When a deceased has left a Will or binding document, it is the person or institution named as the Executor/Executrix who has the legal authority and obligation to assume the responsibility for all matters relating to the estate. The duties of an Executor will vary depending on the complexity of the estate. Nevertheless, when a friend or relative appoints you as their Executor, they are placing their trust in you to fulfill their wishes regardless of how demanding or onerous the task. The following are some of the basic duties that may be required.
The first thing an Executor must do is assist in or make funeral arrangements. In order to do so the Executor should obtain a copy of a Will or consult with the lawyer who prepared it to determine whether there were any specific funeral instructions. Although these instructions are not binding, it would be highly unusual for an Executor to deviate from their intent unless there were unforeseen problems. Even though the Executor has the ultimate authority to make all the decisions, it would be prudent to consult with the immediate family where possible when making these arrangements. This is particularly true when the executor is not a family member.
Proof of Death
The most important document to be completed is the Death Certificate. In order to assist in its completion, the Executor should have an idea of what vital information is required by the hospital and funeral home. This will include the full name, birthplace, place of residence and occupation of the deceased, the deceased’s father’s name and birthplace, mother’s maiden name and birthplace and name of the surviving spouse, if applicable.
The Executor must obtain a registered copy of the Death Certificate from the Department of Vital Statistics or a Funeral Director’s Certificate of Death, issued by the funeral home, verifying proof of death. This is the document required by many insurance companies, financial institutions and government agencies in matters pertaining to the settlement of the estate.
Death and Survivor Benefits
If, for example, the deceased worked, was a veteran or member of a fraternal organization, had purchased insurance, or died as the result of an accident, there may be death or survivor benefits available. The executor must determine whether the deceased’s estate or survivors are entitled to any of these or other benefits and then make application to access them. In some cases, a copy of the funeral service invoice must accompany the application.
Items to Cancel
To ensure the estate does not incur any unnecessary expenses, the following is a list of items, which the Executor should cancel, and request refunds, if applicable.
Driver’s license, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, cable television, club memberships and telephone.
Health Insurance coverage
If the deceased lived alone in a rental property, the lease agreement.
Other items, which should be cancelled, include Old Age Security and Canada Pension.
The Executor may also choose to contact Canada Post to request that the deceased’s mail be rerouted to a more convenient address.
The Canadian Direct Marketing Association (CDMA) offers a free consumer service called The Do Not Mail/Do Not Call Service which allows people to stop receiving unwanted offers of goods and services by mail or telephone. The Executor can register the name of the deceased with the service by completing and mailing a registration form to the CDMA.
Some funeral homes have copies of the registration form available for the public, while others will actually complete and mail it on behalf of the family.
Assets and Liabilities
One of the more difficult tasks for an Executor will be ascertain the value of the deceased’s assets and liabilities. The value of each will depend on a number of factors, including the deceased’s age, marital status, number of dependants, occupation and employment status.
The first step will be to contact the companies who looked after the deceased’s financial affairs, like a bank or other financial institutions, insurance companies or brokerage firms and ask for a written reconciliation of each account.
Locate and obtain title documents for real estate, mortgages, share certificates, bonds, debentures and guaranteed investment certificates. Then arrange valuations of the real estate, securities, personal property and automobiles. Finally confirm outstanding balances on credit cards and other major accounts. Once the value of each of has been determined, the Executor should open an estate bank account into which sufficient monies should be placed to begin the settlement of all claims and debts and distribution of assets.
As an Executor your responsibilities under the Income Tax Act include:
- filing all required tax returns for the deceased,
- making sure all taxes owing are paid, and
- letting beneficiaries know which of the amounts they receive from the estate are taxable.
Revenue Canada has provided an Information Sheet that contains basic information that the Executor should know in order to start settling the estate. This sheet has been distributed to many funeral homes throughout Canada, therefore, copies may be obtained from your funeral director. For more information, the tax guide entitled “Preparing Returns For Deceased Persons” is available from your local tax services office.
In order to administer the estate, the Executor must apply to the Registrar of the Supreme Court for a grant of probate verifying the validity of the Will. Once granted, sufficient true copies of the Will should be obtained to begin transferring assets.
The information provided is a general guide and not intended to be all encompassing. The more complex the estate, the more the Executor will be required to do. Law offices, trust companies, and accounting firms all have individuals or staff with expertise in estate administration. The best advice is to seek the advice of an expert to ensure that the administration of the estate is done in accordance with the deceased’s wishes.