Why Executors Need to Assess Risks

Did you ever turn down a job offer? Your instincts probably said it wasn’t right or a good fit. The offer to serve as estate executor is like a job offer. It may be a job you should turn down.  You need more than good instincts to decide.

Here are some CORE factors to consider before accepting the job as an estate executor. Take a moment to review this CORE factors list. It will help you understand what is involved in administering an estate. And it will eliminate the fear you may have about being an unprepared executor.

CORE FACTORS Executors Need to Consider

Each estate is different with diverse issues and challenges. You should get proper legal advice from an experienced estate lawyer. That is not always the lawyer who prepared the will. Your first step should be to understand your obligations. Don’t rush to say ‘yes’ to the job.

Here is a list of factors and questions to consider with your advisor.

C – Commitment

Are you prepared to commit your time and energy to the job?    

Confirm with a lawyer what your time commitment will be over the next 1-3 years.

•    Will this take time away from your family and work obligations?
•    Will this time commitment affect your health?
•    Are you ready to take charge of the estate?

If not, then you may be better off running away from the job.

O – Objections

Will anyone object to you being executor?

•    Do you have a conflict of interest acting as an executor?
•    Do you live so far away that travel time will be stressful?
•    Are disappointed relatives saying they will object to the will’s validity?
•    Will you be involved in a legal battle?

If so, you may not want to get started on the job.

R – Remuneration

This is a fancy word for executor pay.

You may want to be an executor for the honour and the pay.

But estate beneficiaries who feel left out or disrespected may give you neither. Beneficiaries must approve your pay for your services. That can make compensation difficult to obtain.

What if halfway through your tasks you change your mind?  What if you want to resign from the job?  This is a complex and costly procedure that requires court approval. You are better off not starting the job.

Before you assume responsibilities for an estate, you should consider your liability. Acting and representing yourself as executor to others can impose responsibilities on you.

Creditors can make you explain where every penny of estate money went (called: “providing an accounting”).

How can you avoid such problems?

It is easier and cheaper to reject the job offer at the beginning.

E – Is for Estate law.

There are special legal rules, and you need a legal guide.

Do not try to do all the estate work on your own. You need a professional to guide you through your legal responsibilities. Make sure the estate has enough assets so you will not be afraid to pay for advice.

Every jurisdiction has specific legal rules you need to understand. Advisors can take you through the steps to:

•    probate the will
•    file the Estate Information Return
•    file federal estate tax returns
•    distribute personal effects and contents
•    deal with impatient beneficiaries
•    calculate your executor compensation

Review these CORE factors before you begin acting as an executor.


About Ed Olkovich

I am a 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 successfully resolved many estate disputes for spouses. These have included elections under the Family Law Act and dependant’s relief under the Succession Law Reform Act. I have handled estate disputes and probate problems since 1978.