Inheriting from Long-Lost Relatives

September 8, 2015 Nick Esterbauer Estate & Trust, General Interest, Wills Tags: , , 0 Comments

An article published last week asks the question “Are You Related to This Violinist? If So, You Could Be a Millionaire“.  We are all too familiar with spam emails alleging that we are the long-lost relatives of individuals of whom we have never heard.  Such emails are generally accompanied by the promise of fortune in exchange for a small initial payment or upon providing detailed personal information.  But how often do individuals actually benefit from the estate of a long-lost relative?

The Succession Law Reform Act refers to “degrees of consanguinity”.  The table of consanguinity outlines who will become the beneficiary of an Ontario resident’s estate in the event that he or she is not survived by a married spouse and/or immediate family.  The table begins with the closest degrees of kinship and usually expands to third cousins, three times removed, indicating which relatives rank above others with respect to the potential to benefit from the intestacy of a family member (whether close or distantly related).  The Succession Law Reform Act, however, does not limit the rights of a very distantly-related family member from seeking to collect as a beneficiary on intestacy – it merely indicates that when a person dies without a will and is not survived by a spouse, issue, parent, sibling, nephew, or niece, the closest degree of next of kin who do survive the intestate will share the estate equally (if more than one of equal degrees of consanguinity survive) or absolutely (if only one next of kin survives the deceased).  Although it may be rare, in theory, a third cousin, three times removed could become the sole beneficiary of an estate of a relative whom he or she never knew existed.  Only in situations where there is no next of kin will estate assets become the property of the Crown.

Thursday’s blog post will explore the challenges associated with asserting one’s position as a very distantly-related next of kin.

Thank you for reading.

Nick Esterbauer

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