What Is a Small Estate? – Martin & Hillyer Associates

applying for small estate certificate

For many years there was only one way to obtain a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee (often referred to as “probate”). Since April of 2021, there has been another option available for “Small Estates” – defined as estates with assets valued at less than $150,000.00 as at the date of death.

If successful, the Small Estates application process actually yields a Small Estate Certificate and not a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee. The Small Estates Application process is meant to be more streamlined than the “regular” process and more accessible for those who do not wish to hire a lawyer to assist them with the Application.

The most notable differences between the two processes are:

  1. Timeline: If you are applying via the Small Estates process, you will have to provide the beneficiaries of the estate with a copy of your Application and a copy of the Will and Codicils (if any) and then wait at least 30 days before filing it with the court.
  2. Disclosure of Assets: The “regular” Application for a Certificate of Appointment only differentiates the assets by noting the value of all real property vs. all personal property. The Small Estate Application form requires applicants to list all of the assets of the estate in detail, along with their corresponding values. This can be difficult for executors who were not familiar with the deceased’s assets during his or her lifetime.
  3. Limit of Certificate: The Small Estate Certificate only provides an executor with access to the assets listed in the Application (which list is reproduced on the Certificate). In contrast, a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee, provides an executor with access to all of the assets of the estate, whether known at the time of making the application or not.

The third point above is probably the most significant. If you apply for a Small Estate Certificate and later discover more assets (ie. a bank account you didn’t know existed, etc.), you will have to return to the court and apply for an Amended Small Estate Certificate.

In my practice, I have found this to be a deterrent for some individuals who otherwise might have taken advantage of the Small Estates application process.



About the Author

EMMA O’DONNELL - Burlington Lawyer


Emma is a lawyer in Burlington who is proud to serve her local community with real estate, business law and wills & estates expertise.