What If I’ve Been Appointed Executor in a Will in Canada?

Imagine for a moment you have been appointed executor of someone’s estate, and he or she passes away. Do you know what to do? Where will the deceased’s things go? Where do you even start? Or, perhaps you are writing your will and you need to decide who to appoint as executor; here are some things to consider regarding this important post.

Appointing an Executor in the First Place

When making a will, the testator (will maker) should appoint someone executor who will make responsible decisions, and who will follow any directions left in the will for the disposal or distribution of property. An executor may be a family member, close friend, or sometimes simply someone who has the ability to handle an estate (e.g., a trust company). A person appointed to handle an estate in a will is called the executor; a person not appointed in the will but handling the estate anyway is called the administrator.

Who Qualifies as a Good Executor?

Being an executor is a huge responsibility. The fate of someone else’s belongings is in the executor’s hands and the executor must be capable of honoring the deceased’s wishes. Choosing someone to be an executor is a major decision, essentially it making decisions on someone else’s behalf. Some of the responsibilities that an executor acquires in the event of a death include:

  • Making reasonable funeral arrangements.
  • Finding and taking control of the assets of the deceased.
  • Preparing an inventory, valuing the assets, and keeping an account.
  • Finding and probating the will, if necessary.
  • Dealing with debts and claims against the estate.
  • Accounting to, distributing to, and getting releases from the beneficiaries.

The duties listed above require an executor that has certain qualities and a particular mindset. An executor who will likely do a good job is someone who possesses such attributes as patience, wisdom, knowledge, discretion, and organization. These people embrace their new responsibility of being appointed executor and they take on these tasks maturely and carefully. There are a couple of things you might want to consider while making the decision to accept the executor role. That’s right — you do not have to accept it! More on that in a moment.

Do You Have the Time, Energy, and Knowledge Necessary?

A death is often unexpected and can occur in a very busy time in a person’s life. You may be in the middle of a hectic time at work, or family obligations could have a significant impact on how well you can handle this role. You may simply being too worn out from other situations in life, such as the death itself. If you feel that being an executor will cause too much stress, then perhaps this may not be the best job for you. Don’t feel guilty if you feel that you cannot take it on; it is important for it to be done correctly and well, otherwise things could become very complicated. If you do feel like it is something you can handle, know that it is a lot of work, but by seeking out professional help and being confident, doing a good job is possible.

Do You Have the Expertise?

Finally, do you feel as though you would be able to take initiative in order to figure out how to handle someone else’s estate after their death? Many people have little to no knowledge regarding this role and it is not a job that suits just anyone. It is important to be able to ask questions and learn about the job as there is a lot of knowledge that should be brought to the position. Being an executor is not the same as simply house-sitting; you are essentially handling the remnants of someone’s life and making critical decisions as to what will come of it. Ultimately, you must be willing to spend the time to educate yourself on what is required of this role. If not, it is advisable that someone else take on the responsibility before you begin making arrangements that are too much for you to handle.

It’s Your Choice

If you are writing your will, it is your choice as to who you appoint as executor.

Also, you are not bound to be an executor if someone has chosen you for the job. If, after careful consideration you feel you can handle it, the job can be worthwhile. If you decide not to take it on, you can decline.

For More Information click to enlargeCanadian lawyer Tom Carter’s book, So You’ve Been Appointed Executor, is available in our web store. The information that is available in this book is for anyone who has been appointed executor in a will, is taking on the role of administrator of an estate, is writing a will, or is just curious about all the different roles involved. Tom Carter has offered his expertise on the basics of what an executor does, the duties specific to the job, and examples of situations where an executor is needed.

47 thoughts on “What If I’ve Been Appointed Executor in a Will in Canada?

  1. How do we change the executor of a will of a person who has passed away. All parties are in agreement with the change. There is no property involved. Do we need a lawyer to do this?

    1. The normal procedure if the person named as administrator is unable or unwilling to perform the task is for the Alternate Administrator named in the will to do the administration work. If no alternate was named or the named alternate also does not want to perform the task, an application to administer the estate can be made to the court which will require evidence that the named administrator(s) are unable or unwilling to perform. Applying for Administration is described in these books from Self-Counsel Press, with step-by-step instructions in the Probate titles. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Presshttp://www.self-counsel.com

  2. My good friend will be the sole benifiary of my estate.
    Can I appoint the wife of my good friend as my executor??

    1. The risk in appointing the spouse of a sole beneficiary as the executor of your will is that someone might challenge that appointment on the basis that the spouse would be an indirect beneficiary. If you have no offspring or other family members who might claim an interest in your estate, there is less risk of a challenge. The Editors

    1. I assume this question is about writing a will. There is no need for a codicil to deal with he residue of one's estate; the best approach is to include in the will itself a sentence declaring how the residue should be distributed.

      A codicil is most often used to change something in the will. In most cases, it would be better to re-write the will and include the change, so there is no ambiguity.

      Richard Day
      Self-Counsel Press

  3. I live in Quebec, must my executor also live in Quebec to conduct the business of the estate?
    All my family lives in the Caribbean.

    1. Your executor can come from another country to deal with the distribution of your estate, but will probably be required t post a bond with the courts. She or he will also have to be willing to spend an extended time in the province as the process can take some months to complete.In general, it is better to try and appoint a local executor. An executor does not have to be a family member – in fact it is better to not have someone who will also be a beneficiary of the will act as the executor, to eliminate possible disputes over bias or self-interest. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  4. Hi, I live in Alberta and am a widow and my Daughter lives in BC and my son in Ireland. If I have them as joint executors will my son have to post a bond?

    1. Your son may have to post a bond, as a non-resident of your province. The easiest way to check is to call and ask the local court registrar (the approach taken can vary by province and sometimes by court district). Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Presshttp://www.self-counsel.com

  5. Hello My Sister is named the executrix of my mothers will. My mother died 4 months ago and the executrix has not even contacted our other siblings, infact she advised me not to contact anyone. she didn't even arange for mom's funeral. So I went ahead and aranged for my moms funeral and cremation and burial and went to the bank to have her bills paid all with out any help from the executrix. It seems to me that she is looking for her own self-intrest from her comments. she is keeping us in the dark … No copy of WILL or Contact to siblings has been make. What can be done? it has been over 4 months.

    1. If the person appointed to execute the will fails to do so, you can apply to the court to “Administer” the will.Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Presshttp://www.self-counsel.com

  6. My father is the executor to his mother's will. She passed away many years ago but left the house to her kids. So the oldest brother came home to retire and took over the house and renovated it and such. He realized that he did not want to stay in his hometown so now he want to sell it. The problem is the deed is not in his name but his mothers. So my father was asked to give the OK to sign the house over being executor of her estate. The 3 rd brother does not want to sell it. My father being the executor to the will can he make a decision to let the other brother sell it ?

    1. If your grandmother passed away many years ago, her will should have gone through the probate process at that time and legal possession (title to the property) should have passed to one or more of the kids per what the will stipulated. If her will was not probated and title to the property remains in the name of a deceased person, it is doubtful that anyone will be able to buy or sell it. Your family will likely need a lawyer to help sort this out. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Presshttp://www.self-counsel.com

  7. my father passed away and named both my brother and I as executors in his will. As we live in different parts of the country I am willing to step down and let him handle it. What do have to do to step down?

    1. When the executors notify the court that they wish to probate a will, an executor can at that time indicate that she declines the task.Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  8. my aunt appointed me and her nephew on her husbands side as executor of her will. i spoke to her in the summer but then my brother in-law got cancer and his daughter had a brain tumor. my husband and myself were running aroung helping his family. Because of this i didn't call my aunt until just before Christmas to tell her why i hadn't been in touch. To my surprise her number was disconnected and when i went to her apartment i was told she had been put into a retirement home by her sister in-law. i was never notified and only by luck the superintendant had the nephews phone number. when i called he said he had to get back to me. His mother called (my aunt's sister in-law) and would not tell me where she was and said I could not visit her anyways. What do I do?

    1. Assuming your aunt has named you and the nephew as executors in her will, and that the two of you are named as joint executors, the will cannot pass through the probate process without your being notified and involved, but that is after she passes away. In the meantime, if other family members are unwilling to disclose her location, you could try calling retirement homes in the area you think she has most likely been placed, and asking to speak to her. That could require a few, or many calls. The alternative would be to retain the services of a private investigator. We don't believe there is any legal recourse available to force your relatives to disclose your aunt's location. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

    1. If an executor is not resident in the province in which the will is to be probated, the executor may be asked by the court to post a bond or make other warranties. An out-of-country resident will almost always be required to post a bond and will also face the expense of travelling to the province where the probate application is made.So it is possible for an executor to be living in another country, but it might not be the best approach.Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  9. Can an executor open a self directed plan and transfer investments held in a full-sevice account at the time of death from the full service account to the self directed account to save brokerage fees on the liquidation of the investments?

    1. I posed your question to  lawyer Tom Carter, author of the book So You've Been Appointed Executor, and his answer is:Difficult to say. If the executor lives in Alberta I would say \”yes\” given the provisions of Alberta's Trustee Act but I advise that person to contact an Alberta estate lawyer to confirm before acting. If he /she is in another province the relevant legislation should be consulted before doing so.Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  10. grandmother passes, sons and daughters alive. Unknown to anyone grandson takes grandmother 6 mths ago to change will to include himself in will and add his wife as executor! Can this be done?


    1. An executor who is also a beneficiary can be challenged in the probate process. If you want to pursue this it would be a good idea to seek help from a lawyer.

      Richard Day
      Self-Counsel Press

    1. It is generally not a good idea to appoint someone as the executor of your will if that person is also a beneficiary of the will, as it tends to lead to challenges from other relatives who feel they should benefit. If you are confident there would not be other interested relatives objecting, the appointment should work.

      The other issues: your daughter would likely need to travel to BC to do the probate work and she might be asked by the court to post a security bond while doing the probate (the bond requirement for executors living out of province is discretionary for the courts and so is unpredictable).

      Richard Day

  11. Does anyone know of any free templates for keeping track of things as an executor? I have searched and have not found anything.

    1. Our Probate Kits (Alberta, BC, Ontario) contain checklists to help with the executor's tasks; the book So You've Been Appointed Executor provides general steps to be taken. A generic template probably would not work in Canada because of the provincial differences in the probate process. Richard Day

  12. My Uncle lives in US and has property in Quebec. He passed away and left everything to my Mom.Problem is we dont know what he actually ownes in Canada. Property, bank accounts, ECT. How do we find this out ?

    1. Unless your uncle kept records of his property and accounts, or there are at least bank statements to work with as a starting point, the process of identifying his assets will be difficult. If he left everything to your mother, it is surprising that his will did not say what (and where) \”everything\” is.The first step may be to identify the bank he used and enquire if they have records which could help you.Richard Day

  13. Can you help clarify?
    Sibling passed away suddenly.
    Will is less than three months old.
    Executor requested cell phone records (with texts) from Telus. Telus is insisting they need a court order. Executor is in charge of everything, no administrator and no spouse. Why cant executor get phone records??
    Sincere Thanks.

    1. Telephone companies are (correctly) very cautious about releasing any cell phone or telephone records to anyone other than the account holder. The executor should go to the probate court where the probate is being done and ask for assistance. Richard Day

  14. Ok so I have a real issue here my children grandmother died in 2006 and at that time I could not afford the cost to pursue a challenge on the will they were not of legal age then. The original will leave them sole beneficiary but they fathers girlfriend rewrote the will with the lawyer the represented them in our custody case. When their father told me she was dying from pancreatic cancer and she only had weeks to live, I had made the suggestion that we have a trustee assigned to manage the children inheritance. _The next thing I know they were dis-inherited and everything was left to the girlfriend, can they do anything now about it there was so much fraud in the family law case, I can clearly see the will was tampered with because where the children’s names would go she placed her name. __What can they do now that it is 7 years later and my son wants to pursue this !!_Because he see's it as this girlfriend who is no longer witht he father stole there inheritance to the tune of 98,0000. any advise !

    1. The only advice we can give you in this situation is that your son and/or you need to discuss this case with a lawyer who is a specialist in wills and estate law. Richard Day

  15. My Canadian citizen mother has named an executor to her will who is our sibling who is a US citizen. Will there be complications for her in this situation? Are there tax implications for her? Will the will be difficult to execute?

    1. An executor to a will is normally required to go to the place where the deceased person resided, in order to undertake the probate process. When the executor is not a resident, she may be required by the probate court to post a monetary bond. This is because the executor will (usually) be dealing with all the assets of the deceased, and those assets can have considerable value.Tax implications will depend in part on where the probate takes place. If your mother is also a beneficiary of the will, it is possible that any \”value\” received as a beneficiary may be subject to tax. The only way to know if this would apply to your mother would be to ask the sibling to check with an estate lawyer (or possibly the sibling's bank) where the sibling lives. We think Canada would treat anything your mother receives via a will as a \”gift\” and not tax it, but your mother can and should ask her bank to clarify this in advance. Richard Day

  16. my sister is a canadian, single living in ontario and i am a malaysian. is there any problem for me as a foreigner to be named as the heir if there is a will.? Does her will need to be written by a lawyer or no need.?If no lawyer is required can it be signed by her alone or does she need a witness to sign? if so, can the witness be another sister who is not an heir or has it gotta to be close friend?

    1. Yes, your sister can name you as her beneficiary in her will. The fact you are not a Canadian does not prevent that. For your sister's will to be valid, her signature on the will must be witnessed by two \”competent adults\” – two adults who are not known to suffer from a mental impairment. Your sister should sign the will in front of them, and then they should witness with their signatures.Your sister does not need a lawyer if the estate is simple (a typical estate would be a home, one or two vehicles, and some savings/investments). If the estate is complex (and involves large amounts of money, a lawyer is recommended. To do her own will, your sister should purchase and read a book or \”wills kit\” aimed at do-it-yourself wills. We publish the best-selling ones in Canada. Richard Day

  17. I am a single person who lives alone. I am just starting the process of creating my will using your 3 Easy Steps CD and book. I would like to appoint my former common law spouse (still friends) as my executor. We are joint owners of the house where I live but he lives elsewhere and travels frequently. In the event of my death, who is it that would notify my executor and how would they determine who that is? I have three sisters who would benefit along with my former spouse, however, my sisters live in another province and we are not often in touch. I guess my question is, if the executor notifies the beneficiaries of my death, who notifies the executor?

    1. That is a very good question! You need someone who is reliable and most likely to know of your passing, who can make the effort to notify your executor. Our suggestions would be to consider your family doctor, a church minister if you are a regular, or a trusted friend or neighbour. As added insurance, you may want to leave a note on the bedside table … \”in the event of my passing, please notify X at this telephone number/email address.\” Richard Day

  18. how do I found out if there is or was a will written my father passed 8 years ago remarried other than my mother when asked her about his will her answer was there was no will but i know there was my brother and i seen a copy of a will in earlier years for my father he showed us him self i guess i want to know is the fact that my father has passed do myself and brother have any legal rights to his personal property and assets

    1. If your father passed away 8 years ago, you should check with the probate court closest to where he lived to ask if there is a record of a will in his name having gone through the probate process. Probate is usually done in the province of death, at a probate court closest to the residence if the deceased.You should be aware that when people remarry they write a new will (revoking the old one) or sometimes just destroy the old will and make asset ownership arrangements so that there is very little left when they pass away (e.g. put major assets like homes and vehicles in the name of their spouse). Richard Day

  19. My mother passed away but i cannot find a will i am her only son , question is am i her executor of her estate and legal matters.

    1. If you are unable to find your mother's will you can apply to the probate court in the area where she lived, to be appointed as the “Administrator” of her estate. Estate administration is almost the same work an executor does (there is slightly different paperwork), and is a much better approach than leaving it to the province to do the work. Richard Day

  20. I am a US resident(Canadian citizen) and the executor of my mother-in-law's estate in Alberta. Her other son lives in Alberta, but refuses to be the executor, I believe he is the co-executor. My husband flies back & forth from the US for his job in Alberta. He pays Canadian taxes, but resides with me in the US. Who would be the best person to appoint as the executor of her estate?

  21. It sounds like your husband would be the best person to appoint, because he visits frequently. He _might_ be asked to post a refundable bond, but requiring that is optional at the court. I can understand your brother being reluctant to be the sole executor, Richard Day

  22. Where your executor lives is not problem. If your executor is also a named beneficiary in the will and there are other beneficiaries, that could cause a problem of perceived conflict.Richard DaySelf-Counsel Press http://www.self-counsel.com

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