It is no wonder there is confusion around executors, estates and probate. No one wants to consider their own demise so discussions tend to be avoided. Death, however, is a certainty, and with this in mind you need the basics in place to protect your loved ones.
In this article, I will explain what an executor does, why you need one and will also provide an introduction to probate.
An executor carries out your final wishes as detailed in your will. When there is uncertainty, your executor plays a part in sorting through the details and in essence, does their best to act as you would in distributing your assets within the confines of the law. Without a will, an administrator is selected. This individual manages the estate similarly to an executor; however, the absence of a will can make for a much more involved process.
While an executor may or may not be a beneficiary, it is essential that the person you assign is responsible, organized and a good communicator. Communication plays a key role as managing an estate can be complex and an executor must keep the family and other beneficiaries informed at all points.
Among their first tasks, the executor arranges a funeral and informs others of the death. Informing extends beyond friends and loved-ones to organizations such as government agencies, banks, etc.
The executor must also complete the very detailed task of settling the estate. This begins with cataloguing all assets and liabilities and determining what items form part of the estate and what passes directly to a beneficiary. Assets with an assigned beneficiary (RRSPs, insurance products, etc.) will avoid going through probate which is another reason why pre-planning will benefit your family.
Because the process of taking inventory of assets, settling debts, and liquidating the estate can be complex and take a long time, detailed financial records must be kept for all amounts flowing into and out of the estate. Additionally, the final tax return must be prepared and submitted by the executor, as well as possibly a tax return for the estate itself.
Probate certainly has its myths and uncertainty. Most people have heard of probate, but have little understanding of how it works.
For estates with a value of more than $25,000, probate is usually required. Probate grants the executor the authority needed to settle the estate by proving that the will, and the executor’s role, is valid to banks, pension offices and other organizations.
Within the Lower Mainland, there are probate registries in Vancouver, New Westminster and Chilliwack, with others around the province. Probate filing documents can be prepared by the executor (a kit is available in many office supply stores) or by a lawyer, and must include the list of assets and liabilities with values. The fee to file is $200 plus probate fee – approximately 1.4% of the value of assets within the estate.
Generally the courts will process the application within 2 to 3 months granting the executor the authority necessary to finalize details of the estate.
Obviously the process can be time-consuming and up to 5% of the value of the estate is available for the executor for their service, however, it is important to note that this money comes out of the estate and will reduce the asset value available to beneficiaries.
Mortality is far from a fun topic, but planning and preparation will make things easier for your executor and loved ones. No one has yet figured out how to live forever, so take the time now to ensure your estate is in order.
Gregg Medwid is the owner and president of Executor Support, a Coquitlam based firm with expertise assisting executors and administrators in settling estates. The project management expertise and customer service focus Medwid brings to Executor Support ensures questions are answered and help is given when it is most needed.
This article is in no way intended to substitute for competent legal advice.
Gregg Medwid, Owner