Step by Step Checklist for the Executor

Many years ago, you may have agreed to be a family member or friend’s executor when they drafted their Will.  Well, the time has come, the individual has passed away, and you are asked to preform your duties as the executor of the estate. Where do you start?

Things to be done immediately 

  • Make funeral arrangements and see if the individual has a prepaid funeral home agreement or that there is enough cash in their bank account to pay this expense.
  • Request 3-4 copies of a notarized provincial death certificate; most funeral homes will provide this as part of the service they offer. Other funeral homes may charge a minimal fee per copy, but it is advisable to get several copies as they will be needed.
  • Review the Will and determine if you can settle the estate yourself, or if you require the help of a legal professional.
  • Locate and notify the beneficiaries who are listed in the Will.

Next prioritized step

  • Did the deceased have either personal life insurance or a group insurance package? If so, reach out to the broker/advisor to proceed with a Claimant Statement to settle the policy.
  • Notify the employer to see if any remaining payroll, holiday pay or sick leave needs to be paid out.  Was there a registered pension plan or Group RRSP that needs to be addressed? 
  • Contact CPP and apply for a lump sum death benefit and any survivor’s benefits for dependant children and/or spouse.
  • If the deceased lived alone make sure the home is secure and all valuables have been removed for safekeeping. Dispose of all perishable goods in the home and secure their vehicle.  Notify Motor Vehicle department, hydro and other utility companies along with the broker who provided the homeowner’s or tenant’s general insurance package.
  • Set up a bank account under the name of the “The Estate of John/Jane Doe” to collect money owed and to pay out any credit card & utility bills, mortgage payments, income & property taxes, and insurance premiums.
  • If the deceased was a home renter notify the landlord while checking the lease and tenancy agreement regarding rules surrounding vacating the premises.
  • Cancel gym memberships, newspaper & magazine subscriptions.
  • If the deceased lived alone arrange for a “forever home” for any pets.

To be done in the weeks/months ahead

  • Prepare a full list of debts and notify all creditors; be prepared to advertise if they can not be found.
  • Did immediate family members or friends have loans outstanding to the deceased that must be repaid?
  • Prepare a full list of assets and current values that will be distributed to beneficiaries mentioned in the Will.
  • If real estate was involved, was it held “jointly” with another individual and thus should be transferred OR sold to provide cash to the estate?
  • Decide if Probate is required and if so, apply to the courts for “Letters of Probate”. This can either be done by the executor themselves or through a legal professional for a fee.
  • Prepare and file income tax returns for the year of death and any outstanding years should it be warranted. It is best to use an accountant (CPA) especially for anything not considered a simple estate. Tax rules can be tricky and a wise accountant can minimize taxes owed by using multiple tax returns in order to maximize tax credits.
  • Decide if you will charge a fee to the estate for your time and effort. Most families will be comfortable knowing a trusted individual will do the tedious work that no one else wants to do and pay accordingly for their time.

The end of the process 

  • Ensure that final tax clearances have been granted from Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and no further tax liabilities exist.
  • Pay out the final balances to all eligible beneficiaries.
  • Close the Estate bank account.