Deceased Owes Me Money
Imagine the following scenario: You and Bob are friends. Bob asks for your help by asking for a loan of $20,000 so he can renovate his home. Bob promises that once he sells his home, he will repay you this loan and you agree. Unfortunately Bob passes away suddenly, and you find out one of the following: 1) Bob didn’t have a chance to write a will or 2) Bob left out in his will that part about repaying your loan. Now you are worried that the money you loaned Bob is gone. What do you do?
Unfortunately, scenarios as above happen. Luckily there are legal routes you can pursue to recover (get back) your contributions.
“Quantum meruit” is a Latin phrase meaning “for services rendered.” It means what someone has earned or deserves. This is a claim to recover (get back) damages (something you’ve lost) on a contract, where the contract was not yet completed, and its terms are unenforceable. However, the parties conducted themselves in a way that created a relationship contractual in nature.
Where unjust enrichment (unfair gain) can be proven, a quantum meruit claim may also be made. An example is where the deceased promised to pay for a service, but passed away before he was able to do so.
The claimant can ask the court to be either compensated (paid) for their service or for the court to enforce the deceased’s promise.
Unjust enrichment is a legal doctrine (principle) in equity (fairness). The concept is used to describe scenarios where:
- The claimant made a significant contribution to the property of the defendant (their estate);
- They did not receive compensation (any form of payment) for this contribution;
- There is no legal reason to allow this gain (enrichment) of the defendant (estate);
Common Situation: Common-Law Spouses
Unjust enrichment claims usually arises in cases with common law spouses. Unlike married spouses, common law spouses have no statutory property rights (meaning they have no automatic right to inherit as spouses usually do). Their claims are restricted to resulting/constructive trust claims (a type of legal relationship recognized in order to prevent an unfair result) and implied trust (when it is implied that a legal relationship was intended based on facts).
A common law spouse whose partner passes away may have a claim for unjust enrichment if the deceased received an unfair benefit at their expense. For example, contributing to the household chores, caregiving of their partner when sick, or financial contributions. These are all examples of time and/or money by the claimant that benefited the deceased and their estate.
It would not be fair (or can't be justified in law) to allow the deceased’s estate to retain (keep) the benefit.
An unjust enrichment claim can be for money or share in a property. The approach is “value surviving” meaning if the surviving common law spouse put money into an asset (thing you own that has worth) owned by the deceased and the value fell, the court only awards an amount equal to the amount that the asset is valued (e.g., how much the house is currently worth).
In addition to claims in equity, common law spouses are entitled to support.