Being an executor is a lot of responsibility and is not a role to be taken lightly. An executor generally plans the funeral, deals with financial institutions and creditors, handles any income tax issues, and gives out the gifts left in the Will. It also means that you may be personally liable for any mistakes made while administering an estate.
As an executor, your first responsibility is to locate the Will. Many people leave their Wills in a safety deposit box or at their lawyer’s office and you may want to check these places if the Will cannot be found at the home of the deceased.
Once you have located the Will, you may want to speak with a lawyer to get a good sense of your legal responsibilities. A lawyer will also help you to determine whether you need to make an application to court for Letters Probate.
You will then want to arrange to meet with any professional advisers such as accountants or insurance brokers to see if you need their help in handling the estate. It is usually a good idea to have an accountant help with estate taxes even if the deceased did not use a specific accountant.
At some point early on in dealing with the estate, you will want to notify beneficiaries (the people receiving the gifts in the Will) of their entitlement under the Will and obtain contact information for them.
One of the biggest jobs an executor has is to figure out the details of the estate, including the details of any debts, bank accounts, life insurance policies, survivor pension benefits, investment portfolios, and real estate values. As you go through the details of the estate, you will want to make sure you let any creditors or financial institutions know about the death and provide your contact information for future correspondence. Things like newspaper or magazine subscriptions, gym memberships and credit cards should be cancelled as soon as possible.
If there are insurance policies, you will want to file claims and make a claim for the CPP benefit. The CPP benefit is intended to assist to pay for funeral expenses.
You will also want to set up an estate bank account where you may deposit any money payable to the estate such as life insurance policies. You may use the estate bank account for paying any estate bills such as funeral expenses or estate debts. An executor should consider whether advertising in a local paper for creditors of the deceased is a good idea and a lawyer may advise you on the best course of action in this regard.
Because being an executor carries the risk of being personally liable, you should keep accurate records of all money transactions related to the estate. Keep track of any expenses or debts you have paid out of the estate funds and ask for receipts in case you are ever asked to do an accounting.
Being an executor can be a big job with many stresses and pressures, and you may want to charge a fee to compensate you for your work. If you think you will want to charge a fee, you should keep a record of all the time you spent acting as executor and track of things like mileage if you are having to drive out of town to deal with the estate.
The above list is only a general summary of the responsibilities of an executor. If you find yourself acting as an executor, it is wise to consult with experts such as a lawyer or accountant to make sure you are meeting your legal obligations.