When a loved one passes away, we are often caught off guard, even if it was somewhat expected. During this difficult time, we must deal with our grief along with many responsibilities.
Aside from planning and paying for a funeral, it is important to gather some key documents, find out if there is a will, and do many other things. Where to begin?
Important: If you are the liquidator of an estate, please see our articles The Role of Liquidators (Executors) and Settling an Estate.
Where to start?
The first thing is to look after is funeral arrangements.
Start by finding out if the deceased had a contract with a funeral company for a pre-arranged funeral. You should also check whether the will mentions anything about this.
If the deceased did not make such arrangements, but told you what she wanted before she died, you should follow her wishes. You can also ask family members.
Who is responsible for making funeral arrangements?
If the will says that the liquidator is responsible for funeral arrangements, then the liquidator must take care of them. In this situation, the liquidator has the final say about arrangements, but it is a good idea for the liquidator to ask the family for their input.
The liquidator is the person named to settle the deceased’s affairs, including filing tax returns, making a list of the deceased’s property and distributing this property to those who inherit from the deceased. Liquidators are often also called “executors”.
If the will does not specify that the liquidator is responsible for funeral arrangements, or if there is no will, the heirs make the arrangements. The heirs are the people who will inherit.
Who pays for the funeral arrangements?
The succession of the deceased pays for the funeral arrangements. The succession is the legal term for the property of the deceased. It is commonly called the “estate”.
If you pay these expenses out of your pocket, you can ask the succession to pay you back.
Retraite Québec (pension board) pays a death benefit if the deceased made enough contributions to the Quebec Pension Plan during her lifetime. This benefit is meant to cover funeral costs, and priority is given to the person who paid for them.
What are the most important documents to gather?
- An attestation of death from the funeral company. You might have to send the attestation of death to service providers such as electricity and telephone companies.
- A death certificate or copy of an act of death issued by the Directeur de l’état civil (registrar of civil status). You will need the death certificate or act of death to settle the succession. Only these documents are considered official.
- The marriage contract or civil union contract, if there is one. This document is very important when settling a succession. It helps determine what the surviving spouse is entitled to claim from the succession (estate).
- The divorce judgment if the deceased was divorced. You will need the divorce judgment to prove the deceased’s civil status.
- The judgment of legal separation if the deceased was separated from her spouse. This document can be very useful for determining the deceased’s obligations toward a former spouse.
- Other relevant documents needed to settle the succession. They include investment certificates, savings bonds, bank statements, insurance policies and title deeds to a house.
Is there a central registry where I can trace all of the deceased’s property?
There is no central registry that lists all the property a person owns. Therefore, you need to look through the deceased’s home to get as much information as possible.
If you think the deceased had an insurance policy but you can’t find it, you can search the website of the OmbudService for Life and Health Insurance.
If the deceased had a safety deposit box at a financial institution, you should check what’s in it. It might contain important documents, or even a priceless heirloom. Important! The liquidator or the people entitled to inherit must ask the institution to open a safety deposit box. A notary should be present.
How do you know if there’s a will or if the will you found is the most recent one?
Follow these steps:
- Begin by looking through the deceased’s personal belongings.
- Next, check whether the deceased had a safety deposit box at a financial institution where she may have kept her will.
- In all cases (you think there’s no will or you found one but are not sure if it’s the most recent one), you are legally required to search two registries of wills: the Registre des dispositions testamentaires de la Chambre des notaires du Québec and the Registre des testaments du Barreau du Québec (website in French only).
These searches will give you two certificates: one from the Chambre des notaires (professional order of notaries ) and one from the Barreau du Québec (professional order of lawyers ). These certificates give information about the most recent will registered by a notary or lawyer. If no will was registered, the certificates will say so.
How do you search for a will?
If you want to do the will search yourself, you have to do two searches: one in the registry of the Chambre des notaires du Québec and the other in the registry of the Barreau du Québec. You have to use these two forms to do the searches:
- the Will Search Request form on the website of the Chambre des notaires du Québec
- the search form for the public on the website of the Barreau du Québec
You have to include some documents with your forms and pay the fees.
You can also ask a notary or lawyer to do these searches. This is a bit more expensive, but you will probably get an answer faster.
Does a will have to be validated? If so, how is this done?
A will that is not prepared by a notary must be validated by a court or by a notary to be official. Even a will prepared by a lawyer must be validated. The validation process is legally called “probate”.
Probate certifies that the will was indeed made by the deceased and that it follows the legal rules of the Civil Code of Québec.
Does the will have to be read in front of a notary?
No, but if the deceased asked for this in her will, then it should be read in front of a notary.
The will does not have to be read by the notary who prepared the will.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to have the will read in front of a notary anyways. This way, the heirs and the liquidator will receive the same explanations, at the same time, about the settlement of the succession. They will get answers to questions that have been up in the air since the deceased passed away.
What happens if there is no will?
If there is no will, you must start by identifying the legal heirs and the share each is entitled to inherit. The law has rules on who inherits in these situations, and how much they inherit.
The rules on how to settle a succession are the same whether or not the deceased had a will. Settling a succession means transferring all the property, rights and obligations of the deceased to those entitled to inherit.