Life of an estate executor

Darcy Musings Leave a Comment

Estate will

My time as the executor for my father’s estate has been quite enlightening. It’s been just over nine months now and I’ve devoted quite a bit of time to what most people would call a relatively straight forward settlement but there were (and still are) many things to do. I invested a lot chunk of time for the first month doing a lot of work related to the probate, lining up sales for major assets and then the settled into a to 2-8 hours per week type of schedule.

Some people only find out they are tasked to be an executor after the person in question has passed away while others know it in advance. I was fortunate to fall into the latter group as I was named along with my dad’s brother as co-executor. Again, I was fortunate that my uncle trusts me (and my sisters) enough to do the majority of the work on our own and offered only to intervene if we came to an impasse which has not happened.

When the person in question passes away, the executor(s) acquire a copy of the Will (hopefully the location is known) and meet with a lawyer. The lawyer tells you the next steps in the process and you need to provide him with a bunch of information to start the lengthy probate process. Probate is the court process that legally confirms the executors authority by granting executor letters of probate. You are then sent on your way with some information (usually in the form of a pamphlet or maybe even a PDF if the office is a bit more modern) that details the step by step process that one should follow when acting as an executor. A good example of a checklist that I found at RBC can be found here.

These estate executor checklists are great and all but you need to drill down into each item as there are rules and exceptions for each one. Instead of of going into that, which many other websites do, I thought I would point out 10 important lessons I learned (either by doing it right or by doing it wrong).

Stay on top of the taxes
  1. Many a family have been splintered due to bickering and fighting over division of estate assets.  We were fortunate to have been able to go through EVERYTHING with my father before he passed and we used a camera to record every item in the house and his (or our) wishes associated with it (some given to specific people and others to go to distant family members).  It is much easier to talk/negotiate and compromise with the beneficiaries when the loved one is still alive as the emotions that follow can sometimes make people act less than rational.  I realize that there are a lot of people who are not comfortable about speaking about your mortality with their children but if you love them, do them a favour and prep as much as you can before you depart this terrestrial planet.   While it may not be easy to do at the time, they will thank you later.
  2. Create an executor’s list of dates on when things are due.  The deceased’s personal taxes are due 6 months after the date of death.  Estate taxes are due one year + 1 day after the date of death.  Probate, inventory/net worth of all assets given to the province for probate, updates to beneficiaries to ensure transparency and such.  The list goes on and on.   If you need to sell wine at an annual auction, find out when the auction is and prep for it otherwise, you need to sit on that case of wine for another year (not such a bad thing for wine).  You get the idea.
  3. Double and triple check dates given to you by lawyers and accountants.  The penalties for missing a tax deadline is an automatic 5% + 1% per month.   Two days late on your taxes of $50,000?  That will be $3,000 into the federal government’s pockets.
  4. I’ve been told that it takes about 2 years to complete the duties of an executor and that is if things go smoothly.   The workload definitely tapers off near the end but I’ve heard of some executors who are still working on estates 8 years later because siblings cannot agree on certain things.
  5. Do a little bit everyday.  It can be overwhelming to deal with everything all at once and though there is a benefit to keep one’s mind focused on work, you do need to take the time to grieve.   Doing a little bit every day will whittle down what seems an insurmountable amount of work into easy and manageable chunks.
  6. Google Docs is your friend.  Or Microsoft Office 365.   Whatever your preference, use an online word processor or spreadsheet tool that stores your documents in the cloud.  I used it for everything as it was easy to share the information with my sisters.  You can keep track of the status of all the items in the estate (still at the house, given to the designated person, etc…), the status of the payouts for insurance, what needs to be done, what has been done (and when).  I also used it to track which companies had been notified as well as track monthly transactions that sometimes take place outside of the estate account (paying someone to cut the lawn, etc…)
  7. As the executor, you are liable for any shortfalls in money for taxes.  Never disperse the money until you receive your certificate of clearance.  One can apply for it for once all income taxes have been filed.   Once received, you are relieved of the obligation to pay the government for any taxes including Employment Insurance premiums and outstanding Canada Pension Plan contributions.  Once you have the certificate, you can disperse the remainder of the money and then close the estate account and call it a day (or so I’ve been told).
  8. As an executor, you cannot act on behalf of the deceased unless you provide a company with the Proof of Death certificate and a copy of the probated Will which identifies you as the executor.  Once you provide the organization with the proper info and they put it in their system (Revenue Canada takes 6 weeks to process this believe it or not), you can then do things like cancel services, stop automatic payments or what not.   This should be done as soon as possible to avoid delays in the future when trying to get things done quickly.   Wish I had done all that up front.  Ahem….
  9. Organizing your papers. The deceased will likely have wads of paper that you will need to go through.  Some of it will be personal, some of it business related.   You will also receive lots of documents, receipts and forms from various organizations.  Do yourself a favour, buy some kind of portable filing system and cart that thing around with you when you are meeting people related to the estate.  Not only do it make you look like you know what you are doing, you will actually be able to find the latest electrical bill, the probated will and whatever else it is your are looking for.  I also bought a document scanner and it has been immensely useful.  It’s different than a flatbed scanner in that you feed it a stack of papers and it sucks in the papers, scans them to PDF and spits them out into a nice pile.   I bought an Epson DS-560 and have been VERY happy with it.
  10. While being chosen as an executor is a honour, I’m not going to lie – it is also a lot of work.  There is a varying amount of compensation that is given to an executor in Canada but to avoid any issues with the beneficiaries, it is important to have full transparency on the flow of money, the work that has been done and the current status of the whole process. Again, I’m fortunate that I have a fantastic relationship with my sisters and through the use of shared online documents, email and talking, we were able to quickly and easily see/update the status of each item that needs to be addressed.

So.   I sincerely hope that no one has to go through this any time soon but if you do.  I hope my little list will at least provide you with some guidance and help you avoid any pitfalls.  Just make sure you pay the taxes on time and that you double check to make sure that the due date that you were told, is indeed the due date.

Worthy Quotes

If the lessons of history teach us anything it is that nobody learns the lessons that history teaches us.
Many people die at twenty five and aren't buried until they are seventy five.
Benjamin Franklin
Try a thing you haven’t done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time, to figure out whether you like it or not.
Virgil Garnett Thomson
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
Benjamin Franklin
Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
Mark Twain
Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.
Oscar Wilde
I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou
We learn something every day, and lots of times it’s that what we learned the day before was wrong.
Bill Vaughan
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
Winston Churchill
The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.
Mark Twain
Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.
Franklin P. Jones
A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.
Winston Churchill
You can do anything, but not everything.
David Allen
To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other.
Jack Handey
The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
William Arthur Ward
I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception.
Groucho Marx
You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.
Wayne Gretzky
If I only had a little humility, I’d be perfect.
Ted Turner
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.
Mark Twain
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
Winston Churchill
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt
There are lies, damned lies and statistics.
Mark Twain
Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.
Mark Twain
To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.
Abraham Maslow
History is written by the victors.
Winston Churchill
The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop.
Mark Twain
In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
Thomas Jefferson
Well done is better than well said.
Benjamin Franklin
The manager administers, The leader innovates. The manager maintains, the leader develops. The manager relies on systems, the leader relies on people. The manager counts on controls, the leader counts on trust. The manager does things right, the leader does the right thing.
Forbes Magazine
When a person can no longer laugh at himself, it is time for others to laugh at him.
Thomas Szasz
The measure of a life is not what that life accomplishes,but rather the impact that life has on others.
Jackie Robinson
He that lieth down with Dogs, shall rise up with Fleas.
Benjamin Franklin
Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened.
Winston Churchill
Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.
If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.
Mark Twain
Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.
Poet (43 BCE - CE 17)
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Benjamin Franklin
Adam and Eve had an ideal marriage. He didn't have to hear about all the men she could have married, and she didn't have to hear about the way his mother cooked.
Kimberley Broyles
We’ve heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.
Robert Wilensky
Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
Mark Twain
They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Benjamin Franklin
Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
Benjamin Franklin
Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
Benjamin Franklin
History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
Winston Churchill
It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
Harry Truman
When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.
Benjamin Franklin
I am opposed to millionaires, but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.
Mark Twain
Computer games don't affect kids; I mean if Pac-Man affected us as kids, we'd all be running around in darkened rooms, munching magic pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.
Kristian Wilson
Nintendo, Inc, 1989
There's a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.
Steven Wright
Don’t ever wrestle with a pig. You’ll both get dirty, but the pig will enjoy it.
Cale Yarborough
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
Laughing at our mistakes can lengthen our own life. Laughing at someone else’s can shorten it.
Cullen Hightower
One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.
Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.
Erica Jong
Never leave till tomorrow that which you can do today.
Benjamin Franklin
Trouble knocked at the door, but, hearing laughter, hurried away
Benjamin Franklin
Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.
Benjamin Franklin
Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.
Benjamin Franklin
Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.
Albert Einstein
We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing!
Benjamin Franklin
When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a way that when you die the world cries and you rejoice.
Native American Proverb
Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.
Alfred A. Montapert
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
Mark Twain
Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.
Will Rogers
If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
Mark Twain
Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.
Kurt Vonnegut
We are what we repeatedly do; excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame.
Benjamin Franklin
People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.
Zig Ziglar
If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not working on hard enough problems. And that’s a big mistake.
Frank Wilczek
In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.
Robert Frost
Never ruin an apology with an excuse.
Benjamin Franklin
Well begun is half done.
It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.
Benjamin Franklin
Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.
Benjamin Franklin
It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.
Mark Twain
Tis a great confidence in a friend to tell him your faults; greater to tell him his.
Benjamin Franklin
Do, or do not. There is no 'try'.
Jedi Master
A Man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.
Benjamin Franklin
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.
Albert Einstein
It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
Mark Twain
The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
Groucho Marx


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