What is an estate?

All of a person’s assets and liabilities including all interests in land and other property owned at the time of death comprise an estate. Estate administration is ruled by the laws of the jurisdiction where the deceased was domiciled at the time of death.

What is probate?

When a person dies and leaves a will, probate is the process of receiving official court approval of the will and confirms the authority of the executor so that third parties may rely on it. The executor has the right, but not the obligation, to act. After an estate grant is issued, the executor has legal authority to deal with the estate as permitted by law and directed in the will.

What is administration?

When a person dies and does not leave a will, the court may issue an estate grant to a party interested in the estate, often a family member, who applies to the court to be appointed administrator of the estate.  It may take longer to obtain court endorsement if the deceased did not leave a will but the result is that an administrator is officially appointed and that party may then deal with the estate in the same way as an executor. A common term for executor or administrator is “personal representative”.

Court fees

Fees are payable when a court application for an estate grant is made in BC. For example, for a BC estate valued at $50,000, the fees would be $350 ($200 filing fee plus $150 probate fees); for a BC estate valued at $200,000, the fees would be $2,450 ($200 filing fee plus $2,250 probate fee); for a BC estate valued at $500,000, the fees would be $6,650 ($200 filing fee plus $6,450 probate fee). Transferring land, bank accounts or vehicle ownership during one’s lifetime or adding others to title in order to avoid paying court fees is often not the best way to do estate planning; seek legal and accounting advice before making these kinds of transfers.

When is a grant needed?

An estate grant may be required by the Land Title Office; banks may require a grant before funds are released; the motor vehicle registry may require a grant before transferring vehicles. A grant is always required if the deceased owns an interest in land in BC regardless of its value. A grant may not always be required by banks or the motor vehicle registry office if the total value of estate assets is less than $50,000. A common example of when a grant is not required is when the first of a couple dies and they hold their vehicles, bank accounts and land as joint owners; in this case ownership may be easily transferred to the survivor at minimal cost. For a further example, if a single deceased lived in a rental unit at the time of death and the only estate asset is a bank account with $5,000 in it, it is unlikely that a grant will be necessary.

Settling the estate

The personal representative settles the estate when he or she values, gathers and sells estate assets and pays estate debts, taxes and funeral expenses and transfers specific gifts and the remainder to beneficiaries.  A will names beneficiaries and if there was no will, legislation sets out an entitlement and proportion scheme and generally immediate or extended family would take if there is no will.

It may take a few months or many months to settle an estate, depending on many factors, including how complex it is, how long it takes to sell property, or whether someone contests the proposed distribution. Special circumstances often arise in estate administration. Special circumstances include second or subsequent relationships, step-children and assets situated outside of BC. As well, if a spouse or children feel that they have not been suitably provided for in a will, a claim may be made for alteration of the will by the court. Legal advice should always be sought if special circumstances present themselves.

The above is for information purposes only and is not legal advice.

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