What Happens If I Die Without a Will?

Graham and Alice (not their real names) had been married for 23 years when Graham died suddenly of a heart attack.

Because they were a blended family, Graham and Alice had decided to keep their assets separate. Graham owned the house while Alice owned the boat and trailer. They each owned their own vehicle and they had separate bank accounts.

Graham was estranged from his daughter Amy from his first marriage, but he was very close to Alice’s children, Justin and Nicole.

Graham had always intended to make a will leaving everything he owned to Alice but he never got around to it.

“Well I can always do that on my death bed,” he said. Unfortunately, Graham never got the chance.

If you die without a will in British Columbia, the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) sets out what happens to your estate.

The easiest scenario is if you die with a spouse but no children or grandchildren. Then your estate goes to your spouse. It’s similar if you die with no spouse and just children so your estate is divided equally among your children.

But for Graham’s estate, it was much more complicated.

Under WESA, which came into effect in March 2014, Alice was entitled to all the household furnishings and the first $150,000.00 of Graham’s estate. The rest was divided equally between her and Amy while Justin and Nicole did not receive anything.

WESA makes a distinction for blended families. If Amy had been both Graham and Alice’s biological or adopted daughter, Alice would have received the first $300,000.00 of Graham’s estate, the household furnishings and half of the remainder.

If Alice had died before Graham, or if they had died within five days of each other, Amy would have inherited his entire estate.

The law provides for all situations including if you die without a spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, great-grandparents, great-aunts, great-uncles, first cousins once removed and second cousins.

However, relying on the law is not usually a good option, as Graham and Alice’s situation shows.

If you don’t have a will and you are wondering what would happen if you die, you can look at section 23 of WESA or give me a call at 250-565-8000 or email cburkholder@hsjlawyers.com .

~Carolynne Burkholder

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