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How an estate is handled when there is no will

It may be difficult for some readers to think about and plan for end-of-life issues, and it can be tempting to put off estate planning and will preparation. The Wills, Estates and Succession Act recently passed in British Columbia outlines how a person's estate will be handled in probate in the event that there is no will.

If the decedent had no children but was married, the estate will pass to the decedent's spouse. The division of property becomes more complicated if the decedent had children and was married. How the property is divided will depend on whether the children belong to both spouses. If the children belong to both spouses, the first $300,000 of the estate's value will go to the spouse and the rest will be divided among the children. If the children do not belong to the surviving spouse, then he or she will receive the first $150,000 of the value and the rest will be divided among the children.

The property belonging to an unmarried person will be divided between his or her children. If a person has no spouse or children, the person's parents will receive the estate. The estate will be passed to the decedent's siblings if the parents are no longer alive. There are additional rules governing situations in which the decedent had no living siblings, parents, children or spouses.

The division and distribution of a person's assets when they pass away may be overly simplified if there is no documentation demonstrating how a person wishes to dispose of their estate. Those who would like to develop a more nuanced strategy for handling the execution of their estate might benefit from discussing the issue with an estate-planning lawyer. That lawyer could help a client create the necessary documents for outlining their wishes.

Source: The Canadian Bar Association BC Branch, "What Happens When You Die Without a Will?", Aug. 20, 2014

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