Frequently Asked Questions about Deceased Estate Services


How do deceased estates get referred to the Public Trustee?

Any member of the public may refer an estate to the Public Trustee. However, estates are usually referred to the Public Trustee by one of these:

  • police officers
  • social workers
  • hospital staff
  • friends of the person who died
  • funeral homes
  • the lawyer for the person who died
  • relatives who live outside the province
  • members of the public
  • the Medical Examiner’s Office

Once a referral is received, the Public Trustee seeks to have a Probate Questionnaire completed to assist in the review of the referral.

What happens after a referral is made?

The Public Trustee will gather details about the estate to find out what the assets are, what the debts are, and who the heirs or beneficiaries are. The information will let the Public Trustee know who has the first right to administer the estate and whether the Public Trustee should apply to administer the estate.

Can the Public Trustee be named as an executor in a will?

Yes. The Public Trustee can be named as an executor in a will. If you are thinking about naming the Public Trustee as your executor, it is important to contact the Public Trustee’s Office first. The Public Trustee would like to know why you want to name it as your executor, and to look with you at the other options that may be available.

As executor, the Public Trustee will follow the probate laws to administer the estate, and will follow the instructions set out in the will to distribute the estate after all the debts and expenses of the estate have been paid.

Who makes funeral and burial arrangements for someone who has died?

The Public Trustee has the authority to make arrangements for the funeral and burial only if it is named as the executor in the person’s will. The Public Trustee has no funds to pay for funeral and burial expenses, which means that the estate must have enough money in it to cover these costs. You can contact the Department of Community Services to ask for help with the costs for a person whose estate does not have enough money to pay for their funeral and burial.

The Public Trustee cannot make these arrangements if it is not named as the executor in the person’s will.

If you are a friend or a member of the person’s family, you may make the arrangements. Two points to note about the costs:

  • You may be personally liable to pay the costs if you sign a funeral contract and there is not enough money in the estate to pay the costs.
  • The person who becomes the personal representative for the estate can refuse to pay the costs of the arrangements if these costs are found to be higher than necessary, even if there is enough money in the estate to cover them.

If the person was a military veteran, you may contact the Last Post Fund to see if that organization can help with the funeral costs. The telephone number for the Last Post Fund is (902) 425-5283.

What are the steps involved in administering an estate?

Administering an estate includes these steps:

  • gathering information about the type, location, and value of the person’s assets, including their bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, and investments, and information about their debt, including credit cards, mortgages, and loans
  • applying to the court to be appointed as the personal representative
  • making the person’s assets safe, including maintaining and managing property, if necessary
  • collecting any money or benefits that are owed to the estate
  • selling the person’s assets and getting rid of their belongings
  • paying debts
  • taking any legal actions that need to be taken on behalf of the estate
  • filing tax returns
  • establishing who the legal heirs are and finding them
  • accounting to the heirs and the Probate Court for all of the transactions, and distributing the money in proper shares among the heirs or beneficiaries who are named in a will

How long does it take the Public Trustee to administer an estate?

Administering an estate is a complex process that involves doing a lot of research and paperwork, and carrying out many transactions. It also involves getting information and approvals from a number of authorities over whom the Public Trustee has no control.

If an estate is relatively straightforward, it will usually take from one to two years for the Public Trustee to administer it and distribute the assets. The process can take longer if the Public Trustee does not know who the heirs are or where they are, or if there are legal complications including, for example, having to go to court on behalf of the estate. Since every situation is different, there is no standard length of time.

How much does it cost for the Public Trustee to administer an estate?

Under the Probate Act, any personal representative of an estate is entitled to ask for a commission of up to 5% of the total value of the estate. The Probate Court decides what is the appropriate amount of commission when the estate is closed at the Probate Court.

The Public Trustee has lawyers on staff who do the legal work for the estate. The Public Trustee Act authorizes the Public Trustee to charge for these legal services. The bill for the lawyer’s work is prepared and sent to the Probate Court to be reviewed and approved.

These fees are then paid to the Minister of Finance of Nova Scotia. The Department of Finance pays the salaries of all of the staff in the Public Trustee’s Office. The salaries and budget of the Public Trustee’s Office are set by the province.

The Public Trustee may have to pay bills to maintain property in the estate, or having it appraised, or paying for genealogical searches or the services of an auctioneer. These bills are paid out of the estate.

Who is entitled to the money from estates that are administered by the Public Trustee?

If there is a will

The people who are named as beneficiaries in the will are entitled to the money. The money and property is distributed according to the instructions in the will.

If there is no will

The Intestate Succession Act sets out who is entitled to the money and property. The act states which next-of-kin are entitled to inherit it, in order of priority. Even distant relatives may be entitled to inherit part of an estate if there are no next-of-kin who are more-closely connected in the family. Intestate means that a person has died without leaving a will.

The Public Trustee conducts a careful and thorough search for heirs. If none can be found, the Public Trustee gets an order from the court that authorizes it to transfer the money to the Nova Scotia Department of Finance. However, any heirs that come forward after the money is transferred can still claim it.
If you want to claim money from an estate, make the claim directly to the Department of Finance, Attention: Capital Markets Administration Division.

For more information about funds from an unclaimed estate, visit the Finance website.

What hours is the office open?

See our contact page for hours of operation and location.

The Public Trustee’s Office cannot provide legal advice, help you prepare an application to the Probate Court, or help you draft a will.

For more information about the Probate Court, and how to represent yourself in the Probate Court, visit the Courts website.