This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (www.thelawyersdaily.ca), part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.
Big changes for small estates
On April 1, 2021, the estates law changes from the Smarter and Stronger Justice Act came into effect in Ontario. The result of the bill raised the limit for a small estate to $150,000 and introduced Rule 74.1 in the Rules of Civil Procedure pertaining to the administration of small estates.
This is similar to the increased limit in the Children’s Law Reform Act in instances where there is no Will or there is a Will but no trust provisions, the estate trustee can only pay $35,000 to the minors parent. Anything above that must be paid into court. The parent or guardian can then apply to be guardians of property their child. The amount was $10,000 previously.
As wills, trusts and estates practitioners it is important to note these changes to the legislation – in particular, estate administrators should be aware of the rules relating to small estates and how it affects the estates administration practice.
Small estates bond requirements
Pursuant to s. 35 of the Estates Act, there is a general requirement that requires every person to whom a grant of administration, including administration with the will annexed, shall give a bond to the judge of the court by which the grant is made. Generally, the administration bond that needs to be obtained is required to be double the amount of the assets of the estate. Pursuant to s. 36(3), an administration bond shall not be required in respect of a small estate, now up to $150,000 (unless a beneficiary is a minor or incapable).
Rule 74.1 small estates forms and procedures: What is the difference?
The major difference of Rule 74.1 is the probate process for small estates
- mainly the less stringent requirements to be appointed an estate trustee of a small Rule 74.1.02(2), states that Rule 74 continues to apply with respect to the small estates except for Rules 74.04 to 74.11 and 74.14 .
The following demonstrates the requirements under Rule 74.04 in comparison to the requirements under Rule 74.1 (italic emphasis added):
Rule 74.04 Requirements for Probate Application
- the original of the will and of every codicil; (a.l) proof of death;
- Form 74. 6 an affidavit attesting that notice of the application, and Form 7 has been served in accordance with subrules (2) to (7);
- if the will or a codicil is not in holograph form,
- Form 8 an affidavit of execution of the will and of every codicil or, Form 74.10 an affidavit as to the condition of the will or codicil at the time of execution, or
- such other evidence of due execution as the court may require;
- Form 74.9 if the will or a codicil is in holograph form, an affidavit attesting that the handwriting and signature in the will or codicil are those of the deceased;
- a renunciation (Form 11) from every living person who is named in the will or codicil as estate trustee who has not joined in the application and is entitled to do so;
- if the applicant is not named as an estate trustee in the will or codicil, a consent to the applicant’s appointment (Form 74.12 or, if the application is for a certificate limited to the assets referred to in the will, Form 12.1) by persons who are entitled to share in the distribution of the estate and who together have a majority interest in the value of the assets of the estate at the date of death;
(g.1 ) Form 74.13.2 in the case of an application for a certificate of appointment of estate trustee with a will limited to the assets referred to in the will, a draft order granting the certificate of appointment;
- the security required by the Estates Act; and
- such additional or other material as the court
Small Estates Rule 74.1.03 Requirements for Probate Application
- Form 74, 1B, a request to file an application for a small estate certificate or an amended small estate certificate form;
- proof of death;
- Form 74. l C, a draft small estate certificate;
- if there is a will, the original of the will and of any codicils, together with the following evidence of due execution of the will and each codicil, similar to the requirements in Rule 74;
- any security required by the Estates Act, which should be nil; and
- such additional or other material as the court
Small estates have a less formal notice equivalent under Rule 74.1.03(3) that requires the applicant to send a copy of the application for a small estate certificate, any attachments and copies of the wills or codicils to the beneficiaries. It acts very similar to a Notice of Application for estates over $150,000.
As the highlighted passages above indicate, there are more requirements for probate under Rule 74.04 . There are up to six less forms required under Rule 74.1 and generally, there is no security required pursuant to s. 36 of the Estates Act, in comparison to a traditional Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee. Forms require time and time is money.
Comparison of forms
The small estate forms themselves are newer and easier for an administrator of a small estate to complete.
On an analysis of the Small Estate Certificate Form (Form 74. lA) in comparison to the Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee Form (Form 74.4) as downloaded from the Ontario Court forms website, at first glance, there are colour indicators in Form 74. lA that easily guide an administrator on where to fill in the forms as compared to the monochromatic Form 74.4. The spacing and larger text in Form 74. lA is placed in a way where it is more intuitive and user friendly than Form 74.4.
In terms of guiding language, the small estate form is clearer than its “traditional” counterpart, and as a snippet, the Personal Property section of Form 74. lA has a more in-depth definition of Personal Property as compared to Form 74.4 .
One interesting note from Form 74. lA, is that this form asks for the beneficiaries to be listed, whereas in 74.4, the beneficiaries are to be provided in another court form.
According to Attorney General Doug Downey, raising the small estate limit was a part of the changes made “to ease the burden on grieving loved ones and ensure fairness for everyone regardless of the size of an estate, the government is making the process to claim a small estate faster, easier and less costly for Ontarians.”
Overall, the new changes make it easier for administrators of any estate under $150,000.
As some administrators may utilize legal counsel for the administration of their estate, having a process where there are potentially six less legal documents to complete, and a process that requires less correspondence with other parties will drastically help small estates by reducing time and legal fees paid from the small estates.
For the administrators who wish to administer a small estate by themselves, the new process is more simplified. Overall, it is faster, easier, and less costly in comparison to the process for estates over $150,000.
Do changes ensure fairness for everyone regardless of size of an estate?
For there to be winners, there must be losers borne from these changes . In terms of fairness for everyone, regardless of the size of the estate, it is puzzling how the line was arbitrarily drawn at $150,000.
What happens to the still relatively modest estates valued between $150,000 to $200,000? Should there be a system in place that is less onerous and less expensive than obtaining an administrative bond to compel an administrator to fulfil their duties?
The changes are a good start, but there are still questions that need to be answered.