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What are probate fees and can I reduce them?

What are probate fees and can I reduce them?
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Reviewed: 
October 31, 2019
Answer

Probate fees, also called estate administration tax, are fees that are paid to the Ontario government. The amount of the fee is based on the total value of the property in your estate when you die. The less property you have in your estate when you die, the lower your probate fees.

In Ontario, probate fees are:

  • $5 for every $1,000 of assets up to $50,000, and 
  • $15 on every $1,000 of assets over $50,000.

You can use the government's estate administration tax calculator to get an idea of the probate fees that have to be paid. The fee is paid from the estate.

Reducing probate fees

Your estate is the property you own when you die. This includes real property in Ontario, such as land and buildings. It also includes personal property, such as jewellery, furniture, investments, and bank accounts.

There are ways to deal with your property that can reduce your probate fees. For example, you can:

  • give gifts to people and organizations while you're alive
  • have a designated beneficiary  on investments such as a life insurance policy, benefits plan, and registered plans such as registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) or tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs)
  • own property with someone else jointly

These assets don't form part of your estate when you die and are not included when calculating probate fees. They "pass outside the will". This means they are not affected by your will or the intestacy rules.

Alter ego trusts and joint partner trusts are other ways to reduce probate fees. These are more complicated to set up and usually need legal help.

Get legal help

An estates lawyer can give you advice on the best way to deal with your property and reduce probate fees.

If you have a low income, you may be able to get help from the Wills Clinic at The 519 or the Queen's University Elder Law Clinic. You can also call your local community legal clinic to see if they help with wills. If you have a simple estate, there are services such as Axess Law, that offer legal services at lower rates.

If you have a large or complicated estate, it might be a good idea to talk to a financial advisor as well an estates lawyer.

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