Estates involve looking after the property of a deceased and ensuring that what they own is transferred to their beneficiaries, taking care of payment of any debts or liabilities, and filing of any current or outstanding tax returns.  Any property that was owned jointly with another person, for example a house owned as “joint tenants”, or a joint bank account, will pass automatically to the surviving joint owner, and the property will not form part of the estate.

The nature of the estate process will depend on whether or not the person had a Will at the time they died.  If they had a Will, then their property will be distributed to the beneficiaries named in the Will (assuming there are no valid claims by people not named in the Will).  If the person did not have a Will, then the people who are entitled to receive the property are determined by the Intestate Succession Act.   This Act sets out a family tree type of lineage for claims against an estate, with a spouse and children, if any, having priority.

Where a person had a Will at the time of their death, one of the procedural questions is whether the Will needs to undergo a process known as “probate”.  Probating a Will is essentially obtaining a certificate from the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta confirming that the Will is valid and genuine, and that the executor named in the Will has the right to transfer ownership of the assets of the deceased.  Whether probating is required or not depends on the nature of assets in the person's estate.  If there are items in respect of which you are required to ask a third party to transfer the ownership of, then you will likely be required to “probate” the Will.  An example of that would be a piece of real estate owned in the deceased's name only.  In that case, you need to prove to the Land Titles Office that the Will on which you are basing your request to transfer ownership of the property is valid.  A “Grant of Probate” from the Court will be required by the Land Titles Office before they will process a transfer of ownership.

If a person did not have a Will, but they owned property such as real estate in their name only, then an alternative Court procedure is followed to produce the same legal result.  This alternative process is known as “Letters of Administration”.

Not all estates will require that there be a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration.  Each estate is different, and one of the ways that a lawyer can assist the family is in identifying what the applicable procedures and requirements will be for a person's estate.

There are many issues involved in dealing with an estate.  People should ensure that they obtain appropriate legal advice and assistance before attempting to deal with a deceased's property, as they may incur personal liabilities to the beneficiaries or creditors if they make any errors.  A lawyer can assist the executor by advising on how to properly deal with the assets of the deceased, reviewing whether any people not named in the Will might have claims against the estate, and preparing the documents for an application for a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration if required.