When a loved one dies, there are several things to take care of in addition to making the funeral arrangements. Other matters to look after include safeguarding the property the deceased left behind, notifying organizations of the death, and inquiring about survivor benefits.
Dealing with the property left behind
If the deceased left a will, the executor named in the will is responsible for settling the estate of the deceased. Settling the estate involves locating the property owned by the deceased, paying any debts, the funeral costs and taxes, and then distributing the estate according to the instructions in the will.
The executor is responsible for protecting the assets owned by the deceased until the estate is ready to be distributed. An asset is any property the deceased owned, including things such as money, land, investments, and personal possessions such as jewelry and furniture.
If an executor is not involved, those close to the deceased can help protect the assets.
See below under “Steps to take” for tips on safeguarding the deceased’s property.
Property that passes directly on death
Not all things owned by the deceased form part of their estate. Certain types of assets "pass outside the will".
Property owned jointly by the deceased and someone else automatically becomes the exclusive property of the other joint owner. If you had a joint bank account with the deceased, you can withdraw the whole amount from the account at any time. If you encounter difficulties, speak to the bank manager. Once the funeral home provides copies of the death certificate, you can provide a copy to the bank to have the account transferred to your name alone.
Assets where the deceased designated a beneficiary also pass outside the will. The beneficiary is entitled to receive the proceeds on the death of the owner. Examples include a life insurance policy or a retirement benefit plan where the deceased designated a beneficiary. If you are the designated beneficiary, contact the relevant institutions to learn what documents they need.
If the deceased had a bank account in their name alone, notify the bank. Banks may release small amounts of money to a surviving spouse before the estate is settled, but they are not required to do so. They will typically pay funeral expenses directly if presented with the bill. They will not reimburse a person who has paid the funeral home directly; in such circumstances, the person must wait until the estate is settled to be reimbursed.
Survivor’s pensions and benefits
If the deceased contributed to a government or private pension, their spouse and dependents may be entitled to a survivor’s pension or a death benefit. For example:
- Canada Pension Plan (CPP) survivor’s pension: If the deceased contributed to the CPP, a survivor’s pension is paid to their surviving spouse or common-law partner. The survivor is responsible for applying for their monthly pension.
- CPP children’s benefits: If the deceased made sufficient contributions to the CPP, a children’s benefit is paid to any surviving child under age 18 or between ages 18 and 25 if in full-time attendance at school. The child or their parent or guardian are responsible for applying for this monthly benefit.
- CPP death benefit: The CPP death benefit is a one-time, lump-sum payment paid to the estate or a survivor of a deceased CPP contributor. If an executor or estate administrator is involved, they should apply for the death benefit on behalf of the estate.
- Employment pension: If the deceased was employed, a survivor’s pension or death benefit may be available.
With public and private pensions, the estate or the survivor is entitled to keep any cheques issued in the month the deceased passed away.
If the death was the result of a work incident, a car accident, or a crime, benefits may be available to assist the survivors:
- Workers’ compensation benefits: If the death was the result of a work incident, benefits may be available as workers’ compensation through WorkSafeBC.
- ICBC benefits: If the death was due to a car accident, benefits are available from ICBC. Regardless of who was responsible for the accident, certain funeral expenses and survivor benefits are payable.
- Victims of crime assistance: If the death was a result of a crime, assistance may be available to survivors from the Crime Victim Assistance Program. Call 1-866-660-3888 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step 1. Locate the will
A critical step after someone has died is to locate the will, if the deceased left one. The will clarifies who has been named executor. The will may also have instructions about the deceased’s wishes for organ donation, burial or cremation, and their funeral service.
The will may be in the deceased’s home, in a safety deposit box, or at the office of the lawyer or notary public who drafted the will.
To check on the location of the will, you can search the Wills Registry maintained by the Vital Statistics Agency. You can search the Registry by submitting a completed application form and fee, together with a copy of the death certificate.
If the deceased filed a notice of their will with the Wills Registry, the search will indicate the location of the original will. Filing a wills notice is optional, so it’s possible the deceased didn’t file a notice or may have since moved their will or revoked it.
Step 2. Safeguard the deceased’s property
If there was a will, the executor named in the will is responsible for protecting the assets owned by the deceased until the estate is ready to be distributed. If an executor is not involved, those close to the deceased can help safeguard the assets. For example:
- If the deceased’s home is not occupied, make sure the home is secured, appliances turned off, and any pets are looked after. If the home is to remain vacant, tell the police.
- Make sure any vehicle owned by the deceased is locked in a safe place.
- Safeguard any wallet, purse or briefcase owned by the deceased.
- Secure the deceased’s key pieces of identification, such as their social insurance card, medical card, driver’s licence, and passport.
- Search for credit cards, cash, jewelry, securities, and other valuables, and arrange for their safekeeping.
Step 3. Notify others of the death
Contact organizations and government departments to notify them of the death or cancel services. For example:
- notify financial institutions where the deceased held accounts
- cancel any credit cards
- cancel any subscriptions or club memberships
- cancel any Old Age Security or Canada Pension Plan benefits received by the deceased
- cancel the deceased’s passport and driver’s licence
If an executor is involved, they will usually also send a change of address to Canada Post so that mail intended for the deceased goes to a safe location while they are dealing with the deceased’s estate.
Step 4. Apply for any survivor’s pensions and benefits
Take steps to apply for any survivor’s pensions or benefits that may be available. If an executor is involved, they should apply for the CPP death benefit on behalf of the estate. See above under “Understand your legal rights” for details.
Step 5. Seek bereavement support
Grieving is an important process that requires more time than people often acknowledge or allow. Support during time of bereavement can help bring healing, renewal, and hope for the future.
Family and friends can be a great source of comfort. Expressing your feelings with them can help you in the grieving process.
The BC Bereavement Helpline is a free and confidential service that helps people in BC cope with grief.
Step 6. Update your own legal affairs
If you have lost your partner, you may need financial advice or help re-organizing your banking arrangements. Talk to your bank or credit union.
In time, you may wish to review your own will if the death of your loved one means your will is out of date. You may also want to review any other personal planning arrangements such as any power of attorney, advance directive, or representation agreement.
The BC Bereavement Helpline is a non-profit society that helps people in BC cope with grief.
See the options for free or low-cost legal help if you are seeking advice on steps to take after a death.