Duties of an executor – an executor’s checklist

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.”

Acting as an executor can be very challenging. Just ask anyone who has been a executor in the past and many will tell you it can be very time consuming, emotionally draining, difficult and seem like it never ends.

You should give this responsibility to someone knowing that the task will be time-consuming and stressful. Once someone begins the process of dealing with the estate assets, they are legally bound to complete the job, and can only be relieved of the responsibility by a court order. No one can be forced to act as the executor.

Executor's Duties

ChecklistBelow you will find a list of duties of an executor. This list is far from exhaustive but illustrates how important it is to choose a good executor. Remember, settling your estate is not an honour. It is work. Choose your executor carefully to ensure that he or she can handle the job.

1. Immediately After Death

  • Arrange for organ donation
  • Arrange for funeral:
  • Review Will with lawyer
  • Arrange for care of dependents and pets
  • Find and secure all assets: Home, Contents of home, Other real estate, Personal property, Business, Vehicle, Perishable goods, Safety deposit box
  • Obtain insurance for any vacant real estate.

2. Very Soon After Death

  • Pay for funeral
  • Find all ongoing expenses and debts
  • Stop all unnecessary expenses: Subscriptions (magazine, theatre), Health care (home care), Memberships (gym, club, sports, auto, professional, etc), Entertainment (cable, satellite, websites), Communication (telephone, cell phone, Internet), Insurance (auto, disability).
  • Forward mail
  • Notify all holders of assets: Bank, Broker, Investment advisor, Insurer.
  • Notify all service providers: Utility companies, Landlord, Property maintenance
  • Cancel credit and debit cards
  • Review all documents relating to assets: Property insurance, Mortgage, Lease, Business, Investment.
  • Review all documents relating to financial obligations: Contracts, Divorce or separation agreement, Court orders.

3. Soon After Death

  • Institute plan for securing and managing assets until sale, disposal or distribution
  • Re-register or transfer ownership of all assets to the estate
  • Obtain valuation of all assets
  • Prepare inventory of assets and liabilities
  • Obtain probate
  • Schedule payment of all debts.

4. Within Weeks of Death

  • Meet with all beneficiaries of estate
  • Maintain or initiate legal actions on behalf of the estate
  • Defend legal actions against the estate
  • Advertise for creditors
  • Collect life insurance
  • Arrange for transfer of assets passing outside the estate: Registered investments, Jointly held accounts and land.

5. Remaining Estate Settlement Process

  • Maintain records of assets and estate administration
  • Sell assets, as appropriate
  • Collect debts
  • Pay debts
  • Litigate or settle all claims by or against the estate
  • File outstanding tax returns (including terminal return)
  • File estate tax returns
  • Obtain tax clearance certificate
  • Obtain interpretation of Will
  • Distribute assets according to the Will: To individuals, To charities, To trusts.
  • Claim executor's fees
  • Obtain releases from beneficiaries.

I hope you find this list is duties of an executor helpful.  The information in this articles was taken from Jim's book Smart Tips for Estate Planning. Jim is also the creator of My Estate Organizer, a tool to help people organize, diarize and share their estate information with the people they love. It is a tool designed to help beneficiaries and executors.

Written by Jim Yih

Jim Yih is a Fee Only Advisor, Best Selling Author, and Financial Speaker on wealth, retirement and personal finance. Currently, Jim specializes in putting Financial Education programs into the workplace. For more information you can follow him on Twitter @JimYih or visit his other websites Group Benefits Online and Advisor Think Box.

5 Responses to Duties of an executor – an executor’s checklist

  1. Hey Jim, this article series is terrific and very useful. I am in fact an executor for several people, but everyone thankfully is living well. But when the day comes, your info will be a godsend.

  2. Yes always good posts. I’ve acted 3 times as a trustee and and I’ve just been named again by a relative. Its important to have quick easy access to an original copy of the Will. In the present case I will be keeping it in my safe. Also get the person to provide you with a list of locations and account numbers of banks, insurance policies, tax info etc. and keep it with the will. Often as people get older they may have special jewellery, art, or things like Royal Dalton that they want to go to particular individuals. If the maker of the Will just has them in storage or in a safety box suggest that they pass them on now while they are alive and make a note of it for inclusion with the executor notes. Often its the smaller things which create the problems.

    As it wasn’t clear who drafted the Will and who the witnesses were I obtained that info as well.

  3. Great post Jim.

    I have people asking me about this a lot and it seems so much simpler in the terms you put it.

    It’s a great help!

  4. I have been named executor of a million dollar estate…my aunt just dropped this bomb on me, they are owners of a fishing resort, outpost camps, plane, you name it…my god, it is a lot to think about. Thank you for the information.

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