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What does an executor do?

An executor is the person named in a will who manages the estate of someone who has died. It involves collecting assets, managing finances, and dividing up the estate as specified in the will. Being an executor is a position of great trust and responsibility. It can be an emotionally draining and complex job as well.

Here are some of the basics behind acting as an executor.

Decide if you want the job

You can’t be forced to act as executor. Consider whether you are equipped to handle the challenges involved. You can refuse to be an executor as long as you haven’t yet started administering the estate. Once you’ve begun, you are legally obligated to continue unless you can obtain a court order to relieve you of the job.

Of course, you don’t have to do the job alone. You can hire a lawyer and accountant to help you sort out the legal and financial complexities of execution.

Make funeral arrangements

Hopefully the testator has left guidance as to their wishes. Other family members may have wishes regarding memorial services and other ceremonies. Funeral instructions in a will are not legally binding.

Probate the will

Probate is the process of getting a will legally approved in court. Not all wills have to be probated, but it does reduce the chances of anyone attempting to contest or nullify the will.

Locate, secure, and inventory assets

This could include the testator’s home and its contents as well as any other real estate, their vehicles, personal property, and safety deposit boxes.

You are also responsible for the safety of those assets. Change locks on the home and other properties if necessary.

Arrange for dependents

Ensure any dependents or pets are looked after.

Locate beneficiaries

You must track down and notify all the beneficiaries named in the will and let them know what they’re entitled to.

Beneficiaries are also entitled to copies of the will as well as a detailed statement of all the testator’s finances and assets.

Stop ongoing expenses

If applicable, be sure to cancel expenses like memberships (clubs or gyms, for example), insurance, and other bills (internet, phone, TV).

Cancel their debit and credit cards as well.

Notify asset holders

Contact the testator’s bank, insurance company, broker, investment adviser and anyone else handling an aspect of their finances.

Pay bills and taxes

Determine creditors and amounts owing, then settle outstanding debts.

Contact the Canada Revenue Agency and let it know about the testator’s death. Determine how much tax the testator owed, then arrange to have returns prepared and filed. Pay amounts owing out of the estate.

Obtain a Clearance Certificate, which certifies that all the testator’s taxes are paid before distributing the assets.

Handle trusts

Set up and administer any trusts established in the will. This can be an ongoing responsibility — potentially lasting decades — depending on the conditions of the trust.

This can be a daunting task, but there are many resources available to help you. Banks, financial advisers, and lawyers can provide much of the advice and assistance to help you navigate your way through executing a will.

Read more:

Canada Revenue Agency: what to do when someone has died 

Clearance certificates