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The position of executor: from cradle to grave – Part II

February 11, 2017

By Avi Dahary

Fact gathering

In part one of this series, I provided an introduction to the position of estate executor, including basic principles to follow and implement. This post will explore the initial steps one needs to take when becoming an executor by virtue of being named as such in a deceased’s will.

Often after a death, emotions are tender; old family dynamics rise to the surface and people affected by the deceased’s passing may not think clearly.

It may seem obvious, but the first thing an executor needs to do is to find and read the deceased’s last will carefully. I use the word “carefully” to emphasize the importance of this task given the will contains the deceased’s wishes and intent on how his/her estate is to be administered and distributed. To that end, it may be wise to contact the lawyer who drafted the will (or another wills and estates lawyer) to assist in interpreting it and provide clarifications. I cannot stress enough how important it is to obtain the assistance of legal counsel who is competent in the area of wills and estates. It will prove to be invaluable in smoothing the way in the administration of the estate.

Some of the more immediate determinations to be ascertained from the will are: whether there are any special instructions regarding the funeral and/or whether the will calls for any body organs to be donated.

The executor would either make the funeral arrangements or assist the immediate family in doing so. The executor, where possible, may also provide to the family funds from the estate for paying the funeral expenses.

A death certificate should be obtained from the funeral home as proof of death as this will be used at various times, including applying for the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Death Benefit, liquidating bank accounts and investments, selling the principal residence of the deceased, etc.

Consultations with legal counsel should be ongoing and include determining who the beneficiaries are and what they’re entitled to in accordance with the will, as well as applying for a certificate of appointment of estate trustee with a will and serving such on parties who have an interest in the estate. Legal counsel should also be in a position to introduce the executor to other professionals — such as an accountant, investment counsel, auctioneer, etc. — who specialize in providing services to executors and who could prove to be invaluable in the process of administering the estate.

This would also be a good time to consider whether one should obtain executor insurance protection. In some cases, when one becomes an executor, he/she may (knowingly or unknowingly) be exposing themselves to personal liability for which he/she may not be willing to carry the risk. This would be the time to consult with your legal advisor to determine if insurance protection would be advisable to offset the risks involved in the administration and ultimate distribution of the estate. One should also consider that this is not solely for the protection of the executor but also for the eventual protection of the estate’s beneficiaries.

Stay tuned for part three of this series in which I explore taking inventory of estate assets.

Posted in Executorship