When you die without a valid will in place, it is called dying intestate. The rules governing intestacy in BC are set out in the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, and there is no flexibility in their application. In other words, if you die intestate, you lose control over your estate, and the government decides what happens.
In terms of who gets what, your spouse gets it all if you have no children. However, if you have a spouse and children, it can get a little sticky. If the spouse is your children’s parent, the spouse gets your household furnishings, the first $300,000 of the residue of your estate, and half of the balance, with the remaining balance going to your children in equal shares. If the spouse is not your children’s parent, the spouse gets your household furnishings, the first $150,000 of the residue of your estate, and half of the balance, with the remaining balance going to your children in equal shares.
If your children are minors and receive a share of your estate, their share will be held in trust and administered by the Public Guardian and Trustee. The fees for their management can end up being very costly, and the balance remaining in trust on your child's 19th birthday will be distributed to them in full. Generally speaking, this can lead to your children having spent their entire inheritance before even reaching 20 years of age, as there are ‘no strings attached’ on these monies (as there would be if you had a will including trust provisions as to the control and roll out of same).
If you have two spouses – married, common-law or otherwise (ie. two people come forward with a claim against your estate that you were in a relationship resembling marriage with them in the relevant period leading up to your death), then they will spilt the preferential spousal share.
If you have no spouse and no children, then your estate goes to your parents. If your parents aren’t alive, it goes to your brothers and sisters, divided among them equally. The rules don’t end here – rather, they can go so far down the line that sometimes it turns out that a cousin you never knew existed gets the balance of your estate if it turns out that they are your closest living relative.
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This article is intended for information purposes only and should not be taken as the provision of legal advice. Grace C. Cleveland is a lawyer with the law firm of Cleveland Doan LLP and can be reached at (604)536-5002 firstname.lastname@example.org.