Only 55% of British Columbian adults have a current and legal will, according to a 2014 provincewide poll conducted by Mustel Group for the Society of Notaries Public of BC.
Yet, whether you are worth $20,000 or $2 million, dying without a will would likely cause expensive and emotional issues for loved ones to deal with.
Here are just some of the many problems caused by dying without a will.
• Potentially unfair distribution: B.C. has strict, unbendable laws for those who die without a will (called intestacy). The law basically states that without a will, your estate passes to people in this priority order: spouse, descendants, parents, parents’ descendants, grandparents and grandparents’ descendants. The exception is that if you have both a spouse and children, your spouse gets an initial lump sum and an interest in the family home, and then the rest of the estate gets split among your spouse and children. This is contrary to how most couples set up their affairs, as most want to provide for their surviving spouse first before providing for their children.
There are many other problems with these fixed rules for distribution, including that the estate may pass to estranged members of the family, and gifts to distant relatives or charities are not possible.
• No guardians for minor children: If all the guardians of minor children have died without appointing a successor, it is up to a judge to decide guardianship after a lengthy process, while the children may wait in foster care.
• Restricted access to information: Without a will, banks are very wary about releasing financial details about the deceased to anyone. However, financial details need to be disclosed to court as part of the probate process. So, if the bank refuses to release this information, the “administrator” (the rough equivalent to an executor when there is a will) needs to apply for a special court order, which takes time and money.
• Confusion: Without a will, who is in charge? A family member usually begrudgingly steps up to take on the role of administrator, but there is often a period of uncertainty and even anger at a time that should be reserved for grieving. With a will, the appointed executor takes care of everything.
A professionally prepared will and estate plan ensures you leave your loved ones with the legacy – and the memories – they deserve.
Mike Beishuizen is the founding lawyer of Westcoast Wills & Estates, a Vancouver law firm that focuses only on estate planning and probate. He advises clients on estate planning and prepares wills, trusts, representation agreements and powers of attorney. He also advises and helps clients apply to court for probate and committeeship orders. See www.westcoastwills.com.
For more on retirement preparedness, see an infographic at www.biv.com/navigating and read our new Retirement Ready magazine at https://www.biv.com/magazine/retirement-ready-2016/