Ontario Estates for Civil Law Residents

Over the next few weeks, I will post on a number of topics intended to help someone living in a civil law jurisdiction with a possible interest in the estate of a deceased person who left assets in the Province of Ontario, Canada. The focus here is on average estates – low to mid-size value. Estates with high value assets in several countries are likely to require specialized legal advice, far beyond the scope of this general discussion. I am also not touching the complex issues of residence vs. domicile, and which court has jurisdiction.

The law in Ontario has its origins in the British common law. While working at the Public Guardian and Trustee for the Province of Ontario, I had very frequent dealings with family members and beneficiaries in jurisdictions (such as the Province of Quebec or many European countries) governed by the civil law, which has its origins in the Napoleonic Code. Since I have a civil law degree and practiced law in Quebec for a few years, I was able to anticipate and address their concerns about responding to the news of an estate matter in Ontario.

The confusion in the minds of foreign beneficiaries goes beyond unfamiliar terminology. There are fundamental differences in the two legal systems’ respective approaches to estates or successions law which have had a profound effect on the expectations of foreign beneficiaries on what is ‘normal’ in such matters.