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Executor FAQ

In our experience as certified executor advisors in BC and Alberta, we're often asked questions about what's involved with being an executor of an estate.

On this page, we gathered a list of the questions we most often hear from new executors or clients who are considering the role. Take note, everyone’s experience as an executor is unique, these answers may vary from case to case.

An elderly wife standing next to her husband with her hand almost touching his cheek in an affectionate way. She might be the executor of the estate.
  • How do I know I am an executor?
    You will know if you are the executor of an estate if you are named as one in the will of the will-maker. If you are trying to figure out if you're an executor, the first step is to find the original will. Then, contact the lawyer who is handling the will and have them confirm that the copy you have is the most recent copy written. In BC, there is a will registry through Vital Statistics. Click here to learn more. If you know in advance that you are indeed the executor of someone’s will, ask them to prepare an estate inventory in advance for you. This should include assets, liabilities and digitals passwords.
  • Does an executor get paid?  How much?
    Short answer: Yes, anyone who serves as an executor is entitled to compensation for their time and effort. Sometimes the will-maker may determine the executor's fee ahead of time. However, if the will doesn't set out a fee, generally, the executor is entitled up to 5% of the value of the estate, plus 5% of any money earned by the estate after the will-maker dies, and 0.4% per year based on the average value of the estate under management. In our experience, the amount that the court will allow an executor to claim depends on how much work was involved and whether the executor paid for professional help or did it on their own.
  • How long does it take to handle an estate?
    This question will have a different answer each time. Ultimately, the timeline depends on how well the estate was prepared for the executor and family before the will-maker passes away. Obtaining tax clearance from the CRA alone could take 8 months or more until final distribution. If there are minor children involved, an executor may have to monitor the trust until the youngest child reaches the age of majority (currently 19 in BC). Regardless, we recommend working with professionals you trust who will know the deadlines you will need to meet when serving as an executor.
  • When can executors take charge of the estate?
    The executor becomes legally responsible for the deceased’s estate and personal property as soon as the will-maker passes away. As the executor you have authority to arrange the funeral, access safety deposit boxes for documentation, and secure assets. Keep in mind, if you decide that you are unable or not wanting the position, you need to speak with an estate lawyer before acting on any executor responsibilities. Once you start dealing with estate assets, you will be legally-bound to continue.
  • Who pays for the funeral if you are the executor?
    In some cases, we see the funeral services pre-organized and paid for by the will-maker or estate of the deceased to alleviate stress on the family. However, in our experience, there are times when the executor or family of the deceased are required to pay the funeral expenses up front. If that happens, they may be reimbursed by the estate as long as there is enough money in the estate to cover the reimbursement. Take note, ahead of time, there may be various types of insurance available for you or your executor to cover these types of final expenses when the time comes.
  • What is involved when you probate an estate?
    In BC, probate refers to two things: 1. Ensuring that the will is legal and authentic. 2. The general administration of the assets included in a deceased person's will. Essentially, probate is a legal procedure which includes confirming the validity of the will and that you have the authority to be acting as executor. The probate process ends once a clearance certificate is received by the CRA and all assets are distributed to the beneficiaries. Pro Tip: You don't always need to apply for probate. This all depends on the type of assets within the estate. In many cases, certain assets can be passed down without requiring probate - an example would be segregated investment funds and other insurance products. As certified executor advisors, we're here to help will-makers and their executors expedite the probate process. Reach out anytime at 250-861-7777.
  • What assets are included for probate purposes?
    Typically, we see assets such as the family home, other real estate, furnishing, vehicles, personal effects, bank accounts, bank investments, and mutual funds go through probate. However, not all assets will go through probate. These include: - Jointly owned assets (which are passed to the surviving owner by right of survivorship). - Designated assets (such as life insurance or investments like segregated funds - RRSPs, RRIFs, TFSAs) with pre-designated beneficiaries.
  • Is it difficult acting as an executor?
    Short answer: it depends. In our decades of experience, one thing we've learned is that no two cases are the same. Some families get along and the process is smooth sailing. Other families find themselves fighting in probate for years. If you are considering becoming an executor for someone, here's a few questions to ask: What do you know about the family? Do they get along or are there conflicts to consider? Are there minor children involved? Are there step or estranged family members to consider? Was the deceased organized? What is the extent of the assets? Will there be any liabilities? Is there a business to consider? Is there property other than the family home? Have their taxes been kept up to date? Do they have foreign assets? Do they have property in other provinces? What are your plans for the next 18 months or more?
  • What problems could executors face?
    In our decades of experience working as certified executor advisors in BC/ Alberta, many of the issues we've guided executors through include: Homemade Wills Business assets Contested Wills Claims made by creditors Disappointed beneficiaries Step or estranged family members Former common-law spouses Claims by dependants If you're aware of your executor duties before the estate owner passes away, we recommend sorting out these issues ahead of time to avoid a lengthy probate process later on.
  • When should executors get help from professionals?
    In our experience, especially in complicated cases, some of the executors we work with opt to hire a lawyer to guide them through the process of probate. Generally, most executors get legal consult when there's business interests left behind by the will-maker. As for keeping the estate in financial order, we recommend executors hire an accountant to prepare the estate accounts and tax returns. Here at Thom & Associates, we can refer you to professionals we've worked with in the community over our decades of experience. We always recommend recording any advice you receive from professionals and in some instances asking for the advice in writing so you can refer back to it.
  • Is there always an executor when someone dies?
    This is a trick question—when someone dies without a will, technically there isn't an executor. There will, however, be someone who takes on all the responsibilities of an executor. That person is called the administrator or the personal representative.
  • What happens if there is no executor when someone dies?
    If no one is declared to be an executor of the estate in question, a person (usually a friend, family member or another interested party) may come forward and petition the court to become the administrator of the estate by obtaining letters of administration. If no one comes forward on their own, the court may ask a person to serve as an administrator.
  • What if I don’t want to be an executor?
    As a rule, it's best practice for the will-maker to ask for permission before electing an executor. Keep in mind that there is no obligation for you to accept the position and that you can say no at that time. Before you agree to become an executor, we strongly recommend that you feel comfortable in your abilities and are willing to take on the potentially considerable time constraints of an executor. As the executor, it’s your responsibility to keep accurate records, make many decisions, and monitor all estate activity. Even if you get help from others, at the end of the day, you are legally responsible for the estate. If you don’t do the job properly, you could be held personally liable. If you decide that you are unable or not wanting the position, speak with an estate lawyer before acting on any executor responsibilities. Once you start dealing with estate assets, you will be legally bound to continue.

Have more questions? We're here to help.

Disclaimer: This information is offered only as a suggestion and should not to be considered legal advice. Thom & Associates encourages all executors to consider getting legal advice before beginning any executor work.

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