Choosing your executor is an important task since he or she is responsible for looking after your estate and ensuring that your final wishes are carried out. It is best to choose both a primary and a secondary or alternate executor in case your primary executor is unable or unwilling to act at the relevant time. You should also keep in mind that your executor can be held personally liable for any mistakes made despite the mistake being made while acting in good faith. Before you decide on your executor you should be aware of what the job entails.
There are four groups of people to choose from – each with their own positives and negatives.
- Spouse/partner – The one person you probably know the most about and about how he or she would be able to handle the tasks. If, however, you feel that they would become overwhelmed during this difficult time it might be best to choose someone else.
- Family – often siblings or adult children – Do you choose one, two or all of them? Is yours a blended family? Will they be able to make decisions together? Sibling rivalry may become magnified under the stress. If you have concerns about them getting along they may not be your best option.
- Friend – childhood friends, neighbours and work acquaintances – These are the people you can talk to. They know how you feel about things. Some know your secrets. Would they have the time or the inclination to take on the tasks?
- Professional – lawyers, accountants, banks, trust companies and professional executors – Some in this group have traditionally had the reputation of being slow, impersonal and expensive. Some trust companies won’t act for estates with a value less than $200,000.
Your executor should be at least 18 years of age and mentally capable. He or she should also be:
Business-like and transparent – Your executor needs to be detail-oriented and able to work diligently and efficiently. He or she must pay debts and taxes and be able to handle all your other financial matters. Beneficiaries must be kept informed of progress and delays and how the estate is being handled overall. Your executor may also have to deal with discontented beneficiaries and resolve disputes in a diplomatic manner.
Even-handed and impartial – He or she must treat all beneficiaries equally and without favouritism. Your executor must also ensure that each beneficiary receives what he or she is entitled to under the Will. A sympathetic manner will also be appreciated by the beneficiaries.
Able to ask for help – Although perhaps familiar with the tasks ahead, you choice of executor should also be able to understand the limitations of their knowledge and be open to seeking appropriate advice for tasks beyond their skill level. There is a risk of liability for any mistakes made even if made in good faith.
Willing to dedicate a considerable amount of time to your estate – The average time to administer an estate is about 18 months. Some simple estates take considerably less time and complicated estates will often take more. Your executor must be willing to take the time necessary to ensure that your wishes are fulfilled.
Available – Preferably they live in the same city or area as you. Otherwise there is the inconvenience of travelling back and forth to administer your estate. A trustee who lives outside the province may be required to post an administration bond (generally twice the value of the estate), the cost of which is paid by the estate.
Your executor should be someone you trust. He or she will go through all of your personal belongings in order to find contact information, paperwork, tax returns, and items referred to in your Will. You will have no privacy and secrets may be found. You also want someone who will do everything possible to honor your wishes.
In all cases, it’s best to talk with your preferred executors (primary and secondary) to ask them if they would be willing to do this for you. If the answer is no, you can go on to your next choice. An unwilling executor can renounce the appointment before taking on any tasks. It is better to know that beforehand so that you can make another choice.