Estate administration can be a complex or relatively straightforward task depending on the nature of the estate left behind and the actions of family members.
However, it nearly always comes at a challenging time for a grieving family after the loss of a loved one.
If a will was left, the task may be simplified, but it does not mean it will be simple. Without a will, the administration of the estate is likely to be severely delayed and disagreements between family members are common.
The personal representative of the deceased is expected to administer the estate according to the wishes outlined in the will. During the probate process and beyond, the guidance of an experienced estate administration lawyer can be a great help.
At Spectrum Family Law in Edmonton, our estate administration lawyers will recommend the steps to ensure that assets are transferred promptly, in line with the intentions of the deceased, and according to Alberta inheritance laws.
How can an Edmonton estate administration lawyer help?
Estate administration in Edmonton almost always involves the navigation of complex court processes. It can become confusing and stressful at a time when emotions are naturally running high in the family of the deceased.
“Personal representative” is the term used for an “executor” or “administrator” of a will in Alberta. Often, he or she requires assistance from an estate administration lawyer to apply for probate and may need help with locating and transferring assets after the grant of probate has been awarded. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, this can be no small undertaking.
Personal representatives who work full-time or do not have the necessary financial and administrative experience can find this entire process very challenging.
Estate disputes are common too. An administration lawyer can work with the personal representative to resolve the dispute in everyone’s best interests – or allow the court to decide.
In summary, an Edmonton estate administration lawyer will usually assist with the following types of estate matters:
Locating the original will
Checking that the will is legally enforceable
Interpreting the will and which beneficiaries get which property
Locating probate and non-probate assets
Advertising for creditors
Paying estate debts
Transferring real property to an intended beneficiary or the estate
Because of the amount of work that estate administration entails, hiring an estate administration lawyer is often a good option to relieve the burden. The legal costs can generally be charged to the estate.
First steps for estate administrators in Edmonton after a loved one dies
Before any court proceedings, some basic duties of the personal representative require attention as soon as possible after the deceased passes.
These first steps include:
Locating the will and reviewing it for funeral instructions
Arranging the funeral
Obtaining the original death certificate
Discontinuing services like phone, cable, subscriptions, etc.
Re-directing utility bills to pay
Arranging for pet care if necessary
Emptying and cleaning the deceased’s home
Informing interested parties of the death
There is more about most of these steps below.
The personal representative is also responsible for the key task of safeguarding the assets of the deceased so that they can be passed on to beneficiaries at the appropriate time.
Once all assets have been identified, you will need to contact the financial institutions concerned and inform them of the death. Any valuable assets may need to be held in safekeeping or insured until they can be passed on.
In most cases, when a loved one passes away in Edmonton, the will must be probated in the local courts. This confirms the validity of the will and ensures that an administrator can carry out the terms it contains.
A grant of probate is awarded to authorize the personal representative to act on the wishes of the deceased and until this process has been completed, the transfer of assets to beneficiaries or the payment of major debts is paused.
These delays can be frustrating for beneficiaries but most estates in Edmonton need to pass through this process regardless.
However, depending on the estate planning actions of the deceased, some assets can bypass the probate process and be transferred immediately upon death by a personal representative. For instance, if the deceased has less than $5,000 in assets or held joint title with a spouse in the marital home, no probate may be necessary.
Your estate administration attorney will help you determine whether you must apply for a grant of probate in your case.
What are letters of administration?
When a person dies without a will in Edmonton, a different process is followed by the courts.
Likewise, if the will does not name a personal representative or does not cover all of the assets of the estate, the court may issue letters of administration instead of (or as well as) the grant of probate.
Letters of administration may also be necessary if the personal representative(s) named in the will have passed away or are unable/unwilling to fulfill the role.
Estate administration checklist for executors in Edmonton
The Estate Administration Act includes a checklist of responsibilities for executors and their lawyers to follow when administering an estate. Most of these apply regardless of whether probate is necessary.
The duties are summarized below.
Locate the will and codicils
This step sounds easy, but people sometimes leave wills in hard-to-find places without necessarily telling anyone.
The deceased may have several wills, and you will need to locate the final one. For this, you may need to contact the deceased’s spouse and/or lawyer or request access to a safe.
Codicils are legally enforceable changes to a will that can explain, modify or revoke the will.
Obtain the original death certificate
You, the spouse or next of kin will need to fill out a Registration of Death form. This must be sent to the local registry. A formal death certificate will then be issued.
Arrange the funeral
You will need to arrange for the burial or cremation of the deceased. Instructions may have been left in the will and are usually followed though there is no legal obligation to do so.
Make a list of all assets/debts
The executor must review the deceased’s finances and start gathering relevant details of any debts owing and make a list of assets including property, savings, investments, pension plans, insurance benefits, etc.
This should be compiled along with the names of the beneficiaries who will receive the assets.
Inform creditors to the estate
It is the responsibility of the personal representative to inform creditors that the deceased has passed away and to make contact if there is a claim against the estate.
You may want to place an ad in the local newspaper to accomplish this, as it can protect you against personal liability. Claimants have one month to contact you to make a claim.
Manage and secure the assets
If probate is required, there may be a significant waiting period before assets can be transferred to beneficiaries. The executor needs to manage and secure these assets. For instance, valuables need to be stored and a business, property or vehicles may need to be managed.
You will also need to secure the home of the deceased or secure property from rented accommodation.
You will need to send a notice to the beneficiaries named in the will that you intend to carry out your duties as the personal representative.
Apply for a grant of probate (if necessary)
Your estate administration lawyer will confirm if probate is necessary, but it is required in most cases in Edmonton. If the will may be contested, probate it before attempting to administer the estate.
Wait – or request a release of claims
Alberta’s law states that beneficiaries have up to six months after a grant of probate to contest a will.
The estate administration process will be delayed unless you can get a release of claims signed by the beneficiaries named in the will. This confirms that they will not contest the will and the administration of the estate can proceed.
Collect/sell assets to pay debts
All of the deceased’s assets such as real estate, vehicles, bonds, securities, etc. must first be transferred into your name as the administrator.
If necessary, you can then use them to pay outstanding estate debts such as funeral expenses, taxes, probate fees, legal expenses, and so on. If the debts exceed the value of the assets, protect yourself from personal liability by taking legal advice.
As you go through this process, keep complete records of all assets sold, debts paid and any other transactions made.
Distribute the estate’s assets
Once you have obtained a tax clearance certificate from the Canada Revenue Agency, you can begin to distribute the remaining assets in the estate.
Keep receipts and maintain detailed records so that you can provide a final financial statement for beneficiaries.
Do you need help with estate administration in Edmonton?
Estate administration can be a complex and time-consuming process. Call the estate administration lawyers at Spectrum Family Law in Edmonton for guidance.