Executor’s Duty to Protect the Estate

Are you handling an estate? Then this is your first duty as an estate legal representative. You protect persons, property, assets, valuables and family pets.

You will learn this is the first of many duties. To help my clients, I explain the three primary executor duties in the Executor Mantra: Protect, Probate and Pay. If you remember this sequence you should have less stress and more success. I will cover each of these three duties in future posts.

In this post, I’ll explain what is involved in protecting the estate. As an estate trustee, you may need to protect estate assets until you close the estate.

You must protect the estate for those who have a financial interest in it. This includes beneficiaries as well as creditors. Remember, you cannot pay beneficiaries before all creditors are paid. Beneficiaries may not understand this and may want their inheritance now.

The first step is protection. It involves three distinct functions.  But you really need to begin by protecting yourself.

Executors Need Legal Advice

Before you proceed, I assume you located the original will. You confirmed you are the named executor. If there are co-executors or other named estate trustees, you have contacted them.

You have consulted with an experienced estate lawyer.  You’ve received legal advice and you understand:

  • the will appears to be valid
  • you have the legal authority to proceed
  • the estate has more assets than liabilities (it’s not bankrupt)
  • you can be compensated for your services
  • what records you need to start keeping
  • you will be able to finish all tasks (with hired experts)
  • you grasp the risks involved in handling estate assets

You’ve decided that you want the job of being an executor. Once you start acting as an executor, you require court approval to quit. Quitting may require you to have a court audit. This can be an expensive and time-consuming process.

You can decline or renounce being an executor.

Your reasons for this can be numerous. Consider the Questions Executors Must Ask in my free download Ed’s Executor Essentials.

Now let’s see what executors protect.

Protecting the Estate – Step 1: Secure Valuables

You must take possession of cash, jewelry, car keys or other valuables. Remove and store such items in a bank safety deposit box.

The original will is a valuable estate asset. You must file the original will with the court in most cases. Keep it safe in your possession at all times.

Secure all identity documents such as driver’s licenses, passport, passwords, laptops, bank and credit cards.

Protect collections (coins, stamps, art or other assets) that can be removed.

Change the security passwords and locks on apartments or homes.

If there is a business, you need specific legal advice. It is dangerous to deal with business assets and employees.

Secure legal documents such tax returns, marriage certificate, divorce decrees, separation, shareholder or buy/sell agreements.

Protecting estate assets means you do not distribute estate property. There are exceptions but you need legal advice to protect you.

Read related posts:
Executors, How to Quit When Your Job Makes You Sick

About Ed Olkovich

I am Toronto estate lawyer, author and editor of Carswell’s legal guide, Compensation and Duties of Estate Trustees, Guardians and Attorneys. I am a Certified Specialist in Estates and Trusts law. I have handled estate disputes and probate problems since 1978. © 2014