The people and causes you care most about can be taken care of by your estate—if you plan properly. Should you die before your plan is in place, the government takes over and makes decisions on your behalf:
1. The courts appoint an executor*
Dying without a Will ("intestate") may cause additional complications and a delay in dividing your estate among your heirs. If your estate does not have an executor, the courts will likely appoint someone to take care of your estate, but this process could take weeks or months to finalize. Until your court-appointed person acts, no one can manage or deal with your estate. This may create problems for your loved ones as bills may go unpaid and those who need support may not receive it in a timely manner.
2. The court-appointed executor pays your debts
These include debts you incurred during your lifetime, testamentary expenses (debts incurred after your death for burial, cremation, funeral etc), and costs associated with administering your estate.
3. Your remaining estate is distributed as set out by the provincial rules
When you die without naming heirs to your estate, your court-appointed executor must follow provincial rules in distributing your wealth. In most provinces, your executor must give a certain portion of your estate to your spouse, but it may not be fair or adequate, in which case your spouse may have to go through the courts to claim more—this will incur needless expenses as the courts review the claims. After your spouse receives the allotted share, the rest of the estate is distributed to surviving children. If there are no surviving children, the estate is distributed generally in the following manner: parents, then siblings, then nephews/nieces, then next of kin, then (if none surviving) the provincial government.
Ensuring you have a valid, current Will can help reduce complications for your estate and ensure your intentions are carried out.
* "Liquidator" in Québec.