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Published May 9, 2022

Executor of a Will: Rights and Responsibilities

Choosing an executor of a will is an important part of estate planning. An executor ensures the will is carried out according to the wishes of its author.

Choosing the executor of your will and estate can be one of the most important decisions you make when making end-of-life arrangements. But if you’re already exploring some of these crucial considerations that will help you make that selection, you’re off to a good start. Read on to learn more about the role of an executor and what to keep in mind during the estate planning process.

What is a will executor?

An executor of a will manages a person’s estate upon their death. This person is also known as an estate representative, estate trustee, or in Quebec, an estate liquidator.

The executor of an estate is appointed in a will and their duty is to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are fulfilled. If there is no will, the executor is selected by the court according to the estate laws of the deceased’s province or territory.

Being an executor can be a demanding and time-consuming responsibility because administering an estate involves a long list of duties that can take months or even years to complete, if there are complications.

Who can be an executor?

You can choose anyone to be your executor, as long as they are the age of majority in your province or territory and they are mentally capable of managing your affairs. Note that some jurisdictions in Canada may have additional requirements, such as that an executor must not have a criminal record or not have declared bankruptcy.

If you work with an estate lawyer to write your will, they will be aware of the specific executor requirements in your jurisdiction.But if  you’re drafting your own will, it’s vital to select a legally qualified executor in accordance with the laws of your region.

How to choose an executor of your will

It’s common to choose a relative or close friend as an executor because it’s easier to trust that the person will act in the best interests of your estate and honour your last wishes. You will also want to select someone who is responsible, organized, and able to commit their time to managing your estate.

Proximity is a key consideration, as the executor may have to collect documents, contact beneficiaries, and meet with accountants and lawyers, all of which are easier to do if they live near your residence.

One thing to keep in mind is that, while it’s an honour to be asked to be someone’s executor, it’s also a major commitment. It can be overwhelming and stressful if the estate is complicated or if family members dispute any of the will’s instructions. So make sure the person you choose is up for the task..

If there is a potential for complications or family in-fighting over the assets, it may be wise to consider selecting a professional executor, such as an estate lawyer or notary. For complex estates, consider hiring a corporate executor, a service often offered by banks with wealth management divisions.

When to choose an executor

Choose an executor when you write your will. You may also want to appoint an alternate executor who can take on the duties if the original executor refuses to accept the role. An alternate executor can take over in case your first choice for estate representative passes away before you do or is unable to carry out the responsibilities..

Responsibilities and duties of a will executor

The role of a will executor involves a long list of demanding, often hands-on tasks. Here are some of the main responsibilities that an estate representative will be expected to perform:

  • Get a copy of the most up-to-date will.
  • Make funeral arrangements.
  • Get copies of the death certificate.
  • Pay off any outstanding liabilities, such as utility bills, loans and credit card balances.
  • Create a comprehensive list of all investment, savings and chequing accounts.
  • Notify financial institutions, insurers and other organizations about the death.
  • Find all insurance policies.
  • Access and list the contents of any safety deposit boxes.
  • Prepare a list of all the insured’s assets and liabilities.
  • Locate and notify the beneficiaries of their entitlements and distribute assets according to the will.
  • Apply for probate (the process by which a will and executor are legally validated.)
  • Apply for the Canada Pension Plan (or Québec Pension Plan) death benefit.
  • File income tax returns for the year of death.

Rights of an executor

An executor has a right to be reimbursed for any expenses they incur while administering the will. An executor can also ask for assistance from a lawyer or corporate executor if the duties become too overwhelming.

Additionally, just because someone is named as an executor in a will doesn’t mean they have to accept the role. Because the duties of being an estate representative are challenging at times, people have the right to say no— which is why it’s smart to name an alternate executor in your will. However, note that in Quebec a person may not be able to refuse being an executor if they are also the sole heir of the estate.

  • FAQ

    • Does the executor of a will get paid?

      An executor may get paid if there is an express provision for payment within the will. Alternatively, an executor can make a request for payment to the court. The court may decide to award a fee if the estate is intricate and the work of the executor is overly time-consuming. Professional executors like estate lawyers or corporate executors charge a set fee, typically about 5% of the estate value.

    • Can the executor of an estate also be a beneficiary?

      As long as there is no conflict of interest, the executor of a will can also be a beneficiary. In fact, this often occurs as it’s common to pick a close family member or friend to be an executor.

About the Author

Sandra MacGregor

Sandra MacGregor has been writing about personal finance, investing and credit cards for over a decade. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications like the New York Times, the UK Telegraph, the Washington Post, Forbes.com and the Toronto Star. You can follow her on Twitter at @MacgregorWrites.

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