Wills and estates

A will is a legal document left by someone who’s died. It lets the court know what to do with that person’s estate

A will often needs to go through probate – a process that ensures the will is real and was left by the deceased.

It’s recommended that you use a lawyer if there are questions about the validity or interpretation of a will.

Executor or Administrator Responsibilities

Wills usually name an executor, or an administrator, who is responsible for carrying out the instructions in the will. The executor or administrator can be one person or several people.

Basic duties of the executor or administrator include:

  • Completing an inventory and valuation of all assets and debts
  • Gathering names and addresses of all beneficiaries and next-of-kin
  • Cancelling subscriptions and charge cards, redirecting mail and wrapping up other personal matters
  • Taking control of all assets, including the transfer of ownership registrations and the collection of any debts
  • Paying all valid or proven debts left to the estate (the executor or administrator may be held personally liable for these debts if they remain unpaid after the distribution of the estate)
  • Filing tax returns for the deceased and for the estate
  • Selling assets as necessary and distributing the estate
  • Preparing and obtaining approval from the beneficiaries, heirs-at-law or the court for accounts showing assets, receipts, disbursements, and distribution of the estate

When There's No Will or Executor

If no will was left by the deceased, certain individuals are eligible to apply for a grant of administration in order to handle the estate. If successful, the person who is named as administrator is legally able to distribute the estate.

A grant of administration can also be used to assign an administrator if:

  • The deceased did not name an executor
  • The executor has died since the will was made and no alternate executor was named
  • The executor gives up the right to apply to the court for probate

Hiring a lawyer:  A lawyer is not required in order to apply for a grant of administration. If you do hire a lawyer, legal fees are considered a proper expense and may be paid out of the estate (subject to the approval of the beneficiaries, heirs-at-law or the court).

Anyone who applies for a grant of administration on their own must be well prepared and ready to do a lot of paperwork. Consider using these resources:

Wills Prior to March 31, 2014

On March 31, 2014, the laws about wills and estates changed.  Wills that did not complete the probate process by that date still fall under the old laws and regulations.

Find out more about these changes, and how they might affect you: