• Ava Aslani

Administering an Estate: First Steps



In a previous blog post, we talked about some of the duties and responsibilities of the executor of an estate. Our next three blog posts are set up as checklists, which we have found to be helpful in breaking down the tasks that need to be carried out by an executor. In today's article, we'll go over the first steps you need to take in performing your duties as an executor of an estate. In our next article, we'll talk about safeguarding the assets of an estate. In our last article, we'll set out how to go about preparing a listing of estate assets and liabilities.


To help you carry out your duties as an executor or administrator of an estate, below is a list of steps you should take as soon as possible.


1. Make sure the assets of the estate are protected. For more details on this, read our post on safeguarding the assets of the estate.


2. Apply for Canada Pension Plan death benefits.


3. List all assets of the estate and estimate their value at the time of death. As a guide, see our post on how to go about listing the assets and liabilities of the estate. You may need to contact the banks and other institutions that the deceased used to complete your list.


4. Provide the latest tax assessment notices on property owned by the deceased, or have the property appraised as of the date of death. If you still have a phone book, you can take a look at the list of appraisers under Real Estate Appraisers. Otherwise, a quick Google search should do the trick.


5. List all the debts and liabilities of the estate. Again, take a look at our guide on listing the assets and liabilities of the estate for more details on how to go about doing this.


6. Record all money you spend or receive as executor. You are entitled to be repaid from the estate for your reasonable expenses. Also, keep a diary of the steps you take as executor, including: telephone calls made, meetings attended, mail sent or received, time spent on various tasks, and so on.


7. Arrange to prepare and file income tax returns. In most cases, three main tax returns are needed:

  • one for the year before the death, if the deceased had not filed a return and if tax is payable;

  • one for the year of death; and

  • one for the tax year of the estate administration.

It's a good idea to contact an accountant to discuss the tax liabilities of the deceased and your responsibilities as executor. The accountant can also file the returns for you, which can save you a mountain of headache.


8. List the names of all those who must be legally notified, and include addresses. Depending on the circumstances, these people may include beneficiaries under the will, current or previous spouses whether common-law or not, all children, other next-of-kin, and anyone else who might make a claim on the estate or who might dispute the will. Advise the people that must be legally notified that you intend to act as executor of the will. Make a note if anyone listed is under 19 years old or is mentally incompetent.


9. Gather the documents needed to go ahead. These are the will and any codicils (additions or changes to the will), or other records showing testamentary intention; the deceased’s birth, marriage, and death certificates; any separation agreements, court orders, or judgments; and financial papers.


Final Thoughts


Keep in mind that while these suggestions apply to many estates, some may not be applicable to the estate that you are administering. On the other hand, this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the steps you may need to take to carry out your duties and responsibilities. If you have questions about any of the information above, or about the estate administration process in general, your best bet is to seek out professional advice.

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