November 2011-When I was raking everyone decided to start advertising Christmas. So, your indulgence while I stretch a classic here and have George Bailey ask, What would happen if I never made a will? In Ontario, the Succession Law Reform Act sets who can share in George's estate when George dies intestate (without a will). Here are a few points to consider:
If George is married, without children, the only beneficiary is his spouse.
If he is married with children, his spouse is entitled to a prescribed share of the estate's net value presently, $200,000.00.
The balance in excess of the spouse's prescribed share (if any) is split between spouse and child in the case of one child; and, where there are multiple children, one-third to the spouse and the remaining two-thirds to the children.
If there is no spouse or child, then the estate goes to any parents, then siblings, then nieces/nephews and so on generally until surviving next of kin is reached.
Compared to having a will, the administration of an intestate estate is generally slower and more expensive and complicated (e.g., someone must apply to court, probably with a bond, to become executor of George's estate).
For the purposes of the foregoing, a spouse is only a married spouse. Two important consequences result. George's separated spouse, absent a will or other documentation, may be entitled to the estate. George's common law spouse will not have any statutory right to his estate and may, for example, find herself without the home, money, or effects shared and developed over the relationship (equitable remedies may be available but these are often costly and require a successful court action).
Regardless of whether it's been a wonderful life or not, ensuring you have a current and valid will provides you peace of mind as to the distribution of your estate and clarity to your heirs and executors in the administration.
Since we're on the topic of wonderful lives and gifting, here's a seasonal (if poorly segued) reminder about organ donation. Donation requires your written consent. Beyond carrying your signed donor card and discussing with family, register with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care to ensure your wish is securely and independently recorded and available when the time comes. Consent forms and further information are available online: www.beadonor.ca.
The Trillium Gift of Life Network, the government coordinating agency, states that one donor saves eight lives and can enhance seventy five others - now that's a gift that earns you your wings.