June 7, 2016

A claim in quantum meruit is sometimes made in the estates litigation context by a disappointed beneficiary. The words quantum meruit literally mean “as much as deserved.” The claimant argues that he or she deserved compensation from the deceased for work that was done but was not properly compensated for under the deceased’s will.

In order to succeed, a plaintiff must establish that the services were not rendered gratuitously and that they were requested or accepted by the defendant with the knowledge, whether actual or presumed, that payment was to be made for the plaintiff. Courts have held that if the services were rendered merely in the hope of receiving some benefit from the defendant’s estate, then no claim is available.[1]

The legal standard for a successful quantum meruit claim has been applied inconsistently. Some cases suggest that the defendant/deceased must have actually made a contractual promise, even if that promise later proved to be unenforceable, to compensate the plaintiff for his services.[2] However it appears that most courts instead will uphold the claim where there is some agreement, understanding or promise that the plaintiff would be compensated. Still, it must be clear that the plaintiff provided the services in reliance on such understanding and with the intention that he or she would be paid. For example, statements including “I’ll take care of you in my will”, “I will repay you”, or “you will be rewarded for this some day” are not sufficient to show a binding agreement between the parties.[3]

It is more difficult for close relatives to succeed in their claim. There seems to be somewhat of a presumption the work was done gratuitously out of natural love and affection.[4] For husbands and wives, courts have been reluctant to award compensation for work done with respect of normal household services, unless there was a specific understanding that compensation would be provided in some way. However, cases involving, for example, nephews and sister-in-laws of the deceased have succeeded.

Further questions arise in determining the proper amount of compensation. The calculation often is dependent on the context of the case. Some cases, such as the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Deglman v. Guaranty Trust Co. of Canada, found that the amount awarded should be based on a “purely business basis.” Others, such as the Ontario Court of Appeal in Campbell v. Campbell, have calculated the amount based on the value of the improvements made to real property.

[1] E.g., Burgess, Re (1965), 52 D.L.R. (2d) 233 (N.S. C.A.); Smith Estate v. Brown (1991), 89 Nfld. & P.E.I.R. 176 (Nfld. T.D.)

[2] CED Restitution V.11.(b); Arding v. Buckton (1956), 20 W.W.R. 487 (B.C. C.A.); Reid, Re (1964), [1964] 2 O.R. 477 (Ont. Surr. Ct.)

[3] Cawkwell v. Gault Estate (2001), 208 Sask. R. 130 (Sask. Q.B.)

[4] Lavitch v. Lavitch Estate (2002), 166 Man. R. (2d) 15 (Man. C.A.); Hammond v. Hammond (1995), [1995] 7 W.W.R. 345 (B.C. S.C.); Seward v. Seward Estate (1996), 194 A.R. 348 (Alta. Q.B.)