You’re an Executor. Now What?

By Shelly Chamaschuk, Team Leader of Wills, Estates & Trusts

The process of administering an estate can seem overwhelming to new executors, also called a personal representative. At RMRF, we often recommend the following seven steps for administering an estate, from finding the Will to the final distribution.

Step 1: Locating the Will

  • Look in safety deposit boxes, personal documents, or a safe.
  • Contact the deceased’s lawyer who may have information about the Will.
  • The Will may contain information about the executor, funeral instructions, and other special directions.

Step 2: Planning the Funeral

  • Determine whether there is a pre-planned funeral that the deceased has arranged.
  • Confer with the family to plan the funeral and to keep expenses reasonable.
  • Financial institutions will sometimes allow funeral expenses to be paid from the deceased’s bank account without a Grant of Probate. Check to confirm the institution’s procedures.
  • Request a minimum of eight statements of death from the funeral home.

Step 3: Cancelling Accounts

  • Cancel all credit cards and freeze all bank accounts with a letter stating that you are the executor and attaching a statement of death from the funeral home. In the letter, request confirmation that the account has been closed and final account balance.
  • Cancel health care cards, driver’s licenses, passports, memberships, and any other cards with personal identifying information.

Step 4: Identifying Assets and Liabilities

  • Make a list of all of the assets owned by the deceased, including the following: property, vehicles, bank accounts, investments, cash and any other special assets that the deceased may have owned.
  • Make a list of all of the debts of the deceased including the following: credit card debts, property debts, car debts, loans, lines of credit, mortgages, or any other special debts owned by the deceased.
  • In order to get further information on assets or debts, write a letter to the institution where the asset or debt was held explaining the death, noting that you are the executor, and requesting a balance.
  • If there are vehicles or property in the estate, ensure that the deceased’s insurance company knows of the death and change of ownership, and confirm that there is sufficient, and continuing insurance. As well, notify any utility companies of the death.
  • Take an inventory of any items located in a safety deposit box owned by the deceased.
  • Make your best efforts to value any assets, which may include getting valuations on land or vehicles or finding comparables.
  • Locate any RRSP, TFSA, pension, or life insurance policies and identify the beneficiaries.

Step 5: Obtaining a Grant of Probate

  • A Grant of Probate allows you to deal with the assets of the deceased to pay debts and expenses and distribute funds to the beneficiaries.
  • Meet with a lawyer to obtain Probate. When the lawyer receives the Grant of Probate, request several certified copies to forward to financial institutions.

Step 6: Managing the Estate

  • Once you have Probate, you can then gather all funds of the deceased into an estate account. Write to the financial institutions, enclosing the Grant, and request that the accounts held by the deceased be transferred to the estate.
  • Have an accountant file all necessary tax returns including a personal tax return for the year of the death and a trust return for the estate.
  • Once you have funds, pay the debts of the estate from the estate funds.
  • Keep organized and careful accounting records of all money and property that comes in and goes out of the estate.
  • Distribute specific gifts and personal items to the beneficiaries as outlined in the Will.

Step 7: Distributing to the Beneficiaries

  • Determine the executor’s compensation, prepare a final accounting, prepare a beneficiary release form, and make the final distributions to the beneficiaries.
  • An executor must get a release from all of the beneficiaries or account to the court.

If you are an executor in need of guidance, contact our team. We are leaders in estate planning, estate administration and estate management.

This post is meant to provide information regarding the administration of an estate and is not intended to provide legal or tax advice. You should consult a lawyer or an accountant for further advice. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the estate administration may cause the advice in this post to be outdated.