Wills and Estates Issues in Family Law

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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.

Resources and links[edit]



This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Mark Norton, June 8, 2017.

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