Being given the role of an executor of a loved ones’ estate is an emotionally taxing and mentally stimulating role. As long as you remain methodical and organized, being the personal legal representative of someone’s home, savings, and other assets can be less straining than you had anticipated. If you have recently been appointed the role or were considering to be someone’s executor in the event of their passing, here is a helpful executor guide for you.
Get the Death Certificate
As the executor of an estate, you are responsible for all of the funeral and burial arrangements of the dearly departed. These costs are paid out of the estate.
It is important to obtain several copies of the death certificate from the funeral home as they will be required to notify banks, investment firms, the government and life insurers about the death. A copy is also needed for the sale of the estate property. A good rule of thumb is to order twice as many as you think you will need.
Find the Will or Trust
The person who informed you that you are the executor will likely also know where the will or trust documents are located. You will need copies of both (if both exist) as some will need to be filed with a court. Some assets (particularly those belonging to trusts) can be disbursed without court approval, but in general those covered by a will do need court approval. This approval waiting period can be anywhere from six months to two years.
Get Professional Advice
Once you have received all of the will and/or trust documents, you will start to form in your head an idea of how complicated the process of administering the estate could be. This is the perfect point to consult several professionals. You will want to speak to a lawyer who is well versed in wills and trusts, a tax accountant, potentially even an appraiser. This is also a good time to seek out the advice of a real estate agent. Your realtor can ensure a proper assessment of the property and provide a Letter of Opinion of Value or help you to prepare for the sale of the property right away. While it is possible to do a lot of these things yourself, this executor guide encourages you to seek professional advice as this will lessen the amount of work you have to do.
File “Letters Probate”
If the estate must go through probate court, you will need to be legally confirmed as the executor. The way to do this is to file “letters probate”. This process in court certifies that you have the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate to do everything from paying bills, filing tax returns, dealing with beneficiaries, opening and closing bank accounts, and managing and distributing assets.
Find and Protect the Assets
In an ideal situation, the deceased will have left the executor a detailed list of assets and where to find them. This can include anything from wills and trusts, to prearranged funeral plans, business interests, bank accounts, art work and so much more. If the information was not left in a safety deposit box, it is very likely the deceased’s lawyer will have a copy of the information necessary for you to find and protect the assets of the estate. You never know when a family member will come out of the woodwork to claim a favourite chair or teaspoon before the probate process is complete.
Pay Bills and Taxes
As the executor of the estate, it is your responsibility to ensure that before any assets are distributed to beneficiaries, all debts of the deceased (if they exist) are paid. This includes income tax and estate tax. If the deceased does not have enough money to cover all their debts, a judge will prioritize creditors.
You will need to do some detective work, combing through the deceased’s cheque book, bank statements, mail and email to understand what they paid regularly and what they did not. If need be, you can open an account in the name of the estate to pay bills and taxes.
Take it One Step at a Time
You may feel inclined to make everyone happy as quickly as possible but rushing the process can only lead to mistakes. This is why seeking professional advice is so crucial in this executor guide. Keep as organized as you can, take notes of everything you do on behalf of the estate, and the obligations of being an executor will not be as overwhelming as you may think. If you are an executor of an estate and would like some advice on assessing value or selling the property, please be in touch! Or click here for my guide on selling a house as an Executor.