The Executor’s Role

Grace Cleveland
Wills & Estates

An executor is the person appointed by a will-maker to administer their estate. For will-makers, it is crucial to identify a trustworthy and competent person to take on this role, and for would-be executors, it is crucial to understand the scope of the responsibility before agreeing to act.

Generally speaking, an executor’s role includes some or all of the following tasks:

• Locating the deceased’s original will;

• Determining whether the deceased made arrangements for tissue, organ, or body donation;

• Assisting with funeral arrangements;

• Obtaining the death certificate;

• Securing the deceased’s real property, arranging insurance for any unoccupied property, and forwarding mail if need be;

• Ensuring all utilities and property taxes are paid on a timely basis;

• Notifying banks and institutions where the deceased held accounts or owed money, cancelling credit cards, etc.;

• Advertising for potential creditors;

• Advising entities such as the CRA as to the deceased’s passing;

• Communicating directly with beneficiaries and gathering information;

• Identifying and obtaining valuations for all assets and liabilities of the deceased;

• Applying for and collecting the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) death benefit, if applicable;

• Applying for and collecting life insurance and other insurance benefits;

• Contacting the deceased’s employer or former employer regarding any outstanding wages, employee benefits, pension plans and death benefits;

• Submitting the probate application and obtaining the grant of probate;

• Paying probate fees;

• Opening an estate account to deposit income and pay expenses and transfer all other account balances;

• Paying all debts and settle all legitimate claims prior to final distribution of assets, being sure to obtain written receipts for all disbursements;

• Working with an accountant to complete and file all outstanding tax returns and pay any required income taxes;

• Obtaining the Tax Clearance Certificate(s) from the CRA;

• Dealing with any corporate interests of the deceased;

• Initiating the sale of assets and transfer of property titles;

• Distributing specific bequests and cash legacies;

• Preparing a preliminary accounting of all estate expenses, including any compensation paid for executor duties, and obtaining approval and releases from the residuary beneficiaries re same;

• Making a preliminary distribution to residuary beneficiaries;

• Reviewing the suitability of investments, adjusting accordingly, and investing surplus cash in permissible investments until the estate is finalized;

• Assisting with the establishment of any trusts stipulated in the will;

• Maintaining, initiating, and defending legal actions on behalf of the estate;

• Preparing a final accounting of all estate expenses and obtaining approval and releases from the residuary beneficiaries re same; and

• Making a final distribution to residuary beneficiaries.

As is evident from the foregoing, the role of executor is a lengthy, multi-faceted, and often complex undertaking. However, it is one that the average person is capable of handling with assistance from the appropriate professionals (lawyers, accountants, financial advisors, funeral home operators, and otherwise). As a Certified Executor Advisor (CEA), my job is to help executors navigate their role. Contact me today to see how I can help!

This article is intended for information purposes only and should not be taken as the provision of legal advice. Grace C. Cleveland is a lawyer with the law firm of Cleveland Doan LLP and can be reached at (604)536-5002 or