What Happens If I Die Without A Will?

We have many clients who are concerned that if they do not have a will, the government will take all of their assets.  This could be a scary thought for many people who have loved ones they hope to support long after they have passed away.  Rest assured, the government will not take everything (though they will take a small percentage for during probate, but for that discussion, read through some of our probate articles).

When a person dies without a will, they lose the ability to dictate who is to receive their hard earned money; the law decides for them.  Now before we delve into the list of potential heirs, we need to be clear about one thing.  When we refer to spouses, we are referring to those who are legally married, not common law spouses.  If there is no will, a common law spouse must claim to be a dependent of the estate in order to receive anything from the estate; common law spouses are not entitled to a share in the property simply because of their relationship with the deceased.  

 Here is the long list of potential heirs if a person dies without a will.  But you should know that we make wonderful stick diagrams, so if you are still confused by the end, make sure to make an appointment with one of our knowledgeable lawyers.

The Long List of Potential Heirs …

If a person dies, leaving behind a spouse but no children, the spouse is entitled to the entire estate.    Similarly, if the estate is worth $200,000 or less, the spouse is entitled to everything, even if there are children.  If a person dies, leaving behind a spouse and one child, the first $200,000 goes to the spouse, and then the rest is split evenly between the spouse and the child.  If there is more than one child, the spouse receives $200,000 plus one third of the residue.  The children then share equally in the rest of the estate.  In these scenarios, if a child has died before their parent but has children of their own (grandchildren of the deceased), they are entitled to their parent’s share in the estate.  

If a person dies with no spouse or children, the estate is shared among the living parents.  If there are no surviving parents, the estate is split among the deceased’s brothers and sisters.  Again, if none of the above are living at the time of death, any nieces or nephews share equally in the estate.  If none of the listed family members are alive at the time of death, then the estate goes to the next of kin.  And finally, after going through this long list of possible heirs, if there are no surviving family members to be found, then and only then does the government take everything.  

If you want to have a say in where your hard earned money goes when you die, make sure you have a will. If you want to ensure that specific family members are taken care of when you die, make sure you have a will.  If you don’t want to be told what to do by the government even after you die, make sure you have a will.