Suddenly, You’re the Executor of an Estate… Now What?


Are you anxious about the new responsibilities you face? Don’t panic or stay up nights worrying. You may be a grieving beneficiary as well as executor. My free three-stage Executor Roadmap can help you reduce your stress on your estate journey.

You can decline the job before starting any executor work. Speak with an estate lawyer before you act. The job may not be right for you, especially if the will is contested. Once you get started, it may be too late to quit.

I am starting a new series for executors with the Executor Roadmap. This is stage one.

For your protection: This roadmap is not legal advice. Consider getting legal advice before you begin executor work.

First Stage – Protecting Estate Assets

Step 1: Protect and secure estate valuables.

Find and read the original last will to confirm your instructions. Seek advice from estate lawyers for complex issues, including minors, dependants, businesses or other executors. The will does not explain all your legal duties. You need help sometimes to find the will or interpret it.

Secure cash, computers, pets, perishables and valuables. Secure passwords, passports, credit cards, marriage or divorce and identity documents. Write down your decisions and expenditures as you need these later. Closing an estate can take six months to two years. Keep records of your time as you may be asked to show them.

Step 2: Executors identify estate assets and valuables.

Yes, you are expected to keep an estate inventory. You list all estate assets and debts. Note also any joint assets, insurance and other benefits going to people not in the will. You are handling another person’s valuables and must account for every penny. Don’t pay estate bills with your money though.

Use your estate inventory to calculate provincial estate taxes and federal income taxes. You’ll learn about that in stage two. Your inventory later helps to probate the will and close the estate. You don’t have to count every cup and saucer. However, you need to collect financial and tax records.

Step 3: Executors assess what risks you must address.

Consider if there are people in need.  Don’t leave the laptop where it is or forget to change locks. What assets need insurance? Prepare checklists of things to do to prevent harm to the estate. List contact information for beneficiaries and relatives to be notified. You will communicate with beneficiaries during your journey. Be careful and do not rush making decisions.

There are some things you can do by yourself, but take advantage of professionals to guide you. Have an estate lawyer review the will. Confirm your duties and deadlines. If the will needs to be probated and court certified, you are in the second stage.

Let me know if you find my Executor Roadmap helpful.

Need executor help? I wrote Executor Kung Fu to make probate painless. I have helped executors since 1978 and can help you. Contact me now. Stage two is the next post you’ll want to read.