Executors Need Answers to These Questions

Executors are eager to get off to a good start. They dive into estates. However, they need to test the water before jumping in head first. They can avoid grief with proper legal advice. I am an estate lawyer and start by asking executors these ten questions. My advice always depends on the answers I receive.

1. Is there a possible will contest?

Can the will be contested by a disgruntled beneficiary or relative? If the answer is yes, a court can stop you from acting as executor. You then have no legal authority to act if the will is contested.

Lawyers can advise executors if wills meet the formal legal requirements. If they do not satisfy these tests a will is not valid.

Even a will that’s missing a few words can create problems.

Recently a will ended up in court. Chuck, the will maker, gave away cash gifts of $5,000 to each grandchild. But Chuck forgot to state who would get the balance of the estate. Because the will failed to give away the estate residue a court case was started.

These problems can lead to a day in court before a judge. Possible will challenges affect how executors handle their estate work.

Read Bad Legal Advice Costs Executors Plenty

2. Was there a divorce or marriage?

A divorce or marriage can cancel or change certain will terms.

You must know if a marriage or divorce occurred after the will was signed. This can cause an executor to play detective searching for clues. Where is the divorce decree? Who was the divorce lawyer? Was there a court order for support?

3. Are there written agreements affecting the will?

These legal agreements can conflict or change the terms of the will. It is important to review any legal contract including:

• separation agreements,
• prenuptial, cohabitation or domestic contracts
• shareholder or business buy /sell agreements

Wills are often out of date. They may not reflect such agreements made after the will was signed. These agreements can change a person’s legal rights and obligations.

4. Are there other spouses?

Spouses or dependents receiving support have rights to trump a will. They can sue for more than what is in the will. Today, people can have several spouses.

Blended families are common. People cohabit and do not divorce. They can be separated from a legal spouse and also live with a common law partner.

If spouses are not provided for they can sue the estate. They can make claims to property and for support. These claims can override what is in the will.

5. Are all beneficiaries named in the will still alive?

Beneficiaries who were to receive a gift may have passed away. What happens then? Who gets the gift under the will?

Executors will need legal advice to answer these questions. This advice depends on local laws and the wording in the will.

6. Are there alterations on the original will?

Say someone scratched out the words “Janet Smith” on the will. They changed her name to “Janet Jones.” This change may affect the validity of the will and who receives the gift.

7. Did anyone already receive their gifts under the will?

What if Uncle Bob gave Ida a cheque for $20,000 in the hospital before he died? Was this the $20,000 Ida was supposed to get under Bob’s will?

Should you, as executor, give Ida another $20,000? How do you make sure you do not over pay Ida?

8. Were you given conflicting instructions?

Terry told you what he wanted you to do for his family. Terry’s will gave you different instructions. You were told to give all the jewellery to a favourite niece. However, the will does not specifically mention the jewellery or the niece. You can’t decide to do without legal advice.

9. Are any assets no longer in existence?

Uncle Bob also gave Ida his piano. However, the piano was sold with the uncle’s house. What happens when an item has been sold or no longer exists? The piano could have been given away before the will was read.

Does Ida have grounds to complain? Does the executor owe her a new piano?

10. Who owns any jointly owned assets?

What do you do with joint bank accounts or jointly owned property? Joint bank accounts are a nightmare. In many estate cases executors end up suing the other joint owner.

Things are not often as simple as they first appear. Executors may need to claim the property for the estate.


Executors need lawyers to answer these ten questions. Use an experienced estate lawyer before you make an expensive mistake.

Not all lawyers have estate experience. They may not understand why these questions matter

Executors may not realize what can go wrong. They need answers to such questions to avoid problems. Failing to get answers can derail an estate administration and put executors at risk.

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, and C.S.) is an Ontario lawyer, nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto-based Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts Law. Ed’s law firm website is MrWills.com © 2014

Read Bad Legal Advice Costs Executors Plenty

What Executors Can Do To Be Happy

Executor worries don’t have to keep you up at night. Read this so you can avoid the potential for trouble. Don’t worry. Be happy.

You don’t want to find yourself trapped in a nasty family battle or courtroom saga. Estate problems can drive you crazy for years. Be prepared to decline to act as executor to avoid these 10 executor worries.

I’ll explain why estate executors should not get involved with these problems. Avoid them so you won’t have to medicate yourself.

Executor Problems to Avoid

You can be personally on the hook for failing to properly deal with these types of situations. In most cases, you’ll need expert and experienced estate advice. Don’t start handling any of these estate situations without knowing the risks and complications:

1. The estate is broke

Do the math. Check if the bills you must pay exceed the estate’s assets. If that is the case, consider whether you should walk away. Leave the headache for another executor.

2. Failing to fulfill real estate responsibilities

Selling real estate means you take on responsibilities. Fires, floods and falling prices are some things that can devastate property values. Selling real estate can consume a great deal of your time and carries risks.

3. Taking risks with complex investments and commercial properties

Does the estate include unusual investments or commercial real estate? A bigger portfolio means a larger risk and greater caution.

4. Wasting time with foreign assets

Estate rules in another legal jurisdiction can be strange and frustrating. Winding up a foreign estate can often be slow. Can you fritter away time trying to sell Florida estate property?

5. Business battles and buy/sell agreement deadlines

Does the estate include an active business with partners or a corporation with shareholders? If you must deal with buy/sell agreements, these can add new layers of stress and liability. Deadlines in the agreement may force you to rely on additional experts and to make timely decisions.

6. Your age and health considerations

Does your age or health prevent you from completing your tasks over the next 12 to 18 months? Don’t start a job if you think you can’t finish.

7. Not protecting yourself from difficult beneficiaries

Are there signs that the beneficiaries are going to stalk you? Will they challenge everything you do? How do you protect yourself from beneficiaries who bombard you with emails and phone calls? They will want you to report on what you do daily.

8. Contested wills

You may think you have a duty to probate the will, but someone can still contest it. If there is a fight, will you be able to pay your lawyer?

9. Too much to handle

Is the estate too large or too much for you to handle? Check if the will lets you hire professionals to help you with your duties.

10. Long term trusts

Does the will require you to manage a trust on a long-term basis until the twins graduate? These are factors you must consider before saying “yes.”

If you have an urgent legal matter, please seek advice from an experienced estate lawyer. If you need more information on executor work, try reading Executor Kung Fu.

Read a sample chapter.

What others have said about the book:

“Easy to read and use.”

– Milton Zwicker, Lawyer and Author

About Edward Olkovich

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, C.S.) is a nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto estate lawyer and Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts. Edward has practiced law since 1978 and is the author of Executor Kung Fu. Visit his website, mrwills.com, for more free valuable information.

© Edward Olkovich 2013

Do You Want to Choose Who Acts as Your Estate Executor?

I encourage everyone to see estate planning not as a chore but a privilege. You get to choose who you want as your estate executor, and you have to make a will. Otherwise, you have no say on who will handle your affairs when you’re gone. Let me give you some tips on choosing the right executor.

Your executor’s authority comes from your will. Executors answer to your beneficiaries and to the courts. You need to choose wisely because an abusive or dishonest executor can ruin your legacy. Not to mention that they can rob your beneficiaries.

Is there a Golden Rule for choosing executors?

I would say yes.

Family always comes first.

There is a simple reason for that. Family are likely included in your will as your beneficiaries. This should encourage family to act as economical and efficient administrators. They also usually know how to deal with relatives.

Hopefully, they can avoid stumbling upon hornets nests that strangers would not see.

False assumptions about choosing executors

These are many. Here are a few that you should avoid making:

• It is not mandatory to choose your firstborn child.

• You do not have to choose your closest living relative.

• It is not best to automatically choose a lawyer or business partner.

Some of these choices may be good ones to make. However, you must consider your reasoning. There is no one choice that is automatically good for everyone. It really is a personal choice.

I find many clients have difficulty deciding who should be their attorney or executor. Often this is the reason they postpone signing their wills. They are afraid of making mistakes, and I can’t blame them really.

Removing an executor is a costly and difficult process

You need to be careful who you select for the job. I have a new post today about how painful it is to remove executors in court. Check out my blog at Mrwills.com.

You must consider what tasks your executor needs to handle. It’s not likely that you’ll find an executor with experience.

Do you have these executor needs?

• Special assets that need to be maintained or sold, like a rental property or business?

• Will your executor possibly be a business partner with a conflict of interest?

• Do you need someone to maintain a long-term trust for your children or incapable spouse?

• Do you expect someone to be able to deal with dysfunctional members of your family?

• Is a professional needed to wind up your practice like a doctor, accountant or lawyer?

You should always consider having a backup executor included in your will. This is just in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to do the job.

In choosing your executor, age and location are key. There is no point in choosing your parents to be your executor if they are in their 70s and living in another province or country.

Ask your lawyer for advice but don’t do these things:

• Rush your decision to get on with making a will.

• Forget to look at other alternatives.

• Fail to evaluate other possible choices, including family, professional or a trust company.

Are you still stuck?

I have an eBook to help you. I created an executor scorecard to evaluate all your choices. It will help take the stress out of finding the right person for the executor job.

It’s called Choosing Executors: Your Formula for Success. Read a free chapter here.

About Edward Olkovich

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, C.S.) is a nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto estate lawyer and Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts. Edward has practiced law since 1978 and is the author of Executor Kung Fu. Visit his website, mrwills.com, for more free valuable information.

© Edward Olkovich 2013

How to Choose the Right Executors for Your Estate: Key #4

Imagine you have a daughter, Ann, an accountant, who lives far away on the West Coast. You have another child, Bob, still living at home with you.

Who should be the executor to guard your estate?

Should it be Ann, the accountant, or Bob, who may end up helping you in your old age?

I will help you answer this in a second. But first, can you answer these questions about executors:

• When should you use a corporate or professional executor?

• What is the most important quality to look for in an executor?

• How do you properly prepare your executor?

 Do Your Homework

When you are no longer around, who pays your bills, controls your estate, and ensures that your loved ones get what they need?

This job belongs to your estate’s legal representative, or executor.

Where Should You Look for Them?

You must choose wisely among family, friends, or professionals; otherwise, sadly, someone can end up paying for it.

Here are three key guidelines to consider:

1. Family comes first. Always consider family members first. They are probably your beneficiaries. This means they have an interest in winding up your estate quickly and economically.

2. Consider professionals or a trust company if you:

  • Have assets that require special skills
  • Need someone to operate a business until it is sold
  • Have an estate that may be contested or involved in lawsuits

3. Choose trustworthy executors. Honesty and reliability are the chief criteria in choosing executors. Click to tweet this.

It will be difficult for you to find experienced executors because, after all, most executors learn on the job.

You may not have a clue how to go about choosing the right executor.

People sometimes think this decision is easy, but second marriages and blended families, for example, can cause special challenges.

You can learn more in my special report, Choosing Executors: Your Formula for Success, available instantly.

Attention if you are an executor or will be one: learn about how social changes and legal challenges affect you.

Find out more about the world’s first self-defence guide for executors, Executor Kung Fu: Master Any Estate in Three Easy Steps.

This is my series on Estate Planning: 7 Keys to Success. The next key warns you about the dangers of ignoring your legal obligations.

See my related blog posts and articles:

Choosing Your Executor

Why Executors Need Lawyers

You Will Be Infected with Executor’s Disease™

About Ed

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, C.S.) is a nationally recognized author and estate expert. He is a Toronto estate lawyer and Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts. Edward has practiced law since 1978 and is the author of seven books. Visit his website, mrwills.com, for more free valuable information.

© Edward Olkovich 2012


Are You Ready to be an Executor?

Are you an executor for a relative or spouse? Then your first step must be to locate the original will. The will is important because your legal authority comes from this document. I’ll give you more tips to avoid common executor mistakes. Read them to save time and money.

I have advised executors for over thirty years, and I know the mistakes executors make when handling an estate. An executor’s job can be overwhelming. Get legal advice early to avoid costly mistakes like Frank.

Frank was the executor of his uncle’s small estate. He paid the beneficiaries what he roughly calculated they should receive. But he did not hold back enough to pay all the estate debts. Now Frank was in trouble. What should you or any executor have done to prevent this pain?

 You need some Executor Kung Fu to help.

Getting proper legal advice is important. You can also educate yourself about your legal duties. I have written the world’s first self defense book for executors to help you.

Like kung fu masters, executors use skills requiring knowledge, discipline and compassion.

Unlike kung fu masters, executors do not have years to develop these skills.

As an executor, you must quickly take charge of an estate. You need to understand the three easy steps for estate mastery: protect, probate and pay. These steps will guide your actions like magic, helping you perform all your executor tasks on time.

 Ten Things Executors Must Never Do

Executors must not …

1. Do anything on behalf of the estate (distribute estate property, pay debts, or sign any documents) before talking to a lawyer.

2. Buy and sell assets or estate property without probate, even if the price is fair.

3. Borrow estate funds or loan money to the estate, regardless of how much the security or interest rate may be.

4. Mix their money and estate money. They must keep separate accounts for estate money.

5. Fail to exercise reasonable care and skill to protect estate property.

6. Forget to take control or possession of estate property.

7. Knowingly permit a co-executor to breach duties.

8. Forget to keep estate assets productive (invest funds, collect rent).

9. Try to hand over their responsibility to someone else.

10. Quit in the middle of administering the estate without court approval.

 Your Executor Duties Make You Responsible for Mistakes — with Serious Consequences

You should read Executor Kung Fu: Master Any Estate in Three Easy Steps. In this complete, step-by-step guide, you will learn how to:

  •  reduce the stress of being an executor
  •   take inventory of the estate and distribute assets
  •   use your powers wisely as executor
  •   organize yourself to save time and money
  •   deal with professional advisors

Complete with sample forms, case studies, checklists, executor tools, and summaries to keep you out of trouble.

“Easy to read and use”

–Milton Zwicker, Lawyer and Author

“Every executor should read this”

–Brad Huxtable, Lawyer, Sheldon Huxtable Professional Corporation

Get started with a FREE chapter of Executor Kung Fu: Master Any Estate In Three Easy Steps.

 © Edward Olkovich 2012

Edward Olkovich (BA, LLB, TEP, C.S.) is a nationally recognized estate expert. He is a Toronto estate lawyer and certified estate and trust specialist. Edward has practiced law since 1978 and is the author of seven books. Visit his website, mrwills.com, for more free valuable estate information.