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Questions you should ask before agreeing to be an executor

If you are asked to execute a loved one's will, it can seem like a tremendous honour. However, it is also a significant responsibility and can come with many challenges. 

Before agreeing to take on this responsibility, executors should be aware of what they are taking on and consider whether they have the skills, time and willingness to contend with some of the common challenges.

Although estate administration may seem like a straight-forward task, there is in fact a long list of duties that may be attached to that responsibility. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Filing court papers
  • Taking an inventory of the estate
  • Using the estate's funds to pay bills
  • Preparing final income tax returns

There are provincial laws governing how each of these duties should be conducted to ensure fairness and transparency. The executor has a fiduciary duty to those named in the estate, so it is important that they follow rules and document everything to ensure a legal administrative process.

While this is a significant amount of work, there are some ways to make it manageable. First, those who are asked in advance to be executors can ask for certain documents and a walk-through of the estate plan before choosing to take on the responsibility. Accountants, lawyers and financial planners are also available to support the process. Finally, the time an executor spends on an estate can be compensated.

As an executor, you should clarify in advance how complicated the estate is, whether there might be conflict and what preparations have been established to make the job easier. You should also consider whether there are any family conflicts or contentious issues, and whether you are prepared to deal with these. An estate planning lawyer can help you at any stage understand your duties and see you through.

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