What happens to our property if my spouse passes away?

estate planning

Jan 10, 2017

If your spouse dies, what happens to their property and your joint property depends on two key factors: the status of your relationship and the existence of a valid will.

Valid Will

A will is a legal document that outlines who receives a person’s property upon their death. To be valid, there are certain rules that wills in Ontario must follow. For example, there must be witnesses to the will and it must provide for dependents (such as children, spouses and former spouses) if necessary.

If there is no will, or there is not a valid will, intestacy rules govern the division of property.

Married and Common-Law Partners

Any property or money held jointly with your partner will solely become yours whether you were married or common-law. This also applies to insurance money and investments where you are registered as the beneficiary. These jointly-held items or beneficiary claims are not affected by intestacy rules and cannot be negated in a will (for example, your spouse cannot leave a jointly-held property to someone else.)

If you are legally married and your spouse has a valid will, you have two inheritance options: reception of the items left in the will or reception of an equalization payment. The Family Law Act of Ontario considers that each spouse contributed equally to the relationship whether financially or otherwise (to child care and household management). An equalization payment is, essentially, made to ensure the surviving spouse is made to hold equal wealth of the dying spouse.

If you are legally married and your spouse does not have a will, your two inheritance options are: an equalization payment or inherit your share of their estate as governed by the intestacy rules.

If your spouse was common-law, you do not inherit their property unless they have specified this in a will. If this is not specified or there is no valid will, your spouse’s property will be distributed to their children or other relatives.

What happens to my spouses benefits upon death?

If your spouse made contributions to the Canadian Pension Plan, you may be eligible for a survivor’s pension and a funeral expenses benefit. There may also be compensation benefits available to you, depending on the cause of their death.

You should prepare a valid will to ensure that your loved ones are looked after upon your death and to avoid any disputes regarding the division of property. If you need to prepare a will, or have questions about intestacy or inheritance claims, book a consultation with the Wills and Estates lawyers of Chown Cairns law firm today.

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