Perhaps you have agreed to act as an executor for a loved one’s will and your loved one has now passed
away. You may have many questions regarding what you need to do and where to start. This post
provides a very general overview of what it means to be an executor and the tasks involved. We
encourage you to seek legal advice regarding your role and responsibilities before stepping into the
position of executor.
As an executor, it is your duty to carry out the instructions in a person’s will. One of the very first of an
executor is to locate the original will. This may involve looking in the deceased’s home, a safety deposit
box, or contacting a law firm. You can also complete a search of the Wills Registry which involves
submitting an application and fee to the Vital Statistics Agency. You will need to provide a copy of the
death certificate to be able to complete a search for the will. A death certificate can be provided by the
funeral services provider or you can apply for one from the Vital Statistics Agency.
An estate generally consists of the deceased’s possessions and property. As an executor, you will have to
safeguard these possessions and property. This might involve searching for personal items, locking up
the deceased’s property and checking on vehicles. You should also notify financial institutions of the
deceased, cancel credit cards and any subscriptions.
Once you have located and safeguarded the deceased’s possessions, it is important as the executor to
create an inventory which lists the assets and liabilities of the estate. Assets may include bank accounts,
personal possessions, property, and life insurance. Liabilities or debts may include any outstanding
loans, mortgages, and credit card debt. This inventory will assist you in figuring out how much the estate
is worth and what needs to be dealt with.
Knowing the assets that make up the deceased’s estate is necessary so you can determine if the estate
needs to be probated. Probate is a legal process that confirms the will is legally valid and can be acted
on; it also confirms your appointment as executor. Once you have a grant of probate (if it is necessary)
you will then be able to transfer the deceased’s registrable assets into your name as an executor.
Settling the deceased’s debts such as any property taxes owing, funeral expenses and income taxes is
another important job of an executor. You should be able to pay such debts and liabilities (as well as
expenses you have incurred as executor such as probate fees, lawyer fees, or accountant fees) from the
estate’s assets. Expenses and debts should be settled before you start distributing the assets of the
estate. If the deceased’s will was probated, an executor will need to wait 210 days from the date the
grant of probate was issued before distributing assets. Prior to making any distributions from the estate,
you will need to provide all residual beneficiaries of the estate with a final accounting which lists the
assets, debts, income, expenses, and distribution for approval. If the beneficiaries do not approve the
accounting, you will need to have the statement approved by the court.
Many factors will impact when an executor can make an interim or final distribution of the assets of the
deceased’s estate such as statutory time limits, court actions challenging the will, unascertained estate
liabilities such as final income taxes, and accounting approval. We recommend you make distribution
decisions in consultation with your lawyer as you work towards winding up the deceased’s affairs.
Being an executor can be quite challenging but it is an important part of winding up your loved one’s
affairs. If you are named as an executor, contact your legal advisor to gain the legal advice needed to
make sure that you are fulfilling your duties as an executor.