Last year a friend who manages a property with 100 or so residential units told me a story that should be a lesson to the estimated 56% of Canadians who do not have a signed will. The superintendent of his property called him to tell him that he had entered the apartment of an elderly tenant who had lived in the building for some 20+ years to find that the tenant had passed away while he was taking a bath.
Despite outliving 2 wives and a girlfriend, a search of the elderly gentleman’s apartment by a close relative did not uncover a will; although it did uncover some $5,000+ in cash. That’s no way to die and I am not talking about passing away in a bathtub but more importantly, dying without a will.
Who is in charge when someone dies without a will?
Dying without a will means there is no executor meaning there will undoubtedly be a delay along with additional costs and much frustration in dealing with the estate. There’s also a much higher chance of conflict among potential heirs when you die without a will and here's why. Dying without a will is legally referred to as dying ‘intestate’which is another way of saying the Province you live in will be in charge. If a family member steps forward to administer the estate, they must apply to the Province and the Province, if satisfied will provide a certificate of appointment. If no member of the immediate family of the deceased is willing to act as administrator, or able to take on the task, then the Court will administer the estate via a third party.
What about your beneficiaries?
Dying without a will means that the province you live in will determine who your legal beneficiaries are and how much each of them will receive. Most provincial intestacy rules do not recognize common-law spouse status, so he or she may be left out of the estate entirely or they may petition the courts for support (read extra costs/extra delay)
Dying without a will means that no provision has been made for guardians for minor children as the Will is the place where one would make such provisions. Nor would there be provision made for setting up a trust fund so the rules of the province by way of the Public Trustee will determine how much your children get and when they get it.
What about your Final wishes?
Dying without a will means that details over final wishes are also not provided for so it’s a ‘best guess’ kind of decision made by family .No family member wants to guess whether their loved ones wanted to be buried versus cremated or where. Many have made the decision and found out years later that it was not what the loved one would have wanted.
Reasonable investment in your family's future
Studies indicate that almost 30% of Canadians who don't have a will don't have one because they don't know how to get started or believe they can't afford one. However, the lawyers we have worked with charge a reasonable fee and a small effort in putting your final wishes on paper can save an entire family much additional grief in many ways. The reality is that while many worry about the cost of making a will, the cost of making a will is likely to be a lot less than the cost to your beneficiaries down the road in terms of both cost and additional grief.