There is no Will – How will my Assets be Distributed?

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In British Columbia, the Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA) sets out a mandatory distribution scheme for estates when an individual dies without a will. While the distribution scheme is fairly easy to understand, it can create challenges and inequities for the family members who survive you, depending on the size of your estate, and the assets within it.

The Distribution Scheme

  • If you die leaving a spouse, but do not leave any children, then your spouse will receive the entirety of your estate.
  • If you die leaving a spouse, and you had children with that spouse, then your spouse will receive all of your household furnishings, and the first $300,000 of your estate.
    • If your estate is worth less than $300,000, then your spouse will receive the entirety of your estate.
    • If your estate is worth more than $300,000, then any amount exceeding $300,000 will be divided as follows: 50% to your spouse, and 50% to your children (in equal shares).
  • If you die leaving a spouse, and you had at least one child with someone other than that spouse, then your spouse will receive all of your household furnishings, and the first $150,000 of your estate.
    • If your estate is worth less than $300,000, then your spouse will receive the entirety of your estate.
    • If your estate is worth more than $300,000, then any amount exceeding $300,000 will be divided as follows: 50% to your spouse, and 50% to your children (in equal shares).

Note: it does not matter if you did or did not also have children with your current spouse. The existence of at least one child from someone other than your current spouse will reduce your current spouse’s “preferential share” of your estate from $300,000 to $150,000.

  • If you die without a spouse, but leaving a child or children, then that child or those children will receive the entirety of your estate in equal shares. It would not matter if you were estranged from one of your children, or if one had a greater financial need than another – they would all receive an equal share.
  • If you die without a spouse or children, then your parents (or the survivor of them) will receive equal shares of your estate. If neither of your parents are living at the time of your death, then your siblings will receive equal shares of your estate.
  • More remote members of your family (such as your parents’ siblings, or your cousins) will share in your estate if you have no surviving immediate family members.
  • The WESA distribution scheme will trace your family lines to the 4th degree until a beneficiary is found. If no beneficiaries are found within 4 degrees of you, then your estate will escheat to the Province of British Columbia.

Why Create a Will?

While it may be comforting to know that there is a procedure to distribute your assets if you die without a will, many decide to “override” the default scheme by preparing a will that will distribute their estate in a different fashion – one more in line with their wishes.

With a will, you can:

  • Prevent a large portion of your estate from being allocated away from your spouse;
  • Save your spouse (or other family members) from having to spend money unnecessarily on legal fees for Court applications;
  • Distribute your estate unequally between your children (perhaps one has a greater financial need than the others, or one has received advances on their inheritance from you already);
  • Disinherit children entirely (not recommended without talking to an estate planning lawyer); and
  • Make gifts to favourite nieces or nephews, non-family members such as longtime friends, or to charities.

For any questions about Make A Will Week, please contact:

Raman Johal
604 643 3145
rjohal@cwilson.com