When in doubt, probate. You can probate almost any Ontario estate in just seven steps.
1. Find and Value Assets.
Antiques, collectibles, cars, real estate, memorabilia, jewelery, investments, family photos — it could take months to go through everything. Don’t hesitate to hire appraisers, real estate agents, antique dealers or movers to inventory and store the deceased’s assets. As long as they’re reasonable, all your expenses can come out of the estate. Keep a copy of appraisals for your records in case heirs or the court ask. Investments may take special handling to keep income flowing while you settle the estate. Cancel benefits like pensions and health insurance, plus credit cards. Check insurance policies are up to date and lock the door behind yourself.
2. Communicate With Heirs.
If you can locate the major beneficiaries, they may be able to put you in touch with other heirs. A video call or phone conference can allow you to introduce yourself, if you’re not next-of-kin, and set out a realistic timeline for next steps to settle the estate. Don’t over commit. It may come back to haunt you (see step 7). Give beneficiaries your email address so they can contact you with questions or to get an update on your progress.
3. Go to Probate Court.
Get a probate lawyer to help you with your application for a certificate of appointment of estate trustee with a will (or without a will, if the deceased died intestate). You can apply to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice where the deceased lived or owned property. You’ll need to know their address, marital status, assets and approximate value. Estate administration taxes are due when you apply. They vary, depending on the size of the estate. You may pay nothing at all if the estate is under $50,000. Your lawyer can advise you on the other documents you’ll need.
4. Discharge Debts and Taxes.
Debts and taxes just never seem to go away. It’s no different when you probate an estate. Posting a notice to creditors and claimants online or in local newspapers can help you identify outstanding debts. You can pay off debts that seem valid or get legal advice if you have questions. As for taxes, that’s between you, an accountant and the Canada Revenue Agency.
5. Distribute the Estate.
So the fun begins. After debts and taxes are paid, what’s left and gifts can be distributed to heirs. See you in court later if it doesn’t go the way you or they hoped.
6. Collect Your Fee.
Managing all that money responsibly can be taxing. Ontario’s Trustee Act allows estate trustees to be paid fair and reasonable fees of up to 5% of an estate’s value, plus expenses. You can apply to court for special management fees if the estate was complex, involved legal action or took way longer than expected (years not months).
7. Pass the Accounts.
You know you’re honest, but if the beneficiaries believe their inheritance was mishandled, they may apply to Ontario probate court to have you pass the accounts. Anyone with a financial interest in the estate, heir or not, can request it.
Delays administering the estate, not communicating with heirs or billing too much for expenses or estate management fees can find you in court. Not to mention the trouble you could get yourself into selling assets for less than they are worth, treating heirs or creditors unfairly or siphoning money off the books for your own purposes (but we won’t go there).
Estate trustees who manage money for minors or mentally incapable heirs must provide an accounting to the court, guardians and the Ontario Public Guardian and Trustee or Ontario Children’s Lawyer. “Unascertained” beneficiaries, such as grandchildren yet to be born, or “contingent” beneficiaries like charities that inherit if the primary beneficiary is unable to are also owed an accounting of how the estate is being administered.
Of course, you can be proactive and voluntarily submit your accounts. Proving you acted in the estate’s best interests benefits you in the end, especially if your fees are in question. Probate court can order you to return money to the estate if you made missteps along the way.
Well that was a bit more complicated than you thought it would be. We didn’t say it would be easy, but it will be an experience. Stay positive!
Video Advice on Probating an Ontario Estate
Axess Law’s Ontario probate lawyers can advise you on making an application to Ontario probate court. Remote video call appointments let you talk to a licensed probate lawyer from anywhere in Ontario. Call 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form to make an appointment. Virtual video calls can be made 7 days a week, day or evening, at times that suit your schedule. In-person meetings are available at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.
Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s probate law services.
Photo by Maike und Björn Bröskamp|Pixabay.