All About Estates

“Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so…” – John Donne

It is never easy when a loved one dies. Only adding to one’s grief is the fact that the administrative tasks to deal with a death can be complicated. There is any number of loose-ends to address and specific steps to take to bring finality to a life well-lived. Below is a non-exhaustive list of things to think about:

  • A funeral home is a very good resource that offers a variety of support services (including something as mundane as picking up the body from the hospital). If you don’t have a funeral home, contact information for funeral homes can be found at
  • A Proof of Death Certificate is signed by a licensed funeral director. A Proof of Death Certificate is typically sufficient to complete the estate administration tasks (e.g. providing notice of the death to banks and to collect life insurance proceeds).
  • A Medical Certificate of Death is completed by a doctor. It will state the patient’s name, age, date of death and cause of death.
  • In some cases, an official Death Certificate may be required. A Death Certificate can be requested from a provincial Register General Office.
  • The provincial coroner has the legal authority to order an autopsy for a sudden unexplained death. You may also be asked to consent to an autopsy when the exact cause of death is unclear or for medical reasons.
  • Consider whether the deceased wanted to donate her organs and tissue by checking if she had a donor card registered provincially.
  • If you cannot pay for a funeral, social services departments across the province provide assistance and payment for burial. For example, Toronto Employment and Social Services will pay for the transfer of the body for cremation, burial or for a traditional funeral service.
  • Call Service Canada to inquire about new, increased death and survivor benefits to an estate or surviving spouse, including Old Age Security (“OAS”) and the Canada Pension Plan (“CPP”).
  • Terminate the deceased’s government payments and insurance coverage, including CPP, OAS, Guaranteed Income Supplement, and OHIP. If the deceased owned a car, notify the provincial Ministry of Transportation and the car insurance company.
  • If the deceased was a veteran, call Veterans Affairs Canada to see if any grants are available. The Royal Canadian Legion may be able to assist.
  • Check with the deceased’s employer to see if the deceased was enrolled in a pension plan or life insurance. If the deceased was a union member, the union should be contacted.
  • Gather the deceased’s personal documents, including: the most recent will, health card, group medical benefits, marriage certificate, SIN, insurance policies, credit cards, safety deposit box keys, bank and investments statements, stock and bond certificates, recent tax returns, and property deeds.
  • Contact the deceased’s accountant. A terminal tax return will have to be filed and there is a deemed disposition of all the deceased’s assets at death (it can get complicated).
  • Consult with a lawyer to see if probate is required to gain access to safety deposit boxes, transfer property, or close bank and investments accounts. You can contact the lawyer who drafted the deceased’s will (often the best bet) or reach out to the Law Society of Ontario’s lawyer referral service.
  • Call the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee if there is no will and no next of kin.

The well-known five stages of grief were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying: (i) denial and isolation; (ii) anger; (iii) bargaining; (iv) depression; (v) acceptance. However, not everyone necessarily goes through the stages in the same order or experiences all of them. There is no “right” way to grieve and everyone grieves differently.

Finally, there are many faith-based or community resources that can be accessed, including Bereaved Family of Ontario and the Canadian Virtual Hospice. Death and grief do not have to be experience alone.


About Justin de Vries
Justin has been consistently named as one of the Best Lawyers in Canada/Trusts & Estates. He is an accomplished litigator who has appeared before all levels of the Ontario Court & the Federal Court of Canada. Justin's areas of expertise include: estate, trust, and capacity litigation, as well as probate applications and estate administration. He regularly speaks on estate, trust and capacity issues. Email:

1 Comment

  1. Janice Meighan

    October 30, 2019 - 7:28 pm

    This is an excellent list. You might add: The Survivor Support Program of Toronto (Ontario) to this list alongside the Bereaved Families of Toronto. SSP supports those bereaved due to suicide or homicide. BF often does not handle complex grief. Your readers may want to know that funeral directors will assign a clergy person (most often faith-based) from their roster to officiate a service if the family (grieving) does not have their own or a friend to officiate.

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