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Dear Nancy,

Prince's sudden passing without a will has caused me to think about my own situation. I, too, currently do not have a will. I live in Ontario. What would happen to my estate if I were to die without one?

Signed, Charlie

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Dear Charlie,

First off, I need to scold you for not having a will. Anyone with any assets, debts or dependants should have a will.

Each province has its own laws when it comes to intestacy. In Ontario, there is the Succession Law Reform Act. It governs how your property will be distributed to your surviving family. It outlines how your assets are split to your legal spouse — common-law spouses do not automatically receive anything — your children, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. If you do not have living next-of-kin, the estate goes to the Ontario government.

If you die without a will, it will delay the settling of the estate. There are so many issues that can arise, depending on your situation. The proportions with which the estate is distributed may not be to your liking or what you intended. Your heir(s) may have to prove that they are entitled to a portion of your estate. Someone may have to apply to the courts to be named trustee in place of the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee.

For Ontario residents, the Ministry of the Attorney General has more information here. If you're a resident of another province or territory, simply search "dying without a will."

The best solution is to draw up a will and sign and register it with a lawyer. That will ensure that your estate is looked after as you intend it to be and not by the government.

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Nancy Woods is an associate portfolio manager and investment adviser with RBC Dominion Securities Inc. Visit her website www.nancywoods.com or send an email request to asknancy@rbc.com. You can also send your questions to asknancy@rbc.com.

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