You’ve Been Named as Executor – Now What?
If you’ve recently lost a loved one, you are probably going through range of emotions. If, on top of this, you’ve been named as an executor in that person’s will, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the work ahead and you probably have tons of questions. In this article, we’ll talk about what it means to be an executor and what kinds of things you have to do if you’ve been named as the executor of someone’s estate.
First things first: what is an executor? An executor is the person appointed by a will-maker to carry out the instructions set out in his or her will. The executor is responsible for gathering the estate assets, paying the deceased’s debts, and distributing the deceased’s estate to the beneficiaries (i.e. the people named in the will to inherit the will-maker’s estate).
When you put it that way, it sounds pretty straight-forward: gather, pay, distribute. But what does that actually entail? The list below breaks down the main tasks you will need to undertake as the executor of an estate.
By the way, this list also applies to an administrator appointed by the court (usually in the case of someone who died without a will), although an administrator won’t be able to begin acting until they’ve been officially appointed by the court.
1. Advise the deceased’s employer and landlord of the death (if applicable).
2. Locate the deceased’s identification, debit and credit cards, and other important documents.
3. Locate the most recent will, including codicils (modifications to a will) or memoranda (supporting documents such as a list of specific assets and who is to receive them or a list of digital assets and passwords), as well as any other documents that may indicate what the deceased would have wanted done with their assets.
You can begin looking for these documents in the deceased’s filing cabinets or safe, if they had one. They may also be in the deceased’s safe deposit box at the bank or at a lawyer’s office. If the will is being kept at a lawyer’s office, it will most likely be registered with the Wills Registry maintained by the BC Vital Statistics Agency.
4. Obtain the original death certificate. To obtain a death certificate, you will need to apply to the BC Vital Statistics Agency. You can apply online, by mail, in person, or by phone. Click here for the contact details.
5. Make arrangements for the disposition of the deceased's remains, as well as any arrangements for a funeral or memorial service.
6. Find out the names and addresses of the beneficiaries named in the will and notify them of their interests in the estate.
7. Apply to the BC Supreme Court for a Grant of Probate or Grant of Administration. The basic fee for submitting the probate application is $200. In most cases, you will also need to make arrangements to pay probate fees to the court. Probate fees are calculated based on the value of the estate:
0.6% for the value of the estate above $25,000 up to $50,000, plus
1.4% for the value of the estate above $50,000.
Securing the Assets
8. Make an inventory of all of the assets and debts of the deceased. Give all assets and liabilities a value as of the date of death.
9. Search for cash, insurance policies, securities, jewellery, and other valuables, and arrange for their safekeeping. Once smaller valuable items have been inventoried, put them somewhere safe where they can't be stolen or damaged.
10. List all the banks or financial institutions where the deceased had bank accounts, investments, mortgages, or other loans, including the account numbers. Notify the institutions of the death.
11. Make arrangements to view and list the contents of any safety deposit box owned by the deceased.
12. Check the insurance on the deceased’s assets. Advise insurers of the death. Check the expiry dates and check the vacancy provisions to ensure the coverage continues. Most insurance policies will allow you to leave a house vacant for 30 days and still provide coverage. Arrange for additional insurance, if necessary.
13. Lock up the deceased’s residence if it is not occupied. Check on the property frequently and advise the police that the residence is vacant.
14. Advise Canada Pension Plan, Old Age Security Plan, and employer-sponsored pension plans of the death.
15. If the deceased owned a business, make arrangements for someone to continue the business. Identify and locate business assets and documents.
16. Redirect mail, if necessary.
17. Review the last checks written by the deceased to ensure that there were no irregularities.
Managing the Estate
18. Open bank accounts for the estate. Close the deceased person’s bank accounts and transfer balances into the estate account.
19. Submit claims for all pensions, death benefits, life insurance or any other benefits that are payable to the deceased's estate.
20. Transfer the titles of all real estate owned by the deceased to your name as executor (or trustee) and notify all holders of mortgages or other charges on title.
21. If there is any jointly owned property, advise the other joint tenant of the deceased's death.
22. If there are any life insurance policies, RRSPs or any other assets that name a designated beneficiary other than the estate, notify the beneficiaries of the death.
23. Set up any trusts directed by the Will. Administer the trusts for the length of time and on the conditions set out in the Will.
24. To avoid personal liability for the deceased’s debts, advertise for creditors. In BC, an advertisement in the BC Gazette will usually do the trick. If there are claims, check them out for legitimacy. Pay legitimate claims from the estate.
25. Record all money you spend or receive as executor. Also, keep a diary of the steps you take as executor, including: telephone calls made, interviews attended, mail sent or received, time spent, and so on.
Distributing the Estate
26. Pay all of the debts and expenses owed by the deceased and by the estate.
27. Determine how much tax the deceased owes. Have tax returns prepared and filed on time. Pay the taxes before paying beneficiaries. Get a Canada Revenue Agency tax clearance certificate.
28. Prepare executor's financial statements including a proposed compensation schedule and a proposed final distribution schedule.
29. Ensure that the time for persons entitled under the will and under intestacy (i.e. if the will-maker had died without a will) to make claims for support from the estate has expired or that such claims have been resolved.
30. Distribute the deceased's property in accordance with the will or with intestacy law.
Being chosen as the person to carry out someone’s legacy is an honour; but this honour brings with it a lot of responsibility. Administering an estate is a time-consuming and lengthy process, and it is extremely important that it is done properly because executors are exposed to personal liability if the administration of the estate is not handled correctly.
The list we’ve set out above is a good starting point to help you understand the role of an executor in handling an estate. Keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list of the duties of an executor and it can’t replace professional advice. But hopefully, it helps give an overview of the types of things an executor is responsible for and the steps involved in administering someone’s estate.