Probating a will yourself is possible in straightforward situations, as long as you educate yourself and draw on professional assistance when you need it. Handling probate yourself will save you some money as you won't have to pay an estate lawyer to do everything. However, it's important to remember that a mistake might also cost you more than you can afford.
The first step in probate is to educate yourself. Read material like that found on our website and get a probate kit or executor's kit. There are kits you can purchase and others can be found free online.
In conducting your research, you will want to find out:
- What probate is and when it's needed
- What your duties are as an executor
- How to protect and value the assets of the estate
- What your responsibilities are when it comes to beneficiaries and others
- What you need to keep track of and how to account to the beneficiaries
- How to go about applying for probate
You will find a wealth of information on this site to help you with probate.
Considerations When Asking “Can I Probate a Will Without a Lawyer?”
When considering the question, you need to weigh the amount of time and possibly specialized knowledge required against legal costs. What potential complications might arise?
If you don't have the original copy of the will or if the will is unclear, the probate process may not go smoothly without legal guidance. If the will is going to be contested or if some of the beneficiaries are not happy with what has been left to them in the will, you could run into significant challenges.
A lawyer can provide peace of mind, reduce your risk of being held personally liable, and keep the process moving along if something unexpected occurs during the administration of the estate. The cost will vary, depending on whether you require non-core services and which estate lawyer you use. For example, unlike some other probate lawyers in Alberta, our Calgary probate lawyers base our fees on the complexity of your situation rather than the value of the estate. Taking this approach often costs our clients less.
Whether you decide to use a lawyer for advice and guidance only or to handle the probate process for you, be sure to choose someone who is very experienced with estate law. Relying on a lawyer who does not fully understand the ins and outs of estate law is no different than handling probate yourself, except that you have to pay the lawyer.
When the Answer to “Can I Probate a Will Myself?” is Yes
You are the personal representative (executor) named in a straightforward will, the estate contains a few easy-to-manage assets and enough to pay off its debts, and the beneficiaries are all onboard with the terms of the will and your appointment as executor. You have done your homework and feel that you have the time, capability, energy, and interest to handle probate without a lawyer.
Gather all the information required and the forms you will need to apply for probate. Make sure the forms are filled out correctly. Answer every question, as your application will be returned to you if anything is left out.
Be sure to keep detailed records of everything you do to secure and value the assets and identify the estate's debts. Every financial transaction must be accounted for and you must be able to show the records to the beneficiaries upon request.
Estate Administration Checklist
According to the Estate Administration Act, executors have four core tasks they must carry out. Below are the four core tasks and some of the things the executor must do to fulfill them.
This is not meant to be a comprehensive executor duties checklist. Always check with your lawyer to ensure you have properly carried out the tasks. This information is for education purposes only, not legal advice.
- Identifying the Assets and Liabilities of the Estate
- Reviewing the deceased person's filed income tax returns to find income-generating assets and assets such as RRSPs
- Listing the contents of safety deposit boxes
- Notifying the provincial and federal governments of the death so benefits are stopped
- Notifying financial institutions of the death and requesting information about the assets
- Reviewing bonds, warrants, and share conversion rights
- Reviewing an accounting from an attorney who has been appointed under an enduring power of attorney or trustee appointed under the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act
- Administering and Managing the Estate
- Ensuring estate property is secure and insured
- Retaining a lawyer
- Advising beneficiaries of property that will pass outside the estate and joint tenancy survivors
- Satisfying the Debts and Obligations of the Estate
- Advertising for claimants / creditors, if necessary
- Verifying whether claims are legitimate
- Paying debts and claims
- Finding out whether the financial institution will honour cheques not cleared by the deceased
- Reviewing documents such as mortgages and leases and arranging for payments
- Finding out if debts are life-insured
- Reviewing the deceased's contingent liabilities and deciding what to do about them
- Notifying parties to which the deceased person gave guarantees of the death, in writing
- Determining the deceased person's and the estate's income tax or other tax liability
- Filing tax returns and paying tax owing
- Getting tax clearance certificates before distributing the estate
- Distributing the Estate and Accounting for its Administration
- Distributing the assets of the estate
- Accounting for expenses incurred while administrating the estate