If you die without a Will, holding assets in British Columbia, you die “intestate”, and your assets will be distributed according to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (the “Act”). The Act basically writes a Will for you and you have no say in who gets what or who administers it for you. Some people believe if they do not make a Will that their assets will go to the government. This is not always the case.
The Act sets out the scheme of distribution as follows:
The first $300,000.00 goes to the spouse, if there is one if they have children in common and $150,000 of they do not. The balance of the money is split equally between the spouse and the children. If the children are minors, then the money is held by the Public Guardian and Trustee until the children reach the age of nineteen (19) when it is paid to them. There is no opportunity to set up a trust, or have the spouse or parent of the child administer the money. If there are no children, or spouse, then your estate is generally distributed to family members in the following priority:
(a) your parents;
(b) your brothers and sisters;
(c) your nieces and nephews;
If there are no nieces and nephews, then the estate will go to the government.
The Act only deals with assets solely in the name of the deceased. Many assets such as property held in joint tenancy and Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and life insurance policies that are specifically designated to a beneficiary are distributed by operation of law and not by the Act. Many couples will hold all of their assets jointly and designate each other as beneficiaries so on the death of one spouse all assets are distributed to the surviving spouse even if there are children.
Dying without a Will does not mean your estate goes to the government, but it does mean you do not choose who your beneficiaries are. It can also mean delays, extra expenses, and considerable inconvenience and even hardship for your survivors.