Formal Reading of the Will – Communication Tips for Personal Representatives

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Formal Reading of the Will – Communication Tips for Personal Representatives

You can probably picture the scene from a movie or TV show:  a dimly lit room, large round table, with grieving family members and the serious lawyer at the head of the table reading out the last Will of the deceased.  

While group readings of a Will happen regularly in movies or in Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero music video, it doesn’t happen in real life.

In Alberta, beneficiaries and certain family members (I will expand on this later in my article) are normally served with a copy of the Will when the Personal Representative (PR) also known as the Executor, files the application for a Grant of Probate with the Surrogate Court (the process where the Court validates the Will and the Personal Representative).

While a reading of the Will doesn’t normally happen, the concept behind it has good merit. Providing notification to beneficiaries early on that they are in the Will (before applying for Probate), and advising others they are not, can provide certainty, build trust, and open the lines of good communication.  

It is a great opportunity for the Personal Representative (or their lawyer) to educate beneficiaries on the process and provide reasonable time frames for steps being taken.

Every estate is unique.  I have had some Probate applications which took several weeks to prepare, and I have others that took several months (or more).  

Many factors impacting the speed of the estate administration are directly related to how well organized (and in some cases disorganized) the Testator (will maker) was in putting their financial affairs in order.  Factors that impact the timing of filing the application can include:

  • Level of organization – are the Testator’s assets and debts simple to determine and obtain information on or it is complicated because assets are unknown, located across several cities or provinces, missing, etc.);
  • Whether the Personal Representative(s) chosen by the Testator lives in the same location as them or will they be required to travel, back and forth; and,
  • The ability and time available of the Personal Representative.  Not all Personal Representatives are retired professionals, with an abundance of time and in great physical health.

Are you a Personal Representative with curious beneficiaries contacting you on an estate?  If so, I recommend asking the estate lawyer for a time estimate as to how long the Probate application will take.  You or the lawyer can then provide status updates as required or when roadblocks or delays arise.

In estate administration in Alberta, when the Personal Representative or their lawyer apply for a Grant of Probate, certain people are required notice of the application.  These include:

  • Legacy beneficiaries – people or charitable organizations that receive specific assets or a fixed cash amount legacy provided in the Will.
  • Residual beneficiaries – again people or charitable organizations that receive a percentage or share of the net value of the estate (once the legacies, estate costs and personal representative fees are paid).
  • “dependents” – while this term is no longer used, Alberta Law recognizes certain family membersmay have financial reliance on a deceased.  See section 72 of the Wills and Succession Act Typically this would include a spouse, including married or Adult Interdependent Partners (AIPs), also referred to as common-law spouses, children < 18 years old, children between 18 – 22 years old and attending post-secondary school, an adult child who is unable to earn a livelihood due to a mental or physical disability or a grandchild < 18 being raised by the deceased grandparent.  

Are you a beneficiary of a “straight forward” estate or a family member of the deceased, and have an email address?  Since June 2022, applications for probate can utilize the Surrogate Digital Service (SDS).  The benefits of the SDS platform include faster processing of an application and service of beneficiaries by email.

If a beneficiary or family member does not have email, they will most likely be served with the application by registered mail.

Other milestone steps in the estate administration which are great opportunities to update beneficiaries on the process and progress are:

  • Upon receiving the Grant of Probate (Step 2)
  • Upon the estate being ready to complete an interim distribution to beneficiaries (Step 3).
  • Upon the estate being ready to complete the final distribution to beneficiaries (the finale) (Step 4).

There are no dates or suggested timeframes for how long each step will take to complete.  The factors impacting the speed of preparing the Probate application may impact the later steps.  

Typically – an SDS Probate Application will take a few weeks to process – unless there are complications.

The Grant of Probate allows the lawyer for the Personal Representative to request the liquidation of assets.  No 2 assets, or banks, or properties will be alike in the amount of time required to liquidate.

Step 3 will involve providing the beneficiaries with summary of the estate assets and debts, and the distribution schedule including legacies and residue.  It is provided after the estate distribution has been approved by the Personal Representative.  The rule of thumb is the estate will not distribute the residue until all beneficiaries have approved it and signed a release which approves the actions taken by the Personal Representative.

The time required between Steps 3 and 4 is for the estate to obtain a Certificate of Clearance from CRA.  It can take 6-12 months from the date of the last estate return and Notice of Assessment is received to process a request for the Clearance Certificate.  The Certificate is important as it confirms CRA will never reassess the taxes of the deceased.  It provides peace of mind to the Personal Representative the estate can be fully wound down.

The morale of this blog is estate administration can take time even with diligent work.  The Personal Representative should learn quickly the communication needs of estate beneficiaries or dependents andcontact them as regularly as required either directly or through the estate lawyer to update people, build trust and quell concerns.

Les Scholly
Les Scholly helps you navigate the turning points of life. He is a partner with Pritchard & Co. Law Firm, LLP and member of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). Contact Les at 403-527-4411 or at