Who Will Act On Your Behalf?

As unsettling as it is to think about, someone has to take care of your estate after you’re gone. While your will lays out your wishes for your estate, the executor makes sure those wishes become a reality so it’s important to choose wisely.

What is an executor?

The executor is essentially the person in charge of implementing all the elements of a will, and wrapping up the final affairs of the estate.

The executor is often a close friend or family, especially children or younger siblings. It’s prudent to choose someone who will be around after you’re gone, so an older uncle is probably not an option.

The role of the executor

The executor deals with everything from funeral arrangements to closing financial accounts and paying final bills and debts, to distributing the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries named in the will.

In general, the executor is responsible to:

  1. Arrange the Funeral – The executor is responsible for arranging and paying for the funeral from estate assets. If the details of the funeral were not outlined in the will, the Executor may collaborate with those survived by the deceased to ensure the funeral is aligned with the deceased’s wishes.
  2. Secure Assets – Another early action is to secure the assets of the estate as quickly as possible. For instance, it’s important to make sure vehicles, homes and other property are safely stored, maintained and insured until they can be distributed to the beneficiaries.
  3. Manage the Assets of the Estate –You can make the executor’s job easier by ensuring that they know where the will and other important documents are located in advance so that things go as smoothly as possible. Ideally, the executor will also know the names of all accounts, including insurance policies, investments and trusts. He/she will be responsible for canceling things like driver’s licenses and health cards, and many other personal affairs.
  4. Manage Government Benefits or Other Sources of Income –Benefits like CPP, OAS or pensions may continue for the spouse at a reduced rate, there may be a death benefit, or they may stop upon death. Regardless, the executor must provide prompt notification to the parties paying these benefits.
  5. Pay Off Any Debts or Bills – The executor is responsible for ensuring that the estate pays for any outstanding bills or debts. This includes everything from a mortgage, probate fees and the latest electrical bill.
  6. File the Final Tax Return – There are many intricacies to filing the final tax return, which are different than filing a typical yearly tax return. The executor may opt to have an accountant perform this complex duty; however he or she is still responsible for providing all information and documentation required. The final tax bill must be paid before the rest of the estate can be distributed.
  7. Distribute Assets to Beneficiaries – This may be the most rewarding aspect of the executor’s role. But it can also be the most harrowing. The executor is responsible for ensuring that the contents of the will are carried out to the best of their ability, regardless of whether the beneficiaries are happy with what was stated in the will.

Support for executors

A number of professional services can be employed, paid for by the estate, to ensure that the estate is managed quickly and efficiently. Lawyers, accountants and trust companies can help with the legal and financial affairs. Others such as real estate agents and property managers can help with packing, sorting, distributing and selling the home and its contents. The Province of Nova Scotia has helpful information and checklists available on their website.

Things to consider

The role of executor takes time and patience. Many of the elements require interaction with a diverse range of people and personalities from financial institutions, government departments and family members.

It demands strong organizational and administrative skills. And once someone takes on the role of executor, he or she is responsible for carrying out the duties and can only be relieved of them by a court order.

Because the role of executor is so critical, it’s always advisable to talk to someone about their willingness to accept. Most people are honoured to be asked, but it is a huge commitment, so don’t take it personally if they decline.

In conclusion, asking someone to be the executor of your will is a big decision. You want to choose someone you can trust who has the time and resources to complete the complex task of implementing your final wishes.