News Releases

For immediate release February 6, 2002

Supreme Court of Canada refuses to allow B.C. notaries to probate wills

VANCOUVER – The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear an appeal by a notary public who was ordered to stop probating wills.

The Jan. 10, 2002 decision by a three-judge panel of the country's top court affirms decisions by the B.C. Supreme Court and B.C. Court of Appeal that notaries public in B.C. are not entitled to probate wills or to prepare documents relating to the estate of a deceased person.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in a July 1998 decision that Sparwood, B.C. notary public Marian Gravelle was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law by offering to assist a member of the public with respect to the grant of letters of administration for the estate of a deceased person for a fee.

The B.C. Supreme Court noted that the provincial Legal Profession Act states that only qualified and licensed lawyers are entitled to probate estates in B.C.

The Notaries Act, which sets out the areas of law in which a notary public is permitted to practise, has no similar provision and does not expressly authorize a notary to advise on probate matters. In addition, there was no tradition of probate practice by notaries when English common law was adopted in British Columbia in 1858.

The B.C. Supreme Court granted a permanent injunction prohibiting Ms. Gravelle from engaging in the unauthorized practice of law. The B.C. Supreme Court's decision was upheld by the B.C. Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada refused leave to appeal. The Society of Notaries Public of B.C. intervened in the case on Ms. Gravelle's behalf.

"We urge people to consult with their lawyer on all estate and probate matters," Law Society of B.C. Executive Director Jim Matkin, Q.C. said. "Only lawyers have the necessary and appropriate training to give legal advice in this complicated area of the law. Many estate and probate decisions have tax implications and other legal ramifications that a lawyer can help resolve."

The Law Society of B.C. was founded in 1869 and is the governing body of the legal profession in B.C. Under the provisions of the Legal Profession Act, the Law Society is responsible for the licensing, professional conduct and discipline of the more than 10,000 lawyers in B.C.

For more information on unauthorized practise see the Legal Profession Act:

Section 1: Definitions of "lawyer," "practice of law," and "practising lawyer."
Section 3: Law Society duty to protect the public.
Section 15: Authority to practise law.
Section 85: Enforcement.

The Legal Profession Act is available on the Law Society of B.C. website.

For the B.C. Supreme Court decision, go to:

For the B.C. Court of Appeal's decision, go to:

The Supreme Court of Canada does not issue reasons in leave to appeal applications.

Law Society of B.C. media contact:

Brad Daisley, Public Affairs Manager
Office: 604-443-5724 or 1-800-903-5300 toll-free in B.C.
Cellular: 604-836-3257