Ontarians will now be able to apply for probate and receive probate certificates by email after the Ontario government announced several changes to the application process last week.
Previously, an application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee – as probate is known in the province – either had to be submitted in person at a court office, or sent by courier or mail. Between March 23 and July, while courts were closed due to Covid-19, applications were temporarily limited to courier or mail only.
The decision to allow electronic submissions is meant to address persistent backlog issues and is part of a wider initiative by the government to update the estate and will process in the province.
In a tweet announcing the change, Attorney General of Ontario Doug Downey wrote: “I am committed to modernizing the estates and wills sector to make it easier for Ontarians to manage the estate process with less hassle and address the probate application backlog.”
Effective Oct. 6, applications for probate, supporting documents (e.g., affidavits, consents and proof of death) and responding documents can be filed by email to the Superior Court of Justice.
However, hard copies of original documents filed in support of the application (e.g. wills, codicils, bonds, ancillary certificates) still need to be sent by mail or courier, or delivered in person. Estate administration tax payments (probate fees) and any filing fees must also be sent by mail or courier to the court office or paid in person.
The option of applying for probate by email “is going to streamline things a fair amount,” says Keith Masterman, vice president of tax, retirement and estate planning with CI Investments Inc. in Toronto. Masterman characterizes the backlog as a “perennial” problem that was likely exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I think the biggest change is that the certificate of appointment of estate trustee will be emailed back to you,” Masterman says. “That will save some time. That’s a great start.”
Electronic applications for probate must be sent to the email address for the court office in the provincial jurisdiction where the deceased lived. If the deceased didn’t reside in Ontario but owned property in the province, then the application is sent to the court office where the property is located.
The government has also introduced a new information form that must be completed and emailed to the court together with the probate application.
Applications filed prior to Oct. 6 may be resubmitted by email without the application losing its position in the queue, the government’s guidance says.
Ontario is currently reviewing estate law in the province more broadly.
Among other measures, the government is considering making permanent a temporary measure introduced during Covid-19 that allows for virtual will signings; repealing the section of the law that revokes a will upon marriage; and raising the dollar value for what’s considered a “small estate.”
In August, Downey sent a letter to the estate practitioner community asking for feedback on these issues.
This year, the Ontario government also eliminated probate fees on the first $50,000 of an estate and extended the filing deadline for the estate information return to 120 days from 90 days.