Most people understand the benefits of a will and the problems that can arise in the absence of this critical document. However, many Vancouver residents still do not have a will directing the final disposition of their assets.
What should you do if your parent dies without a will? Here’s what you need to know about how provincial law addresses intestacy.
In British Columbia, the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) dictates how estates are distributed when individuals die with no will in place.
When an individual with a spouse but no children dies, the law is simple: The intestate estate passes solely to the spouse. The rules become more complicated when the couple has children together or one member of the couple has children from a previous relationship.
The law states that if an individual dies without a will and has both a surviving spouse and descendants, household furnishings and “a preferential share” of the estate go to the spouse.
WESA has changed the way assets are distributed when a deceased individual has a surviving spouse but no will. Under previous law, in the absence of a will, a spouse received the first $65,000 of the estate, while now the spouse receives the first $300,000. However, if the deceased person has children from a previous relationship, the current spouse receives only $150,000.
If the value of the estate is less than the preferential share in either circumstance, the spouse receives the entire intestate estate. If the value of the estate is the same or more than the preferential share, any remaining value after the spouse’s portion is distributed evenly between the spouse and the deceased person’s descendants.
WESA also specifies procedures when an individual dies with no surviving spouse but with other family members still living. If such an individual dies without having completed a will, the law requires that assets go to the intestate individual’s descendants.
If there are no surviving descendants, the assets pass to the deceased individual’s parents, then to any surviving descendants of the parents. In the event that no children, parents or descendants of parents are surviving, the estate goes to grandparents or their descendants.
The laws relating to intestate succession can be complex in certain family situations, extending even to great-grandparents and their descendants. If there are no relatives entitled to the estate under the law, the entire estate goes to the government.
If your deceased parent does not have a spouse and has died without a will, the estate should be distributed to you. If you have siblings or other relatives who are descendants of your parent, the assets will be distributed among you.
For children under the age of 19 whose only surviving parent dies with no will, the court appoints someone to serve as executor and as a guardian for the children.
If the parent does not have a surviving spouse, another relative, friend or other eligible individual can apply to serve as administrator for the estate. If no one comes forward to serve, the Public Guardian and Trustee of British Columbia may serve as administrator.
The administrator is required to find all assets that belong to the estate and provide for their security; for instance, by safeguarding important documents like titles or continuing insurance coverage. In addition, the administrator locates heirs and has assets appraised and sold or transferred to heirs as their portion of the estate.
Responsibilities for the administrator also include handling tax matters, debts, and legal and accounting fees for the estate, along with forwarding any remaining assets to heirs. If you are an heir, you should receive a report from the administrator including an accounting of all money received and paid from and to the estate, any fees paid, and information about how the estate will be distributed.
Dealing with the death of a parent is an emotional time, and the lack of a will can add legal complexity to the situation. If you’re currently involved in the disposition of an intestate estate or feel that you have been treated unfairly, it’s important to work with an experienced estate litigation lawyer. For a review of your case, please contact McLarty Wolf at 604-688-9542.
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