Probating the will

Losing a loved one is hard. And if you’ve been named as an executor in their will you might be feeling overwhelmed. Navigating the probate process might seem complex. Going to court probably sounds daunting. But you can do it. Full video transcript.

If you’re named as the executor in someone’s will, you may need to probate the will. Probate is a legal procedure that confirms the will is legally valid. Here, we walk you step-by-step through applying for probate.

Changes to the probate rules

As of December 1, 2021, the probate rules changed. Most of the changes reflect that a will-maker can now prepare and electronically sign a will, with no physical paper copy having to exist. There have also been some changes to the probate forms, such as form P10. If you have any questions about how your probate application might be impacted, you can reach out to the probate registry or a lawyer.

What you should know

What applying for probate involves

For most applications: basically, paperwork. Various documents — including the original will — are filed with a probate registry. The probate registry is the official keeper of probate documents and records filed for the Supreme Court of BC.

If everything is in order, the court issues a grant of probate. This document confirms that the executor has the authority to act on the will. The executor can show the grant to anyone who holds assets of the estate (such as banks).

Where there isn't a will or the executor won't be acting

What if there is no will, or if the named executor in the will isn’t able or willing to act? You would apply for a grant of administration, instead of a grant of probate.

Not all wills need to be probated 

If the estate assets are worth less than $25,000, probate is not typically required. It’s up to the institutions that hold the assets whether they’ll transfer them to you without probate. Check with them and see. 

Probate isn’t required for assets that pass outside of the will

Probate is only required for estate assets. Not all things owned by the will-maker form part of the estate. Certain types of assets pass outside the will.  This means you can transfer them to someone without a grant of probate (though you’ll still need a copy of the death certificate). Common examples include:

  1. Assets held in joint tenancy. These are assets owned jointly with someone else. Examples include a joint bank account or a home owned in joint tenancy. Joint tenancy is a type of ownership. Usually, when a joint tenant passes away, their share automatically becomes the property of the other joint owner(s). 

  2. Assets with a designated beneficiary. There are certain assets where you can designate (that is, name) someone as a beneficiary. This person will receive the asset proceeds after you pass away. Examples include a life insurance policy and a registered retirement plan such as an RRSP.

Many couples hold all their assets through joint ownership or with beneficiary designations, in part to avoid the probate process.

If the deceased owned land

If the deceased owned real property other than in joint tenancy, probate is required. The land title office will ask you to provide a grant of probate to transfer the real property. This is so even if the will-maker’s interest in land is less than the $25,000 threshold.

Check the state of title certificate

If you’re wondering whether the deceased held land in joint tenancy, you can look at the state of title certificateUnder the law, the transfer document and title must state that the land is held in joint tenancy, otherwise it becomes a tenancy-in-common.

When you sign the documents

You’ll need to sign some of the probate forms in front of a lawyer, notary public, or a commissioner for taking affidavits. All court registries have such a commissioner, and some community groups do as well. 

When you sign a document in front of them, it means you’re swearing that the information in the document is true.

Fees to be paid to the court 

To file the probate application, you must pay a court filing fee of $200.

You may also have to pay probate fees to the court. These must be paid before the court will give you the grant of probate. Probate fees are based on the gross value of the estate assets. (That is, the value of the estate assets before debts.) 

Fees are payable based on a formula. See below under step 4 of applying for probate for details on how probate fees are calculated.

No court fees are payable on small estates

If the estate has a value of less than $25,000, there are no court fees payable. That is, there is no court filing fee and no probate fees.

How long the process takes

The time frame for the probate registry to review and approve probate applications can vary considerably. Generally the process takes two to three months.

If your probate application is rejected

If your application is rejected, the probate registry will tell you the reason. 

You can correct the problem and re-apply.

Apply for probate

Step 1. Notify others that you intend to apply for probate

"My wife named me as executor in her will. She left her estate to me and our children. The only other gift was a ring to her sister. I was confused about whether I had to send her brother notice of the probate application. My lawyer explained that if my wife had died without a will, only the kids and I would have been entitled to the estate under the law. So I don’t have to send her brother notice of the application."

– John, Port Moody, BC

You must notify certain people that you intend to apply for probate. To do so, complete the court form P1, notice of proposed application (available here). You must deliver this notice at least 21 days before submitting the probate application to court. This gives people the chance to dispute your application.

Together with a copy of the will, mail or deliver the completed form to:

  • each person named in the will as executor or alternate executor

  • each beneficiary named in the will

  • the deceased’s spouse and children (because they’re entitled to challenge the will)

  • each person who would be entitled to a share in the estate if there had been no will

  • anyone who’s served a citation to you in relation to the deceased (such as a citation requiring you to apply for probate)

  • if the deceased was a Nisga'a citizen, the Nisga'a Lisims government

  • if the deceased was a member of a treaty first nation, the treaty first nation

  • the Public Guardian and Trustee, if any of the people you need to notify is a minor or mentally incapable adult

Rejection alert!

Failing to give notice to the Public Guardian and Trustee, when it’s required, is a common reason probate applications are rejected. 

Step 2. Prepare the probate application

Downloading probate forms

You can download the probate forms from the BC government website. If a form doesn’t open on your computer, try saving it to your computer and opening it with Adobe Acrobat.

You need to prepare several documents. A typical probate application will include these documents:

  • Submission for estate grant, in court form P2. This form gives details about your application for probate.

  • Affidavit of the applicant, in court form P3 or P4. This form identifies you and your relationship to the deceased.

  • Affidavits of delivery, in court form P9. Together, these confirm that notice of the application was delivered to everyone required.

  • Affidavit of assets and liabilities, in court form P10 or P11. This form sets out all the deceased’s assets and liabilities that pass to you under the will.

  • The originally signed version of the will, or if the original does not exist, a copy of the will. You’ll also need to file evidence that supports that it’s a copy of the valid will. The court may or may not accept the copy. 

  • Two copies of a certificate of wills search, and any accompanying wills searches. You can get these by doing a search of the wills registry.

Additional documents may be required. Examples include forms to deal with issues relating to the will, dispensing with notice, or an executor renouncing their executorship.

Tips for filling out probate forms

If there’s nothing to list under one of the headings on a form, write nil or none. Blank spaces may suggest that information is missing. This is one of the main reasons forms are rejected.

We have more tips for filling out probate forms, where we walk you through the standard probate forms and answer common questions about completing them.

Step 3. File the probate application

File the probate application in a probate registry of the Supreme Court of BC. To find the closest probate registry, you can contact Enquiry BC by calling 1-800-663-7867 (toll-free).

When you file the application, you’ll have to pay a court filing fee. The fee is currently $200. If the estate has a value of less than $25,000, you don’t have to pay this fee.

Step 4. Pay any probate fees

Once the application is reviewed, the probate registry will assess the probate fees you need to pay. These must be paid before the court will issue you a grant of probate

The probate fees are based on the gross value of estate assets (less secured liabilities) that were located in British Columbia when the deceased died. If the deceased was ordinarily resident in British Columbia immediately before they died, you’ll also need to pay probate fees on intangible (non-physical) assets located outside of the province, such as bank accounts or investments.

If the estate assets have a value over $25,000, fees are payable on the following basis.

Estate valueProbate fees
$0 to $25,0000
$25,000 to $50,000$6 for every $1,000 (or part of $1,000)
$50,000 or more$14 for every $1,000 (or part of $1,000)

For example, if the gross value of the estate assets is $125,000, the probate fees will be $1,200:

$6 x 25 (for every $1,000 between $25,000 to $50,000) = $150

$14 x 75 (for every $1,000 between $50,000 to $125,000) = $1,050

= $1,200

These probate fees are in addition to the court filing fee of $200.

Step 5. Proceed with administering the estate

Once probate is granted, you can proceed with the remaining steps in administering the estate.

Who can help

For assistance in applying for probate, some of the options for free or low-cost legal help may be helpful.

Public Guardian and Trustee logo
Public Guardian and Trustee
A government office that can manage an estate, for a fee, when the executor is not able or willing to do so, or when someone dies without a will.
Society of Notaries Public of BC Logo
Notaries Public
A notary public can help certifying legal documents.

DIY probate

logo for self-counsel press
Self-Counsel Press
Their probate kit can be helpful if you're applying for probate or administration without a lawyer's assistance.
Logo for Law Society of BC Online Learning Centre
Law Society of BC
Their online course describes the process to apply for probate or administration.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in April 2020
  • Time to read: 8 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Stephen Hsia, Miller Thomson

Stephen Hsia

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