As a law clerk working in the area of estate administration, we often have to act as “detectives”. For example, we may have to conduct searches to determine whether or not the deceased had a Will. We may need to track down the beneficiaries named in the Will or piece together a family tree and locate family members if the deceased died intestate. We might have to search financial records and conduct investigations to discover all the assets that the deceased owned at the time of their death so that the assets can ultimately be disposed of or transferred to the beneficiaries. This “putting together the puzzle” work is the part of our job that I find very interesting and challenging.
In today’s blog I will share the Will searches that we generally do. I will also provide information on a resource that I learned about recently on how to find a really old probated Will in the Archives of Ontario.
Sometimes a family member will come to us and they are fairly certain that the deceased died without a Will. They have searched in the deceased’s files at home/office and in the safety deposit box. They have found the names of other law firms, accounting firms and investment advisors that the deceased had worked with over the years. But, no one is able to locate a signed Will.
What extra steps should be taken? Besides the above searches, we would also generally recommend an on-line search and/or placing a print advertisement to see if anyone has knowledge of a Will for the deceased. The applicant who will be applying for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee without a Will will want to satisfy themselves and demonstrate to the court that they have conducted all the necessary searches to support that the deceased died without a Will.
The Canada Will Registry, through the company NoticeConnect, is the on-line search option that we have used in the past. It is easy to fill out the on-line form to request a “Combined Registry Search” which searches the Canada Will Registry of over 300,000 registered wills and searches unregistered wills by sending a Knowledge of a Will notice to their mailing list, law libraries, and other partners. NoticeConnect will provide a Search Certificate as evidence of the search conducted.
We have also placed a “Will Notice” in the Classified section of the Ontario Reports, which had digital and print editions, through LexisNexis classified. The Ontario Reports are distributed to the members of the Ontario Law Society, and are also searchable on-line.
Less frequently used now is advertising in a local newspaper where the deceased’s lived, but I still sometimes see ads of this nature in our home town newspaper.
Searching the Archives
A colleague at another law firm recently shared this link, www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/microfilm/c_efile.aspx, which I found fascinating when I checked it out. It is a pathfinder to the Ontario Court of Probate and Surrogate Court Records: Wills and Estate Files. It explains how to find Wills (usually within estate files) that were filed with the Court of Probate and Surrogate Courts between the years 1793 and 1970. It then goes on to explain that “The indexes and estate files themselves are not available on this website but it provides directions on how to determine which microfilm reels you need to use in order to find the estate files that you are seeking. These reels can then be consulted either in our reading room on the ground floor, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd., Toronto, or borrowed through interlibrary loan.”
I doubt that any of us need to find probated wills going back to the 1700’s or 1800’s (except maybe out of curiosity or for genealogy or historical research). But, it is not unheard of for there to be questions from our clients looking for probate grants from the mid-1900’s because property is still in the name of the deceased that hasn’t been dealt with. See this great blog by our colleague Emily Papsin on reasons not to delay in the administration of an estate.
I hope you find this information helpful. Thanks for reading.
 See the great blog written by our colleague Sandra Arsenault on A Career in Wills and Estates – Could It Be For You?