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How is an estate distributed if a will was not made?

When a resident of Ontario dies without a will, also called dying intestate, the person's property is distributed pursuant to the terms of the Succession Law Reform Act. Generally speaking, property is distributed first to the surviving spouse, if any, and then to children and other relatives. Only blood relatives, including adopted children and children born outside of marriage, can inherit from the estate. Half-blood relatives are treated the same as whole-blood relatives under the Act. The preference of the law is to distribute the decedent's estate to his or her nearest possible relatives.

Specifically, if the decedent's spouse makes a claim to entitlement, the Act dictates that the spouse can choose between claiming half of the net value of the family property or claiming the first $200,000 in the estate. The analysis can sometimes be complicated; a wills and estates lawyer could help the spouse decide which is the better option.

If the surviving spouse claims the $200,000, anything above that amount is divided between the descendants, those being the children and grandchildren, and the spouse. If the decedent left no surviving spouse, his or her estate is divided among his or her children. If any of the children died before the decedent, that child's offspring will divide that child's share. If a person dies without a will and without a surviving spouse or descendant, then the distribution proceeds to the decedent's parents. If there are no parents, then the decedent's siblings inherit.

As the surviving relatives grow more distant, the rules grow more complicated. Nieces and nephews may inherit, for example, but their descendants will not divide their share if they died prior to the decedent. Every case is unique; this blog post is meant to provide an overview of the law and is not meant as legal advice. A wills and estates lawyer can help answer questions about intestate succession in a particular case.

Source: Ministry of the Attorney General, "How an estate is distributed: Without a will", September 24, 2014

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