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What happens to your estate if there is no will?

In-law Suites: What Are They and What You Need to Know

Clients sometimes tell me that they assume if they die without a will, that their assets will go to the government. I don’t know where they get this information – perhaps they have heard of something like this happening in other jurisdictions. In Alberta, the distribution of an Intestate (no will) Estate is governed by Part 3 of the Wills And Succession Act:

Alberta Wills & Successions Act

How is the distribution of an intestate estate determined?

If you have a spouse or adult interdependent partner (common-law spouse), the estate would go to them. If you had neither of those, it would go to your children. If you had no spouse/partner or children, the Act sets out a scheme for determining the distribution of your estate. This chart at the Alberta Justice web-site shows clearly what would happen:

Parentelic Distribution Chart under the Alberta Wills & Succession Act

The estate would be steered towards your parents, then siblings, then nieces and nephews, or great nieces and great nephews. Failing that, the Act then looks towards grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and even great grandparents. Only if you had no qualifying relatives, would the estate fall under the Unclaimed Personal and Vested Property Act.

Is it still important that I make a proper will?

Even though there is a statutory scheme for the distribution of an intestate estate in Alberta, it is still important that you make a proper legal will. You may not want to include some of the beneficiaries that qualify under the Act. It could be that you are estranged from certain relatives, or that some relatives are in greater financial need than others. There may be other individuals and charities you want to make gifts to. A proper will can establish appropriate trusts for your minor beneficiaries. You may not like who is appointed by the court to be the administrator of your estate or guardian of your children. By making a legal will you can be sure that your wishes will be respected.

Please contact me if you have any questions about intestate estates or drafting a legal will.