The Public Trustee's Office has the authority to manage the financial and health care needs for certain people when no one else is willing, suitable, or able to act. It is independent of the provincial government.
The Public Trustee can act as:
- a representative for an adult,
- a guardian for a child,
- a custodian or trustee of a person who cannot care for their own affairs, or
- the executor or administrator of the estate of a person who has died.
It gets its power from Nova Scotia’s Public Trustee Act.
Administrator - When a person dies without a will, there is no executor to see that everything is handled properly. Or sometimes a will does not name an executor, or none of the executors named in a will are able to act. In these cases, someone needs to fill the executor’s role and see that everything is handled properly. This person is called an administrator. The court uses the general term personal representative for a person appointed as an administrator. For more information, see the Wills section.
Custodian - A custodian is someone who has legal responsibility to care for something and keep it safe. In the case of the Public Trustee Office, this might happen when the land or possessions of a missing or deceased person need to be located and protected.
Estate – everything that a person owns. It includes land, vehicles, investments, cash, jewellery, and furniture. A person’s estate is often referred to as property.
Executor - someone named in the will of a person who has died, and who is responsible for seeing that everything is handled properly. They gather assets of the deceased, pay debts and taxes, and distribute the remaining money and property according to instructions in the will. The court uses the general term personal representative for a person appointed as an executor. For more information, see the Wills section.
Guardian - A guardian is someone who has legal responsibility for the personal or financial interests of a minor (person under 19).
Representative – A representative is a person appointed by the court to act for another adult who is unable to manage their own affairs. For more information, see the Representative Decision-making for an Adult section.
Trustee - A trustee is a person appointed by court order or other legal document to hold and manage something for the benefit of another person, for example, property. The Public Trustee may consent to be appointed as a trustee, for example, to manage insurance proceeds or a court settlement for a minor.
What does the Public Trustee do?
The Public Trustee often acts when no one else is able to take responsibility for a person’s estate.
The Public Trustee can act as a trustee for a person under the age of 19 who receives money in an insurance settlement or inheritance or as a named beneficiary, but does not have a parent or guardian who was named as a trustee to manage the money.
The Public Trustee can serve as a representative for an adult who cannot manage their own finances and has not given someone enduring power of attorney to act for them.
The Public Trustee investigates complaints about a representation order or guardianship order being misused. If you wish to make a complaint to the Public Trustee, you can call them at 902-424-7760 or send an email to [email protected].
The Public Trustee can apply to the Probate Court to manage the estate of a person who has died.
The Public Trustee can make health care decisions for a person who is not able to understand the risks, benefits, or the consequences of an important decision about their health. They will do this only if no one else can. If a patient has not named someone to make these decisions and has no representation order, a doctor will speak with the patient’s family about giving consent to treatment. If no one can or will make these health care decisions, the health care provider will contact the Public Trustee as a last resort. The Public Trustee will review the request. They will try to learn if the patient has ever expressed any wishes about the medical treatment. They will try to make a decision that respects the patient’s values, beliefs and wishes. If the patient's values, beliefs and wishes are not known, the Public Trustee will make a decision that is in the bests interests of the patient.
Is the Public Trustee required to represent everyone who asks for its help?
The Public Trustee accepts cases based on the facts.
Some things it will not do are the following:
- help a family solve a disagreement
- be responsible for a person's physical care and well-being.
What does the Public Trustee cost?
Depending on the services provided, the Public Trustee can charge the same costs and fees as a lawyer. In some cases, a judge will say what the Public Trustee can charge for its work. The fee for some services is based on a percentage of the person’s estate and is set out in the regulations under the Public Trustee Act.
Usually the Public Trustee’s costs and fees are paid from the estate of the person. Sometimes a judge will order that another person pay. The accounts of the Public Trustee are audited every year.
Where can I get more information about the Public Trustee?
You can get further information about the work of the Public Trustee’s Office online at novascotia.ca/just/pto/
You can also get in touch with the Public Trustee’s Office at:
Public Trustee’s Office
Suite 501 - 1465 Brenton St.
P.O. Box 685
Halifax, NS B3J 2T3
Tel: (902) 424-7760
Public Trustee - Health Care Decisions Division
Phone: (902) 424-4454
Fax: (902) 428-2159
Last reviewed: February 2023