Bureaucracy to blame for thousands of Canadians struggling with estate laws, seniors' advocate says

September 10, 2018

An Ontario widow found herself stuck with a clunker she couldn't legally drive — or even give away — after being told she had to pay more than the car is worth in legal fees to transfer ownership.

Margaret McArthur, 75, from Ottawa, is like thousands of others who get caught up in a complicated and expensive system where people with few assets can face high legal bills when a loved one dies, according to Laura Tamblyn Watts, the national director of law, policy and research for CARP, formerly the Canadian Association for Retired Persons.

After 56 years of marriage, McArthur's husband, John, died suddenly in March without leaving a will.

On paper he owned the car, but his wife, Margaret, was the one who drove it, and both their names were on the insurance.

"[I thought] if I die he gets it, if he dies, I get it. It's just automatic," she said from her home in Ottawa.  

Couldn't even donate car

The 2004 Hyundai Accent GS is worth about $800. McArthur was told by officials she'd have to pay at least $1,500 in legal bills to get the documents needed to transfer ownership from her husband to herself.

McArthur thinks it's ridiculous to have to spend so much money to transfer ownership of a car that she already paid for and has been driving daily for years. But without transferring ownership, she can't renew the vehicle's registration.

"Why don't they just give me the damn car?" asks McArthur. "What difference does it make? It's maybe only gonna last another couple of years."

She even tried donating the car to charity, but was told she couldn't.

"The Ministry of Transportation said it had to be put in my name before we could donate it. So I can't even donate it. Can't sell it. Can't scrap it."

Read more: Bureaucracy to blame for thousands of Canadians struggling with estate laws, seniors' advocate says