How Do I Get a Copy of Someone's Will? - Canada

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Whether someone has a right to see someoneís will in Canada depends on a number of important factors, such as the testatorís desire, the relationship of the person to the testator and the purpose for wanting to see the will.

Purpose of a Will

A will is a legal document that is primarily used to dictate what happens to a personís assets of his or her estate after the person dies. If a person dies without a will, the countryís laws of intestacy apply. These are the default rules that dictate what will happen to a personís property if he or she dies without a will.

In addition to determining what happens to a personís property, a will establishes the person who will be responsible for carrying out his or her final wishes, the executor. It can also establish a guardian for the testatorís minor children.

Will Contents

The will contains information about the testatorís property and how he or she wants to give this property to others after his or her death. The will may designate specific items to go to certain people. It may include instructions to sell property and to split the property in a certain way. It may give certain percentages or shares of the estate to the named beneficiaries. The will describes the property to be distributed. A will is concerned with the property that the testator owns at the time of death. Other assets may be owned that pass outside of the probate process, such as property that is co-owned by someone else or that is dealt with through a beneficiary designation form.

Testatorís Lifetime

During a testatorís lifetime, he or she can freely share his or her will with anyone. He or she also has the option of keeping the will private and not allowing anyone else to see it, including his or her spouse or children. There are concerns about giving copies of wills to other people, such as the possibility that a person may try to probate this will that may have been later revoked or a new will being established. The executor of the will may receive a copy of the will or may be told where the original will is kept. Others generally do not need to know the presence or contents of the will.

Probating the Will

The executor will usually probate a testatorís will. This involves taking the original will and filing it with the court.

Interests of Others

Others may have interest in the contents of the will. For example, a surviving spouse may want to know what is in the will. Children may also want to know. A close friend or family member may assume that a provision has been made for him or her.

Individuals who just want to know what is in a will are not entitled to this information. Even if a person is related to the testator, he or she may not have an entitlement to see the will. However, if someone has a legal interest in the will, he or she may be able to see the will or ask the court to intervene. A person may have a reasonable expectation of being a beneficiary because the testator gave him or her a copy of the will or an old will. The testator may have informed him or her of the plan to make the person a beneficiary. These individuals may approach the executor and ask for a copy of the will or to confirm if the individual is a beneficiary. These individuals may be able to file a lawsuit if the executor does not respond to their query or they are not satisfied with it.

Role of the Executor

The executor generally does not have a duty to disclose the contents of a will in Canada to individuals simply because they ask. The executor is expected to maintain the privacy of the testator. The executor can shield who sees the will. If a person is not named in a will, he or she can simply state this information and not give a copy of the will to that person. At the same time, he or she does have a duty to disclose to the named beneficiaries if they are, in fact, beneficiaries. In Alberta, the executor is required to send a registered letter to the beneficiaries of the will that states that they have been left something in the will. Individuals who are slated to inherit a share of the residue of the estate also receive a photocopy of the will and the court filings in the probate case. In contrast, someone who is given a specific item or amount of money can be told this information without having to provide them with a copy of the will.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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