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Administering Estates During COVID-19

With most parts of Ontario entering Stage 2, there will certainly be a backlog of probate applications being processed, unless there is some urgency. While courts continue to accept and process probate applications, we can expect months long delay in receiving Certificates.

Similarly, for your clients who are currently acting in the role of an Estate Trustee, it may take longer than usual to wind up the Estate. While the delays can be frustrating for your client who is seeking to act in the role of an Estate Trustee or for the beneficiary who is waiting on the Estate to be settled, I have listed a few suggestions that may help ease some of the stress involved:

1. Communication

Advise your client on the importance of continued communication with beneficiaries about tasks completed (such as filing the Application or listing a home for sale) so that beneficiaries don’t feel out of the loop with respect to what is happening with the Estate. Even if it is to say that there hasn’t been any update from the courts, chances are the beneficiaries would rather hear something than nothing at all.

2. Timely Manner

It is important to advise your client who is currently in the role as an Estate Trustee that they have a fiduciary duty to administer the Estate in a timely manner. While this may pose difficult with some of the restrictions in place as a result of Covid-19, the Estate Trustee can work on cleaning and clearing out the property (if there is one) in order to prepare it for an eventual sale.

3. Valuation of the Estate

While Estate Trustees may have a hard time obtaining an accurate inventory and valuation of the Estate assets (for example, banks may be closed and or have limited operations and services they provide such as getting access to a safety deposit box) you can in the meantime, get a certified appraisal of any property or personal property of the Deceased. This can be done safely and with limited to no contact, following current health guidelines.

4. Asset Management

For your clients who are currently acting in the role of an Estate Trustee it is important to advise them that they have a duty to manage the assets of the Deceased with the best interest of the Estate and its beneficiaries. Due to the instability of the markets, it may be wise to tell your client to consult with an investment advisor or financial planner to ensure that the assets of the Estate are being properly managed.

5. Inventory and Liabilities

Where a Certificate is pending, suggest that your client become familiar with the Estate itself by taking an inventory of the assets and liabilities of the Estate, diarize any deadlines for tax returns, prepare to advertise a Notice to Creditors, and work towards obtaining any valuations of any private companies or interests the Deceased may have had in a business or other property.

The Sooner The Better

As Courts work to expand their operations, they are likely to be inundated with new applications. The sooner you file completed probate applications, the sooner your clients will be able to administer the Estate. Advising clients to keep the flow of communication going to beneficiaries will also help to avoid any pitfalls later.