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5 tips for Executors

POSTED November 16, 2023

5 tips for Executors

Advice from a Canadian lawyer about the best practices for Executors to follow when dealing with an estate

By Nadia Bechai, founding lawyer of Bechai Law

Nadia Bechai founding lawyer of Bechai Law sitting and smiling

Acting as an Executor carries a considerable amount of responsibility and can be more challenging than is often initially expected. To help Executors navigate their obligations, this post provides my top five tips to keep in mind.

1. Ask this one question.

If you know you’re named as Executor under a Will, consider asking this one important question: where is the original signed Will stored and how will I obtain access to it?  The Executor requires the original signed Will to properly administer the estate.  Without it, there’ll be hurdles to the administration process.

The Executor also requires quick access to the Will following death. While the deceased’s family may be involved with making funeral arrangements, at law, it is the Executor who is responsible for the body of the deceased. Therefore, the funeral home may request to review the Will when taking instructions for the burial/cremation of the deceased.

2. Don’t delay.

It’s the Executor’s duty to take care of all the estate’s assets. Therefore, the Executor must determine what these are and secure them in a timely manner. This may involve changing the locks on the deceased’s home, safely storing valuable assets, or freezing volatile investments.  There will also likely be tax and other filing deadlines, so it’s important to determine what these are to ensure none are missed. 

There’s a general rule called the “Executor’s year” that claims an Executor has one year to administer an estate of average complexity, therefore it’s best not to delay the estate administration.  

3. Get organized.

Executors are required to account and provide information to the beneficiaries of the estate.  This is why it’s important to keep all receipts and statements from all transactions relating to the estate. Subject to the terms of the will, Executors are also legally entitled to fair and reasonable compensation from the estate for the work performed in administering the estate.  As such, it’s a good idea for the Executor to track the time spent on attending to the various tasks. This will substantiate the amount claimed by the Executor in compensation. 

4. Communicate regularly with beneficiaries.

Beneficiaries are entitled to know what’s happening with the administration of the estate. To help stave off disputes or claims against the Executor, it’s a good idea to periodically advise beneficiaries of the status of the estate. 

5. Get professional advice.

Executors have a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the estate: they must follow the law and act with the highest ethical standards. Executors are expected to act as a “reasonably prudent individual” would, but that doesn’t mean simply taking a common-sense approach.  Many areas of the law can touch an estate and are complex – family, real estate, and tax law to name a few.  Therefore, acting as a “reasonably prudent individual” often requires the Executor to seek the professional advice of a lawyer or accountant. 

Failing to do so can be deemed a breach of fiduciary duty and expose the Executor to personal liability. Therefore, it’s best to seek the assistance of professionals early in the administration process.

This blog post is provided for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.  Please consult with a lawyer for advice on your particular situation.

If you’re interested in learning more on this important topic, register for our Ask a Lawyer: Executorship 101 webinar on November 21 at 3:00 ET!

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