Unjust Enrichment: What is it?
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.
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