Do I need to probate my dad’s will if he owned most things jointly with others?

Dad died with a will. He left all of his RRSPs to his grandkids. And he owned most other assets jointly with his partner, Tom. There’s also $20,000 in a bank account that’s in dad’s name only. Do we have to go through probate to deal with these assets?



Port Hardy, BC

Probate is a legal process that confirms a will is legally valid. Whether or not probate 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 probate, you may hit a dead end in dealing with the estate assets.

If the court approves the will and the executor, the executor is given a document called the grant of probate. The grant allows institutions to know they’re handing the deceased’s assets over to the right person. The general rule of thumb is that if the estate is worth less than $25,000, probate isn’t typically required. But every institution sets their own rules about when they need to see a grant of probate.

Certain assets fall outside of the estate

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. Common examples include:

  1. Assets held in joint tenancy. These are assets co-owned with someone else. Examples include a joint bank account or a home owned in joint tenancy. Usually, when a joint tenant dies, their share passes directly to the other joint owner(s). 

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

You might still have to apply for probate

Even with a small estate, you might still need to apply for probate. Institutions can ultimately decide they want to see a grant of probate before they release the deceased’s assets to you. It’s up to them whether they’ll transfer the assets to you without a grant. Check with them and see. 

Here’s something else you should know. If the deceased owned real property other than in joint tenancy, probate is required, full stop. The land title office will ask you to provide a grant of probate to transfer the real property. 

More on what is (and is not) an estate asset

A will deals with a person’s estate. The estate includes all the property and belongings they own when they die, with a few exceptions. Learn more about property that’s not covered by a will.

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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