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If You Are Named in a Will How Are You Notified?


Family members and potential heirs are often curious to know whether they’ll receive an inheritance after a person dies. Beneficiaries may feel left in the dark about the status of the Will and their inheritance. Movies and TV make it seem like people should expect an invitation to a formal reading of the Last Will and Testament. The reality is that formal Will readings are not required in Canada.

Instead, there is a process required by law for notifying beneficiaries and other interested parties. People tend to be uncertain about how the notification process works. Who is responsible for notifying the beneficiaries and how formal does the notification need to be? Will the process take a few weeks or a few months?

The team at Onyx Law Group regularly assists executors, beneficiaries, and potential heirs with the legal process, and we help interested parties understand their rights when it comes to finding out if they are named in a Will.

This blog post contains information about who is entitled to notice and the legal process for notifying those who are entitled to it. Should you have questions or need more information, we welcome you to reach out to a lawyer at Onyx Law Group for customized legal advice.

A Will is a Private Document

A Will is a Private Document

After the death of a family member, you might expect you have a right to receive a copy of their Last Will and Testament. However, a Will is a private legal document. The executor—the person named in a Will to carry out the instructions in the Will and settle the will-maker’s affairs after they die—is not required by law to show you the Will or to give you a copy of the Will until they apply for probate.

Probate Process in BC

Probate is a process that proves a Will is valid. When a person dies leaving a Will, the named executor applies to probate court to verify the validity of the Will and to get authorization to act on behalf of the estate. The British Columbia Supreme Court receives the probate application and then issues an “estate grant” which allows the executor(s) to proceed with the estate administration process.

Formal Notice Must be Given before Estate Grant Application

The executor is responsible for providing formal notice of the intention to apply to probate the Will (see the next section for a list of who is entitled to notice). The BC Supreme Court Rules state that an executor who intends to apply for probate must deliver a copy of the Will and a copy of the P1 Notice of Proposed Application in Relation to Estate to the necessary parties.

Formal notice can be delivered by mail or hand delivery, or by fax or email if the recipient acknowledges in writing that they received notice by fax or email. The executor must prepare a sworn Affidavit (Form P9 – Affidavit of Delivery) which attests to the fact that the Form P1 and a copy of the Will were delivered to all required parties.

The estate grant application can’t be submitted to the BC Supreme Court until at least 21 days after the required notices have been sent. The purpose of the 21-day waiting period that must be observed after the notices are delivered is to give interested parties a reasonable period of time to respond before the application is processed.

Who is Entitled to Notice?

Who is Entitled to Notice?

BC law requires the executor to give notice to the following people before applying to the probate court for an estate grant:

  • All estate beneficiaries named in the Will;
  • The will-maker’s spouse and children, as these are the people who are entitled to challenge the Will under section 60 of BC’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act (“WESA”); and
  • Every person who would be entitled to a share in the estate if the deceased had died without a Will, pursuant to the list set out in WESA.

If any person entitled to notice is a minor or a mentally incapable adult, notice must be delivered to the parent, guardian, committee, and/or the Public Guardian and Trustee, depending on the circumstances and the nature of the inheritance left to that individual in the Will.

Legal Obligations of Executors to Find and Notify Beneficiaries

An executor has a legal duty to make reasonable efforts to identify, locate, and notify the people entitled to notice by law. If the executor makes reasonable efforts to do so, he or she will not be liable for any loss if a beneficiary is not notified (WESA, s. 121).

“Reasonable efforts” may require locating and notifying a possible spouse or children of the deceased, or distant relatives. The executor can take steps such as speaking to the beneficiary’s family members, checking their last known address, and contacting the beneficiary’s last known employer. The executor can also hire a tracing company to perform a “trace” to attempt to locate the beneficiary.

Should none of those efforts be successful, the executor can apply to the British Columbia Supreme Court for an order dispensing with the notice requirement or allowing them to notify the missing beneficiary differently (e.g., by advertising in the newspaper).

What Happens to an Inheritance if a Beneficiary Can’t Be Located?

What Happens to an Inheritance if a Beneficiary Can’t Be Located?

If a beneficiary is still missing when it comes time for the executor to distribute the estate, the executor must take steps before he or she can be discharged of their duties. The executor can apply under the Trustee Act for an order that the missing beneficiary’s share be paid into court (for example, the share of the estate left for a residuary beneficiary). The court will hold the money for a set period.

If the deceased person made a specific gift of property to a specific beneficiary who can’t be located, WESA section 147 applies. It requires the executor to wait at least 12 months from the date of the estate grant from the probate court. If after those 12 months the executor is still unable to locate the beneficiary, the executor can sell the property, deduct any costs related to the storage, transportation and sale of the property and hold the net proceeds in trust.

How do you know if the Executor has Applied for Probate?

If you’re wondering whether the executor has started the probate process, you can search the public court records. You can do this on Court Services Online. On the main page, under E-search, click on Search Civil. Under Search Civil, click on Deceased Name and put in the name involved. You may be asked to pay a small fee to view any documents.

What if the Executor hasn’t Applied for Probate?

What if the Executor hasn’t Applied for Probate?

No law states an executor must obtain a Grant of Probate. An executor usually discovers that probate is required after they speak to a lawyer, notary, or mortgage broker about taking some step concerning the deceased’s real property, or when they attempt to deal with the deceased’s registered property, such as bank accounts, real property, or vehicles.

ICBC, financial institutions, and the Land Title Office will advise the executor that certain steps can only be taken upon presenting an estate grant authorizing the executor to act on behalf of the estate. These institutions have strict rules in place to ensure that the deceased’s property is not transferred contrary to the law and will usually require a court-certified copy of the grant before taking instructions from the executor or transferring ownership of the property to the estate.

Why haven’t you Received a Notice?

If you haven’t received formal notice, there are a few possibilities to explain why, including the following:

  • the executor has not yet learned that probate is necessary;
  • the value and/or nature of the estate’s assets don’t require probate;
  • you aren’t among the named beneficiaries; or
  • you don’t have an interest in the estate assets or a right to challenge the Will.

What can you do if you Haven’t Received Notice?

What can you do if you Haven’t Received Notice?

There are steps you can take to request a copy of the Will. Generally speaking, your best bet is to ask the executor directly. The executor doesn’t have to give you a copy of the Will to confirm whether you are a beneficiary named in the Will; the executor can simply say yes or no. In addition, if you are named in the Will, the executor may choose to show you only the parts of the Will that relate to you.

If your attempts to reach out informally are unsuccessful, you may want to put your request in writing. Be firm, but polite. Remember, you’re asking them for a favor.

If you believe you’re entitled to a copy of the Will, but the executor is refusing to provide it to you, you may have legal options to try to force the executor to give you a copy. One option is to apply to the court asking it to issue a subpoena requiring the executor to deliver the Will to a court registry.

You may need to seek legal advice. An estate attorney can tell you whether this is an appropriate step, and what your other options may be. Depending on the circumstances, your least expensive option may be to wait until the executor applies for probate.

Do you Need help Receiving your Inheritance from a Will?

Death of a loved one is never easy. On top of that, the estate administration process can be slow and stressful for beneficiaries. There are often concerns about the transparency of the process, privacy concerns, and apprehension about potential disputes arising from the notification process, such as challenges to the Will or disagreements among beneficiaries.

Our team of estate planning lawyers and estate litigators can help you navigate the process and get the inheritance you’re expecting. Contact us today for practical advice and effective solutions. For more information or to answer questions concerning a probate or estate administration matter, reach out to Veronica Manski, Probate and Estate Administration Practice Leader at 604-416-4403 (Vancouver) or 236-420-6400 (Kelowna) or vmanski@onyxlaw.ca.

We are proud to offer our legal services to the people of Vancouver, BurnabyNew WestminsterSurreyCoquitlam, Kelowna, and all other surrounding areas.

Have questions about a topic?

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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