According to the Canadian Bar Association, “The executor gathers up the estate assets, pays the deceased's debts, and divides what remains of the deceased's estate among the beneficiaries.”
An executor is the person who you name in your Will who will have the legal responsibility to settle your estate after your death. Settling an estate takes around 18 months, and maybe more . . . potentially years if you have business assets, adversarial family members, a highly valuable estate, a very low value estate, strange problems arise, or if the executor does not have the time, health, interest or ability to efficiently settle your estate.
The Ideal Executor
The ideal executor can make a big difference in estate settlement. Here are some characteristics of the ideal executor:
- Lives in the same area as you. It can be hard (but not impossible) to deal with assets and issues from a distance
- Has experience managing money and dealing with financial institutions
- Can deal with your relatives and beneficiaries objectively
- Is comfortable dealing with lawyers and accountants
- Has the time to spend settling your estate which is a part-time job for 1½ to 2 years
- Has the patience to deal with government agencies (especially tax departments)
- Is organized and willing to do lots of paperwork
- Is not afraid to ask for professional help when needed
- Has experience settling estates or is willing to read, research and learn.
In your Will, you should appoint a primary executor and an alternate executor. It is important to appoint an alternate executor because your primary executor may die before you, or may be ill or become ill when it is time to settle your estate.
Married people will often name each other as their executor. Generally, this is a good idea if each Will says that everything goes to the surviving spouse. This might not be a good idea if the spouse is elderly or unhealthy or financially inexperienced. This also might not be a good idea if the spouse is the second spouse and family members from the first marriage are adversarial.
Naming more than one executor
Is naming more than one person as executor (co-executors) a good idea? Sometimes. It could help share the burden if the co-executors work well together. It would not be a good idea if any of them do not live locally – at the very least, it would be hard for them to get together to meet with accountants and lawyers and to sign documents. More than two co-executors is never a good idea because group decision-making is rarely easy.
Using a trust company
Think about naming a trust company as your executor (or a co-executor). Trust companies could have all the ideal characteristics of a good executor. Yes, they cost money, but the money is paid out of your estate. You can enter into an agreement with a trust company regarding their fees. Their fees are usually a percentage of your estate on a sliding scale (the larger the estate, the smaller the percentage fee) and usually start around 5% on the first $1 million in your estate. Trust companies, like any executor, will also demand repayment of expenses incurred on the estate's behalf (for example, legal fees, accounting fees and realtor fees).
Anyone who settles your estate (e.g. spouse, child, sibling or friend) is entitled to be paid, and that payment can be more or less than what a trust company might charge. You can state how much your executor should be paid in your Will, but be aware that your executor can seek the approval of a court to be paid more.