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.”
While that is accurate, it's probably oversimplified. 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.
Related article: Choosing the right executor
Below 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. Keep in mind that rules and terminology may differ from province to province.
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
- Need the proof of death (from the funeral home)
- Need to apply for a Death Certificate (from the government)
- 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).
- Cancel Social Insurance Number, Passport, Drivers License and health card (to avoid identity theft)
- Forward mail
- Notify all holders of assets: Bank, Broker, Investment advisor, Insurer.
- Notify all service providers: Utility companies, Landlord, Property maintenance
- Notify Service Canada regarding CPP survivors benefit, Old Age Security and Guaranteed Income Supplement
- 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
- Establish an Estate Bank Account.
- Arrange a meeting with investment advisor
- 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
- Schedule payment of all debts.
- Apply for Probate or a certificate of appointment
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 death benefits
- 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 final 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.