Estate Planning

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

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

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 article was taken from my book Smart Tips for Estate Planning.


  1. Ross Taylor

    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. My Own Advisor

    Excellent post!


  3. Dave

    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.

  4. Trevor Wright

    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!

    • John Dowling

      Hi Trevor,

      I believe ProLaunch Executor Advisory handles this now.
      Do you know them too?

    • Barb

      Dave, and others – Please note that your points are good, as well very commendable to take on that work of executor.
      However, as a retired professional banker please note it is critical to NOT store the original Will in a safety deposit box in a bank.
      A small safe in the persons house with the combination or code sent to the executor or in a known spot is the best. Or a fireproof box.
      If one can offer any advice this is the more crucial and has caused countless hours, days, months of issues attempting to get the will out of a box that is in only the deceased name.
      The bank cannot open the safe without the will, a copy of the will is insufficient, there will still be layers of protocol. A copy of the will does not open any doors and cannot be used for the initial duties required.
      I will not go into detail of the challenges I dealt with many bank clients over the years for not knowing this information. And one cannot just produce a safety deposit box key and state they are the relative and need to get into the box.

      We just went through that recently with a family member, and they also did not have a key. Months later, we managed.. And we did not know whether the Will was in the box, we only had a copy and no key. So there was a Wills Search as well as going to the lawyer (in her 80’s and retired) to find the last will. Plus she stored documents in another centre. That also took months.

      So please, please people do NOT store the Original will in a bank safety deposit box. A copy of the Will placed into a safety deposit box is great, and a copy to the executor is imperative with pertinent information to its location.
      You will save many headaches, much time, and extra costs with this tip.
      One can do almost NOTHING without the original will in hand.

  5. gunter

    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.

  6. Darby

    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?

    • Richard

      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->

  7. A.

    I would like to know the answer to Darby’s question as well.

    • Sarah Johnson

      Just answered it for you above. Good luck!

  8. Mario

    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

  9. Steve Bridge

    Great article, thank you!

  10. Craig Inker

    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

  11. Anna Mitchell

    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.

  12. sarah

    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?



  13. Rose

    what are executor fees. with all this work is the executor allowed to claim anything

  14. Bryan

    How long after passing does the executor have to show the will to named beneficiaries?This would be in Saskatchewan. Thanks

  15. Ann

    With 3 beneficiaries to a house once probate is paid does the house get transferred into all 3 of the names or does the house still stand as the estate and the executor stays in charge until the house is sold? I know that sounds strange but could you try to help answer to the best of your ability please ?

  16. James

    I have the same question as Bryan above, except for Ontario. Specifically, how long after the testator passes away, must the executor distribute copies of the will to the beneficiaries?

  17. edward drake

    Thanks for a good writing and putting things into perspective.

    • Elizabeth Mushrow

      How long after the testator dies does the Executor have to notify the beneficiaries or family member about the will. Can a executor settle the will without the beneficiaries not knowing what was in the will? BC here..

  18. Tyrone

    My dad died last Aug and my Mum is the executor of his estate. Since she is 87 years old, I’m trying to help her through the whole process. I had their accountant prepare Dad’s final return. Do we have to file a Clearance Certificate with the CRA if my Mum inherited his whole estate? Thanks

  19. Dagmar Bridgman

    How long after the testator dies does the executor have to produce a list of house contents and also the distribution of these items? This is in Quebec, my brother is the executor of my mom’s will and my sister and I receive financial information, but have not then given access to her belongings. My mother passed away in November 2019. Can you help me?

  20. David Kitchen

    Can an executor pay airfare and motels for someone if it’s not in the will. Can they hold 5000.00 for a headstone and appoint a non beneficiary to be in charge of the decisions for the headstone

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