How to settle an estate without a will

The death of a loved one is a difficult experience, and even more so when you must settle the estate at the same time you are grieving.

If there is a notarized will, the person settling the estate can follow the last wishes expressed in this document.

If there is not a notarized will, the case becomes an intestate succession.

Here are the steps to follow if you must settle an estate without a will in Quebec.

1. Select who will settle the estate

Normally the liquidators are the heirs when there is no will.

To simplify liquidation, it’s preferable to designate one person or, at most, a few people.

In some cases, the liquidators will need a notarial act to identify themselves and act in the name of the deceased.

2. Obtain the declaration of death

A declaration of death is essential for all following steps.

In Quebec, the request is submitted to the Directeur de l’état civil , jointly with the funeral home you are working with.

The Directeur de l’état civil will then cancel the deceased’s health insurance card.

3. Ask a legal professional for assistance

Notaries and lawyers are there to support you in managing the estate, especially if it is complex.

They can explain the procedure for settling the estate, one step at a time.

4. Check for Legal Access Insurance

Find out if the deceased held Legal Access Insurance.

If so, you can get free advice about settling the estate from a legal professional.

Why not take advantage of it?

5. Do a search for a will

Even if there is no will, this step is mandatory.

You must do two searches for a will, one at the Chambre des notaires  and the other at the Barreau du Québec . You will need the declaration of death to do the searches.

Look through the deceased’s papers for a handwritten will.

If you find a marriage contract, you must apply its provisions.

6. Accepting or refusing a succession

Before making a decision, you must inventory the deceased’s property.

Usually the deceased’s debts are not bequeathed to the heirs if they are worth more than the assets.

However, the heirs may have to pay the debts in the following two cases:

If the heirs refuse the succession, it is recommended that you consult a legal professional. He or she will guide you through the process.

7. Identify the heirs

This step may appear simple, but it’s deceiving. That’s why we recommend that you consult a legal professional.

When there is no will, the Civil Code of Quebec sets out the following persons as heirs :

  • The spouse (religious marriage or civil union)
  • Biological or adopted children (a notarized declaration of heredity may be required)

Common-law spouses are not considered heirs if there is no will.

A case study

Natalie and Frank weren’t interested in getting married, but they lived together as a couple for 25 years.

Frank dies suddenly in a car accident and didn’t leave a notarized will.

To Natalie’s surprise, she discovers that she is not considered Frank’s heir, in spite of living together with him.

It’s Frank’s two children from a previous marriage who inherit all his assets, including half the home Natalie and he bought together.

8. Administer the estate wisely

Be prudent when carrying out the following tasks:

  • Maintaining the deceased’s property and residence
  • Paying car and home insurance
  • Investing wisely
  • Preserving all the estate documents
  • etc.

Settling an estate is marked by different steps that you must take such as:

  • Doing a property inventory
  • Doing tax reports
  • Notifying creditors and various agencies of the death

To guide you with the procedures to follow, consult Services Québec  et Éducaloi .

9. Post the notice of closure of inventory

You must post a notice of closure of inventory in the media of the region in which the deceased lived.

This notice of closure must include the following information:

  • The deceased’s name
  • The location where the inventory of property can be consulted

10. Distribute the assets after the estate is settled

Wait until the estate has been settled before distributing property and assets to the heirs.

For peace of mind

A notarized will (as opposed to a handwritten will) guarantees that settling the estate will be straightforward.

Plan to take out Legal Access Insurance. It will facilitate your liquidator’s duties.