Every adult can benefit from drafting a will and other basic estate planning documents. However, too many people think it will not matter too much if they don’t have these plans.
If you feel like this, you should know how dying intestate (without a will) affects other people.
- Critical decisions can be in the hands of a stranger. When people pass away without a will, the court will appoint someone to address estate distribution, dependent care and closing a person’s final affairs. These parties may be strangers to the decedent and the decedent’s loved ones, making it challenging to navigate family dynamics or make decisions informed by personal relationships.
- Family members may have to make painful choices. Estate plans are more than directions for distributing property. They can also include details on a person’s wishes regarding end-of-life care, final arrangements and other intensely personal matters. Without this information, loved ones can be in a position to make extraordinarily difficult choices without reassurance from the incapacitated or deceased individual. Parties in this situation can experience considerable guilt, stress and even anger.
- Courts may overlook non-relative loved ones. British Columbia laws dictate how the courts must distribute property when someone dies without a will. Because of this, close friends, partners, neighbors and other non-relative loved ones who an individual may have addressed in a will typically receive nothing. Distant, estranged or unknown relatives would be in a position to collect property before these other parties.
- The care of children or pets can be a point of contention. If someone with children passes away and does not have a will, the courts will appoint parties as caregivers. If no one close to the decedent can serve as a guardian, the courts will select a public guardian or the Ministry of Children and Family Development. This could be devastating for a child already experiencing a significant loss. Further, pets could wind up with strangers or shelters; the animal could also be in danger of abandonment.
While you may not believe you have much to gain or lose by crafting an estate plan, know that others will be affected by this decision in ways that you may not realize. For their sake, it can be wise to take the time and make your wishes known.