Claiming Unjust Enrichment

When analyzing whether a juristic reason exists, a claimant must show that none of the established categories of juristic reasons for enrichment apply to deny recovery

Where an individual is not eligible to seek a variation of a Will under WESA or the validity of the Will cannot be challenged, there still may be a potential for an unjust enrichment case.  Also, in a will variation lawsuit, the claimant can bolster his/her entitlement to part of the estate by claiming unjust enrichment.

The Courts have noted that for any unjust enrichment claim, the claimant must establish three elements:

  1. An enrichment or benefit to the testator;
  2. A corresponding deprivation to the claimant; and
  3. The absence of a juristic or legal reason for the enrichment.

For the first requirement, the claimant must provide evidence that he or she gave something to the testator which the testator received and retained. The retainer need not be permanent, but there must be a benefit which can be restored to the claimant with a return of the specific property or with monetary compensation.

An example would be if the claimant was preforming renovations for free on a property or was contributing financially to the upkeep of the property such as paying the mortgage or the down payment for the purchase. Another example is providing care services to the testator for free.

Turning to the second requirement, a “corresponding deprivation” means that a claimant’s loss is relevant only if the testator has gained a benefit from it. In other words, this obligates the claimant to establish not simply that the testator has been enriched, but also that this enrichment corresponds directly to a deprivation which the claimant has suffered.

For example, if the claimant paid money for the testator’s benefit, that would be a corresponding deprivation. If the claimant spent hours and hours helping the testator while not spending the time with his/her family and friends or at a job site that would be a corresponding deprivation.

The third element of any unjust enrichment claim stipulates that the benefit and corresponding deprivation must have occurred without a juristic reason. Simply put, this means that there is no reason in law for the retention of the benefit, making its retention “unjust” in the particular circumstances of the action.

When analyzing whether a juristic reason exists, a claimant must show that none of the established categories of juristic reasons for enrichment apply to deny recovery. These established juristic reasons include: contract, a disposition by law, donative intent, and other statutory obligations.

To avoid donative intent, the claimant has to prove that he/she was always expecting some form of compensation for the act or services and the testator similarly expected to ultimately pay for the services. In other words, the claimant must establish he/she was not just donating money or volunteering time for the testator.

If the Court finds unjust enrichment has occurred and the subject matter of the dispute is a particular item of property, the Court may impose a constructive trust meaning the claimant receives legal ownership over part or all of the property. Otherwise, the Court considers the contribution of the claimant and provides an educated estimate on the value of the services rendered.

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