After his sister’s death, Andrew suddenly realized he was the Executor of her Will. He figured she must have asked him about it at some time, but he’d forgotten about it. Now he had to find out what Executors are supposed to do. Their responsibilities and duties scared him at first, because he found he has to:
• Find his sister’s original Will and establish that it’s her “last Will and Testament”;
• Determine the provisions of her Will;
• Learn about his sister’s financial affairs;
• Locate all of her assets, both personal and business;
• Arrange for the continuation or sale of her business;
• Make sure that all assets are safe from loss or damage;
• Arrange to have the assets valued;
• Arrange for the sale of assets, if necessary;
• Pay all debts and claims;
• Make the most advantageous income tax elections to benefit the estate and its beneficiaries;
• File the necessary Income Tax and GST returns;
• Obtain clearances from the tax departments;
• Establish any trusts dictated by the will; and
• Distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
At first this looked overwhelming, and he thought of resigning. But he discovered he could hire professionals to assist him with the legal, tax and investment aspects of the estate to make sure that it is handled properly. After all, he may be held personally responsible for his actions if he makes a mistake.
So if a relative or friend asks you to be her or his Executor, take it seriously, and discuss with them beforehand the various things that should be done to make your job as easy as possible, such as:
• Having the Will professionally prepared. Do-it-yourself Wills have disclaimers stating that the publisher of the Will kit is not responsible for the validity of the Will you prepare from it. An improperly prepared Will can cause more grief, delays and expenses than not having a Will at all.
• Getting a copy of the Will, and knowing where to find the original. This lets you know its terms and conditions, and allows you to discuss any problem areas with the Testator (the person whose Will it is) while he or she is there to explain it. Advance knowledge minimizes surprises and costly delays.
• Getting a list of the details of the estate. Finding out about ALL its assets, and their locations; and all certificates, identification documents, bank accounts, safety deposit boxes, key locations, credit cards, loans, mortgages, leases; life, disability, group, property and casualty insurance; securities and investments; real estate holdings; business agreements; medical and professional advisors, etc.
As you discover the amount of work that you, as Executor, have to do you may want to suggest that the Testator name some additional Executors to spread the load and responsibilities.
You should review your Estate Plans before discussing it with your Executors!