When someone you love, whether a relative or close friend, dies, the last thing you want is to start figuring out the legal process. We’ll give you practical legal advice on what you need to do when your loved one passes away. This information will be critical if you are one of the descendants or you have been appointed by the deceased to oversee the final affairs.

The Funeral and Burial Arrangements

In some cases, the deceased may have left specific instructions on how the funeral or burial process should be conducted. Some people have a prepaid funeral contract that basically means all the funeral services were paid in advance. Other final arrangements may have been made by the deceased and covered in the contract.

Reach out to Family and Friends

Dealing with the emotions of losing a loved one alone can be overwhelming, so don’t hesitate to reach out to close family members and friends to assist in the funeral and burial arrangements. Having a strong support system at this time will save you time and also reduce stress levels during planning.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

If your loved one has passed away after an accident or injury, you may need to consult a lawyer and have the case evaluated to determine if it is in your best interest to file a lawsuit. There are strict time limits and deadlines as to when you can file a lawsuit for a wrongful death claim. It is imperative that you speak with a personal injury lawyer who specializes in wrongful death litigation immediately after your loved one passes away. This will ensure you receive compensation if the death was a result of someone else’s negligence.

Contact a Funeral Home

You need to reach out to the funeral home that will help you make the final arrangements. They will usually provide three to five original death certificates that you will need for the probate process. It’s always a good idea to obtain multiple copies of the death certificate from the funeral home since most insurance agencies will need a certified death certificate and not a photocopy.

Contact the Respective Government Agencies

You may be entitled to social security benefits of the deceased as a spouse or child. Contact the Social Security Administration or any other government agency that may be required to make such payments.

Wills and Trusts

You need to search for the deceased’s wills and trusts. If the deceased left a will, the original will must be filed with the probate court within 30 days of death. When submitting the will, you need to provide the death certificate and other probate documents depending on the kind of ownership of assets that have been left behind.

Other documents that you need to look for that may be of relevance in the probate process include:

  • Prenuptial and antenuptial agreements
  • Life insurance policies
  • Pension retirement benefits
  • Marriage and birth and death certificates
  • Divorce filings
  • Records of personal assets
  • Bank statements, account statements, and stock certificates
  • Loan documents
  • Leases
  • Different forms of securities
  • Medical insurance (you may need to file a claim for the final illness to cater for any outstanding bills)
  • Unpaid bills
  • Title deeds for any properties owned by the deceased

What if There’s no Will?

If there is no will and the deceased has left sufficient assets to probate, the court will obtain an administrator and then distribute the assets according to the law. In Toronto, there is a set of laws relating to intestate succession where the court decides who receives what when the person passed away without a will.

The Personal Representative

The will typically has a personal representative, who is commonly regarded as the executor, responsible for the administration of the deceased estate. The court appoints a personal representative of the estate of the decedent approximately 30 days after submission of the will. As the personal representative, you will need a list of the assets or trust of the deceased, and after paying all debts and expenses/taxes, ensure that they are distributed according to the wishes of the decedent or in accordance with the law if there was no will or trust. In some cases, the personal representative will need to make a detailed list of the decedent’s household goods and other personal belongings to ensure they are distributed to family members without issues.


Dealing with certain assets, such as insurance and retirement accounts, can have serious tax implications. It’s always advisable to work with an advisor who will help minimize the costs by advising on the best payout options.

Distributions can only be made by the personal representative when the final accounting is approved by the probate court and the appeal period lapses. The family can file a family support allowance before the final accounting is approved by the court.

Find a Will and Trust Lawyer

It is important to engage a lawyer who is a specialist in estate law in Canada. This is the part where you don’t want to hire a lawyer friend who knows a little about estate law because they just want to help. Remember: You get what you pay for, so ensure you make a good choice. Before you hire one, have a detailed discussion about fees. Most lawyers will either charge a percentage of the assets in the estate or an hourly rate. Get a written fee agreement before the case begins.

There are many situations that are not addressed above and will need sound legal advice to smoothly navigate the probate process. It’s always important to find a good lawyer who will assist with the specifics of your case. There are so many legal decisions and activities that you are likely to face after losing a loved one, which can be an extremely daunting process. Working with a reliable will and trust lawyer in Toronto will ensure the legal aspect of your loved one’s estate is properly handled.



For more than 30 years, Salvatore Grillo has been recognized for helping shape personal injury litigation in the Greater Toronto Area. He founded one of Toronto’s top personal injury firms, Grillo Law, in 1985 and has been establishing his reputation for success ever since. The peace of mind and satisfaction Grillo is able to provide to his clients is the fire that continues to fuel his ambition in the field.