We’ve written before about how challenging the role of an estate executor can be. This is especially true for large or complicated estates and if the executor, though honest and trustworthy, has little experience with law and bureaucracy. If you choose to appoint a trusted friend or family member as your estate executor, it is vital that you discuss with them what this important role will entail, and ensure that they have the time and energy necessary to handle the process.
Immediately Following Death. Within minutes of a person dying, their executor has important work to do. They must determine whether or not to donate the organs or tissues of the person and begin working with the family to plan to the funeral. If the executor is not a spouse, sibling, or child of the deceased, they can usually leave the funeral in the capable hands of the immediate family, but if no one in the immediate family steps up, the executor must make the arrangement.
They’ll also need to receive the proof of death from the funeral home, apply for a certificate of death from the government, and arrange care for all pets, children, and other dependents. If you discussed your estate plan with your executor as thoroughly as we suggest you do, they will also begin reviewing your will with a lawyer. If you missed some important details when talking with them — or didn’t even tell them you appointed them — most likely they’ll spend some days or weeks playing hide and seek with your will and safety deposit box key/passcode.
Whenever your executor goes to open a safety deposit box, they should take another person with them. The bank representative, the executor, and the other witness will all sign off on a list of everything found in the box. Having an additional witness simply prevents unnecessary questions being asked later. You may wish to name a spouse, child, or sibling to take on this helpful witness role. The final immediate tasks are to secure all assets, such as real estate, personal property, vehicles, etc and to take out insurance on any vacant properties.
Very Soon After Death. While perhaps not on the todo list in the first hours following death, there are still a number of tasks that will need to be completed within days. The funeral, once planned, must be paid for out of the estate. Most of the other tasks that need to be seen to quickly involve getting ahold of the right person, so it’s best to start as soon as possible. Of course, you can save your executor a lot of stress and work by simply leaving a list of your accounts, IDs, and so on.
Your executor must find all ongoing expenses (gym membership, health insurance, home insurance, internet, cell phone, etc) and debts. The expenses that are now unnecessary must be cancelled, which one to cut will depend quite a bit on your unique situation. Is there a surviving partner living in the home? Then the house will likely still need internet. If the home is vacant, your executor will cancel the internet and the TV, and forward your mail to their own address.
Similarly, the executor must contact the government in order to cancel the deceased’s Social Insurance Number (SIN), passport, driver’s license, and provincial health card. Do this sooner rather than later to avoid any chance of identity theft. While you’re on the phone with the government, also notify Service Canada in regards to the deceased’s CPP survivor’s benefit, Old Age Security, and Guaranteed Income Supplement.
Anyone providing services or holding assets (banks, brokers, investors, utility companies, landlords, property managers, etc) need to be notified. While you’re on the phone with the bank, also cancel any debit and credit cards, set up an Estate Bank Account, and schedule a meeting with an investment advisor.
Finally, it’s back to the lawyer to review all the documents related to assets (property insurance, mortgages, leases, businesses, investments) and all the documents relating to financial obligations (contracts, divorce, court orders, child support).
Soon After Death. If the deceased didn’t have an accountant, now is the time to hire one. The executor must institute a plan for both securing and managing all assets, which must then be registered to the estate. An inventory of all assets and liabilities must be created; the assets value assessed, and the liabilities either paid or scheduled for payment.
Finally, the executor must apply for probate, otherwise known as a certificate of appointment.
Within the First Two Months. The executor will have to advertise in certain legal publications or newspapers for creditors, so that anyone the deceased owed money to has a reasonable opportunity to make a claim. The executor is wise to discuss with lawyer to make sure the advertisements cover due diligence. The executor will also need to collect the life insurance death benefits and arrange for the transfer of certain assets (registered investments and jointly held assets) to pass outside of the estate. Any legal actions for or against the estate are the responsibility of the executor as well, and they’ll need to arrange a meeting with each beneficiary. While the executor have the beneficiaries with them, they should collect their SIN, address, phone number, etc.
The Next Year and a Half. Probate takes an average of 18 months in Canada, so the estate executor will be responsible for managing the estate for some time. Fortunately, things slow down a little after the first couple months. For the next year and half, the executor will be responsible for maintaining all records of the estate’s assets, selling assets as necessary, collecting and paying debts as scheduled, litigating or settling all claims against the estate, and filing tax returns (including the terminal return) and securing a tax clearance certificate. As probate concludes, the executor’s final tasks are to obtain interpretation of the will, distribute assets accordingly, claim the executor's fees (typically 2.5% of the receipts of estate and 2.5% of the disbursements of the estate), and last of all, obtain releases from beneficiaries.
As you can see, asking someone to be your executor is very much asking for them to have a second job for nearly a year and half. It’s a huge responsibility, and without a thorough estate plan, it can also be extremely challenging. It’s not uncommon for people who have been appointed as estate executors to say it was easily the single-most stressful thing they’ve ever done in their life. For ultra-high net worth families who have complicated estates spanning numerous jurisdictions, it’s often better to trust your personal estate planner as your executor. They’ve spent years getting to know your family and situation. They understand your estate inside and out, and they are an unbiased outsider who can fairly distribute your assets as you wanted without any conflict of interest.
Get started on your personalized estate plan today with a free consultation from MacMillan Estate Planning. We understand that our affluent clientele are often enjoying the lifestyle they’ve earned through their hard work. So whether you’re home in Canada or flying abroad, our team is ready to meet and work with you.