If someone you know has asked you to take the role of estate executor after they die, you can be sure it is an honour. On the other hand, perhaps you have recently been surprised to learn that a loved one designated you for this task in their will without discussing it with you. In either case, being named an executor means someone has great confidence and trust in you. It also means you have some serious fiduciary duties ahead.
You may have the immediate task of making funeral arrangements for your loved one. However, when those matters have passed, you will have five important jobs as estate executor, each of which breaks down into smaller tasks and responsibilities:
- Locating, valuating and protecting the assets of the estate, including selling any assets to pay debts, if necessary
- Locating and verifying the identities of the beneficiaries
- Overseeing the complex probate process, which involves dealing with many forms and legal documents
- Paying any lingering bills, dealing with your loved one’s creditors and filing the final tax returns for the deceased
- Making sure the heirs and beneficiaries receive their inheritances according to the terms of the will
The probate process takes several months but may take longer if complications arise. Many in Ontario feel overwhelmed by the risk being an estate executor entails. For example, you have a fiduciary duty to protect the estate’s assets from losing value. You will also be responsible for paying off creditors according to priority. Missteps in these and other areas may result in personal liability. For these and other reasons, you may wish to utilize the services of a legal professional experienced in estate planning.