Estate services for First Nations people

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) provides services to help families manage the legal and financial affairs of First Nations people who usually live on reserve and have died, or who are minors or dependent adults.

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What is an estate?

An estate is all of the property and personal possessions of a person.

The estate of a person who has died may include:

The estate of a dependent adult or a minor child may include:

An estate does not generally include:

What should you do when a family member or friend dies?

Please contact INAC Public Enquiries for help with the next steps.

INAC will ask a few questions:

The answers to these questions will help clarify if the estate should be looked after by INAC or if it should be the province or territory where your family member or friend lived.

If INAC is looking after the estate, the department will send out the required forms so that someone can be appointed to settle the estate.

If a First Nation individual lives off-reserve, or was living off-reserve when they died, their estate is the responsibility of the province, territory, or state where they reside or resided. For more information on next steps when dealing with a loved one who has died, use the Benefits finder, select your province, answer question 10 and look at the results under "other programs" to find the relevant provincial or territorial office.

Does living on- or off-reserve matter for estates?

Under the Indian Act, INAC is only involved with estates for people who usually live or lived on reserve. INAC calls this being "ordinarily resident on-reserve".

"Ordinarily resident on-reserve" means that an eligible First Nation person lives on-reserve, does not maintain a primary residence off-reserve, but may temporarily live off-reserve for education purposes or for the purpose of obtaining care or services not available on-reserve.

If a First Nation individual lives off-reserve, or was living off-reserve when they died, their estate is the responsibility of the province, territory or state where they reside or resided. For more information on next steps when dealing with a loved one who has died, use the Benefits finder, select your province, answer question 10 and look at the results under "other programs" to find the relevant provincial or territorial office.

What is an estate administrator or executor?

An estate can be handled or administered by an executor or an administrator.

Executor

When a person makes a will, they name someone (or a group) responsible for handling their estate once they have died. This person or group (e.g., a law firm or bank) is known as the executor.

The executor handles all of the legal and financial matters and ensures that the details of the will are carried out.

Administrator

If someone who lived on-reserve dies without a will or does not name an executor in their will, INAC will appoint a person to handle the estate. This person is known as the administrator, and they have the same duties as an executor. It is also possible to have an administrator for the estate of a living person, such as a dependent adult or a minor.

If no one is willing or able to administer the estate, INAC will become the administrator by appointing a departmental employee to settle the estate.

If you have been appointed as an administrator/executor, please refer here for some good practices of an administrator.

What do administrators or executors do?

The administrator or executor is responsible for handling all of the legal and financial matters of the estate, and is accountable to the heirs or beneficiaries named in a will.

The duties differ depending on:

  • if the estate is for someone who has died

or

  • if it is for someone who is alive (a dependent adult or a minor)

The duties of an administrator or executor for the estate of someone who has died include:

  • identifying and protecting the estate property and belongings
  • claiming work benefits
  • providing a full report to the heirs or beneficiaries on what has been done
  • paying the estate debts, including funeral expenses
  • filing taxes
  • distributing what remains to the people named in the will or to the family in accordance with the provisions of the Indian Act

Learn more about an administrator or executor's duties once appointed and how to properly handle an estate.

The duties of an administrator for the estate of someone who is living include:

  • identifying and protecting the estate property and belongings
  • purchasing necessities for the dependent adult or minor, and providing an allowance as required
  • consulting with the person(s) responsible for looking after the everyday wellbeing of the dependent adult or minor
  • paying bills
  • settling debts
  • making arrangements for the person's business
  • looking after any pension or benefit concerns
  • filing annual tax returns
  • providing a full report to the dependent adult, minor, guardian(s) of the person, or INAC on what has been done every year, upon request of a family member

INAC will:

  • review and address concerns and complaints about the handling of an estate
  • review the administration of the estate upon request by the family

How are estates of people who have died on-reserve managed?

INAC is required under sections 42 to 50(1) of the Indian Act to manage the estates of Indians who usually lived on reserve.

For this purpose, Indians are people who were registered, or who could have been registered, as Indians under section 2 and section 6 of the Indian Act. If you think you might be eligible for Indian status visit: Are you eligible to apply?

INAC encourages family members to take the role of settling the estates of family and friends who have died.

INAC provides the following as part of its Deceased Estates Service:

To learn more about writing a will consult Why is it important to have a will?

How are estates of dependent adults and minors managed on-reserve?

INAC is required by section 51 of the Indian Act to manage the estates of Indians who currently cannot manage their financial or legal affairs, and who usually live on-reserve. Under section 52 of the Indian Act, INAC may help manage the estates of Indian minors who usually live on-reserve.

In these situations, Indians are people who are registered, or who could be registered, as Indians as identified in section 2 and section 6 of the Indian Act. Indians also includes people who are on a band list, or who could be added to a band list.

INAC encourages family members to take a leading role in managing the estates of dependent adults and minors. INAC can help administer the estates of dependent adults and minors. The department only helps with the estate of minors in rare circumstances.

Who is a dependent adult?

A dependent adult is someone who cannot currently manage their legal or financial affairs. This could include people who have dementia or have other medical conditions affecting their mental capacity.

INAC can only help with managing estates once the adult has been diagnosed as incapable of managing their own financial or legal affairs.

This diagnosis must be done by a provincial or territorial authority such as:

  • a doctor or other certified health professional
  • a capacity assessor employed by the province or territory in which the adult resides
  • a court of law

INAC, or someone appointed as INAC's representative (usually a family member), can only assume the role of property guardian for a dependent adult. This means that they can help a dependent adult with managing money, lands, debts, and so on.

Authority for decisions relating to personal care is the responsibility of the province or territory where the dependent adult resides. Please contact these government offices for more information on next steps.

Who is a minor?

A minor is someone who is under the age of majority in the province or territory where they live. For example, in Quebec a minor is anyone between 0 and 17, while in Ontario a minor is anyone between 0 and 18.

In some situations, children can have property or possessions (also known as estates). These need to be managed for them since they are not old enough to legally manage them.

Usually a child's parents or guardians are responsible for looking after their child's estate, but in rare circumstances INAC can assist when the parents or guardians are unable to do so.

INAC's ability to help is outlined in section 52 of the Indian Act, and is considered discretionary. This means that INAC only steps in when it is necessary, or upon request.

INAC's goal when helping with minors' estates is to do what is in the best interest of the minor.

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