Being appointed executor of an estate is a big job.
While the official definition of the role sounds fairly straight-forward — gather up the estate assets, pay the deceased’s debts and divide what remains of the deceased’s estate among beneficiaries — the actual effort involved in these three tasks is far greater than it sounds.
It can be challenging, overwhelming, time-consuming and emotionally draining. Who you choose to give this responsibility to needs to know what they’re getting into. Once the process begins, a designated executor is legally bound to complete the job and can only be relieved of their responsibility by a court order.
If you’ve agreed to be appointed executor of an estate, or you are writing your will and trying to figure out who to appoint, here’s a condensed list of what you need to know.
How soon after death must an executor get involved?
An executor is expected to step up immediately. He or she needs to get identification and credit cards, notify employers, obtain multiple copies of the death certificate, find the will and any codicils or memoranda and make or assist in the funeral arrangements.
At this time, an executor should also make sure any dependent family members’ financial needs are still being met.
What assets does an executor need to secure?
The simple answer is all of them. Any business assets will need to be secured and personal valuables will need to be safely stored. If a home is left vacant, the executor should notify the insurance company and the police and then continue to check on the property until it is dealt with.
What needs to be cancelled?
Leases, health insurance, driver’s license, cable, telephone, memberships, subscriptions and/or credit cards will all need to be cancelled. Mail will also need to be redirected.
What happens to savings and investments?
A new bank account will need to be opened for the estate and all balances from existing accounts will need to be transferred to it. RRSPs and RRIFs will need to be rolled over, debts collected and investments transferred. All assets will also need to be valued as part of the estate.
What happens to any remaining debts?
They will need to be paid first. This includes credit card debt and loans. Then legacies can be fulfilled and final income tax returns can be filed.
When do beneficiaries receive their inheritance?
Beneficiaries are last on the list. After all debts are paid, whatever is left can be distributed to beneficiaries and any ongoing trusts outlined in the will can be established.
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.