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Duties of an Executor

While laws vary from one province to another, the overall duties of an executor in Canada are fairly consistent. Before accepting the role of an executor, you should be aware of these duties.

The list is extensive and includes the following:

  • The executor is named in a will and gathers up the estate assets, pays the deceased’s debts and divides what remains among the beneficiaries.
  • You confirm that you are named as the executor by checking the original version of the will.
  • You cannot be made to act as the executor but once you begin dealing with the process you are legally bound. It can be challenging, time consuming and stressful so make your decision carefully.
  • If you accept the role of executor, consider hiring a lawyer to help with the paperwork and advise you of your obligations. The estate is responsible for the lawyer’s fees.
  • You are responsible for making the funeral arrangements but you will want to consider the wishes of the deceased and their family.
  • Confirm that the will is the deceased’s last will by checking with the Vital Statistics Agency. Most lawyers send a wills notice to Vital Statistics for every will they prepare.
  • Cancel all the deceased person’s charge cards and subscriptions. Ensure that the estate is protected and that sufficient insurance is in place. Valuables should be stored safely and unoccupied dwellings should have the locks changed immediately.
  • Immediately notify all potential beneficiaries by giving them written notice and a copy of the will. This is typically done by the estate’s lawyer.
  • Prepare and submit the necessary probate documents to the court. You will have to pay the probate fees assessed by the court registry on behalf of the estate.
  • If the estate includes investment securities such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds, you may have to apply for probate to transfer them.
  • If applicable, notify the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security offices of the death. Apply for any survivor and death benefits that may be available. Check for any employer pensions and benefits the deceased may have had.
  • File the necessary income tax returns and pay income tax as required from the assets of the estate. Obtain a tax clearance certificate from the Canada Revenue Agency that confirms all income taxes have been paid.
  • Pay the estate’s debts before you distribute the estate. You could be held personally liable if you fail to do so. Consulting a lawyer is a good idea.
  • Submit a full accounting of the estate’s financial activities and obtain a release from each beneficiary and then distribute the remaining assets as directed in the will.

Five common mistakes executors can make:

  • Ignoring inconvenient or unpopular parts of the will.
  • Failing to communicate with the beneficiaries.
  • Ignoring the limits of their role and using estate funds inappropriately.
  • Failing to pay debts and taxes before paying the beneficiaries.
  • Trying to do things cheaply by failing to use professional help.


Disclaimer: This document should not be taken as legal or financial advice. Consult your professional advisors when naming an executor for your will or when accepting the role of an executor.

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