The process for probating a will isn’t something most people think about until they have to. But when a loved one dies, you may wonder what the probate process is, how long it takes and how much it costs. Let’s walk through what you need to know to probate a will in Alberta, Canada.
What Does it Mean to Probate a Will?
Probate is the legal term for the process of reviewing a will to determine whether it’s valid and authentic. The probate process includes determining the value of the person’s assets and what bills and taxes need to be paid. It also includes administering the estate of a deceased person and ensuring that it’s done by the terms of their will, if they have one.
What’s Included in the Probate Process?
The probate process includes five general steps, all of which may not be required in all cases:
- Gather all documents
- Apply for probate
- Deal with potential problems – revise documents & reapply (if needed)
- Obtain a Clearance Certificate (if required by the CRA)
- Execute the will
Depending on the complexity of the estate and if any issues arise, the application and revision stages may take multiple attempts before the application is approved.
How Long Does it Take to Probate a Will in Alberta, Specifically Calgary?
How long it will take to probate a will varies depending on the complexity of the estate. If an estate is small, there are few beneficiaries, and no or few debts to pay, the process will be faster. For example, probate could be finalised within 2-3 months.
If the estate is large and complicated, there are many beneficiaries and creditors, and if there are any issues with documents, probating a will could take longer – potentially one year or more to finalized.
Here’s what can slow down the process at each step:
1. Gathering documents
Depending on how large the estate is, gathering documents can be long or short. The executor will need to review all documents for accuracy and ensure that everything is included. This includes taking stock of all assets—monetary or physical, which can be substantial for some estates.
Documents in this sense refers to things like:
- Death certificate
- Bank statements
- Title to real estate
- Life insurance policy
- Vehicle ownership documentation
- Investment statements
- Pension documentation
2. Applying for probate
Smaller districts may be quicker to get approved, but in a large district like Calgary, it takes anywhere from 4 to 9 weeks to review the application, depending on how busy the courts are at the time.
3. Dealing with potential problems
If there are inaccuracies or incomplete information that cause the application to get rejected, additional time will need to be spent fixing the issues and reapplying. Then the waiting starts all over again. This could happen several times if the documents continue to be incomplete or inaccurate. Working with an experienced probate lawyer and an estate planning lawyer will reduce the likelihood of rejection.
4. Obtaining a Clearance Certificate
The Canada Revenue Agency may require a Clearance Certificate even after the application is approved before assets can be distributed. It can take anywhere from a few months to over a year to receive the certificate.
5. Executing the will
This is the final step. Executing a will includes paying all creditors and distributing assets to beneficiaries. Depending on the complexity and size of the will and how many beneficiaries and creditors, this process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Creditors will need to be paid first so beneficiaries will have to wait till all creditors have been before they can receive any assets.
What You Need to Probate a Will
The executor will need to take stock of all assets and liabilities of the deceased in order to apply for probate.
Assets: The list of assets can include everything the deceased owned, such as cash, investments, retirement accounts (RRSPs, CPP, TFSAs, etc.), bank accounts, physical items such as cars or other vehicles, jewellery, furniture, family heirlooms, real estate, insurance policies, stocks or other business investments.
Liabilities: The executor will also need to determine what the deceased owed to others. Yes, most debts are still owed even after a person dies. This may include debts such as credit cards, a mortgage, bills for utilities or other services, medical bills, and any outstanding loans.
Cost for Probating a Will
Fees for probating a will can vary. If you go it alone, you may think you’re saving money, but the time and related costs associated with issues on an application can add up and cause a lot of headaches. Hiring a lawyer will be an added cost but is highly recommended to help make the probate process run smoothly. The full cost will depend on the size of the estate and typically includes lawyer fees, application fees, and court filing fees, as well as GST. You will want to consider working with a law firm that’s upfront about their fees for probating a will so you know your costs ahead of time.
Can I avoid probate?
You might think that it sounds easier to avoid probate. However, if you’re working with a lawyer, they should make the process as easy for you as possible. While there are ways to avoid probate – for example, disposing of all your assets and discharging your debts before you die – there are obviously drawbacks with this approach.
In some cases, probate may not be required. An example where this might be the case is where all the deceased’s assets are jointly owned with their spouse. Read more about whether it’s always necessary to probate a Will in Alberta.
We recommend that you speak to One80 Law about planning your estate now so that this is one less thing you need to worry about.
What if there is no Will?
If someone has died without a will, this means they’ve died intestate. The laws found in the Wills and Succession Act of Alberta govern what happens with the deceased debts and assets.
This means the deceased person has no say about what happens to their property, and it might pass to relatives that they didn’t intend to benefit. This is another reason why estate planning is so important. If you don’t have a will in place already, speak to One80 Law about arranging will and estate planning.
Get Help With the Probate Process from a Lawyer You Can Trust
It’s important to work with a probate lawyer that will be there to guide you through the probate process during this difficult time. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your situation.