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Do You Need a Lawyer When Someone Dies in BC?


The period after the death of a close family member can be very overwhelming. As you are grieving and coming to terms with the loss, you are also trying to figure out what steps to take to handle the deceased person’s affairs and how to deal with estate assets.

There is a lot to be done after a loved one’s death. Estate laws and probate applications are complex, and legal issues and disputes among family members may arise over a loved one’s estate. You don’t have to hire a lawyer to go to probate court, and you can work through the estate administration process on your own. But to secure the best possible outcome for your situation, it is certainly advisable to hire someone with legal expertise.

Working with an estate lawyer will provide you with much-needed support, peace of mind, and access to additional resources to make the probate process go as smoothly as possible. Our knowledgeable estate lawyers with over 20 years of experience under their belts can guide you through the probate process, provide solutions to resolve will disputes and protect your legal interests. If you want to know more about how we can help after a loved one’s death, reach out to Onyx Law Group for a free consultation.

Read on for an overview of the estate administration process and a discussion of situations where you may want or need guidance from an experienced estate lawyer.

Understanding Estate and Trust in BC

Understanding Estate and Trust in BC

The Wills, Estates, and Succession Act (WESA) is the main piece of legislation governing estate and trust rules in British Columbia. An estate encompasses the entirety of a deceased person’s assets, while a trust involves a legal arrangement where a trustee manages the assets for the benefit of a beneficiary.

A will specifies how an estate will be distributed and names the executor who will manage it. Executors manage duties like asset collection, debt settlement, and beneficiary distribution. Frequently, these responsibilities call for probate, a legal procedure wherein the Court validates the will and authorizes the executor named in the will to administer the estate. Probate proceedings are overseen by the Supreme Court of British Columbia, which also approves the nominations of executors and ensures that beneficiaries are properly notified.

In the case that you feel like a will was not properly executed, the deceased did not have the necessary mental capacity to make the will, or there was undue influence or coercion in the making of the will, you might be able to contest a will in British Columbia.

Do You Need a Lawyer When Acting as Executor or Administrator?

While there is no official requirement for you to hire a probate lawyer in British Columbia if you are appointed as executor or administrator of a loved one’s estate, the probate process in BC is quite intricate and many complications can arise, which is why it is recommended to hire a lawyer. The personal representative of a deceased person’s estate must understand the legal requirements and diligently meet the fiduciary duties that come with the role.

Even if there are no disputes and the estate is relatively simple, you will have questions about the legal process and the legal requirements that must be met to fulfill your role as an estate trustee. An executor or administrator should seek legal advice and guidance as needed. Reasonable fees charged by the lawyer are paid by the estate, not the executor or administrator personally.

How Do Probate Lawyers Help Personal Representatives?

How Do Probate Lawyers Help Personal Representatives?

Estate lawyers can advise you if probate is required, prepare the necessary paperwork to get court orders to facilitate the process, administer the estate, provide legal advice on the validity of any claims against the estate, and resolve disputes among family members should they arise (e.g., claims by a surviving spouse or disinherited beneficiary, unequal inheritance between siblings, etc.).

There are so many benefits to hiring a probate lawyer to answer your questions and guide you through the estate administration process. Qualified legal professionals are experienced in probate applications and assisting clients in administering estates and trusts from start to finish.

If you’re curious about what is involved in probate applications, we welcome you to reach out to our estate lawyers. Our website also has many additional resources, including a detailed overview of the probate process, information about how to apply to be appointed administrator if your loved one died without a will, what happens after the probate court issues an estate grant, and how to calculate the estate’s probate tax burden.

In What Other Circumstances Do You Need a Lawyer After Someone Dies in BC?

We just discussed the benefits of hiring a probate lawyer to assist you if you are appointed to act as the personal representative of a deceased person. Serving as executor or administrator of a loved one’s estate is a big job. Probate applications that are improperly completed will be rejected by the probate court. Rejections lead to delay, increased costs, stress—and the potential for friction with beneficiaries. Legal advice and guidance from an experienced probate lawyer will avoid mistakes and ensure the estate administration process goes as smoothly as possible.

There are other circumstances where you may need a lawyer when someone dies. Here are some common situations where legal representation can be of great benefit to you:

1. Complicated Estate Plans

If your loved one’s estate is complex, legal professionals should be involved to ensure the estate plan is properly implemented. Factors that can make an estate complicated include the nature of the estate assets (e.g., ownership of multiple properties, out-of-province assets, international investments, business assets), the presence of significant estate debt, executors who reside outside of BC, disputes about the estate value, and legal challenges.

2. Family Disputes and Estate Litigation

Family Disputes and Estate Litigation

Legal disputes among family members are common after the death of a loved one. For example, the child or surviving spouse of a deceased person may need to bring a will variation claim to contest the distribution of the deceased’s estate. That typically occurs when a surviving spouse or child of the deceased feels that the deceased person failed to adequately provide for them in their will, or at all. The primary purpose of the wills variation claim is to promote fairness and equality in the distribution of an estate where a parent or spouse died and failed to fulfill their moral obligations to their family.

Disputes among family members questioning the validity of the will are also common. The dispute may arise from deficiencies in the will or allegations of fraud, forgery, undue influence, or lack of mental capacity. The issue may be one that you raise, or it may be an issue that one of your family members raises, the outcome of which will impact your inheritance rights.

Whatever the source of the dispute, an experienced estates lawyer can provide valuable legal advice and guidance throughout the legal process, advocating for their clients and using negotiation, mediation, and other techniques to resolve disputes. If an out-of-court settlement is not possible, our team of estate lawyers has the skills and experience necessary to take your case to trial.

Depending on the source of the dispute and the outcome of the litigation, you may be able to recover legal costs associated with hiring a lawyer from the deceased’s estate.

3. Absence of a Will

If your family member died without leaving a valid will, they are said to have died intestate, and their estate assets must be distributed to specific beneficiaries in accordance with the intestacy scheme in BC’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act, SBC 2009, c. 13 (“WESA”). The law dictates who inherits and how much, based on the total value of the deceased’s estate and the combination of relatives the deceased leaves behind.

An estate lawyer can assist you in intestate situations. For example, when there is no will, the surviving spouse or other family members of the deceased, or other persons, can apply to be appointed as administrator of the estate. If successful, the probate court will issue an estate grant called a Grant of Administration. A probate lawyer can help you prepare the necessary paperwork so you can be the person with legal authority to act on behalf of and carry out the administration of your loved one’s estate.

Overview of the BC Estate Administration Process

Overview of the BC Estate Administration Process

Steps to take immediately following a loved one’s death

Dealing with the aftermath of a loved one’s death is no easy task, but here is an overview of some of the key steps that need to be taken following a family member’s passing:

  • Notify friends and family members.
  • Find out if the deceased’s person left a will.
  • Determine who will act as the estate trustee. If the deceased person left a will, it should name the person or people who will act as executor(s) and carry out the instructions in the will. If the deceased person died without a will, one or more of the surviving family members will need to apply to probate court to get legal authority to administer the deceased person’s estate.
  • Arrange funeral services. Check the will, as it may contain the deceased person’s wishes or instructions for the funeral. You should also look into whether they have a prepaid burial plan in place.
  • Obtain a death certificate. Funeral directors can prepare death certificates, or death certificates can be requested from Vital Statistics. An original death certificate will be needed to deal with real estate, bank and brokerage accounts, etc.
  • Notify appropriate provincial and federal government agencies (e.g., Health Insurance BC to cancel MSP coverage; Canada Revenue Agency to notify of death, stop benefit payments, file final income tax return and pay any outstanding income tax debt; and Canada Pension Plan, Veterans Affairs Canada, etc. to inquire about death benefits).
  • If the deceased had life insurance, advise the life insurance company of the death and request forms to obtain benefits.
  • Contact Canada Post to redirect the deceased person’s mail; cancel the deceased person’s passport, credit cards, social security administration account (SIN), driver’s licence, etc.; and deactivate social media accounts, streaming services, subscriptions, websites, etc. to prevent identity theft or identity fraud.

Who Is Responsible for Taking Those Steps?

The executor or administrator—also known as the estate trustee or “personal representative” of the deceased—is responsible for the tasks involved with a death. Friends and family can support or assist with some of those tasks, but the executor or administrator has ultimate responsibility for the estate administration process.

How Do You Determine Who the Executor or Administrator Will Be?

If the deceased person left a will, the person (or people) named as executor in the will are responsible for carrying out the instructions in the will and administering the estate. If the people named in the will are not able to accept the role, or the deceased person died without a valid will, certain people are permitted to apply to probate court for a grant of administration. The probate court appoints a person or people as administrator, which gives them legal authority to act on behalf of and manage the estate.

Does an Executor or Administrator Have Other Responsibilities?

Does an Executor or Administrator Have Other Responsibilities?

The BC estate administration process can be challenging, and the executor or administrator has many responsibilities, including:

  • Notifying all the deceased person’s beneficiaries and next-of-kin;
  • Locating and securing the deceased’s assets (personal property, vehicles, real estate, safe deposit box, bank and brokerage accounts, pensions, life insurance, registered retirement accounts, jewelry, etc.);
  • Preparing an itemized inventory of estate assets including their approximate fair market value;
  • Determining if a probate application is necessary, and if so, completing all necessary paperwork to be submitted to probate court.
  • Paying the deceased’s debts, including expenses for funeral services, credit card debts, and probate tax (if applicable).
  • Filing the deceased person’s final income tax return and obtaining a Clearance Certificate from the Canada Revenue Agency to confirm that the estate’s tax burden has been met.
  • Determining the validity of any claims made against the deceased’s estate.
  • Preparing a detailed account of the estate value and how the estate’s assets were distributed for approval by the beneficiaries or the court.
  • Distributing the estate in accordance with the will’s instructions (or the intestacy rules if the person died without a will).

Trusted Legal Guidance From Our Estate Lawyers

Whether you are appointed executor or administrator of a loved one’s estate, their estate is complex, they died without a will or you are experiencing family disputes, it is important to reach out for legal advice. Whatever legal issues you may be facing following the death of a family member, our estate lawyers are here to help. We are empathetic and creative, and we focus on streamlining the process, so you get the results you want.

Our estate lawyers provide legal advice, guidance through the legal process, and effective strategies for resolving disputes. We provide quality legal representation to beneficiaries, executors, administrators, trustees, guardians, and other family members.

We believe it’s important to know your legal rights and obligations before making any decisions. That’s why we offer 30-minute free consultations to give you the opportunity to discuss your matter with a passionate and knowledgeable family and estate lawyer in New Westminster who can advise you on the best steps forward.

Consult with our experienced team today at (604) 305-2923.

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Onyx Law Group represents clients in family law, estate and trust litigation, estate planning and probate matters. Consult with our experienced team at 
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