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Daunting Responsibility Of The Executor Of An Estate

It may have been a simple "yes" when you accepted the request to be the executor of your friend's, or family member's estate. Now, if that person has passed away, their Last Will defines a mountain of daunting tasks at a difficult time when emotions need your priority, and family loss or care for those left, may be too much to handle on its own.

As executor, you have accepted a significant responsibility that includes five areas:
  • Preparation for the funeral respecting the deceased wishes.
  • Immediate actions to secure the assets, put them under your control, and establish care for dependents.
  • Later duties to notify institutions, cancel accounts, make claims, pay creditors.
  • Ongoing tasks of meetings with necessary professionals, maintenance of properties, ensuring reasonable performance in the estate investments.
  • Finalize probate, tax returns, distribution to beneficiaries.

Do not expect this to take a short time. Depending on the complexity of the estate, it may take many months. It is best to initiate the long lead-time tasks as soon as possible after the funeral. Choose the main professionals you need: the lawyer, the accountant and the financial advisor. Arrange initial meetings with them to map out what is to be accomplished by each, to identify what they need from you, and how much you can do to make them most effective (ie. minimize your cost).
The first real step after the funeral, is to identify and secure the assets. Much rests on how the distribution of assets is stipulated in the Will, and if there are potential disputes or questions. On your judgement, you may want to change all locks to the house(s) and get the car, boat, etc. under your supervision to prevent temptations by the potential beneficiaries. This is perfectly within your responsibilities. After that, with the Will, and Death Certificate in hand, transfer all monies into an Estate Account under your control. Investigation may be required to find evidence of all the accounts the deceased had. Next, depending on the Will, and the beneficiaries, you need to document all physical assets: properties, contents, cars, etc. Depending on the potential for conflict, you may have to get very detailed here including obtaining formal appraisals, and detailing every piece of china. Again, it all depends on whether the Will requires financial splits, or if items are stipulated to go to specific individuals.

Once you have these immediate actions well underway, the next phase involves notifications, claims and cancellations. You need to notify employers, banks, CPP, OAS. There are death benefits available from CPP, OAS, Veterans Affairs, the deceased's employer(s). Is there Life Insurance, Accident Insurance, Credit Card Insurance to be claimed? During this period you will need to identify and pay validated claims on the estate by creditors that range from the utility companies to Revenue Canada. Return cards for SIN, Health, and Driver's License. Also cancel credit cards, cell phones, cable TV, memberships, pre-authorized payments, and request refunds for unused portions (if significant).
As if all this isn't enough juggling for one person, the estate has to be cared-for during the entire period of settlement. This means dealing with mail, paying bills, house & property maintenance. Ensure home & car insurance is maintained but reduced as appropriate. Also, the work of the professionals needs to be facilitated to ensure nothing slows them down.

Wait, did I not mention probate or taxes?? These items are probably in the realm of the Lawyer & the Accountant. I put them at the end because on completion of these, and distribution of assets to the beneficiaries you are FINISHED. Make no mistake; you need to be talking to the professionals about these two items from the start. You may be able to avoid probate if the estate was planned well, and there are many strategies to minimize taxes. Begin these topics early; identify tax-filing deadlines; investigate & supply the accountant with as much tax related info as possible to minimize costs, and work these two issues all through the process, beginning with your first discussions.

There, DONE, that was simple wasn't it? Books are written on this subject, not articles, but it is a process of many small steps. It reminds me of the "March of The Penguins". In the end it's manageable; it only depends how much you can endure, how much time you can afford to spend, and how capable you are in doing the work. It comes down to balancing your time & money, & capabilities.

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