If your common-law partner dies
Important: Under BC law, including the laws about wills and estates, you become a spouse when you live with someone (same or opposite sex) in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years. BC law doesn't use the term common-law partner. This fact sheet will refer to unmarried spouses as partners.
If your partner leaves you anything in the will, it's yours. You just go through the usual legal steps to probate the will. Remember that your partner's debts will have to be paid. (Your partner may owe money to a former spouse or common-law partner and children.)
However, if your partner leaves you nothing or very little in the will, you may go to court and ask a judge to change the will. Adopted and natural children of a common-law relationship may also go to court and ask the judge to change the will to include them.
If your partner had been in another relationship and didn't leave enough to the other partner and/or their children to take care of them, or left them nothing, they may also go to court and ask a judge to change the will.
A judge very rarely changes what is said in a will.
If your partner dies without making a will, you're entitled to a share of the estate. You should get legal advice. The children that you and your partner had together or adopted are also entitled to a share of the estate.
Your partner's children
What happens if your partner dies without leaving a will and you want your partner's children to live with you? Unless you've adopted your partner's children, you have to go to court to apply for guardianship of them. You must do this even if the children are already living with you.
Whether or not your partner leaves a will, you have the following rights:
Joint bank accounts
If you had a joint account with right of survivorship, you can withdraw the whole amount from the account at any time. If you run into any difficulties, speak to the bank's head office. Once you have a death certificate, you can have the account transferred to your name alone.
Share of the house
If you and your partner own a house in joint tenancy, you, as the living joint tenant, become the owner of the whole house. If you own the house as tenants in common, your partner's share goes to the person it was left to in the will, or to his or her general estate.
Important: If your title to the property doesn't actually say "joint tenant," then it's automatically a "tenancy in common."
If you live on reserve
Important: As of December 16, 2014, there are new laws that set out who can stay in the family home on reserve when your partner dies. These laws are part of The Family Homes on Reserve and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act. For more information on the Act, see Your home on reserve on the Aboriginal Legal Aid in BC website.
Under the Act, if your spouse or common-law partner dies, you can stay in the family home for at least 180 days (six months). You can apply to live in the home for longer than 180 days. The court will take into account a number of different things when it decides whether you can stay in the home and for how long. For more information, see Wills and estates on reserve on our Aboriginal Legal Aid in BC website.
Life insurance policies
Your partner may have named you as the beneficiary in life insurance policies. As the beneficiary, you get insurance money if your partner dies. Insurance companies usually give you some of the money right away to help with expenses. You get the rest when the legal paperwork is done.
You may be able to receive wages owed to your partner. Check with your partner's employer.
You may be able to get workers' compensation death benefits if your partner is killed on the job. You may be eligible if you and your partner:
- lived together in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years; or
- had a child together and lived together in a marriage-like relationship for at least one year.
If your partner was (or should have been) supporting another partner or children, he or she may have a right to these benefits, too.
For claims-related questions, call WorkSafeBC:
604-231-8888 (Greater Vancouver)
1-888-967-5377 (elsewhere in BC, call no charge).
Crime Victim Assistance Program
The Crime Victim Assistance Program provides compensation for personal injury or death resulting from crime. The benefits will compensate for loss of income, counselling costs, medical costs, or similar expenses. The program doesn't compensate for pain and suffering.
604-660-3888 (Greater Vancouver)
1-866-660-3888 (elsewhere in BC, call no charge)
Canada Pension Plan
If your partner contributed to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), you may be entitled to a number of benefits. For CPP, common-law partners are defined as people who live together for at least one year.
CPP benefits can include:
- Death benefit: A lump-sum benefit paid to the estate of the contributor.
- Survivor's pension: A monthly benefit paid to the surviving common-law partner or spouse. CPP considers you to be the surviving common-law partner if you had lived with your partner as a couple for at least one year immediately before the date of death. Normally, you have to be over 35 to qualify. However, if you have dependent children living with you, or you have a disability, you can be eligible if you're under 35.
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