Choosing the Right Executor for You
While naming a loved one as the executor of your Will is an honour, it can also be a burden. This is a very important role with significant obligations that require time, availability, and multiple skill sets.
Your executor has the duty to administer the estate in accordance with the terms of your Will, the law and all legal tax requirements, in the best interests of your beneficiaries, and in a timely manner.
Even a relatively simple estate generally takes at least two years to complete and often significantly longer. During that time, there is a myriad of tasks to complete ranging from administrative, such as cancelling credit cards, redirecting mail, collecting death benefits, to more complex ones, like reading and understanding the Will, valuing property for income tax, probate fee, beneficiary distribution and executor compensation purposes, selling estate assets and preparing and filing tax returns for the deceased.
Accounting to beneficiaries is a core duty of your (and any) executor. This means they must keep meticulous accounts of every transaction related to the estate (every bill paid, every penny of income received) and be prepared to present your accounts to the beneficiaries and potentially to the court.
It’s important for you, and your loved ones, to name an executor that has the knowledge and the skills to fulfil the role, or one who appreciates which skills they may lack and will seek professional assistance. This is for their own benefit, including limiting their potential for personal liability due to not administering your estate correctly, and for the benefit of your beneficiaries.
When choosing someone to carry out your last wishes, consider if they are:
Organized — do they have the skills and attention to detail to keep accurate and detailed records, complete paperwork, create lists of all assets and depts, document all home contents and get assets appraised, file necessary probate documents, all while keeping up with deadlines and timelines?
Impartial — will your executor remain neutral and fair in the face of family conflict where members are not happy about the decisions they are making?
Dependable — are they able to navigate legal issues like marriage or civil union contracts, family law issues or dependant’s relief issues, and investigate any debts owed?
Personable — will your executor, who is most likely also grieving, be able to settle conflicts and family grievances while dealing compassionately with your beneficiaries?
Financially literate — do they have the knowledge to understand and complete the forms and tasks including filing your final tax returns, providing direction to other professionals, paying your depts, closing your accounts and liquidating your assets?
A good communicator — can they convey complex information in a non-complex manner, distill important information and provide clear updates to your beneficiaries?
Available — do they live close enough to you to do the multiple in-person tasks like funeral arrangements and do they have the time to do them?
Don’t worry if you answered “no” to any of the above. If the executor you are considering appointing— or have appointed—doesn’t tick all the boxes, remember that help is available. Trust companies offer professional executor services, and you can appoint them in your Will.
Should you choose to name an individual as your executor, they can also turn to a trust company to get help with their duties. The major benefit of either option is that it helps to ensure your estate is settled correctly by or with the assistance of an impartial third party, which can help to preserve family harmony and reduce stress and the risk of personal liability from a grieving loved one.
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