Next Steps to Take After the Death

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Legally, only the executor appointed under the will or administrator appointed by the court has the right to deal with the assets and property of the person who has died. An executor must get a grant of probate of the will from the court to confirm his or her authority.

If your family member died without a will, a person seeking to be appointed as administrator must apply to the court for a grant of administration before he or she has the authority to deal with the assets.

If you are the executor or the person seeking to be the administrator, excellent information is available about what you need to do:

First steps[edit]

If you cannot find the person's will, you can check with his or her notary public or lawyer. You can also do a wills search through Vital Statistics or your local government agent. Fee for service applies and is subject to change.

You need the following information to perform a wills search:

  • date and place of death,
  • date and place of birth,
  • full legal name and all alias names, and
  • occupation, if not retired.

If an executor is not involved or if you are the executor, you may want to secure the assets. Make sure the following valuables are safe:

  • will or copies of the will,
  • wallet, purse or briefcase,
  • social insurance card, medical card, driver’s licence, etc.,
  • credit cards, bank statements,
  • utilities statements,
  • life or property insurance policies, and
  • income tax papers.

You also may need to do the following: Make sure the deceased’s motor vehicle is locked in a safe place. Retain the keys and any valuable contents to hand over the executor. Retain access to the deceased’s residence to take care of pets, make sure appliances are off.

Usually the executor or administrator will send a change of address to Canada Post so that the deceased’s mail goes to the executor’s address while he or she is dealing with the person’s estate. It is the responsibility of the executor or administrator to notify institutions and cancel credit cards, club memberships, magazine subscriptions, etc.

Note: This booklet is not intended to explain the process for obtaining a grant of probate or an appointment of an administrator or the process for the distribution of the deceased’s assets.

What do I need to know about benefits for survivors?[edit]

The following is a general overview about benefits for survivors. Many of the tasks involved will be completed by the executor or administrator.

If you had a joint account with right of survivorship, you can withdraw the whole amount from the account at any time. If you encounter difficulties, speak to the bank manager. Once you have the death certificate, you can have the account transferred to your name alone.

If the accounts were in the deceased’s name alone, notify the bank. Banks may release small amounts of money to the survivor before the estate is settled, but they are not required to do so. They will pay funeral expenses directly if presented with the bill. They will not reimburse a person who has paid the funeral home directly until the estate is settled.

Money left to the designated beneficiary in insurance policies, pension funds, and RRSPs passes outside the will. If you are the designated beneficiary, contact the relevant institutions to learn what documents they need.

If your spouse was receiving a government or private pension, you may be entitled to a portion of the pension as the surviving spouse. Check with each agency.

If your deceased family member was a veteran, member of a union, or receiving a pension from another country, there may be pension benefits for survivors. For pensions, the estate or the survivor is entitled to keep the cheques issued in the month of your deceased family member’s death. Note: This applies to you if you are a dependent child of a parent who has died.

If the family member paid into the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), the death benefit is payable to the estate or survivor. CPP survivor benefits may be payable if the deceased is your spouse and you are under 60 or if you are a surviving child under 18 years of age or between the ages of 18 and 25 if attending school full-time.

If the deceased was still employed, benefits may be available. Death benefits payable by labour unions vary. They may be payable to the next-of-kin or the estate. The union office will have the information.

If the death was work-related, benefits may be available as workers’ compensation through WorkSafeBC.

If the death was due to a car accident, benefits are available from ICBC. Also, the deceased’s family members may bring a legal action for compensation if the accident were the fault of another.

If the death was a result of a crime, assistance and benefits may be available to survivors from the Crime Victim Assistance Program.

What do I need to know about re-arranging my own legal affairs?[edit]

In time, you may wish to change your will if the death of your deceased family member means your old will is out of date.

It may be appropriate to review your arrangements for future planning, and consider such tools as a power of attorney, enduring power of attorney, advance directive, or representation agreement. See Clicklaw for further information, under the common questions "When might I need a power of attorney?" and "Should I have an enduring power of attorney or a representation agreement?."

If you have lost your partner, you may need financial advice or help with reorganizing your banking arrangements. Talk to your bank or credit union.

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by People's Law School, 2012.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International LicenceA Death in Your Family © People's Law School is, except for the images, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.