What happens to the property the spouse owned at death depends upon who is left surviving. The property is then distributed according to a specific hierarchy set out in a law called the Succession Law Reform Act.
Bear with me until you get to your family situation. Under the law:
- If the only survivor is a spouse, he or she gets all the property.
- If a spouse and one child survive, the spouse gets the first $200,000 worth of property; any remaining property is split equally between the spouse and child.
- If a spouse and two or more children survive, the spouse gets the first $200,000 plus one-third of the property that remains; the children split the other two-thirds equally.
- If no spouse, but one or more children survive, the children share the property equally; if any one of the children has died before the parent, that share goes to any children he or she has.
- If there is no spouse and no children, but grandchildren survive, those grandkids all are entitled to equal shares of the property.
If none of these scenarios fit, the law requires that the property must be distributed in equal shares to surviving parents, or if none to brothers and sisters, then to surviving nieces and nephews, then to next of kin -- and finally, if there are no such survivors, the property goes to the Crown.
It is because this law often conflicts with how a person would have intended their property to be distributed that many people are inspired to make a will setting out their wishes before dying.