While it is an honour to be selected as an Executor; many would agree that it is also a burden. From our work assisting Executors, we have identified a number of common errors and misconceptions that Executors encounter when administering estates. We share some of these here, in an effort to help educate, and prevent problems before they arise.
Basic tips for Executors:
- Don’t allow anyone (e.g.: bank staff, insurance staff) to remove the staples from the original Will, for any reason. If staples are removed, the Executor will be required to provide evidence to the probate court as to the reasons for the staple removal, to show the court that the Will wasn’t tampered with.
- Don’t part with the original Will (other than giving it to the estate lawyer). Don’t mail it to anyone. All institutions should be able to take a photocopy of the original Will and return it to the Executor intact, while the Executor is meeting with them. If an institution cannot accommodate this, a lawyer can create a “notarially certified copy” of the original Will, and provide this to the institution.
- Do not write on the Will. Believe it or not, this happens, usually in an attempt to provide helpful annotations. Any such writing must be explained to the probate court, which can be time consuming and expensive.
- The important bills can usually be paid directly from the deceased’s bank account. Many Executors are under the misconception that they must pay all estate related expenses from their own pocket, with the expectation that they will be reimbursed by the estate later on. In fact, most financial institutions (credit unions, and banks) will pay important bills (such as funeral costs, mortgage payments, hydro & utilities, and property taxes) directly from the deceased’s bank account (assuming, of course, that there are sufficient funds in the account).
- The Executor should not deposit estate money (e.g. refunds, proceeds of sale of estate assets) into the his or her personal bank account. The Executor should always set up a new “estate” account at a financial institution, or send the funds to the estate lawyer’s office, for deposit. At all costs, the Executor should avoid intermingling estate assets with his or her own. Exception: intermingling may be forgivable where the Executor is the sole beneficiary of the estate, such as the surviving spouse.