Wills for poor people

After a Sunday series that focused on family fights about money, I got many comments and questions about writing a will. Here’s a letter from a reader about his dad’s will:

I have enjoyed reading your columns in the Star for years. As an accountant I think of myself as fairly financially savvy but I often learn new things through it.

In reading the Jan. 28 column, it strikes me that one situation that I have seen very little written about or discussed is the death of poor people. I guess this is particularly true because of my own involvement in such a situation.

My father passed away in September of 2003. He was 78 and lived alone on CPP, OAS and GIS. When he died, he lived in a cramped one-room apartment with less than $1,000 in his bank account and no other assets and just a small amount of credit card debt. I am one of seven surviving sons or daughters (two from a previous marriage that I have never met), and my mother predeceased him, so that made the seven of us his “next of kin”. He died with no will.

I found dealing with all the complications frustrating and complex. With no will, there is no executor, so it was hard to cancel things (phone, cable, credit cards, etc.). I did look into the Ontario Public Guardian’s office, but the paperwork and cost (more than his estate!) were simply way too involved to contemplate. And the thought of the complications I would have to go through in terms of searching for survivors also put me off.

In terms of his income taxes and estate return — again, legally, one must be the executor to complete — so in the end none of these forms were completed. (I have no idea what I will say to CRA if they ever come knocking about this.)

Luckily, my brother knew the bank manager at our Dad’s bank so we were able to close the account. Up to a year later I was still getting mail from places like Rogers about his account. I got tired of telling them he was dead, so I simply threw away the mail.