These questions provide information regarding Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) services and general information regarding estate administration in British Columbia.
PGT services related to the administration of estates and personal trusts are provided by the Estates and Personal Trust Services Division (EPTS).
For more information on EPTS services, click on the links below:
FINDING THE INTESTATE SUCCESSORS OF AN ESTATE
FAQs – ESTATE AND TRUSTS GENERAL QUESTIONS
NOTE: The information provided in these FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS is intended to provide general information with respect to the questions most frequently asked with respect to estate administration. If you have a specific question about an estate that you are administering or involved in, you should seek legal advice.
SOMETHING ABOUT WILLS
ARRANGING AND PAYING FOR THE FUNERAL
DEALING WITH THE DECEASED'S POSSESSIONS
DEALING WITH CREDITORS AND LANDLORDS
RIGHTS AND CLAIMS TO THE ESTATE
OTHER FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHERE TO GET HELP
ROLE OF THE PGT
The PGT can administer an estate when the executor, intestate successor, beneficiary or other eligible person is not able or willing to do so. The PGT may also agree to be appointed executor in a will in appropriate circumstances.
How do I refer an estate to the PGT for administration?
Executors, intestate successors, and beneficiaries wanting to refer an estate to PGT Estate and Personal Trust Services are encouraged to contact our office and speak with EPTS Duty Officer prior to submitting a referral. Service providers such as Coroner's Office, hospitals, health authorities and RCMP wanting to submit a referral can fax the referral directly to 604.660.0964. To obtain an online referral form for EPTS, please click here.
What happens if the PGT decides not to administer an estate?
The PGT does not administer all of the estates that are referred to us. For example, the PGT does not administer an estate when the assets are not sufficient to pay the funeral and administrative expenses and our fees. When this is the case and there is no executor or known next of kin, we make a referral to the provincial Funeral Services Program, who then may handle the funeral arrangements for the deceased. If you are involved with an estate that the PGT cannot administer because of limited assets, you can contact Service BC who will direct you to the local Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction office where you can ask for the "Funeral Services Program".
I don't want my sibling to administer our parent's estate who died without a will. How can I stop them? Will the PGT take over?
The PGT will consider a request to administer an estate. Generally, the PGT requires the consent of all or a majority of the intestate successors. The court cannot appoint the PGT as administrator without our prior written consent.
The Wills, Estates and Succession Act indicates priority among applicants when there is no will. Should you have concerns about the proposed administrator, you may wish to seek legal advice.
One of the intestate successors or beneficiaries is a mentally incompetent adult or a minor. Does the PGT get involved?
To ensure that the minor’s rights are protected, an applicant for a grant of probate or administration generally must notify a minor’s guardian and the PGT when a minor is or may be an intestate successor or beneficiary of an estate. To ensure that the rights of an adult who is or may be mentally incompetent are protected, an applicant for a grant of probate or administration generally must notify the committee and the PGT when the person is an intestate successor or beneficiary of an estate. If a committee has not been appointed, notice must be provided to the PGT and the person. More information is available from PGT Grant Application Review Services.
I heard that I could ask the PGT to be the executor. How does this work?
The PGT may agree to be appointed executor in a will. Most people appoint a close relative or trusted friend. Some people prefer a professional administrator such as a lawyer, trust company or the PGT. If you are considering appointing the PGT as executor, please contact Estate and Personal Trust Services to discuss whether the PGT is an appropriate choice and will agree to act as executor of your will.
FINDING THE INTESTATE SUCCESSORS OF AN ESTATE
How does the PGT find the intestate successors of the estates they administer?
The PGT makes extensive efforts to find intestate successors when it administers an estate. This process usually starts by reviewing the deceased's personal records and speaking with those involved with the deceased, such as the deceased's caregivers, associates or friends. When next of kin can be identified and located this way, determining who is entitled to inherit by law is usually a fairly simple matter. The PGT makes contact with possible next of kin and works with them to obtain proof of their identity and their relationship to the deceased.
In many cases, it is very difficult to identify and locate next of kin. The PGT will exhaust normal channels in seeking to determine the whereabouts of next of kin, and may retain professional genealogists or other investigators to document the deceased's family tree. These experts use a variety of techniques including searches for birth, marriage and death records, searches of other databases and records, as well as contacting people or agencies that may have information about the next of kin. Often searches must be done for intestate successors in Canada as well as other countries. When the PGT hires professionals to assist in these searches, their fees are paid from the estate.
What if I am approached by a person who agrees to give me information about an inheritance in exchange for a percentage of the estate?
A professional contracted by the PGT to locate the intestate successor of an estate will never ask you to sign an agreement which provides that you give up a portion of the estate.
There are individuals - sometimes referred to as heir tracers - who, as a business venture, track down people who are not aware of their entitlement to an inheritance. Heir tracers often require a very substantial "finder’s fee" before giving a person the information they need to access the inheritance or acting on their behalf in order to collect the inheritance. It is not required that you have an "heir tracer" to assist you to inherit from an estate the PGT is administering. The PGT will attempt to locate all lawful intestate successors to estates we administer.
If you suspect that you may have an interest in an estate that the PGT is administering but are not sure, please contact the PGT. You will need to provide the PGT with the full name of the deceased person and your relationship to him or her. The PGT will try to assist you in determining whether you may be a potential intestate successor. The PGT does not charge for this information, and if you are found to be a potential intestate successor, PGT staff will explain what is needed for you to prove your right to inherit from the estate.
How does the PGT know whether a person claiming to be an intestate successor to an estate has a legitimate claim?
The PGT must be reasonably certain that there is no one who is more closely related than the person(s) claiming to be the intestate successor(s), and that documented proof of the intestate successor's identity is enough to prove their relationship to the deceased. The PGT does this by confirming the deceased person's family tree, making sure that all the connections between the generations are substantiated. The material is reviewed and verified by senior staff members before the estate is distributed.
What happens when the PGT cannot find the intestate successors of an estate?
The PGT attempts to locate intestate successors for all of the estates that it administers. If the PGT is unable to locate the intestate successor of an estate, all or part of the estate may be transferred to the BC Unclaimed Property Society. This is done only after all reasonable searches have been exhausted. If an intestate successor later comes forward, he/she can make a claim directly to the BC Unclaimed Property Society.
ESTATE AND TRUSTS GENERAL QUESTIONS
The information provided in these FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS is intended to provide general information with respect to the questions most frequently asked with respect to estate administration. If you have a specific question about an estate that you are administering or involved in, you should legal advice.
ADMINISTERING AN ESTATE
What's involved in administering an estate?
Briefly, administering an estate involves:
making funeral arrangements
identifying, securing and dealing with assets
obtaining authority to act from the Supreme Court of British Columbia
filing tax returns
identifying and paying valid debts
distributing the balance of the estate to the rightful intestate successors and/or beneficiaries.
Complete and accurate records must be kept and produced if requested by intestate successors or beneficiaries. The administration of an estate often takes 2 years or longer to complete.
Small estates that do not have mobile homes, real property or investments may not require formal authority from the courts. The need for probate is determined by the policy of the agency or financial institution which holds the asset.
If you are considering administering an estate, you may wish to consult the “British Columbia Probate Kit” by Self Counsel Press or consult a lawyer.
How much are probate fees in BC?
Estates in BC may be subject to probate fees which are the fees that must be paid to the province when you apply to obtain authority from the court. For further details on probate fees, click here.
What is the difference between an executor and an administrator?
This distinction relates to whether or not there is a will that specifies who will be responsible to administer the estate.
If there is a will, the following two options apply.
- An executor is named in a will and has the right to apply to the Supreme Court of British Columbia for letters probate, which confirms the right to act.
- If the executor named in the will predeceases or declines to act, one of the beneficiaries may apply to the court to be appointed as administrator by obtaining letters of administration with will annexed.
If there is no will, a person can apply to the Supreme Court of British Columbia for letters of administration without will annexed and be appointed administrator of the estate.
What is the difference between beneficiaries and intestate successors?
Beneficiaries inherit by being named in a will. Intestate successors are the next of kin who inherit according to the provisions found in the Wills, Estates and Succession Act when there is no will.
Who administers an estate when there is no will?
When a person dies without a will, the Wills, Estates and Succession Act establishes the people who have a right to administer the estate.
In order of priority they are:
the spouse or a person nominated by the spouse;
a child having the consent of a majority of the children or a person nominated by that child;
a child not having the consent of a majority of the children;
an intestate successor other than the spouse or child, having the consent of the majority intestate successors;
an intestate successor other than the spouse or child, not having the consent of the majority intestate successors;
any other person the court considers appropriate to appoint including the PGT.
If there are no next of kin willing and able to handle this responsibility then the PGT may choose to administer the estate if we determine that our services are warranted after we assess the estate.
The PGT does not administer estates if the estimated gross value of the estate’s assets are not sufficient to pay funeral costs and PGT fees.
How do I find out who is administering the estate?
If letters probate or letters of administration have been applied for or granted in BC you can do a search through Court Services Online to obtain additional information about the estate. There may be a fee to obtain the documents that provide the identity of the executor or administrator. Keep in mind that it may be some time after the death before such an application is made (often a year or so) and that many estates in BC are informally administered by family members which means that no court or other record exists which identifies who actually carries out this role.
If there has not been an application for letters probate or letters of administration, it can be more challenging to determine who is responsible for an estate. If the person died in BC, and you know where and when the person died, you may be able to find this information through the person's obituary notice, funeral provider, bank, family, colleagues or neighbours.
Who is considered a spouse for purposes of administering an estate?
This is defined by the Wills, Estates and Succession Act. Two persons are spouses if they are married to each other or they have lived with each other in a marriage like relationship for at least two years. A person ceases to be a spouse if they separate permanently or one or both persons terminate a common law relationship.
Is it possible that more than one person may fit the definition of spouse?
It is possible that more than one person may fit the definition of spouse under the Wills, Estates and Succession Act. If this concern creates a conflict as to who has the right to make funeral arrangements, or to administer or inherit from an estate, it will likely be necessary to seek legal advice.
SOMETHING ABOUT WILLS
Who can make a will?
The Wills, Estates and Succession Act provides that any person 16 years or older with testamentary capacity may make a will.
I'm named as executor in a will but don't want to take on this responsibility. Do I have to do it?
If you have not started to administer you may ‘renounce', and allow the beneficiaries to decide who should apply for ‘letters of administration with will annexed'. The Wills, Estates and Succession Act indicates the priority of applicants.
If you are considering requesting the PGT to administer the estate, please contact Estate and Personal Trust Services to discuss whether the PGT will agree to act. Executors wanting to refer an estate to PGT Estate and Personal Trust Services are encouraged to contact our office and speak with an Estate and Personal Trust Services Duty Officer prior to submitting a referral. You can also contact Estate and Personal Trust Services by sending an email to email@example.com.
If you have already started to administer, the court could require you to continue. In such a situation, you may wish to seek legal advice.
I believe that there is a will, but I don't know where it is. What should I do?
Search the deceased's residence for the will. Also search all papers and business cards for reference to a lawyer, memorial society or bank safety deposit box.
Ask the deceased's bank, lawyer, executor, financial advisor, family members and close friends for information about documents in safekeeping or a safety deposit box.
If the deceased was a veteran, there may be a military will. Check with Veterans Affairs Canada or Library and Archives Canada.
The deceased wrote a will, but did not register it. Does a will have to be registered to be valid?
No. While it is recommended that people register wills, this is not required for them to be valid.
I believe I am a beneficiary. How can I find out what is in the will?
There is no formal ‘reading of the will' in BC. The executor or administrator is required to give notice of his/her intention to apply for probate and attach a copy of the will. Notice must be given to all named executors, alternate executors, beneficiaries named in the will, and those who would inherit if the deceased had died without a will.
After probate, the will and other probate documents are public and copies may be obtained from the court.
If you want to know whether authority has been granted by the court in BC for a particular estate, you can do a search through Court Services Online.
How can I get the executor to act?
If you are a beneficiary of a will but have not received written notice that the executor will be applying to probate the will, you can take action per Rule 25-11 of the Supreme Court Rules that will require the executor to respond to the court within 14 days. This procedure is called ‘citing' the executor. You should seek legal advice to assist you. If the executor indicates that he/she will be renouncing the appointment of executor (not acting), you may be able to apply to the court to be appointed administrator of the estate.
What can I do if the executor or administrator is wrongly administering the estate?
If you are an intestate successor or beneficiary, you should write to the executor or administrator and ask for a complete accounting of his/her involvement in the estate. An executor or administrator is required to pass his/her accounts in court within two years, or as early as one year from the date of his/her appointment, if an intestate successor or beneficiary serves notice on an executor or administrator to do so. Everyone with a financial interest in the estate is entitled to be present and raise any concerns at the court hearing.
If the executor or administrator refuses to provide an accounting or to pass his/her accounts, you may apply to the court for an order requiring the executor or administrator to do so. You will need a lawyer to assist you with this.
If you are not an intestate successor or beneficiary, but you know that a minor or incapable adult is an intestate successor or beneficiary, and you have concerns about what is happening with the estate, contact PGT Grant Application Review Services.
ARRANGING AND PAYING FOR THE FUNERAL
Who has the right to make funeral arrangements?
Section 5(1) of the Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act sets out the priority of who has the right to make funeral arrangements. The personal representative named in a will has the first priority, followed by the deceased person's spouse. Next are adult children, adult grandchildren, parents, adult siblings, adult nieces and nephews, then other closest next of kin. Among persons of the same degree of kinship, priority begins with the eldest and descends by age.
I can't afford a funeral. What financial help is available?
The cost of funerals and related services varies greatly. Be aware of the costs of any funeral or related services that you are arranging as you are responsible for the payment if you sign the agreement. Funeral directors can assist you in making decisions based on the budget and circumstances. Prices can vary and therefore you may wish to check costs with more than one service provider. If you are the executor or next of kin administering the estate, you should investigate the following:
The deceased person's bank account. Reasonable funeral expenses are a first charge against the estate. If the deceased has sufficient funds, the bank will often pay the funeral home directly from the deceased's account. Speak to the bank manager to confirm that you will be forwarding the funeral account for payment. The bank may agree to draw a cheque on the account of the deceased and send it to the funeral home.
Canada Pension Plan may provide a death benefit if the deceased was employed and paid into the Plan. Further information is available from Service Canada. This benefit might not cover the entire funeral cost.
Work Safe BC death benefits may be available if the death resulted from a workplace accident.
ICBC benefits may be available if death resulted from a motor vehicle accident.
The deceased's employer, labour union, trade association or club may have a pension or other benefit plan with provisions for a death benefit or funeral expenses.
If a veteran of WWII or the Korean War dies without funds, the Last Post Fund may provide a funeral and grave marker in a nearby cemetery. If the veteran was a Royal Canadian Legion member, fellow members may send an honour guard to the funeral upon request.
The Funeral Services Program may provide a respectful funeral service and burial or cremation if the deceased cannot afford this and funds are not available from the family or any other source. If you are involved with an estate that the PGT cannot administer because of limited assets, you can contact Service BC who will direct you to the local Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation office where you can ask for the "Funeral Services Program".
DEALING WITH THE DECEASED'S POSSESSIONS
Everything is in joint names. Does the estate need to be probated or administered?
An estate need not be probated or administered when all assets (such as bank accounts or real property) are jointly owned with another person and RRSPs, pensions and insurance policies have a named beneficiary. These assets generally do not form part of the estate and will usually transfer directly to the survivor or named beneficiary. Check with a lawyer or the bank, insurance company, and Land Title Office about documentation needed to claim the insurance benefit or transfer the title to the surviving joint owner(s).
The deceased's only assets are a very small bank account and a couple of cheques of around $500. What do I do?
Most banks and credit unions will release funds to the executor or immediate next of kin of an estate under $10,000. The bank may agree to deposit the cheques to the deceased’s account, and then release the funds on an Indemnity Agreement (an agreement to repay the bank if a future claim on the estate is made against it). The executor of the will may complete the agreement, or if there is no will, intestate successors who inherit according to the Wills, Estates and Succession Act may do so. Banks usually release funds for payment of funeral costs without requiring an Indemnity Agreement. Contact the financial institution to find out what they require.
I need to sell the deceased's car – it is all they owned. How do I do this?
An Autoplan broker can explain the transfer requirements found in the Motor Vehicle Act and help you transfer ownership of the vehicle.
The deceased owned some pets and no one is taking care of them. What should be done?
Contact a family member or the local SPCA, who may have suggestions and contacts.
How can I stop people stealing from the deceased's residence?
As the executor or administrator of the estate, you are responsible to protect the assets of the estate. If the property of the deceased is vulnerable, you should:
- Change the locks on the property and ensure that it is secure.
- Take a full inventory and photographs of the assets of the deceased to help ensure that the property and belongings are appropriately insured.
- Remove any items that are of great value to a more secure environment.
- Advise neighbors of your involvement in the estate and how to contact you.
- Advise the local police and ask their assistance in safeguarding the property.
How do I deal with assets of the deceased located outside British Columbia?
You should contact the appropriate authorities (i.e. the executor, next of kin) or a lawyer in the jurisdiction where the assets are located to find out what they require in order to allow you to deal with assets outside of BC.
DEALING WITH CREDITORS AND LANDLORDS
It appears that the deceased owed substantial amounts of money on credit cards and the issuers are pressing the relatives to pay them off. Is there any obligation for them to do so?
Only the estate of the deceased person is obligated to pay the deceased's debts. It may take considerable time to determine all of the assets and debts of the estate, and advertise for creditors before paying off any debts. If the estate is insolvent, debts are paid in a priority specified in the Wills, Estates and Succession Act. If there are inadequate funds in the estate to satisfy all debts, some may not be paid, or may be only partially paid. Generally, there is no obligation for anyone else to pay the debts unless they have cosigned or guaranteed the debt.
The deceased owed me money. Is there anything I can do to get it back?
You should make a claim in writing to the person administering the estate providing verification of the debt. The executor or administrator should advise whether or not your claim has been accepted. If your claim is refused, you must be notified in writing, after which you have 6 months in which to begin legal proceedings. The administrator may be personally liable if he/she distributes the estate before the validity of your claim has been decided. Because debts must be paid in the order of priority specified in the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, the acceptance of your claim is not a guarantee that you will be paid in full and it may take considerable time before you are paid.
The landlord insists that the deceased's belongings be removed immediately. What should I do?
The belongings are assets of the deceased's estate. If you are the executor or administrator, you should move as quickly as possible to secure these assets (as well as make an inventory of them). You may need to consider moving them to more appropriate storage. The rights and obligations between the estate and the landlord are governed by the Residential Tenancy Act. You may wish to contact the Residential Tenancy Office for more information.
I am a landlord, and one of my tenants has died. What should I do?
You should determine who is authorized to administer the estate and can undertake the responsibility of removing the effects. If your tenant died in hospital or another facility, you may wish to contact the social worker there. If the coroner was involved, you should contact the coroner.
If there is no will and there are no known next of kin, the hospital social worker or the coroner may make a referral to the PGT requesting that the PGT considers administering the estate. After that referral is made, you may wish to contact the PGT.
The rights and obligations between the estate and the landlord are governed by the Residential Tenancy Act. You may wish to contact the Residential Tenancy Office for more information.
RIGHTS AND CLAIMS TO THE ESTATE
What are the rights of a separated spouse?
If the death occurred before March 31, 2014: Generally, a surviving separated spouse is entitled to whatever gift is made in the will, unless there is a separation agreement or court order where the separated spouse gives up the right to inherit. If there is no will, and the spouses have been separated for more than one year with the intention of living separate and apart, the survivor has no right to inherit. He/she may bring a claim against the estate within 6 months of authority being granted to the administrator. If you require more information on the rights of separated spouses, you should seek legal advice.
If the death occurred on or after March 31, 2014: If the deceased left a will naming his/her spouse as executor or beneficiary, and if the spouses subsequently separate with the intention to separate permanently prior to the date of death, then the appointment and any gift to the separated spouse is revoked. If there is no will and the spouses were separated with the intention to separate permanently prior to the date of death, then the separated spouse does not share in the distribution of the estate. The separated spouse may have rights under the Family Law Act and should seek legal advice.
What are the rights of a common law spouse?
A person who was living with the deceased at the time of death and was cohabiting with the deceased in a marriage like relationship for a period of at least two years immediately before death, including a marriage like relationship between persons of the same gender, has the same right as a legally married spouse to make funeral arrangements, to administer the estate and to inherit.
Who gets the estate when there is no will?
If the death occurred before March 31, 2014: The Estate Administration Act specifies the distribution of an intestate estate (where there is no will). It provides that the spouse, including a common law spouse (including same gender), and issue (children, grandchildren, etc.) will inherit the estate. If there is no spouse or issue, then the deceased’s parents inherit. If the parents predeceased, siblings and children of any predeceased siblings inherit. If there are no living siblings, nieces or nephews share equally, and if there are none of the above, the estate is divided equally among the surviving next of kin that are of equally close relationship to the deceased.
If the death occurred on or after March 31, 2014: The Wills, Estates and Succession Act specifies the distribution of an intestate estate.
OTHER FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
My parent's will leaves their estate to the care facility where they had been living in their last few years. Is this allowed?
The Community Care and Assisted Living Act requires that the PGT consent in writing to bequests where a deceased person's care facility or its employees are beneficiaries in their will. This ensures that the bequest is appropriate to the circumstances when the will was executed.
Anyone contemplating a bequest to a care facility or its employees where they are or have been a client should seek legal advice in making a will so as to ensure the bequest can be carried out.
Information on how to deal with a situation where a caretaker or care facility is a beneficiary under a will is available from the PGT.
My brother disappeared a few weeks ago. He went fishing by himself and never came back. I'm pretty sure he must be dead. He has bills that need to be paid. His car is at my house and I know he has money in the bank. The police say they've done everything they can. What should I do?
If there is sufficient evidence that a person is dead, the court may issue a presumption of death order. Otherwise, if a person has been missing for at least three months and has not been heard from by relatives or others that are usually in touch with him, the court may appoint the PGT or another suitable person as curator of the missing person's property. You should seek legal advice as to whether the court might issue a presumption of death order or appoint a curator to take care of your brother's property. Alternatively, you may ask the PGT to act as curator.
WHERE TO GET HELP
I don't have a lawyer. Where can I get help for wills and estate administration matters?
Some suggestions are:
Last updated: September 15, 2014