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Responsibilities of an Executor in Canada: Free Checklist

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    You’ve been named executor of your loved one’s will, but now what? What happens when your loved one passes? You may be honoured to have received this role, but do you know about the responsibilities it entails? 

    When beginning your role as an executor, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Don’t sweat it! Looking after a will is actually unfamiliar to most people. In this post, you will find out about the different responsibilities of the executor in Canada. 

    We’ve partnered with the estate settlement experts at Cadence to put together a checklist for executors. This checklist will ensure you are completing the necessary tasks and your responsibilities. 

    Download our Checklist For Settling An Estate here → 

    What Are The Responsibilities Of An Executor Of A Will In Canada?

    An executor of an estate is the person chosen by the testator to help execute the wishes outlined in their will. This person is typically a relative or friend - for example, a spouse or sibling. An executor of a will carries many responsibilities, including organizing funeral and burial wishes, panging off estate debts or advertising for creditors (to collect any debt that’s owed).

    In addition, the role includes distributing assets to beneficiaries. This entails selling property and/or businesses (if necessary), filing final tax returns and communicating with heirs and beneficiaries.

    What Should An Executor Do First? 

    The process of settling an estate usually starts with locating important documents, assets, property, and information about the deceased. You want to locate documents that relate the following information:  

    • Legal information, such as the legal last will and testament, a list of assets, the marriage license, etc.
    • Home and property information, such as the vehicle registration, any lease or rental agreements, deeds and titles, etc.  
    • Utilities and telecom information, such as gas, hydro, phone or internet information. 
    • Government information, such as their social insurance number, their driver's license, their health card, etc.
    • Insurance information, such as the life insurance policy, home insurance policy or vehicle insurance policy 
    • Business information, such as incorporation documents, the business license, shareholder agreements, etc.
    • Memberships or accounts information, such as any passwords or account numbers.
    • Employment or pension information, such as any employment contracts, pension statements, employment insurance records, etc. 
    • Banking information, such as mortgage information, credit card statements, lines of credit or loans, etc. 
    • Investments information, such as an investment portfolio, annuities or RRSP/RRIF/RESP. 
    • Tax information, such as tax returns or assessments, property tax bills, tax shelter documents, etc.

    What Should An Executor Consider When Planning The Funeral? 

    In the initial days after the passing (typically seven to ten days), an executor typically considers organizing the funeral, as well as securing assets and dependents. Consider the checklist below when fulfilling these tasks:

    • Make the appropriate funeral, burial or donation arrangements. 
    • Arrange for the safe care of any dependents, pets and/or livestock. 
    • Secure the property and personal valuables of the deceased.
    • Determine the immediate cash needs of the family.
    • Secure the Funeral Director's Statement of Death (make sure you request several copies). 
    • Consider publishing an obituary. 
    • Redirect mail (this is if property is unoccupied).

    Once I’ve Located The Will, What Should I Do Next?

    Still in the days after the passing, the executor needs to locate and read the will of the deceased. Hopefully the executor knows they have been appointed as an executor and knows where the will and other relevant documents are kept. If this is not the case, the executor must search all likely places for a valid will. Some things to start taking action on when you’re reading the will include: 

    • Understanding your duties and potential liabilities before proceeding. 
    • Notifying the beneficiaries and communicating the will. 
    • Retrieving any information needed from beneficiaries to execute the will. 
    • Determining the requirements set out in the will and acting as required. 
    • Start keeping detailed written records of all estate-related activities. 

    As an executor appointed in the will, you do have the right to determine if you want to act.  The simple fact of being named in the will does not mean you need to act. You can renounce the role; however, it must be done before taking any action as executor. Many wills include backup executors, just in case! If there is no executor appointed, often the courts will choose one for the estate.

    Legal counsel may be required with or without a will. Estate lawyers can assist with a wide array of legal estate issues, including Letters Probate, Letters of Administration, interim and final distributions of the estate, etc.

    Not sure what to expect with a will? Check out a sample will here.

    Do You Need Probate? 

    Probate is the process of the courts formally accepting a will, or, if the deceased did not have a will, appointing someone to act on their behalf. Probating is not always essential, but make sure you consider your circumstances and if this is necessary! 

    Read more: Everything You Need To Know About Probate 

    What Are The Areas Of Responsibilities Of An Executor When Settling An Estate?

    What Financial Responsibilities Does An Executor Have When Settling An Estate? 

    Once the immediate funeral planning tasks have been completed, the executor should begin the distributions outlined in the will. Before these distributions are be made, the executor needs to sort out finances, pay off estate debts, collect debts that are owed, deal with any assets and complete tax returns. Here are some of the financial duties required (see full list here):

    • Cancel all credit cards and determine if any insurance exists to cover balances. 
    • Prepare an inventory of the assets and liabilities. 
    • Review the investment portfolio and other finances. 
    • Search the Bank of Canada’s Unclaimed Balances Registry to find any unclaimed bank accounts. 
    • Settle all debts and claims. 
    • Publish advertisement for creditors before distribution of assets (if required). 
    • Confirm completion of tax returns for the last six years. 
    • Prepare and file any unfiled returns, the Terminal T1 Tax Return and other relevant returns with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) within six months of the date of death. 

    To manage finances, many executors may want to consider hiring an accountant to assist with financial matters and tax returns. Assistance with financial matters can be very beneficial when you are unsure. It is important to remember that if you make an error that results in a loss to the beneficiaries, you could be held personally liable for that amount. 

    What Real Estate And Property Responsibilities Does An Executor Have When Settling An Estate? 

    Sometimes the will includes selling the property. Generally, the duty here is to transfer or sell any real estate or personal effects as per requested in the will. Some additional steps to consider include: 

    • A review of mortgage documents and securing property deed(s), land titles and mineral rights.
    • Contacting the mortgage issuer to check for insurance, stop or redirect payments. 
    • Updating records at the Land Registry office if property is transferred to the surviving owner. 
    • Arrange for valuations of real estate, personal property, securities and automobiles. 

    If there is vacant real estate, you should consider arranging for maintenance, property tax and utility payments, protection and care of the property. You might want to also consider changing locks. 

    What Business Responsibilities Does An Executor Have When Settling An Estate? 

    Sometimes the will includes selling the testator’s business. You should start by contacting the lawyer and accountant used for business purposes and seeking advice. Some tasks to consider completing include: 

    • Review incorporation documents, shareholder agreements, business continuation plan, succession plan, buy/sell agreements, etc. 
    • Arrange for valuation of any business interests.

    What Application Responsibilities Does An Executor Have When Settling An Estate? 

    When someone passes, there can be certain applications required to complete. This includes Pension Plans, different benefit plans and/or provisions. These applications could also include:

    • Canada Pension Plan Death Benefit 
    • Canada Pension Plan Survivor's Pension and Child(ren) 's Benefits 
    • Allowance for the Survivor 
    • Child rearing provision 
    • Guaranteed Income Supplement (for spouse) 
    • Victim Services benefits 
    • Workers Compensation benefits 
    • Vehicle Insurance death benefits

    Please note: This list is not exhaustive and other duties may be required, depending on the specific estate under administration.

    How Long Does An Executor Have To Settle An Estate In Canada?

    There is a rule of thumb that the executor of the estate has one year from the date of death to wrap up the estate. 

    That being said, there is no hard deadline on how long the estate can remain open. Every estate is unique and has a different level of complexity. The length can vary from six months if the distribution is simple, to three years to settle complex matters. If the executor can demonstrate that they are taking action to keep the process moving forward, they can generally be allowed by the courts to proceed. 

    Given the executor’s need to secure tax clearance certificates from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), it would be unreasonable to expect the distribution to happen in less than one year. However, the administrative “executor’s year rule” is helpful to ensure the matter is not dragging on for long periods of time. 

    Is The Executor Of A Will Entitled To Anything? 

    An executor can be compensated for reasonable costs that they have paid out of their pocket while settling the estate. To be compensated, the executor typically needs to showcase and justify that the expenses benefited the estate and its beneficiaries. In order to benefit from the distribution of assets and funds, the executor needs to be named as a beneficiary in the will. 

    The duties of an executor can be extensive and time consuming. The key to successfully fulfilling your responsibilities is consistent effort combined with an attention to detail. Executors must stay organized and keep good records. For a complete checklist of executor duties, we’ve partnered with the estate settlement experts at Cadence. This checklist, that you can download below, will ensure you are staying on track, organized and completing the necessary tasks.  

    Download our Checklist For Settling An Estate here →

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