Settling Small Estates (AB)

Updated Apr 5, 2024
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In Alberta, it is possible to avoid standard probate under certain circumstances.

Assets That Bypass Probate

There's no need for probate if the estate consists solely of assets that bypass probate, such as assets held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship (e.g., a home) assets with named beneficiaries (e.g., RRSPs, life insurance policies), accounts Payable on Death, and other standard probate exclusions.

Custodian Cooperation

Even if there are assets that do not automatically transfer on death, you may be able to avoid probate if the existing asset custodians allow you to take possession of the assets without a probate Certificate of Appointment. However, if a custodian such as a financial institution requires such a Certificate, then probate will be required.

Public Trustee

The public trustee can settle an estate for you if the estate is worth <$75,000, and a minor, or a Represented Adult client of the Public Trustee, is a beneficiary of the estate (see Public Trustee Act, SA 2004, c P-44.1, s 13(1) and s 16(1) and Public Trustee General Regulation, Alta Reg 201/2015, s 2 and s 3).

You can apply to have the public trustee settle the estate by submitting the Deceased Estate Intake Referral Form to the local Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee (OPTG).

Real Property

If the estate contains real property (i.e., real estate) that does not automatically transfer on death, then probate will almost always be required.


If there are disputes about the will, or debts, you will most likely want to go through probate in any case, for the legal protections and process it provides

Estate Settlement Considerations

Before paying any debts or making any distributions, be sure to account for any Family Entitlements in AB, which typically have priority over everything except expenses of the last illness, funeral charges, and any estate administrations expenses.

Even if the estate does not go through probate, you may still be entitled to Executor Compensation in AB, and this compensation also has priority over most estate debts.

Estate debts have priority over most distributions in turn, so before distributing assets you should resolve any estate debts. If the estate makes any distributions beyond amounts set aside for family entitlements, unpaid creditors have the right to sue the recipients for repayment using those excess distributions. Consequently, even if the settlement process does not require you to publish a Notice to Creditors, you may want to follow AB probate rules for finding estate debts, since doing so may limit the time creditors have to pursue repayment.

If estate solvency is uncertain, an executor should consider going through official probate for the increased creditor protection it offers. Alternately, such uncertainty can sometimes persuade creditors to forgive a portion of debts, since they will want to avoid legal expenses as well, and may prefer to get something rather than nothing.

See also Making Distributions.


In Alberta, the Court of Queen's Bench handles probate and estate administration (see Court of Queen's Bench locations).

You can follow the CPLEA Guide for Starting Probate, and these common AB probate forms may be helpful.

Additional Information

If your estate doesn't qualify for a small estate approach, or you're simply interested in exploring standard probate, take a look at Probate in AB.

And since probate is just the court-supervised subset of winding up a person's affairs after death, you'll probably want to check out our Complete Guide to Estate Settlement in AB.

Finally, in case you're interested, details about handling small estates in other provinces can be found here:

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