Probate by Design

Probate by Design

In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.

In Canada probate fees, also known as estate administration tax, are not necessarily certain if you’re smart about how you design your estate plan.

Throughout our lives we design for ourselves travel adventures, a lifestyle, a career – so why not design an estate plan that will leave our loved ones with as much inheritance as possible? 

That includes a plan designed to minimize or completely avoid probate fees. Afterall, why would you want to give the government a penny more than is required?

This article answers the following three questions about probate in Canada:

Design is the intermediary between information and understanding.

Before you can design a smart probate plan, first let’s cover some probate basics.

1. What is Probate?

Probate is the process to validate a Will. Financial institutions will not give the executor access to your assets until they’re sure the Will has been validated through probate. The courts will ensure:

  • The Will is the original last Will in place and that it is valid, and
  • The proposed executor has the capacity and is willing to take on the role.

Once the Will and executor are accepted by the courts, it will provide a “Grant of Administration”* to your executor. This court issued document will give your executor the authority they need to act as estate administrator.

Probate is Almost Always Required in Estate Administration

Most financial institutions and land registry offices require proof the Will is probated.There are a handful of exceptions:

  • If the entire estate is held jointly and assets are moving to the joint account holder.
  • If there is no real estate and the assets are of minimal value, for example, under $25,000. Note, this amount can vary by financial institution.

Probate Applications Take Time 

In most Canadian provinces an application for probate takes about 3 months to appear in court – as long as 8 months in cities like Toronto – and the entire process could take up to 12 months.

This is significant, as the estate’s assets are frozen until the probate application is approved. A plan is required to ensure your estate’s bills are paid during the probate process.

Probate court approves both the Will and the executor.

2. What Does Probate Cost? 

Probate fees are based on an estate’s total value. The total value is applied to assets that are included in the estate, like a primary residence, cottage or investment properties, and registered and non-registered investments.

The calculation of probate fees varies by province. Below is the 2024 probate fee schedule for B.C., Alberta and Ontario. Learn about probate fees for all provinces here: Probate Fees by Province/Territory

  • Up to $25,000: No fee
  • Between $25,000 and $50,000: ($6 per $1000 or portion 0.6%)
  • Over $50,000: ($14 per $1000 or portion 1.40%)
  • Additional administration fee of $200 for estate values over $25,000
  • $10,000 or less: $35
  • Over $10,000 but not more than $25,000: $135
  • Over $25,000 but not more than $125,000: $275
  • Over $125,000 but not more than $250,000: $400
  • Over $250,000: $525
  • $50,000 or less – no estate tax (probate fees)

  • Over $50,000 – $15 for every $1000 or portion 1.50%

Probate fees only apply to assets that flow through your estate.

So how can you design your estate plan where assets do not flow through the estate?

3. What Can I Do to Avoid Probate Fees?

Probate by Design

Designing an estate plan to minimize or avoid probate fees leaves more of your nest egg available for your family. 

Let’s explore 4 ways you can avoid probate fees. 

1. Designate Beneficiaries

When you designate a beneficiary to your Life insurance, RRSP, RRIF, TFSA and other Non-Registered accounts, upon your death the funds are transferred directly to your beneficiaries and bypass your estate, avoiding probate fees.

2. Make Your Accounts Joint Ownership 

If your bank and investment accounts have joint ownership with the right of survivorship, upon death the joint account holder will have full ownership and the funds will not be included in your estate.

This may be a smart move with your spouse, depending on the status of your relationship, however, it can be quite risky to make your children joint account holders. Learn more about this topic in our blog Why Joint Accounts with Adult Children is Risky Business.

Similarly, if your home(s) are designated “joint tenancy” you can avoid probate fees. Joint tenancy ensures upon your death your interest in the property is directly passed on to the joint owner bypassing the estate.

3. Gift Money to Your Loved Ones

If you have plenty of income to fund your living expenses for the remainder of your life, then gift  money to your loved ones while you are still alive. You get to see how their early inheritance benefits their lives and your estate will avoid probate fees on the gifted amount.

4. Set Up a Trust

Trusts are a great way to avoid probate since all assets are transferred to the trust bypassing the estate. The trust is managed by a trustee whom you appoint.

Design is intelligence made visible.


In Canada probate fees, also known as estate administration tax, can be avoided if you are smart about how you design your estate plan.

Depending on the province, probate fees can be significant. Designing an estate plan to avoid or minimize probate costs will leave more inheritance for your loved ones.

Some of the probate avoidance ideas noted above may not be the right approach for you. Professional Estate Planners can help you design a plan with probate in mind. 

Professional Executors can help with the complexities of probate administration.

Did this article help you better understand probate and why designing an estate plan makes sense? 

We’d love to know if you’ve designed an estate plan that avoids probate. Share your experience!

Financial Concierge™ offers Professional Executor and Power of Attorney services to assist  with executor, attorney duties or help with managing daily financial activities. Learn more about Financial Concierge™ here.

Author: Janet Jackson, Contributor: Jill Chambers

DISCLAIMER: This blog is not intended to be legal or financial advice and should not be construed as anything other than for information purposes.

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