How Not to Probate Wills in Ontario – A Case Study

Should YOU, as an executor, attempt to probate a will by yourself?

Here’s the tale of Jennifer to teach you. 

In her job with an insurance company, Jennifer filled out forms all day.  She thought it would not be much different filling out court forms.  Besides, she’d save a bundle by probating her brother's will without a lawyer.

Jennifer’s brother, Douglas, was 46 when he died from complications with his new medications.  Jennifer was named as executor of his estate.  She wanted to probate Doug’s will.

Why Probate is Necessary

Jennifer was told she would need to get an Ontario certificate of appointment of estate trustee (letters probate as it was called) to sell Doug's investments.  Jennifer would then pay Doug's bills and his income taxes.  What was left over was to be all hers.

Jennifer spent a few days online reading up on probate.  She went to a number of websites.  Some were from American law firms.  These only confused her by talking about estate, local state, federal and inheritance taxes.

The local Ontario lawyers Jennifer called were not estate experts.  They each gave Jennifer different information.  They could not answer over the phone what she thought were simple questions.

Who Can Give You Estate Legal Advice?

Jennifer decided to try to probate the will herself.  She purchased legal forms. She filled out the application to obtain a certificate of appointment. She was overwhelmed by her grief.

She went to the local estate court to try to get advice.  She was told by the court clerks they were not qualified to give her legal advice.

Jennifer didn’t realize how long it would take to get the probate papers processed. It took almost 6 months to deal with all the necessary corrections. 

Frustrated, Jennifer admitted she had to hire a lawyer to appear in court.   She had been trying to save money.  It was a worthy goal. However, her numerous mistakes caused her lawyer to start the paperwork all over again.

These complications took time to resolve.  More than 3 months later she received the certificate.  This permitted Jennifer to sell Doug's stocks.  In the meantime, however, the stock market had taken a downward turn. Some of his stocks became worthless in the 9 months since he passed away.

As a result, Jennifer found she had lost money in the stock market.  The final result was that Jennifer had barely enough to pay Doug’s debts.  She had lost her inheritance.

Jennifer realized too late if she had hired a probate lawyer six months earlier her tale would have had a happier ending. 

The Moral of the Story 

  1. Good intentions cannot prevent financial losses. 
  2. Doing probate without an estate lawyer puts everything at risk.  
  3. Using an experienced probate lawyer is an investment, not an expense.

If you need practical advice as an executor, contact me here. You can count on my experience to help you.