What happens in British Columbia if you die without a will?

This article looks at three things that can happen in B.C. when a person dies without a will.

Having a will is extremely important and it provides plenty of clarity and guidance to loved ones when a friend or relative passes on. However, many people tend to be unaware of what happens to their estate if they die without a will. Often, people simply assume that a spouse or child will receive the entirety of their estate, while others trust that surviving family members will be able to work out the division of an estate on their own. Such a nonchalant attitude is not recommended. Not only does it put one's estate at risk, but it also increases the risk of disputes arising between loved ones. Below is a look at some of the effects on an estate when there is no will.

Inheritance process

The Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) came into force in British Columbia on March 31, 2014. The law provides sweeping changes to estate law in the province, especially in terms of sorting out what happens when an individual dies without a will. WESA clarifies intestate succession, such as by switching BC to a "parentelic" rather than a "closeness to blood relations" scheme when finding an heir. Under the parentelic system, if there are no surviving descendants, an heir only needs to be found within the fourth degree of relationship to the deceased, otherwise the estate escheats to the provincial government.

Spousal home

WESA also brought major changes in terms of how the spousal home is passed on after the death of the owner or co-owner. Previously, the surviving spouse retained a life interest in the spousal home. That life interest has now been replaced by an option to buy the home. That option could prove beneficial to many surviving spouses, as it lets them choose to either stay in the home and retain ownership or downsize to a smaller dwelling if they choose not to buy the home.

Distribution of assets

How assets get distributed depends on the particular structure of individual families. If the deceased leaves a spouse and children from only within that relationship, then the surviving spouse receives a first preferential share of $300,000 from the estate, up from the $65,000 that was set aside prior to WESA. However, if the deceased does leave children from another relationship, then the surviving spouse receives a first preferential share of $150,000.

Avoid uncertainty by getting a will

Of course, much of the uncertainty that a family is left dealing with following a loved one's death can be avoided by simply drafting a will today. An experienced will and estates lawyer can assist anybody in drafting a will that reflects one's true intentions and that provides appropriately for one's family and loved ones.

If you would like assistance with your estate planning, contact Ryan Kalleitner.