Executor Checklist Ontario
Have you been named an executor in someone’s Will? Well, if you’re in Ontario, you might also be referred to as an “Estate Trustee,” but the terms are often used interchangeably.
An executor has a big job. And, while it’s a great honour to be named as one, most people who get appointed don’t really know what’s in store.
In short, an executor is tasked with carrying out all the wishes expressed in a deceased person’s Will. Everything from obtaining a death certificate to applying for probate to distributing all the assets to the beneficiaries. It’s a lot and it can definitely be overwhelming.
This article will give you an overview of all responsibilities, outline a list of tasks, and break down the most challenging parts of being someone’s executor. So take a deep breath, and read on!
Overview of an executor’s responsibilities
There are two ways to become an executor. Someone can appoint you in a Will or you can apply to the court to be put in this role if someone close to you passes away without a Will. The duties of an executor include things like:
- Designating estate assets to the care of any young children left behind (sometimes to a guardian who isn’t you)
- Interpreting the Will (if there is one) and distributing assets to beneficiaries
- Mediating disputes between beneficiaries
- Hiring professional advisors (lawyer, accountants, investment advisors) to assist with certain tasks that require specific expertise in connection with the administration of the estate)
A note on probate
There’s quite a lot of paperwork involved in administering an estate. You must gather documents and information relating to existing bank accounts, investment portfolios, real estate records, records of debt, life insurance policies, pension plans, ownership records of company shares, tax returns, and safety deposit box records. These are steps that you need to take whether or not the deceased had a Will.
When you’ve gathered all the documents and information you need in order to have an accurate picture of what assets form part of the estate, you’ll likely need to start the probate process. If the deceased had a valid Will, it is likely that the Will is going to be submitted to “probate court.”
Not all Wills must go through probate; however, it’s the only way to legally validate the Will and can help avoid complicated legal battles and arguments down the road.
For this reason, the majority of Canadian Wills go through probate.
An important distinction
While we will use executor and estate trustee interchangeably in this article, it’s because both roles are often assumed by the same person or people. But it’s worth noting that an executor’s role is technically different from an estate trustee’s since certain responsibilities fall under each title. For example, planning a funeral is the responsibility of the executor, not the estate trustee.
An estate is essentially one big trust. And oftentimes, there are smaller trusts that are established within the estate—complicated, I know…
Trusts are generally created in Wills to deal with the following kinds of situations:
- To deal with the entitlements of minor children (or any other minors who may inherit a share of the estate)
- For disabled beneficiaries who rely on government assistance
- For a spouse or other beneficiary who isn’t capable of managing their assets
Executor responsibilities in Ontario
The list of executor duties is a long one, so you may want to ask for help or assistance, especially if this is the first time you’ve held this role.
To get you started, we’ve outlined some duties you’ll be tasked with in the days, weeks, and months following a person’s death.
Immediately after death
Not everything has to be completed immediately but there are some key things you’ll need to hop on ASAP. For example, you must review the Will and any instructions left regarding the funeral, burial, cremation, etc. Once you’re clear on their wishes, you must make the proper arrangements in accordance with what the deceased wanted.
If needed, you’ll also need to arrange for the temporary care of any children and pets, approve organ donation, and secure valuable assets such as home, cottage, and/or business.
In the following days after death
In the days following a death, there are some important administrative tasks that must be completed like obtaining a death certificate or proof of death, canceling subscriptions, memberships, credit cards, passports, driver’s license, health card, social insurance number, and any benefits like pensions.
Further to that, you’ll need to apply for government death benefits and tie up any recurring expenses of payments. You also need to notify certain individuals and organizations of the person’s death like utility companies, banks, accountants, advisors, and insurance companies.
Once you’ve taken care of the tasks mentioned above, you can start making a list of the deceased’s assets and it’s also advised you contact an estate lawyer to get legal advice and to help guide you through the process.
In the following weeks after death
Once you’ve completed a list of the deceased’s assets, you’ll likely want to make an appointment with your estate lawyer to discuss next steps.
These include things like ensuring proceeds from life insurance, RRSP, TSFAs are paid to the estate or designated beneficiaries, obtaining valuations of property, reviewing the Will with estate beneficiaries, and reviewing the status of any legal actions in which the deceased was involved.
Now’s also a good time to contact the deceased’s creditors to arrange payment of debts and apply for probate.
In the following months after death
An executor’s job can’t be rushed or done quickly, even after the first few weeks, there is still much to be done. These are some of the things you’ll be tasked with doing over several months following someone’s death.
- Transfer ownership of assets to the estate
- Collect debts owing to the estate
- Sell assets as directed by the Will or as otherwise required
- Distribute specific assets or gifts to beneficiaries as instructed under the Will
- Maintain records of all actions taken on behalf of the estate
- File outstanding tax returns
File terminal tax return
- File estate tax returns
- Obtain a tax clearance certificate
- Apply for executor compensation, if applicable
- Distribute residual estate assets
- Obtain releases from beneficiaries
Executor Duties Checklist
For a downloadable PDF version of this checklist click here: Executor Duties Checklist
What are the most difficult tasks for an executor?
The process isn’t always so smooth. You may run into some challenges in your role as an executor. Here are some of the more complicated things you’ll deal with.
The probate process in Ontario
As the estate trustee, you may need to apply to the court to get “probate”. “Probate” was the term that was traditionally used to describe the process where a Will would be presented to the court. Even though the process goes by a different name now, we’ll continue referring to it as the probate process for simplicity. Not all Wills go through this process but the majority do.
The idea is to:
- Validate your authority of the executor
- Confirm your identity as executor
- Review and approve of the Will as the last Will made before death
To apply for probate in Ontario, you’ll need a copy of the original Will, any codicils, proof of death from the funeral director, and court forms that describe assets and beneficiaries.
Locating physical and digital assets
Modern-day executors have an added challenge on their hands considering our assets can be in both physical and digital form!
It’s a good idea for people to include a provision in their Will that gives their executor the authority to deal with their digital assets (think Facebook, Dropbox, and even email accounts!) Modern online solutions, like Epilogue, have a clause for digital assets built-in. If you make your Will with a lawyer, it’s something they can help you with.
One of your first duties as executor is to assess the complete value of the estate, which can get more or less complicated depending on the estate.
If the person who died owned real estate or other valuable items such as art, jewelry, etc., you’ll need to hire professional appraisers to determine their value.
Upon a person’s death, their creditors are entitled to know that probate is in progress, so they may be given an opportunity to file a claim against the estate. As executor, it’s your responsibility to assess the validity of each claim.
Sometimes people leave behind more debt than assets. If that happens, the estate may need to be liquidated to pay off the outstanding debt.
If you’re an executor and need to take care of asset liquidation, you need to sell property, convert investments into cash, and likely forego the distribution of assets to beneficiaries to make sure the debts are paid.
One of the most common and challenging responsibilities of an executor is to resolve disputes with beneficiaries.
If a Will is not straightforward, it’s your responsibility to interpret it for beneficiaries—and you do get the final say, within the boundaries of what the Will states.
You may find yourself caught in the middle between two beneficiaries who are unhappy with their entitlements. You’ll be the only thing standing in the way between them and the estate.
If beneficiaries are contesting the Will, you’ll need to provide comprehensive documentation that proves you haven’t mismanaged estate assets. And if things become especially contentious, you may need to hire an estate administration lawyer to help you resolve the dispute.
How long does an executor have to settle an estate Ontario?
The standard length of time to wrap up someone’s estate is about a year. It’s actually coined “the executor’s year.”
Keep in mind that this is more of a suggested timeline than a hard and fast rule. The executor’s year is based on the assumption that the estate is relatively simple to administer. If the estate is straightforward and there is no good reason why an estate hasn’t been fully distributed within a year, an executor may be put in a position to explain why things have taken so long.
After this time period, beneficiaries may demand payment (possibly with interest) by taking the executor to court. You can be sure though that complicated estates can certainly take longer than a year (and in some cases, quite a few years). And if the executor is doing their best to move things along there shouldn’t be any liability.
If you’ve been asked to be an executor for someone’s estate, take some time to feel honoured. Your loved one is not making this decision lightly. But we hope you’re accepting the responsibility with full knowledge of what’s required––and that you have some help when the time comes!
Watch Epilogue’s Co-Founders Discuss the executor’s role:
Daniel and Arin discuss the role of an executor and what it really means in this 30-minute coffee talk.
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