Overview

When a person dies they may leave behind belongings, real estate and other assets and debts which is called their estate.

In Ontario, an estate trustee is the only person with the legal authority to manage or distribute an estate.

Probate is a procedure to ask the court to:

  • give a person the authority to act as the estate trustee of an estate
  • confirm the authority of a person named as the estate trustee in the deceased’s will
  • formally approve that the deceased’s will is their valid last will

If you need to apply for probate of an estate, there are two different streams you can use, depending on the total value of the estate:

Apply for probate of a small estate

As of April 1, 2021, a small estate is defined for probate purposes as an estate that is valued at $150,000 or less.

You can use a simplified process if you are applying for probate of an estate that is valued at $150,000 or less. The process is set out in the:

If your application is successful, the court will issue a probate certificate for a small estate, known as a Small Estate Certificate. The certificate will give you the authority to manage the estate assets that are listed in the certificate.

Who can apply

A person or organization can apply for probate of a small estate.

If you apply, you must explain why you are entitled to apply. For example, indicate if you are:

  • named as the estate trustee in the deceased’s will
  • appointed as the estate trustee by a court order
  • entitled to apply under legislation

When a person dies without a will, the spouse or common-law partner usually has the first right to apply, then next-of-kin.

The next-of-kin (also called heirs-at-law) are determined by legislation in the Succession Law Reform Act. In this situation, the court may appoint the next-of-kin who it deemed to be the most appropriate person.

How to apply

To apply to the court for probate of a small estate, you must file the required documents with the court. These documents include:

  • the deceased’s original will, if any
  • any addition or supplement to the will that explains, changes or revokes a will or part of a will
  • proof of death
  • court forms (requiring information about the deceased’s assets and beneficiaries)

If you do not know where the deceased’s original will is located, learn how to find a will and how to obtain proof of death.

1. Complete court forms

You must complete certain court forms for your application, including the following:

The type of forms that are needed will depend on the situation. Read Rules 74.1 and Rule 74 to find out which court forms and documents you need.

2. List the estate assets and taxes

In the court application form, you must list:

  • estate assets
  • value of the assets

The Estate Administration Tax is charged on the value of the estate of a deceased person as of the date of their death.

If the value of the small estate is $50,000 or less, you do not need to pay Estate Administration Tax. For small estates valued over $50,000 and up to $150,000, you need to pay Estate Administration Tax.

You must calculate the provincial Estate Administration Tax and pay it when your court application is filed, unless either:

  • the tax is not payable
  • a court orders the deferral of the tax payment

3. Serve the necessary documents

You must send or give a copy of the application form to anyone who is entitled to a share of the estate, including the estate beneficiaries.

You can send the application by either:

  • email, to the person’s last known e-mail address
  • regular letter mail or courier to the person’s last known address

If there are minors or incapable adult beneficiaries involved, you may need to send the application form to:

You must do this 30 days before you file your documents with the court.

4. File documents with the court

The application and supporting court documents must be filed with the Superior Court of Justice. Your Request to File an Application for a Small Estate form (Form 74.1B) must indicate that you sent or gave the application to the people who are entitled to a share of the estate at least 30 days before you file the documents with the court.

This should be done at the court in the county or district where the deceased lived at the time of their death. If the deceased was not living in Ontario when they died, contact the courthouse in the location where they owned Ontario property. Find court locations in Ontario.

You must pay Estate Administration Tax when you submit your application to the court. The tax can be paid by certified cheque, money order, bank draft, lawyers’ trust account cheques and debit.

You can mail the application documents and tax payment to the appropriate court location. You can also file your probate application with the court by email.

5. Bond

An estate administration bond is a bond that is posted by an administrator of an estate to assure that they will do their duties according to the provisions of the will and legislation. The bond covers any financial losses to the estate due to dishonest or improper acts by the administrator. Learn more about estate administration bonds.

A bond is required for a small estate when either:

  • the applicant is not a resident in Ontario or in a province or territory of Canada or in a Commonwealth country
  • there are minor or incapable adult beneficiaries and the deceased died without a will or the applicant is not named in the will as estate trustee, and
    • the applicant is not the deceased’s spouse, or
    • the applicant is the deceased’s spouse but has not filed an affidavit asking the court to dispense with the bond

Issuing a Small Estate Certificate

A Small Estate Certificate is the document you will receive if your application is accepted. The certificate will give you the authority to manage the assets listed on the certificate.

Application review

Small estate applications will usually be processed within five business days. It will take longer if:

  • you do not file all necessary documents or provide all necessary evidence and information
  • if the material filed raises an issue that requires a judge to make a decision

Once your application is filed, court staff will determine whether they can issue a Small Estate Certificate. This involves searching the court records to learn:

  • if any other person has made the same application to the court
  • if any person has objected to your application
  • if a more recent will was deposited with the court than the one you filed with the court

To ask about the status of your application you can contact either:

  • your lawyer
  • the estates court office where your application was filed

If you filed your application by email, court staff will contact you by email. If a Small Estate Certificate is issued it will be emailed to you. If you filed by mail, then the certificate will be mailed to you.

If your application is successful

If your application is successful you will be issued a Small Estate Certificate, giving you the authority to manage the assets listed on the certificate.

Within 180 calendar days of receiving a Small Estate Certificate, you must file an Estate Information Return, which lists the value of the deceased’s assets at the time of death, with the Ministry of Finance. It must be provided even if the value of the estate is less than $50,000 and no tax is payable.

If your application is refused

Court staff will notify you or your lawyer if either:

  • the court record search reveals a problem that prevents the court from issuing a Small Estate Certificate
  • you did not provide the required information, evidence or documentation

This written notice, called a Registrar’s Notice to Applicant in an Application for a Small Estate Certificate or Amended Small Estate Certificate (Form 74.1D), will indicate the reason that the Small Estate Certificate has been refused.

If you receive this notice because you failed to provide documents, information or evidence, you can submit revised or additional materials if court staff ask you to.

If court staff determine that your application involves an issue that needs a decision by a judge, a judge will review your application and may make a court order.

Probate of additional assets

If you are issued a Small Estate Certificate and later discover additional estate assets that you are not authorized to manage, you may need to return to the court to get authority to manage those assets.

$150,000 or less

You can bring an application to the court for an Amended Small Estate Certificate (Form 74.1E) if the combined value of the new assets discovered, plus the value of the assets that are listed in your Small Estate Certificate, equals $150,000 or less.

The application for an amended certificate requires you to identify the additional assets and their value. If the court issues an Amended Small Estate Certificate (Form 74.1F), it will list both the assets listed in the original Small Estate Certificate and the additional estate assets.

More than $150,000

You can bring an application to the court for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee if the new assets result in a total estate value that is more than $150,000.

Speaking to a lawyer

Contact your lawyer if you have questions about:

  • how to apply for probate of a small estate
  • your legal duties and responsibilities as an estate trustee
  • your legal risks

You may also want to speak with a lawyer if you believe another person may challenge your application or make a claim against the estate.

If you do not have a lawyer, you can find a lawyer through the Lawyer Referral Service of the Law Society of Ontario.

Updated: August 12, 2021
Published: March 19, 2021