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Executor’s checklist: What are the duties of an executor?

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 of a will 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 of an estate.

Related article:  Choosing the right 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. 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 article was taken from my book Smart Tips for Estate Planning.

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.

13 Responses to Executor’s checklist: What are the duties of an executor?

  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.

  5. Can you tell me how long after an estate has been settled is the executor of the estate liable for any challenges from beneficiaries in Ontario?

    • Ontario changed the Estate Probate rules as of January 2015. The Executor is now required to file a new 7 page Estate Information return within 90 days from the date of Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee was issued. The Executor is now liabale for up to 4 years after the date of filing this EIR. I have been an Executor a coouple of times. It is very time consuming & can be very difficult if the deceased has not left a good record of all investments, life insurance, credit cards, etc. If asked to do this now I would sit down with the person & help them document all of these details on a spreadsheet that includes contact names & phone numbers for everything. This is so much easier when the person is alive. You can use the following link to get the details & forms for this new Ontario EIR requirement here-> http://www.forms.ssb.gov.on.ca/mbs/ssb/forms/ssbforms.nsf/FormDetail?OpenForm&ENV=WWE&NO=9955E

  6. Can an executor replace a real estate agent chosen by the owner of a property while he was alive and in good health

    The agent is currently doing his job dutifully with no sale as of yet

    The executor wishes to replace the agent when the present listing expires

  7. Great article. As a retiree who has just planned a will, I wanted to make sure my family was involved. Knowing that this creates tensions between family members; I have experienced life as an executor, then it becomes important that the executor has support. Due to this, I selected a dual executor role so my family member can bale if they need to.
    I would add a point(s)in all the 5 items that manage communication with prime members of the family just to ensure everyone has an input and understands what is going on. Without attention to the soft skills, things fall apart. The executor role is similar to a project manager, apologies for the formality LOL

  8. An informative article, as always. Thank you for sharing your knowledge in this area, which is a sensitive one and not often confronted head on until the situation of a passing occurs.

  9. And if the beneficiaries don’t feel confident to sign their releases as per perceived executor incompetence, what then?

    Would the executor have to take the accounts to a judge to pass? or is that the job of the beneficiaries?

    Thanks,

    Sarah

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