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?



Surrey, BC

When a person dies without a will (called 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.

A person who wants to take on this role must apply to court. The application involves multiple documents, such as a certificate of a wills notice search (confirming there is no will) and multiple affidavits. An applicant must also give notice of their application to certain people (such as those who are entitled to receive a share of the estate). Although all 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.

Who can apply to administer an 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

  • any other eligible person

A grant of administration is not always needed

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

  • Small estates (with a 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 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.

Taking the next step

If the estate is a relatively simple one, the assistance of a lawyer may not be required. We have step-by-step guidance on applying for a grant of administration. If you don’t know whether you need to seek a grant or not, you may want to talk to get legal adviceThere are free or low-cost options available.

Hiva Parandian

Hiva Parandian

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in May 2021

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