How do I find out if I'm a beneficiary of a will in British Columbia?

Now that Mom has passed away, I’ve asked my stepdad to confirm that I’m a beneficiary of her will. I think he’s the executor, but I’m not sure. I know he’s busy, but he hasn’t responded. Am I entitled to a copy of the will?

Mary

Mary

Vancouver

When someone dies, family members and potential heirs are often anxious to know what’s happening next, and if (and when) they’ll receive an inheritance. You might expect you have a right to receive a copy of the will simply because you’re family. But a will is a private document. And under the law, the executor doesn’t have an obligation to show or give you a copy of the will until they apply for probate

Probate is a process that proves the will is valid. Once an executor applies to probate the will, they must notify all beneficiaries under the will (and anyone who would’ve been entitled to a share of the estate if there was no will) about the probate application. They must also send you a copy of the will. 

To find out if the executor has applied for probate

If you’re in the dark about whether the executor has applied for probate, you can do a search of the public court records. You can do this on Court Services Online. On the main page, under E-search, click on Search Civil. Under Search Civil by, click on Deceased Name and put in the name involved. You may be asked to pay $6 to view any documents.

If the executor hasn't applied for probate

What if the executor hasn’t applied for probate? There are steps you can take to try to get your hands on a copy of the will. Your best bet is to ask the executor directly. If your attempts to reach out informally have been unsuccessful, you may want to put your request in writing. Be firm, but polite. Remember, you’re asking them for a favour. 

If this doesn’t work, you may have legal options to try to force the executor to give you a copy of the will. For example, you can apply to court to issue a subpoena to require the executor to deliver the will to a court registry. A lawyer can tell you whether this is an appropriate step to take, and what your other options may be. (There are options for free legal advice.) Depending on the circumstances, your least expensive option may be to wait until the executor applies for probate.

Candace Cho

Candace Cho

Onyx Law Group
  • Reviewed in August 2020
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada

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