A family member or close friend passes away and amidst your grief you discover that you have been named executor of their estate. You’re shocked, because you didn’t know that you had been named as executor in their will. (Rule number one when writing your will: always ask your executor before appointing them.)
We won’t lie, being appointed executor of an estate is a big responsibility. It can be challenging, overwhelming, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. You have to be up to the task. It can also be extremely rewarding because you know that you are honouring the final wishes of a loved one.
But what happens if you’re not up to the task? Because even though you’ve been named as executor (and maybe it wasn’t a surprise, maybe it was something you previously agreed to), sometimes it is simply not practical or possible to do so.
The short answer is if you don’t want to be an executor of an estate, you don’t have to.
Here’s what you need to know before walking away. Keep in mind however, that these steps are only applicable if you haven’t already started acting as an executor. If you’ve already started on your executor’s list and realized that the job is too much for you, it is more difficult to back out.
- Check if an alternate has been named. When writing a will, it’s recommended to name an alternate to the executor (and even an alternate to the alternate). This provides protection for this scenario. Hopefully, the next person in line will take it on, allowing the primary executor to basically walk away.
- Request removal by court. If no alternate has been named, but someone else is willing to settle the estate on your behalf, then you need to have an application to do so approved by a court. Once approved, you may resign and the other person will take over your responsibilities.
In reality, there is nothing legally stopping you from simply walking away. If this should happen, and the courts do not have a suitable alternative to appoint, the government will step in and settle the estate. However, it will be to its benefit, not necessarily to the wishes of the person who wrote the will.
Remember, if you are unsure about whether you’re able to take on the role of executor, you don’t have to do it all alone. An executor can hire help for items that they cannot reasonably do themselves. We can advise on all legal issues related to the estate.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. It is not intended to replace actual legal advice. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.