Settling Small Estates (ON)

Updated Apr 5, 2024
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In Ontario, small estates worth <$150K can avoid full probate, and regardless of estate size, probate is not required if an estate contains only assets exempt from probate.


An Ontario estate qualifies as "small" if its net value is <$150K.

In calculating estate value, you should value assets as of the date of death, and subtract any debts. 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 Process

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

  1. Prepare a Small Estate Application (see below).
  2. Send copies of the application to each person entitled to share in the distribution of the estate, including charities and contingent beneficiaries. You can either send by e-mail to the person’s last known e-mail address, or by regular mail or courier to the person’s last known address.
  3. Once at least 30 days have passed since you sent the copies, you can submit the application to the court (see bottom of page for finding court locations). You will also need to include any probate fees with the application.
  4. Submit your application to the court (you can do this via email if desired - see Ontario Probate Courts: File by Email).
  5. The court will return to you a finalized Small Estate Certificate, which you can use to demonstrate your authority to act on behalf of the estate.
  6. Within 180 days of receiving your Certificate, file an Estate Information Return with the Ministry of Finance.
  7. Settle the estate in the normal manner: collect the assets, pay any debts, and distribute the remaining estate to the rightful heirs (be mindful of any Family Entitlements).

See also Ontario's Official Small Estate Instructions for additional details, as well as Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43 §74.1.03.

Small Estate Application

A small estate application consists of the following:

Estate Settlement Considerations

Before paying any debts or making any distributions, be sure to account for any Family Entitlements in ON, 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 ON, 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 ON 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 Ontario, estate probate is handled by the Superior Court of Justice in the county or district in which the decedent lived.

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 ON.

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 ON.

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

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