Becoming an Executor not an Executioner

May 05, 2017 | Dian Chaaban


Some of you may already know this from experience – being appointed as an Executor is both a privilege and a burden. During a time that is undoubtedly difficult, navigating the responsibilities of settling an estate can become overwhelming – which is why I believe in talking about it proactively – before it gets emotional.


Last night, we hosted a client event aimed at learning more about what’s involved in settling an estate (whether you are planning for yourself or have been named as an executor) featuring Leanne D. Kaufman, LLB, LLM, our President, CEO and Head of Estate and Trust Services at Royal Trust Corporation.


Leanne explained that acting as an Executor means being responsible for an often lengthy, intensely detailed task list that bears with it not only the burden of ensuring a loved one’s last wishes are carried out, but legal liability as well. Your overall responsibility as an executor is to administer the estate according to the deceased’s final wishes as expressed in the Will and according to the law.


Of surprise to most was the time commitment; it may take about 18 months to settle even a simple estate, and the executor has to complete as many as 70 different tasks and duties. This includes finding and, if necessary, probating the Will, protecting and distributing assets, and paying outstanding debts and taxes. You will also have to prepare a final accounting for the beneficiaries of the estate. All while maintaining your full-time job and current ‘busy’ life.


While I’ll be preparing a full summary for those of you who missed the event, here is a recap of the 5 things you must know if you are an Executor:


  1. Understand the scope of the task you are being asked to perform, and assess whether you have the time and resources to perform it, before you start acting as executor. If you determine you don’t have the time, knowledge or resources, you will not be forced to act, but you must renounce your executor duties very early on, before you get involved in the estate.
  2. Keep the lines of communication open with all parties involved in the estate. A big source of frustration can be unrealistic expectations about what a beneficiary will receive, and how quickly all the necessary tasks can be completed and assets distributed.
  3. Stay organized. Keep all aspects of the estate completely separate from your own documents and funds, and be meticulous with your record-keeping. You will need it later when it comes time to do things such as prepare tax returns and provide an account to the beneficiaries of the estate.
  4. Remember that you are a fiduciary, meaning that you will be held to the highest level of trust and integrity. You must always act in the best interests of the beneficiaries of the estate, and if things go wrong, you, not they, are personally liable.
  5. Above all else, know when to seek qualified professional advice. Very few people who accept the honour of being an executor are prepared to simply walk away from it, even if they need or would prefer some assistance. If you have agreed to be an executor and are feeling overwhelmed by the duties involved, are unsure how to proceed or simply lack the time required to carry out your duties, RBC Estate & Trust Services has been meeting the estate needs of Canadians for more than 100 years and can help. Estate and trust professionals are skilled in the intricacies of estate administration and can provide assistance — as much or as little as your personal situation requires. They are also sensitive to the complexities of family dynamics, and their compassion and professionalism can make estate settlement much easier on you.

To help you further, we have also put together a detailed Executor Kit which includes the Executor responsibilities and duties, a step by step process to settle an estate as well as a useful checklist to aid in the process. If you’d like a copy, just say the word.


With so much going on and information coming at us from every angle, it's sometimes hard to keep your finger on the pulse of what's happening. In an effort to keep you in-the-know and provide you with some conversation nuggets for the weekend, I've compiled the following hit list to fill your conversation pipeline.


Now you are in-the-know with Word on the Street.


Enjoy the rainy weekend,


Dian Chaaban
Investment & Wealth Advisor