Settling Small Estates (NT)

Updated Apr 5, 2024
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Small estates in the Northwest Territories can avoid probate, allowing executors to save considerable effort and cost, and regardless of estate size, probate is not required if an estate contains only assets exempt from probate.


In the Northwest Territories, an estate qualifies as "small" if the net value of its assets subject to probate is <$35,000.

In calculating estate value, you should value assets as of the date of death. Do not include assets that would not normally go through probate, such as property with right of survivorship, assets with named beneficiaries (e.g., RRSPs, life insurance policies), and other standard probate exclusions.

Small Estate Administration Process

If the estate qualifies as small, you can avoid probate as follows:

  1. Submit a Application for Declaration of Small Estate (Form 2) and a Memorandum and Affidavit in Support of Application for Declaration of Small Estate (Form 3) to the court
  2. The court will return to you an Order granting you the right to administer the estate
  3. Provide a copy of the Order to current asset custodians to gain custody of estate assets
  4. Use estate assets to pay any reasonable funeral expenses, to pay any estate debts, and distribute the remainder in accordance with the will or intestate succession if there is no will

See Estate Administration Rules, NWT Reg 123-2016, s 10.

Unofficial Process

An estate is not actually required to go through probate or even small estate administration: if the estate is relatively small, you may be able to convince asset custodians to give you possession of estate assets without any court involvement. However, anything involving land will almost certainly require probate.

Estate Settlement Considerations

Before paying any debts or making any distributions, be sure to account for any Family Entitlements in NT, 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 NT, 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 NT 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 the Northwest Territories, the Supreme Court based in Yellowknife handles probate and estate administration (see Court Registries for contact information).

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 NT.

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 NT.

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

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