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You're an Executor of an Estate, Now What?

A close friend or family member has designated you as the Executor under their Will, now what? You only begin your role as executor once the testator has deceased. Being an executor of an estate can be a confusing and stressful role, especially while also dealing with the emotional loss of the deceased. So what exactly is your role as the executor of an estate? Your primary role as the estate executor is to administer the estate in accordance with the deceased will. It is important to note that just because you are named as the estate executor under the will, you do not have to act. You are allowed to “renounce” and step down from your role should you choose. It is also important to know that if there are multiple executors named under the will, all of the executors must act together in the administration. Administering the estate is the sole responsibility of the executor and this responsibility cannot be delegated. Lawyers are able to assist you in this process, but they cannot make the estate decisions for you. Although often referred to as the “solicitor for the estate,” lawyers represent you as the estate trustee and not the estate itself. Some of the responsibilities of the estate executor include attending to the funeral and burial arrangements; determining the names and addresses of all beneficiaries of the estate; compiling a complete list of the deceased assets and liabilities; paying off all debts of the deceased with the estate assets; attending to all tax matters in relation to the estate including filing the required tax returns and obtaining a clearance certificate from the CRA; and distributing the assets of the estate to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will. This list is not exhaustive and will vary between estates. Executors are not required to retain a lawyer, but often they do. Lawyers can provide guidance to estate trustees while they administer the estate. Some of the responsibilities of the solicitor for the estate can include advising the executor in their responsibilities; assisting in understanding the will; preparing the court documents for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee (also known as applying for probate); advertising for creditors of the estate; assisting in the transfer of real property of the estate; and preparing releases for the beneficiaries of the estate on distribution. Estate solicitors understand the complexity, pressure and emotion involved in being an executor of an estate and aim to make your job as executor as stress free as possible. Megan Whelan was an associate at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP.