Dear Barb—Where There’s Not a Will

Dear Barb:

My father just passed away and he didn’t have a will.  My mom passed away 10 years ago, and dad has been living with a woman for the past 4 years.  She is great, and we all like her. 

I have two younger brothers.  My parents had a home that was paid off and my dad and his girlfriend have lived in the home for the last few years.  What happens to everything because dad did not have a will?  Will my dad’s girlfriend inherit the house, because that does not seem right to us.  We are considering getting a lawyer to help sort things out, but we have not spoken to my dad’s girlfriend about this.  When we are all together it seems like this is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, but I know we must confront this at some point.  Since I am the oldest, I keep thinking I should be the one to bring this up.  I need some advice.  Hope you can help, Melissa. 

Hi Melissa:

So sorry for your loss.  I can give you some information, but you are correct in obtaining a lawyer, preferably an estate lawyer.  You did not mention where you were writing from, therefore I will assume you are somewhere in Canada.  Canadian estate laws are different from province to province.  For example, if you are married and die without a will in Canada, everything you have goes to your spouse.  The situation is a bit more complicated if you have children and you pass without leaving a will.

The distribution of assets are different depending on if you have one child or more than one child and which province you reside in.  If you do not have a spouse or child the inheritance will be distributed to parents first, then siblings, then nieces and nephews.  If the deceased does not have relatives the estate is appropriated by the government.  In your situation things are different again.  Since your father was not married, but living in a common-law relationship, what happens to the estate is dependent again on which province your father lives in.  If your father lives in BC, Saskatchewan, NWT, Nunavut or Manitoba and he has lived common-law longer than two years, the common-law spouse has the same rights as if they were a married couple.  If your father lives in any other province his common-law spouse will receive nothing.  However, his common law spouse has the option of going through a lengthy court process and still may end up with nothing.  As you can see there are many variables here and a lawyer will definitely help you to unravel your particular situation.  Try to keep the lines of communication open with your late dad’s girlfriend, which will make resolution much easier.  Thanks for your email, Melissa.