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Changes took effect March 31, 2014 in British Columbia law affecting wills, estates and succession. We encourage you to visit the government website outlining the highlights of the legal amendments.
As the site indicates, the new Wills, Estates and Succession Act:
- Provides more latitude for courts to ensure a deceased person’s last wishes will be respected.
- Makes it easier to transfer the title of one’s spousal home when one’s spouse dies.
- Lowers the minimum age at which someone can make a will to 16 from 19.
- Clarifies the process of inheritance when a person dies without leaving a will.
- Clarifies property inheritance obligations in the context of Nisga’a and Treaty First Nations lands.
Below is a detailed summary of changes to the act, or visit the government website.
Note that the changes will not make a will written before the Act passed invalid, but it may change how that will is interpreted. For example, gifts to children during a will-maker’s lifetime will not be treated as advances out of the estate under the new law.
- Definition of “spouse” includes anyone in a marriage-like relationship for at least 2 years.
Intestacy (Dying Without a Will)
- No change where spouse survives without issue (now called “dependants”)
- If spouse survives with dependants, spouse receives household furnishings and spousal preferential share
- If all descendants are descendants of the intestate and the surviving spouse the spouse’s preferential share is $300,000
- If one or more descendants are not descendants of the surviving spouse, the spouse’s preferential share is $150,000
- After payment of spouse’s preferential share 1⁄2 residue goes to spouse and 1⁄2 is divided among descendants
- Personal Representative of the intestate is forbidden to dispose of spousal home for 180 days from death of intestate to allow surviving spouse time to decide if he/she wishes to purchase it
- If no spouse or descendants, all to the intestate’s parents equally
- If no parents then to descendants of parents
- If no spouse, descendants, parents or descendants of parents then to grandparents or descendants
- If no heirs, then to government per Escheat Act as before
Designations of Beneficiaries of Benefit Plans
- Benefits payable to designated beneficiaries in RRSP and Insurance plans are not part of the estate and not subject to claims of deceased owner’s creditors
- Marriage no longer revokes a will
- Legal age for making a will changed to 16
- Legal age for witnessing a will is 19
- Gifts to or appointment as executor of someone who at death of will-maker is no longer a spouse of the will-maker lapse because former spouse is deemed to have died before the will-maker
- Gifts to children during will-maker’s lifetime are no longer treated as advances out of the estate
- In common tragedies, the seniority presumption that oldest died first is repealed and replaced with presumption that each died before the other
- And, when joint tenants die in a common tragedy the property is deemed held in tenancy in common
- For gifts in a will, a beneficiary who does not survive the will-maker by 5 days is deemed to have died before the will-maker