What does the executor under a will do? Jul 09, 2010

The short answer to this question is – a lot!

First, a point of clarification. What we have been accustomed to calling an Executor (or Executrix, if a woman) is now known as an Estate Trustee. For this article, we’ll call this person an ET.

The ET has many significant responsibilities. The first of these is the responsibility to arrange the funeral and burial of the deceased. When a deceased has prearranged funeral details, or has specified such details in a will, there would seem little reason not to comply.

After the immediacy of the funeral, the ET’s job really begins.


The first category of duties can be described as gathering and organizing documents. This begins with a review of the will. Beyond funeral arrangements, the ET must become familiar with the distribution specified by the will. There may be specific gifts to named individuals, such as jewellery or household effects; there may be a division of the residue of the estate among family; or, there may be trusts established to provide for minor age children.

Beyond becoming familiar with the will, the ET must safeguard the estate assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries. A list or inventory of the assets and liabilities of the estate must be compiled. In conjunction with these activities, it is advisable that the ET meet with a lawyer early in the process.

Filing and Notifying

The next category of duties includes various filings and notifications. Where appropriate or necessary, there may be a requirement to apply for probate of the will. This is an involved process, including an application to the court, to confirm the appointment of the ET. In some circumstances it is necessary; in others it, and the associated probate and legal fees, can be avoided.

There are benefits available to the estate, including pension, insurance and government program payments, that must be identified and pursued. Creditors of the estate should be identified and paid. Income streams must be continued or finalized, if appropriate.

It may be necessary to cancel services and suppliers under contract to the deceased, such as utilities and other providers. In other cases, such arrangements may have to be transferred to another party, and placed in the name of another person, such as a surviving spouse.

Further Steps

Several steps must be taken and matters concluded before the ET’s duties are finished. Accounts must be settled. The assets of the estate – the property left behind by the deceased – have to be distributed to beneficiaries. Tax returns, for the final tax year of the deceased (if not yet filed) and final returns must be filed, and a Clearance Certificate obtained from Canada Revenue Agency. As distributions are made to beneficiaries, releases have to be obtained.

As should be evident, the administration of an estate, and the job of the ET, are complex matters. The choice of the ET is an important consideration for anyone preparing a will. And the advice and assistance of counsel are essential to an effective and efficient completion of responsibilities.