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Monday, February 28, 2011

How to get started with probate

You're the executor. You're pretty sure that you're supposed to be probating the deceased's will. If you're like many people, you may find this project complex and maybe even overwhelming. Do you know where to start?

It's beyond the scope of a blog post to describe to you each and every step in the probate process, but in this post I'd like to point out some of the first steps you should take in order to get going with your court application for probate.

1.  Make sure that you have the original will, not a photocopy. It is always the most recent will that is probated, so check the dates if there is more than one.

2.  Get an original Funeral Director's Statement of Death and a government-issued Death Certificate.

3.  Decide whether you're going to do this probate application yourself, or whether you're going to hire a professional to help you. If you're hiring help, find a specialist. That can be either a trust company or a lawyer who specializes in wills and estates. Be realistic - if there's a dispute brewing, don't try to do this on your own.

4.  Spend a few hours in the deceased's home looking through his desk, filing cabinet etc. Look for (and keep) legal and financial documents including bank statements, investment statements, bank books, title deeds, child support orders, shareholders' agreements, vehicle pink slips, bills of sale, mortgage statements, share certificates, Canada Savings Bonds, pension statements, tax slips, tax returns from previous years, pay stubs, account numbers, insurance policies, contracts, etc. From these papers, you should be able to put together a basic picture of what you're dealing with in terms of assets and liabilities. You should also have a better idea of whether probate is even necessary.

5.  Make a list of everyone in the deceased's immediate family, with their addresses and birth dates. If there is anyone named as a beneficiary in the will who is not already on your list, add them.

6. If you are hiring a professional, take all of this material you've gathered to them.

7.  If you're doing the probate yourself, get a kit if possible. Links on this site will take you  to Ontario and BC probate kits, and soon the upcoming Alberta probate kit. Where no kits are available, get the forms from the Queen's Printer for your province or territory.

8.  Start with the inventory. I suggest this because you will have to make a lot of phone calls, send a lot of emails and visit a lot of offices to get the information you need. It's the most time-consuming and complex of the documents.

From there, you'll complete the forms you need and submit them to the court with the proper fee. This begins the probate process. While these instructions may seem very simple, any DIY executor knows that they are not. But now at least you know where to start.


  1. In California, Probate is so complex that for an individual to do it by themselves is pretty unthinkable. So I guess I find this article a little shocking. Are there many people who go it alone in Canada?

  2. Yes, there certainly are a lot of people who go it alone. Not that it's necessarily easy and fun for them, but it's do-able if the estate is straightforward.



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