Are you ready to be an executor?

February 24, 2022 | Dawneen Boyle


The role of an executor is an important one. Here are some things to consider before carrying out your duties.

people sitting around table in page

I am probably better equipped than many of my clients to handle the role of an executor. I've been an investment and retirement planner with RBC for four years and have a career in banking spanning 32 years. The first question I usually ask my clients in a financial planning session is "Do you have an updated Will?" I'm also accustomed to signing up clients for RBC's executor services

Then I had my first experience of acting as an executor.

In 2016, a dear friend was hospitalized for a life-threatening illness. We'd been friends since we were seven years old. Prior to going into the hospital she didn't have a Will and I encouraged her to take this step. She named me executor and I asked her if she wanted to name someone else alongside me, but she didn't and I respected her wishes.

With my new responsibilities ahead of me, I had the forethought to discuss with her the possibility of retaining help, if things got too complicated. I explained I would need some help because I work full time and life is busy. I knew I would need a real estate agent, lawyer, accountant, and I'd probably want someone to do the paperwork. My friend agreed without any hesitation, saying I could hire whomever I needed, she was just thankful I would be involved.

Complications from the start

We hit some bumps in the road very early in the process. My friend had been separated from her common-law husband for a number of years and the relationship had not been cordial. They also had three young boys together. My priority was to be an emotional support for the boys but I realised this was not going to be possible if I spent all my time and energy trying to settle the estate, as well as fielding many questions from various relatives.

I wanted to be sure everything was handled professionally so I made the decision to call Celia Ong, Estate and trust advisor, to discuss if RBC Royal Trust could help.

Immediate relief

My RBC Royal Trust advisor stepped in and immediately outlined what had to be done and how. The great part was I had to do very little. I took on the responsibility for the funeral arrangements, but through RBC Royal Trust's agent for executor services, I didn't have to complete the forms for the CPP Death Benefit, or worry about cancelling IDs. They did that. I didn't have to fill out the tax forms; I just passed along seven years' worth of income tax forms. To be clear, I always felt engaged and involved; I was just able to let RBC Royal Trust do all the heavy lifting, the details, and the next steps.

Learning to act like Teflon

For anyone who cooks using a Teflon frying pan, you will appreciate how easy it is. Everything just slides right off with no sticky mess and that's how I felt. I didn't have to worry about making a mess, about doing something legally wrong, or not doing something I was supposed to. When complicated family questions came my way, all it often took was a quick email and I had guidance on how to handle it. And in some cases RBC Royal Trust stepped in directly.

For example, there was the question about the home of my friend that she and her boys had lived in. There was not the means or the support to continue living in it and the boys were understandably distressed and wanted to hang on to the home. I could not bring myself to explain to them they had to let it go. RBC Royal Trust stepped in and explained the reasons and their options.

By having the support, I could set the right boundaries and was provided great support in tough situations. When you are an executor, you're worried that your decisions may be challenged. But this wasn't the case here because I had the support of the professionals.

1989 wedding shower deborah fisk and dawneen boyle and yvonne lowcock

Dawneen Boyle, centre, is seen here with her bridesmaids in 1989

Avoiding family conflicts

As part of settling the estate, I needed to hire a lawyer, an accountant and a real estate agent to sell my friend's home. I have friends and family in the real estate business and it would have been stressful trying to decide on the right professional. But the professionals handled the sale and arrangements and removed me from potential conflicts.

When it came to a law firm, I received some recommendations and carried out some research. And here is the good news - because I had professionals handling the estate, the lawyer charged me less than if I had been doing all the work myself. The reason was simple; the lawyer knew that with professional expertise involved, there would be a lot of efficiencies. So she was able to charge less.

What about costs?

Of course, I had to think about the money. I have spoken with many people about handling a loved one's estate and they usually say that they feel it is their responsibility to do well by the deceased. But they are just not aware of how complicated their life could become.

Here is how I reconciled the issue of costs. People think that if they hire a professional, they are going to be charged a fee and this money could best go to the beneficiaries; in this case, the three boys. But when my advisor explained the fees to me, I was surprised at how modest they were. The fact the estate was settled quickly and efficiently by professionals may have even saved money for the estate.

What about my parent's estate?

I have two siblings and as sometimes happens, there is usually one person who will do more of the work. Ask any professional and they've seen this over and over again. So we're hiring a professional. We're going to all be sitting on one side of the table and the agent for executor that we hire will be on the other. My siblings and I have a good relationship, and I would not want anything to change that situation.

What about my own estate?

Of course, my husband is my executor and I am his, but should we be unable to act, I have already named RBC Royal Trust and my children to act on the death of the survivor of my husband and me. I want my children to be involved more from an awareness perspective, but I don't expect them to know what to do. It is such an emotional time, it really isn't a time to worry about filing for probate, completing an estate information return, tax returns and eventually clearance certificates….on top of clearing and selling our home!

Making the right decision

“It can make a huge difference to the loved ones you leave behind," says Rick Montens, Will and estate advisor at RBC Royal Trust. “In fact, we've often seen how making a wrong choice can lead to sibling rivalry and even lawsuits that freeze the estate distribution and eat away at its assets."

Until you work as an executor, you don't really realize how time-consuming it is or how stressful it can become.

In Quebec, “liquidator”, in Ontario, “estate trustee with a Will.”

Probate is not required for notarial Wills in Quebec, and may not be required in other jurisdictions in limited circumstances.

Artie, the executor helper™

Our free tools can help you understand the estate you’re settling and guide you through the various tasks involved.

RBC Royal Trust and RBC Wealth Management are business segments of the Royal Bank of Canada. Please click the “Legal” link at the bottom of this page for further information on the entities that are member companies of RBC Wealth Management.  The content in this publication is provided for general information only and is not intended to provide any advice or endorse/recommend the content contained in the publication.  ®/TM Trademark(s) of Royal Bank of Canada. RBC and Royal Trust are registered trademarks of Royal Bank of Canada. Used under license. © Royal Bank of Canada  2021. All rights reserved.

In Quebec, financial planning services are provided by RBC Wealth Management Financial Services Inc. which is licensed as a financial services firm in that province. In the rest of Canada, financial planning services are available through RBC Dominion Securities Inc.


Estate planning