Accounting for Law
Estates & Wills & Trusts

What happens when you die without a will

By Lisa Laredo

A will is one of the three most important documents every person should have (the
other two being a Power of Attorney for Property and a Power of Attorney for
Personal Care.) And yet, almost half of Canadians don’t have one.

Dying without a will is the safest way to ensure that you have absolutely no options
whatsoever as to how your estate is to be divided. If you die without a will,
provincial intestacy laws take over and distribute your assets and estate on your
behalf.

Do you really want an estranged relative receiving an inheritance from you? It can
happen. Here’s how an intestate estate is distributed.

  1. If you have a spouse and no children: Your entire estate goes to him or her.
    Even if you’re separated from that spouse, your estate still goes to that
    person unless you’re legally divorced.
  2. If you have a spouse and children: If your estate is worth less than
    $200,000, then your spouse gets it all and your children get nothing.
    If your estate is worth more than $200,000, your children fare a little better,
    but not much. Your spouse still gets the first $200,000 and then the
    remainder is divided amongst your children, with your spouse still receiving
    a third of that remainder.
  3. If you have children but no spouse: Then your entire estate is split evenly
    amongst your children, regardless of whether one of your children needs more.
  4. If you have no spouse and no children: In this case, your estate goes to
    your parents, your siblings, your nephews, your nieces and any other next of
    kin that can be found. In other words, you could end up giving an inheritance
    to a long-lost relative.
  5. If you have no spouse, no children and no known next of kin: If no one at
    all can be found then your entire estate goes to the government. Every last
    cent of it.

The only way to avoid any of these scenarios is to work with a lawyer to write a will
that considers complicated family dynamics and multiple marriages, as well as
business and personal assets. It doesn’t matter whether you’re married, single, or
have dependents, dying without a will is messy and ugly and leaves people
frustrated and unable to grieve. Only by hiring a qualified wills and estates lawyer
will you successfully reach your estate planning goals.

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