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Estates & Wills & Trusts

Ten things that happen if you die without a will in Ontario

By Timothy N. Sullivan

If ‘making a will’ has been one of those things on your long-term to-do list but doesn’t seem to ever become a top priority, you’re not alone; studies show that as many as 74 per cent of Canadians don’t have an up-to-date will, and about half of Canadians don’t have a will at all.

I get it. Wills require you (and your family, in many cases) to think about your death which tends to be a subject most of us avoid. If you don’t think of your assets as being particularly valuable or if you assume that your family members are all reasonable and would distribute your estate equitably, it’s hard to justify the time and expense a will might require.

However – and you knew this was coming – dying intestate (without a will) can be more problematic than most people realize.

Ten things that happen if you die without a will in Ontario

  1. The law decides how the estate is distributed among your spouse, your parents, your children and your siblings. Your spouse inherits the entire estate if you have no children; even if you have children, your spouse may inherit everything, or the first $200,000 of your assets and the remainder is split equally among your family. If you don’t have a spouse or children, it is distributed to other relatives.
  2. Common-law spouses do not automatically inherit your estate or even a portion of it. There can be some confusion over who controls your estate and how it is to be distributed if it is not made clear in a will.
  3. Your closest relative will likely be appointed as your personal representative. Someone will have to step up to the plate to administer your estate which allows them to manage and distribute it. Is your current closest relative the best judge how to administer your estate?
  4. If you have no living next of kin, your entire estate goes to the Ontario government. When you hear of some lucky nephew who inherits an estate out of the blue, that’s the Ontario government after a search for some live relative of the intestate deceased. Your favourite charities have missed a chance to benefit.
  5. Personal items may not be distributed as you would have liked. Your niece Jane, who had a special relationship with your mother and who was to receive your mother’s silver teapot when you died, is now dependent on the goodwill of whoever is administering your estate.
  6. Possible tax savings may be lost. Smart estate planning can minimize the tax paid by your estate to increase what is available to heirs. Dying intestate means you can’t take advantage of these measures.
  7. A dependent child or other relative may not be properly provided for. Unless provision is made in your will, a dependent child who needs long-term care may not receive the financial support you were hoping to provide.
  8. Someone else will decide who will become the guardian(s) of your children. If you are the primary caregiver for your minor children and you die without a will and without the other parent around, you lose the opportunity to specify who you want to act as their guardians. The court will make the decision without your input. 
  9.  You have no control over your funeral and burial arrangements. If your executor – who, you may remember, the court chose on your behalf – doesn’t know or doesn’t really care about your wishes, your funeral and burial arrangements will be made according to their preferences, not yours.
  10. Your preferred charities may not benefit. Without a will, the charities you hoped to support with your estate won’t receive anything.

Making a will doesn’t have to cost a lot of money and it doesn’t even have to take a lot of time. More importantly, the cost of not doing it can be huge. So no matter how you do it – or which lawyer you engage to help you – it’s important that you make it a priority because there is a time when it’s too late to draft a will.

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