Where There’s a Will

Dear Barb:

I guess I have more of a statement than a question. A close family member recently passed away without a will and it has been chaos ever since. My aunt never discussed her wishes with anyone, not even her own children. Her husband passed away three years ago, so the responsibility for everything is falling to her children. Fortunately, there was an insurance policy to cover the funeral expenses, but no one knew whether she wanted to be buried or cremated or where she wanted her ashes or burial. Did she want an open casket with a viewing or closed casket? When her husband passed, he had a traditional funeral, but there was only one plot purchased for him. The only time I ever heard her mention any wishes was at her husband’s funeral when she said she did not want a big funeral like he was having. She was a very private person, so her children are trying to be sensitive to what she might like. Then there is all her property and money which are frozen, I’m not really sure what the process is to release these assets. Her children have had to hire a lawyer to assist with the proper procedures. No one disputes the fact that my aunt’s children should get everything, it’s just that it’s going to be a long and difficult process for them. I just hope your readers take the time to make sure they have a will, or at least have all their assets joint with whomever they want to leave them to at the time of their death. Thanks Jessica.

Hi Jessica:

Thanks for addressing this critical issue! I have found some information about dying without a will in Canada. When you die without a will you are considered to have died “intestate.” In this case your assets will be divided by your provincial government. Each province has their own rules for how this would take place. If you have assets such as RRSP’s and you have named a beneficiary, they will be passed on to that person. If you have a home or other assets that are jointly owned they will be passed on to the second name on title. Any other assets will be distributed according to the Intestate Succession Act, which, as I said above, will be different for each province. The Succession Act follows a strict order as to how your assets will be distributed. For example, in Alberta your spouse receives the first $40,000 of your estate and rest is split between your spouse and children. Even if you have not had a relationship with an adult child for years, that child will get a portion of your assets. One important aspect is that in most provinces, common-law partners are not recognized as spouses. However, a common-law spouse may seek legal counsel and petition the courts, but this is an additional expense that could have been easily addressed before hand. All of this can be avoided and your wishes honored by the simple and inexpensive act of making a legal will. Great topic Jessica!

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