might have been a really terrible wife, the fact that this fellow married her and stayed married to her is the evidence the court would consider relevant. If  he had felt that her behaviour was beyond what his moral code could accept, he could have divorced her, separated from her, or made a will leaving at least some of his estate to other beneficiaries.

We have a legal system, not a moral justice system. You'll have to hope she gets run over by the karma bus because it isn't the job of the probate courts to decide her worthiness.


  1. Lynne
    I believe you have covered this very well.

  2. Sounds like a "wicked step-mother" story. So does the "w s-m" inherit ALL of her late husband's wealth if he has no will? According to the article, it sounds as if he does not.
    Or would the court need to appoint someone (who?) to sort out and distribute the assets -- half to the wsm and half to his kids?

    Further, if the "w s-m" inherits all, . . . what when she dies, - do the father's natural children get anything ever or can an entire family estate be lost this way?

    1. An entire estate CAN be lost this way, depending on the value of it. Intestacy laws vary from province to province, but in general they divide an estate of someone with no will between the spouse and the deceased's children. However, sometimes there is a minimum dollar amount for the spouse's share. For example, in Alberta, the spouse's preferential share is $150,000 which means that the first $150,000 goes to the spouse even if the children get nothing. Also, remember that most couples hold at least some property as joint owners - usually their home and bank accounts - and so that property goes to the spouse (joint owner) whether there is a will or not. Also most spouses name each other as beneficiaries on their RRSPs and life insurance policies so those assets would pass to the spouse with or without a will.


  3. It's a good thing beneficiaries do not have to PROVE they deserve all the money they get, or very few adult children would be able to inherit a dime!

    (Did I say it was good?)

  4. In cases like this where there is no 'will' , doesn't the government step in?
    It beg's the question, why didn't the father have a 'will', especially if he was aware of this 'loose' woman etc etc . Why would he not protect his children? He knows he has a health situation. IMO there is something missing from this story, as there often is.
    The lesson here is, have a 'will' drawn up and save your loved ones from an 'Estate Horror'.
    Even with a 'will' you might still go to hell and back. I am living proof of that. I am an executor.

    1. The government, i.e. the Office of the Public Trustee, only steps in when there is no family member willing and able to deal with the estate. In this case, it sounds as if the widow is dealing with it.

      As for something missing, yes, I expect there is. When people write me notes here, they are telling their side, and often they are upset or outraged or grieving. Also, the closer people are to a situation, the harder it is for them to stand back and coolly assess what information is relevant.

      I agree that a will should have been drawn up, since the man in question seems to have a blended family and significant assets.


  5. Hi Lynne,

    I was wondering if I could email you my question rather than posting?

    Thanks Kathleen

    1. Kathleen, you can email me at



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