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Your checklist of executor duties

A hand using a fountain pen to sign documents at a desk.

While you may consider it an honour to be named the executor of an estate, do you know how to handle the role? Many people find the responsibilities of executorship difficult to manage. The complexity, time demands and emotional pressures placed on you as an executor1 may lead to errors, despite your best intentions.

To help you manage your duties, or to help you determine who is best qualified to be the executor of your own estate, here’s a checklist that outlines the key responsibilities of an executor.

1. Gather the required information and documents

  • Locate and review the will
  • Make appropriate funeral arrangements (following any special instructions regarding burial, disposition of the deceased's body or organ donation)
  • Locate physical assets and secure valuables:
    • Search for cash, securities, jewellery and other valuable items
    • Make arrangements for their safekeeping
    • Deal with any “wasting” assets, such as perishable goods
    • Safeguard/arrange for periodic inspection of vacant real estate
    • Examine insurance policies for real estate and personal property
    • Organize interim management of any businesses
    • Cancel utilities, subscriptions and memberships as appropriate
    • Forward mail
  • Confirm whether shares of any private corporation, such as a medical professional corporation or holding company, form part of the estate
  • Notify all holders of assets—including brokers, financial advisors and insurance companies:
    • Request the bank to locate safety deposit boxes and arrange for listing of their contents
    • Request the bank to “freeze” bank accounts
    • Notify brokerage accounts and cancel any orders to buy or sell
  • Review investments
  • Determine obligations regarding any outstanding agreements:
    • mortgages and guarantees
    • family law agreements
    • partnership/shareholder arrangements
    • leases
    • promissory notes
    • court orders
  • Determine debts and cancel credit cards

2. Assess the estate’s assets and liabilities

  • Arrange valuations of property from a qualified appraiser:
    • real estate
    • stocks, bonds and debentures, including accrued interest
    • commuted value of pensions/annuities
    • household goods and furniture, cars, jewellery, coins and stamps
  • Engage an accountant to value the shares of any private corporation or holding company, if necessary
  • Distribute an inventory of assets and liabilities to beneficiaries
  • Consider ongoing cash requirements of beneficiaries
  • Consider potential claims against the estate:
    • surviving spouse
    • dependant(s) relief claim(s)
    • third-party actions

3. Take care of administrative details

  • Obtain probate, which is the court’s formal approval of the will
  • Retain a solicitor to apply for the appropriate grant
  • Provide solicitor with relevant information and fees
  • Advertise for creditors
  • Re-register assets in the name of the estate
  • Collect estate funds:
    • Open an estate bank account
    • Close existing bank accounts once the estate account is open to collect estate-related funds
  • Pay debts and claims:
    • Settle and pay all claims against the estate
    • Complete and file all personal and outstanding income tax returns:
      • income tax returns for the terminal year (up to four may be filed)
      • outstanding prior income tax returns
      • income tax and death tax returns in jurisdictions outside Canada
    • Request the Canada Revenue Agency clearance certificate
    • Keep proper records of the assets and administration of the estate
    • Prepare and file T3 income tax return(s) for the estate

4. Distribute the estate’s assets

  • Ensure proper interpretation of the will
  • Distribute personal effects or dispose of them
  • Transfer any assets in kind and re-register them in the names of the beneficiaries, if necessary. Arrange for:
    • Preparation of the deed or transfer documentation
    • Rollover of registered retirement savings plans
    • Rollover of registered retirement income funds
  • Pay legacies
  • Make interim distributions, setting aside funds for debts, taxes, legal fees, accounting fees and executor compensation
  • Make the final distribution
  • Submit detailed record-keeping to beneficiaries or to court
  • Obtain beneficiaries’ approval and release
  • Establish trusts and act as trustee as required

Please note: This list is not exhaustive and other duties may be required, depending on the specific estate under administration.

Trustee duties for trusts set up in the will

  • Invest the assets of the trust, following relevant investment standards
  • Pay out income or capital of the trust, as required (discretionary decisions are often called for)
  • Prepare and file annual tax returns for the trust
  • Keep proper records of the assets and administration of the trust
  • Submit detailed record-keeping to beneficiaries
  • Make the final distribution of trust property
  • Obtain beneficiaries’ approval and release

Your MD Advisor* is available to help you understand and manage the steps of the executor process. You may also want to consider getting professional assistance to help you in your executor role.

Learn more about MD's estate and trust offering or contact an MD Advisor  to find out how we can help.

* MD Advisor refers to an MD Management Limited Financial Consultant or Investment Advisor (in Quebec), or an MD Private Investment Counsel Portfolio Manager.

Estate and trust services are offered through MD Private Trust Company.

1 An “executor” is called a “liquidator” in the province of Quebec and an “estate trustee” in the province of Ontario.

The above information should not be construed as offering specific financial, investment, foreign or domestic taxation, legal, accounting or similar professional advice nor is it intended to replace the advice of independent tax, accounting or legal professionals.