The Public Trustee administers estates of deceased Manitobans where there is no one else willing, capable and appropriate to do so. The specific circumstances include the following:
"Administrator" is the term describing anyone who is granted legal authority to administer an estate. "Executor" is the term describing anyone who is given authority under a will to administer an estate. Administrators and executors perform similar functions. The difference in their titles is due to the different ways they receive their authority.
The Public Trustee administers estates of people who die in Manitoba and there is no one else willing or able to do it. The Public Trustee is an administrator of last resort and does not actively seek to administer estates. The office encourages other appropriate people to serve as administrators.
Many estates are already known to The Public Trustee's Office because it was looking after the deceased's affairs during his or her lifetime. In addition, estates may be referred to The Public Trustee by:
- the Medical Examiner's Office
- police officers
- social workers
- hospital staff
- funeral homes
- the deceased's lawyer
- family members outside the province
The Public Trustee gathers details about the estate by:
- contacting financial institutions
- conducting a preliminary search for next-of-kin
- attending at the deceased's former residence
- reviewing financial records and personal papers
- compiling an inventory of all belongings
Sometimes a will is discovered during the process. If this happens, The Public Trustee contacts the executor to take over the administration of the estate.
If you know of an estate that you think may be eligible for administration by The Public Trustee, call the office, explain that you are calling about a deceased estate and provide the last name of the deceased. You will then be connected to the appropriate staff person in the Estates Department.
The executor, next-of-kin or a friend can arrange the funeral and burial. As a last resort, the sub-inspector of anatomy at the Medical Examiner's Office arranges burials when no one else is available to do so.
The costs of the funeral are paid by the estate. If the estate does not have enough money to cover the cost of a basic funeral or burial, Employment and Income Assistance may be asked to pay. There is also a special fund to pay for the funeral and burial of deceased veterans.
Estate administration is a complex process involving a lot of research and paperwork and many transactions. It also involves gathering information and approvals from external authorities over whom The Public Trustee has no control. The specific work involved includes:
- determining the nature, location and value of assets
- securing the assets, including maintaining and managing real estate if necessary
- collecting any money or benefits owing to the estate
- liquidating assets and disposing of personal effects
- paying debts
- initiating or defending legal action on behalf of the estate
- filing tax returns
- establishing identity and location of the lawful heirs
- accounting to the heirs and distributing the money in proper shares among them
The Public Trustee charges fees which are set out in our Fee Schedule.
If the estate is bankrupt or if all the heirs are known and can easily be located, the estate can usually be wound up in one or two years. This time frame would only apply if the assets can easily be converted into cash and if there is no dispute or litigation between parties making claims against the estate.
However, when all the heirs are not known or cannot be easily located, the time frame to wind up the estate will vary greatly. If The Public Trustee's Office is attempting to locate heirs of different generations and from different countries, the search may take a number of years.
If the deceased did not leave a valid will, a Manitoba law called The Intestate Succession Act sets out, in order, which next-of-kin are entitled to inherit. This type of estate is called an "intestate" estate. Next-of-kin who inherit from this type of estate are heirs.
If the deceased did leave a valid will, the persons named in the will, called "beneficiaries", are entitled to inherit if the estate assets are sufficient to:
- pay all outstanding debts
- pay beneficiaries named in the will
The Public Trustee makes extensive efforts to find heirs and beneficiaries when it administers an estate. Next-of-kin or beneficiaries can often be found by reviewing the deceased's personal papers, or they are identified by others such as the deceased's caregivers, lawyers, friends or family. All heirs and beneficiaries are told how to prove their identity to The Public Trustee.
In some cases, it is difficult to identify and locate next-of-kin or beneficiaries. The Public Trustee's officers use their own professional resources and sometimes employ genealogists or heir locators to trace the deceased's family tree. All professionals use a variety of known techniques including searching birth, marriage and death notices and records in Canada and other countries.
The Public Trustee must be certain that:
- there is no one living who is closer in relationship to the deceased than the person claiming to be the heir
- proof of the heir's identity is sufficient
- we are aware of all persons who are entitled to inherit
This is done by reviewing the deceased's family tree and verifying the proof of identity. The material is further reviewed and verified by senior staff before the estate is distributed.
There are individuals - sometimes referred to as heir tracers or locaters - whose business it is to track down people who are not aware of their entitlement to an inheritance. Heir tracers often require a very substantial finder's fee before giving a person the information they need to get the inheritance.
If you suspect you have an entitlement to an estate that The Public Trustee's Office is administering, contact us. Provide the last name of the deceased person and your relationship to him or her, and our staff will try to assist you in determining whether you are a potential heir. The Public Trustee does not charge for this information. If you are found to be an heir, you will be provided with information regarding the requirements to obtain your inheritance.
The Public Trustee is appointed as administrator or executor of approximately 175 new estates each year and administers approximately 400 to 470 estates at any given time.