Wills and Estates Issues in Family Law
Wills and estates refers to the area of law that deals with the drafting and interpretation of wills, how a deceased person's estate is distributed when there is a valid will, how a deceased person's estate is distributed when there isn't a valid will, and how certain relatives can challenge a deceased person's will. In family law, issues concerning a person's will most often arise when a couple have separated or are getting a divorce.
Making, changing, revoking, and enforcing wills are governed by the provincial Wills, Estates and Succession Act (WESA). Section 37 sets out the basic requirements for a valid will:
37 (1) To be valid, a will must be
(a) in writing,
(b) signed at its end by the will-maker, or the signature at the end must be acknowledged by the will-maker as his or hers, in the presence of 2 or more witnesses present at the same time, and
(c) signed by 2 or more witnesses in the presence of the will-maker.
British Columbia courts have said that people are presumed to have a moral duty to provide for members of their immediate family. Under WESA, spouses and children who have not been provided for in a will are able to challenge the will and ask the court that they be included and receive a share, or a bigger share, of the dead person's estate. This is often referred to as a variation of a will.
A person who dies without leaving a will is said to die intestate. If a person dies intestate, their assets are dealt with according to the terms of WESA. This law requires a person's estate to be distributed in a certain way, with the surviving spouse receiving a first, fixed share of the estate, which is adjusted if the surviving spouse is not the other parent of the deceased's surviving children, and the remainder being split with any surviving children (sections 20 to 23 of WESA).
If a person dies without a will, only people who qualify as the person's spouse and children can benefit from the provisions of WESA. If the dead person had been married or in a marriage-like relationship which either party had terminated prior to the first person’s death, the former spouse can't make a claim under the act.
If a person dies with a will which gives a benefit to a spouse, but either party had terminated the relationship prior to the will-maker's death, the benefit is cancelled.
- Clicklaw Common Question "I want to contest or dispute a will. What can I do?"
- Clicklaw Common Question "My common-law partner died. What legal issues do I need to know about?"
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Bob Mostar and Mark Norton, June 24, 2019.|
|JP Boyd on Family Law © John-Paul Boyd and Courthouse Libraries BC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada Licence.|
Normally referred to as the "Supreme Court of British Columbia," this court hears most court proceedings in this province. The Supreme Court is a court of inherent jurisdiction and is subject to no limits on the sorts of claims it can hear or on the sorts of orders it can make. Decisions of the Provincial Court are appealed to the Supreme Court; decisions of the Supreme Court are appealed to the Court of Appeal. See "Court of Appeal," "jurisdiction," "Provincial Court," and "Supreme Court of Canada."
A court established and staffed by the provincial government, which includes Small Claims Court, Youth Court, and Family Court. The Provincial Court is the lowest level of court in British Columbia and is restricted in the sorts of matters it can deal with. It is, however, the most accessible of the two trial courts and no fees are charged to begin or defend a court proceeding. Small Claims Court, for example, cannot deal with claims larger than $25,000, and Family Court cannot deal with the division of family property or matters under the Divorce Act. See "judge" and "jurisdiction."
In law, all of the personal property and real property that a person owns or in which they have an interest, usually in connection with the prospect or event of the person's death.
The legal termination of a valid marriage by an order of a judge; the ending of a marital relationship and the conjugal obligations of each spouse to the other. See "conjugal rights," "marriage," and "marriage, validity of."
Dying without a will. In such circumstances, the distribution of the dead person’s estate is governed by the Wills, Estates and Succession Act. See also "estate," "inheritance," and "will."
Under the Divorce Act, either of two people who are married to one another, whether of the same or opposite genders. Under the Family Law Act, married spouses, unmarried parties who have lived together in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years, and, for all purposes of the act other than the division of property or debt, unmarried parties who have lived together for less than two years but have had a child together. See "marriage" and "marriage-like relationship."
In family law, the natural or adoptive father or mother of a child; may also include stepparents, depending on the circumstances and the applicable legislation; may include the donors of eggs or sperm and surrogate mothers, depending on the circumstances and the terms of any assisted reproduction agreement. See "adoptive parent," "natural parent," and "stepparent."
In family law, the quality of an unmarried couple's relationship that demonstrates their commitment to each other, their perception of themselves as a couple, and their willingness to sacrifice individual advantages for the advantage of themselves as a couple; a legal requirement for a couple to be considered spouses without marrying. See "cohabitation," "marriage," and "spouse."
In law, a person named as an applicant, claimant, respondent, or third party in a court proceeding; someone asserting a claim in a court proceeding or against whom a claim has been brought. See "action" and "litigant."
The assertion of a legal right to an order or to a thing; the remedy or relief sought by a party to a court proceeding.
Intentionally doing a thing; a law passed by a government, also called "legislation" or a "statute." See "regulations."