Executors or Estate Trustees often administer smaller or less complicated estates without the advice of a lawyer. In some cases Executors/Trustees believe they only require the assistance from a lawyer in order to produce notarial copies of the Will for financial institutions.
These simpler estates are mainly situation where there is no real estate and the value of the assets are low enough that the financial institution holding the assets do not require court approval of the estate trustee’s authority (probate), or there are no or little assets in the estate because all of the assets pass by way of joint ownership with the deceased (bank accounts and investment assets), or by a designated beneficiary (RRSP’s RRIF’s TFSA’s and Life Insurance.)
In some cases funeral homes help Executors apply for CPP benefits, and assisting with the cancellation of services (OHIP, Passports, Driver’s Licence, etc.) to ensure there is no identity theft.
However there are situations when a lawyer should be consulted, even for a small and simple estate. Those situations are as follows:
- There is real estate involved. Even though it is in joint tenancy, a lawyer will be needed to do a Survivorship Application to ensure the property is transferred into the joint owner’s name who is still alive.
- There are debts that total more than the estate is worth (after deducting funeral, legal and Executor fees) so that creditors approve of the distribution of the estate assets and do not sue the Executor.
- There is a support claim against the estate, including a possible claim by a surviving spouse where the surviving spouse may not have been given as much in the Will as their entitlement under the law.
- The Will is being challenged as a valid last Will.
- The Estate Trustee has questions about a number of issues including, income taxation of the estate and beneficiaries on death, the need if any for advertising for creditors, Executors compensation, ensuring the beneficiaries approve of the accounting, compensation and work of the Executor, looking for dormant bank accounts and uncashed Canada Savings Bonds.
If any of these situations apply I suggest a lawyer be consulted. I have for many years charged for estates on a task based fee schedule as I found that many clients wanted to do some of the tasks themselves, and every estate was different. I therefore have an initial one hour consultation for $475 plus HST which reviews all of the issues an estate may have. From there I charge for the tasks that the client assigns to me. If nothing further than a consultation is needed, and the Executor will be managing all tasks themselves, my fee is $475 plus HST for one hour or less. Three (3) notarial copies of the Will are included in this fee.