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If my spouse died without a will, can I deal with the estate?

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If my spouse died without a will, can I deal with the estate?
Do I need to apply to be administrator? If so, do I need a lawyer?

If my spouse died without a will, can I deal with the estate? - Hiva Parandian

When a person dies without a will (dying “intestate”), the court may need to appoint an administrator to deal with the estate. An administrator’s job includes paying the deceased’s debts and distributing their assets. Under the law, an administrator must also give notice of their application to certain people (such as those who are entitled to receive a share of the estate).

The first step to becoming an administrator is filing, with the court, an application for grant of administration without will annexed. The application includes multiple documents, such as a certificate of a wills notice search (confirming there is no will) and multiple affidavits. Although this can be done without a lawyer, it can be a complicated process.

If the application is approved, the court issues a grant of administration, which gives the administrator the authority to deal with the estate.

Whether someone is granted administration of the estate depends on their relationship to the deceased. Under the law in BC, there is a priority list of the people who can apply to administer an estate. The spouse or spouse’s nominee has priority, followed by a list of alternatives in the following order:

  • a child of the deceased or someone nominated by such child,
  • a relative of the deceased, and
  • any other eligible person.

There are some situations where a grant may not be needed:

  • Small estates (gross value less than $25,000). The outside parties who hold the deceased’s assets (such as a bank) decide whether they’ll hand over those assets without a grant.
  • Jointly owned assets such as bank accounts or real estate property can be transferred to the other joint owner without a grant.
  • Assets with a designated beneficiary (a person named to receive the asset), such as life insurance policies or registered retirement plans.

If the estate is a relatively simple one, the assistance of a lawyer may not be required. If you don’t know whether you need to seek a grant or not, you may want to talk to a lawyer. 

Hiva Parandian

Hiva Parandian

Hiva Parandian is a lawyer with Fasken in Vancouver, specializing in the area of wealth preservation and succession planning.

Fasken
Written June 12, 2019

See the Dial-A-Law page on when someone dies without a will for more information on who can apply to be administrator. If you’re considering administering an estate on your own, the British Columbia Probate Kit published by Self-Counsel Press is an affordable, helpful resource. 

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