What does it mean to be an executor?

 A mature couple sitting at a table in discussion with their financial advisor.

Someday a family member or friend may ask permission to appoint you as executor of his or her estate. Or you may call on somebody to act as executor when you die. Before you take on the task - or assign it to someone - be sure you know what it means to be an executor.

An executor is a legal representative named in a will to handle an estate when someone dies. Depending on the size and complexity of the estate and the deceased person's financial affairs, acting as executor can be difficult and time-consuming.

Here are just some of the duties of an executor:

  • Find, read and interpret the will.
  • Consult with a lawyer and arrange probate (court validation) of the will.
  • Help with funeral arrangements.
  • Locate and deal with beneficiaries named in the will.
  • Prepare an inventory of the deceased's assets and liabilities. These can include everything from loans to jewelry to real estate. Often the executor must locate items.
  • Deal with financial institutions and contacts-including banks, insurance companies and pension plans.
  • Distribute assets as specified in the will. This may involve selling real estate or other property if cash bequests are specified.
  • Pay debts and estate expenses.
  • Place advertisements to find creditors.
  • Apply for Canada Pension Plan benefits.
  • File the deceased's final income tax return.

Some of these tasks require financial skills. And at the very least, considerable people skills may be involved at a time when relatives are bereaved.

The good news is that an executor might not have to do all of this alone. In most provinces the executor is allowed to hire professional help without the permission of the family or beneficiaries. Lawyers, accountants and other professionals can potentially act as agents for the executor.

Individuals often perform executor duties without compensation. However, provincial laws generally allow people to charge for executor services. Minimum specified compensation is generally based on the value of the estate.

A close, trusted family member or friend is often a good choice as executor. But if you're being asked, consider whether you have the proper skills and a good relationship with the family and beneficiaries. If you're appointing an executor, consider the same qualifications. If family conflicts are possible, a non-family member may be the best choice for executor. It's also best that an executor not live out of town, or considerable travel and inconvenience could result.

Before anyone agrees to be an executor, it's essential that the person drafting the will and the potential representative meet to discuss what's involved. A financial advisor can help clarify issues at this stage-so it's clear to everybody what the duties will be.

Once an executor is appointed, that person should not only be familiar with the person's financial affairs but know where financial records and other important documents are kept. This will make the job easier and ensure beneficiaries receive bequests as soon as possible.

Your lawyer or financial advisor can answer any questions you might have about acting as an executor.

How we can help

Ask your Edward Jones Advisor today about how you can work together to begin creating your personal estate strategy.