Mom died without a will. She had $5,000 in the bank. And she left tax free savings accounts to me and my brother. How do I deal with her estate?

We need to sort out Mom’s bank account, life insurance and taxes. Also, the bank holding the TFSAs says they want to hold onto them until they see a grant of administration. Are they allowed to do this?  



Sechelt, BC

Where someone dies without a will, someone may need to apply for a grant of administration. A grant of administration confirms who can deal with a person’s estate. Meanwhile, the law sets out who gets what from the estate.

Whether or not a grant is needed boils down to whether any institution that holds the deceased’s assets requires it. Examples include a bank, ICBC, the land title office, or a fund manager. Without a grant, you may hit a dead end in dealing with the estate assets.

The grant lets institutions know they’re handing the deceased’s assets over to the right person. The general rule of thumb is that if estate is worth less than $25,000, a grant isn’t typically required. But every institution sets their own rules about when they need to see a grant of administration.

Certain assets fall outside of the estate

Some types of assets fall outside of the estate. An example is an asset that designates (that is, names) a beneficiary. This is commonly done in life insurance policies and investment accounts like TFSAs. For any TFSAs where your mom named you or your brother as a designated beneficiary, those accounts would not be included in your mom’s estate.

It’s the bank’s call

Even with a small estate, it’s still possible you might need to get a grant of administration. The institutions that hold the deceased’s assets can ultimately decide they want to see a grant before they release the assets. It’s up to them. Requiring a grant of administration acts as a safeguard for the bank, especially if they’d be handing over a lot of money. 

Your best bet would be to talk to a manager at the bank. Ask them to explain their policy. If the money in the bank is the only estate asset, let them know you wouldn’t otherwise have to apply for a grant of administration. Ask them if they would be satisfied with other documentation. They’ll want to see the death certificate. They may also want proof that you are an heir of the estate and have the consent of all other heirs.

You don’t always need a grant pay estate taxes

As for doing the estate’s taxes, you can request to be appointed as a representative for tax matters with the Canada Revenue Agency. You can do this even if there is no will or grant of administration.

Katrina Law

Katrina Law

Westcoast Wills & Estates
  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in October 2023

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