Could You Be an Estate Executor?

It’s a big job, but someone has to do it. If that someone is you, good luck. You’re going need an optimistic attitude and nerves of steel.

In it for the Long Haul

They probably didn’t tell you this when you agreed: being an estate executor, or estate trustee or personal representative as it’s sometimes called, can go on for months. Depending on what kind of shape the deceased’s estate is in, it might even be years. 

What Being an Executor is About

Executors carry out the deceased’s personal directions in their will (or not, if they died intestate without one). That might sound simple, but in reality you may need a probate lawyer, appraisers, tax accountant or even moving company to remove the deceased’s possessions to safe storage. You’ll have to take care of their investments and maximize them while probate is underway. You may have to renew home insurance, collect rent or find a home for Fido. Expect to be busy and, frankly, frustrated.

Who Cares for the Deceased

Your responsibilities start when the will maker or testator dies. Their will usually includes funeral, burial or cremation instructions. It’s up to you to organize the service and arrange for the deceased’s remains to be laid to rest. How you do that is up to you, even if it’s not quite what the family had in mind. After all, you’re legally liable for managing their finances on their behalf.

What Comes Next

The list is long, so we’ll just summarize it. You’re tasked with everything from getting the death certificate (from the funeral director or Service Ontario) to:

  1. Filing for a certificate of appointment of estate trustee, with or without a will, in Ontario probate court.
  2. Tallying up assets, from homes, cars and personal possessions to investments, and calculating their estimated value.
  3. Paying estate administration taxes on the estimated value.
  4. Deciding if creditors’ claims are valid and paying them from the estate.
  5. Paying property taxes and land transfer taxes.
  6. Closing financial accounts and cancelling credit cards.
  7. Investigating claims from dependants, including children outside of marriage, for financial relief.
  8. Supervising civil actions on the estate’s behalf.
  9. Filing for insolvency or bankruptcy if debts exceed assets.
  10. Filing annual estate tax forms and the deceased’s final income tax return.
  11. Keeping records.
  12. And so much more.

Your Legal Liabilities as Executor

You may have taken on being executor with all the best intentions. But if the heirs are disagree with the will’s provisions or your decisions, or if you spend more than is prudent, you could be sued. Getting professional advice is crucial to preventing that. As long as you’re not a probate lawyer or tax professional, you can’t possibly know everything there is to it. Spend the estate’s resources you need to get assistance with tasks like appraising antiques, re-investing stocks and bonds, selling real estate and managing legal disputes. Just spend it wisely.

Getting Along With the Heirs

Communicate, communicate with lawyers and beneficiaries. Nothing causes more friction in settling an estate than failure to share information with heirs. Hearing their grievances can help to defuse family conflict. Where it doesn’t, at least you’ll know what they’re thinking before they meet you in court.

Where There’s a Way Out Will

Wills can be funny and eccentric. Avoid the temptation to tinker with the contents and distribute the estate as the will provides. Would you want your last will and testament changed after you died? Nah. 

When the Estate is Insolvent

Where did all this debt come from? You won’t be the first executor forced to plunge an estate into bankruptcy. If the debts are greater than assets, the testator is basically insolvent. It’s not your or the heirs’ problem to solve. Walk the will over to licensed insolvency trustee (LIT) and leave it in their capable hands. A LIT is immune from legal liability and can require creditors to accept less than they are owed or file for bankruptcy as needed.

Pay Creditors and Taxes First

Be sure not to take on the deceased’s debts yourself. Ensure all the creditors and income taxes are paid before you distribute the leftover estate to the heirs. You’ll get some heat from the heirs if it goes on too long, but better to make them wait than to be forced to make up the financial gap yourself. Better yet, request a clearance certificate from Canada Revenue Agency if you have any doubts that taxes or penalties may be outstanding.

Is It the Job for You?

Now that we’ve intimidated you and all, you may want to think twice about being an estate administrator. Before you accept the appointment, think over your relationships with the deceased’s family members. If they’re not great or you can’t realistically balance your responsibilities with work and family, considering bailing. You can get out of being executor, but it may be a job for your own lawyer.

Get Advice on Your Probate Duties 

Axess Law’s Ontario probate lawyers assist you to apply to Ontario probate court.  Arrange a remote video conference by calling 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto 647-479-0118 or using our online booking form. You can dial in to a virtual video conference 7 days a week, day or evening, at your convenience. In-person meetings are available at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.

Click here to learn more about Axess Law’s probate law services.

Photo by S K | Pixabay.