In this post, our probate lawyers will explain the main responsibilities of an executor once someone has died in BC. Keep in mind this is just an overview of the subject and comprehensive legal advice should be sought if you are an executor currently administering estates. Without such legal advice, mistakes could be made and executors are personally liable for many types of mistakes. Here’s a general outline of what you should do if you have been tasked with administering an estate:
Find the Will:
Locate the original will. Once found, review it carefully to understand the testator’s wishes, assets, and any specific instructions. This, together with the death certificate are the two central documents which give executors the authority to carry out the duties on the rest of this list.
Once the will is found and confirms the executor, the next step is to contact a funeral home to organize the disposition of the body and obtain the official death certificate. You’ll need this document to prove the death of the testator (the person who created the will).
Identify and Secure Assets:
Take inventory of the testator’s assets and liabilities. This can include bank accounts, real estate, investments, personal belongings, debts, and more. Make sure to secure valuable assets to prevent loss or damage. Executors can be held personally liable if estate assets lose value because of their negligence.
Notify Relevant Parties:
Inform relevant parties about the testator’s death, such as family members, beneficiaries, financial institutions, insurance companies, and relevant government agencies.
Apply for Probate (if necessary):
Probate is the legal process that confirms the validity of the will and grants the executor authority to administer the estate. Not all estates require probate, but it might be necessary depending on the assets and the complexity of the estate. You’ll need to prepare an application and submit it to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. This process typically involves providing and signing documentation as well as paying court and probate fees.
Pay Debts and Expenses:
Determine and pay off any outstanding debts and expenses of the estate. This might include funeral costs, outstanding bills, and taxes. The executor may be held personally liable for these debts if they remain unpaid after the distribution of the estate.
Determine if any taxes are owed by the estate. This can include income tax, capital gains tax, and possibly estate tax. You might need to work with a qualified accountant or tax professional to ensure the proper tax filings are done.
Keep Detailed Records:
Throughout the process, keep detailed records of all your actions, expenses, communications, and decisions. This is important for transparency and accountability.
Once all tasks are completed and the estate is fully distributed, prepare a final accounting of the estate’s activities. This accounting may need to be provided to the beneficiaries.
Final taxes and releases:
When everything is settled at the end of the process, you can formally close the estate. This might involve obtaining releases from beneficiaries and filing final tax returns.
Distribute the Estate:
After all debts, taxes, and expenses are settled, you can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries as outlined in the will. Make sure to follow the instructions in the will carefully.
It’s important to note that acting as an executor can be complex and time-consuming. This is a list of the basic requirement of settling an estate which may not apply to every estate. There are dozens of steps required that are not described above. If you’re unsure about any of the steps or legal requirements of an executor, consult with a probate lawyer at Westcoast Wills & Estates. We focus on estate law so you don’t need to an expert.