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Monday, February 1, 2016

My deceased friend had no family. Can I claim her body and possessions?

What happens when a friend dies without a will, and you know he or she has no family who is going to step in and look after things? A reader recently wrote to me about this situation. You can read her note and my comments below.

"My oldest friend has passed away in Canada without any family members such as parents or kids. Can I claim her body and her possessions as her only living friend?"

I assume that your friend didn't have a will. The fact that you are an old friend doesn't convey any legal status to claim either the body or the possessions. In order to gain the legal authority to deal with either of these things, you would have to apply to the court in the province in which your friend lived to be appointed as administrator of the estate.

There is a hierarchy to who is allowed to apply to the court. Someone on one level of the hierarchy cannot apply until everyone higher on the list has renounced (or perhaps doesn't exist) as well as everyone else on the same level renounces. For example, the first right to apply goes to a deceased person's spouse, so none of the children could apply if the spouse wanted to. In the case of your friend, you could only apply if you were quite sure there were no siblings or cousins who wanted to apply to be the administrator.

No hierarchy that I know of specifically mentions friends as potential applicants, but in the absence of eligible family members there is no reason why an application by a friend would not be acceptable.

Your question suggests that you may live outside of Canada. This won't disqualify you from applying to be the administrator, but you will have to post a bond.

If you were successfully appointed as administrator, you would have the legal authority to claim the body and to make arrangements for burial, cremation, or whatever you thought reasonable in the circumstances.

As administrator, you would also be taking on the responsibility of taking care of the entire estate. This would include paying the deceased's bills, cancelling credit cards, getting her tax return done, applying for benefits, selling assets, clearing out her residence, etc. You would be allowed to claim a fee from the estate for that.

Even though there are no known family members, it is unlikely that you would be able to claim your friend's possessions. There are laws in place that state who is allowed to inherit when someone dies without a will. It extends quite far into the family tree, but does not go as far as non-relatives. At the end of the day, if absolutely no family can be found anywhere, the property in the estate would belong to the government.


  1. Lynne
    Your blog, your responses to posts is bar none.
    Being an Executor is for many a thankless job and as another lawyer wrote, one of the most stressful situations you will ever encounter. A word to the wise is sufficient.

    1. I spoke on the phone today with a fellow who thought he had an estate wrapped up 30 years ago but was just served with a lawsuit for the estate he administered. After we discussed his personal liability, he commented that if he'd had any idea what it would really be like to be an estate administrator, he would never have agreed to it. So yeah, it can be pretty darn stressful.



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