Big changes, small impact as probate process overhauled

Applying for probate in Ontario has just become a little simpler, but it’s still not an attractive prospect for estate trustees.

The provincial government recently announced changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure that eliminate most of the estate court forms previously required to apply for probate, cutting the total from 58 to just 23.

The information in 43 of the forms has been consolidated into 8 brand new ones, while a further 15 forms were amended to reflect changes to the Succession Law Reform Act, which come into effect on January 1st. The new application process is timed to go live the same day with reformatted documents featuring larger font, simplified language and fillable text boxes for completion online.

This is just the latest in a series of recent reforms to the probate process: In 2020, Ontario allowed applications to be filed by email for the first time, and earlier this year, the limit for those considered “small estates” in the probate process was raised from $50,000 to $150,000.

Although I certainly welcome any move to make the probate process simpler and more user- friendly – there’s no doubt the new forms will be easier to navigate for laypeople with little experience in court – I can’t help feeling like many of these updates are tinkering around the edges of the problem.

If they really want to make a big difference, I would love to see the provincial government make a substantial investment in the court’s estate office, which remains horribly overburdened. That way, they might be able to make some significant headway towards reducing the delay in issuing certificates of appointment, which currently holds up the administration of estates for months on end while trustees wait to be confirmed in their position.

In the meantime, testators should focus on proper estate planning to leave behind legacies without as little stress on their families as possible.

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