Question: What Happens to My Things When I Die?
THE (SHORT) ANSWER:
What happens to your property when you die depends largely on how you own that property, the nature of that property, and whether you have a Will in place.
For example, if you co-own property with another person as joint tenants, the property passes directly to that co-owner on your death (subject to some exceptions), and that co-owner becomes the sole owner of the property. If you have made a beneficiary designation on a registered account (e.g. a TFSA), the proceeds of that account pass directly to that beneficiary on your death.
Any property that doesn’t pass directly to another person (e.g. as a co-owner or designated beneficiary) generally falls into your estate. If you have a Will, any property that falls into your estate is distributed in accordance with the terms of your Will. If you don’t have a Will, your estate is divided in accordance with the default distribution scheme outlined in BC’s Wills, Estates And Succession Act (“WESA”). Under that default scheme, your estate is distributed to the following people, in order of priority:
- Your spouse and descendants, in specified proportions;
- Your parents;
- Your parents’ descendants (e.g. your siblings, your nieces and nephews);
- Your grandparents;
- Your grandparents’ descendants (e.g. your uncles and aunts, your cousins);
- Your great-grandparents; or
- Your great-grandparents’ descendants (e.g. your great aunts and uncles).
If your estate is to be divided between a group of “descendants”, every branch of the family receives an equal share of your estate. For example, if your estate is to be divided between your parents’ descendants, and you have three siblings who all survive you, your estate is to be divided equally between your three siblings. However, if one of those siblings died before you, that sibling’s share of your estate is to be divided among that sibling’s children instead.
If there is no living relative matching any of the above descriptions, your estate passes to the government and is dealt with under the Escheat Act.
If you have any questions about estate planning and ownership of property, a member of our Wills, Estates + Trusts team would be happy to assist you.