Rule number one when writing your will: always ask your chosen executor before appointing them if they’re willing to take on the task. If you don’t, that person may get a surprise phone call informing them of such after your death.
If you’ve recently found yourself at the receiving end of that surprise call, we won’t lie, being appointed executor of an estate is a big responsibility. It can be challenging, overwhelming, time-consuming and emotionally draining. But it can also be extremely rewarding because you know that you are honouring the final wishes of a loved one.
Now that you know you’re the executor, here’s what you need to do, and the order you need to do it in.
Make the preliminary arrangements
This includes getting the person’s identification and credit cards, notifying their employer of their death, making or helping with funeral arrangements, getting copies of the death certificate, preparing a list of assets and liabilities and making sure the immediate financial needs of dependent family members are met.
Secure the assets
This includes (but is not limited to) redirecting the person’s mail, arranging for the safe storage of personal valuables and important documents, making arrangements for their business (if they owned one), cancelling leases, health insurance coverage, driver’s license, cable, phone, memberships, subscriptions and credit cards and making arrangements for insurance policy payments or spousal/child support.
Value the estate
This includes opening a bank account specifically for settling the estate, having the person’s assets valuated, closing their bank accounts and safety deposit box, selling shares, transferring real estate, collecting debts owed and determining whether their RRSPs or RRIFs need to be rolled over to a spouse or other eligible dependent.
Pay debts and legacies and file tax returns
This includes paying all balances on credit cards and to other creditors, ensuring that all contractual obligations are paid and provided for, paying all legacies, transferring bequests to beneficiaries and preparing and filing income tax returns to the date of death.
Final distribution of the estate
Once all of the above is done, and you have the necessary tax clearance certificates, you can now distribute a final report to beneficiaries and claim for compensation, establish ongoing trusts provided for in the will and distribute the remaining assets amongst beneficiaries.
If this list seems overwhelming, or you don’t even know where to start, this Government of Canada list is a helpful resource. And remember, you don’t have to do it alone.
An executor can hire help for items that they cannot reasonably do themselves. For example, an accountant can help you with the income tax filing, a realtor can help with the sale of property and 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.