Executors are appointed to carry out a deceased’s wishes regarding the disposition of their estate. Executors are named by the deceased in a will but can be court-appointed if prior arrangements were not made, in which case they are referred to as administrators.
An executor’s role is significant and should not be taken lightly. The job is arduous and, should you accept responsibility, renders you legally responsible for a person’s estate. In some instances, executors expend considerable amounts of time fulfilling their role and may be subject to personal financial risk.
Should you be appointed as an executor, here are some important points you should know.
Responsibilities of an executor
An executor’s general responsibility is to oversee and dispose of any money, property or possessions a testator – or will-maker – leaves behind after death. The duty may be jointly held if the testator also named another executor in the will. The individual tasks range from issuing small possessions to beneficiaries and cancelling credit cards to more complex undertakings like selling a home or business. Responsibilities largely depend on the will’s terms and the estate’s complexity. Among other activities, an executor:
- Identifies and maintains the deceased’s property until the estate is settled
- Finds and contacts beneficiaries
- Gets the will probated
- Appears in court
- Disburses assets to beneficiaries
- Pays outstanding taxes and debts
- Notifies government bodies and other entities of the deceased’s death
When fulfilling their responsibilities, executors also have a fiduciary duty to act reasonably, in the estate’s interest and the interest of its beneficiaries.
Right to renunciation
Acting as an executor for an estate is optional. You cannot be forced to act even after a testator has died; appointed executors have the right to refuse to act or renounce the executorship and its associated responsibilities. Renunciation of your role as an executor necessitates that you alert the other parties involved in the handling of the estate, complete a notice of renunciation, have that notice witnessed and file the final document with the courts.
You may not be able to relinquish the role once you have begun acting as executor. The completion of certain tasks constitutes intermeddling, precluding an executor from being able to renounce their role and responsibilities. Furthermore, the law mandates that you continue to act until the courts grant leave of that responsibility. If you take any of the following steps, it is considered intermeddling:
- Making arrangements for the funeral
- Paying outstanding debts
- Collecting outstanding debts
- Disposing of assets
- Transferring property belonging to the deceased to third parties
When handling especially complex estates, executors need to draw on specialized knowledge, including knowledge of applicable laws and accounting principles – which they may not have. Consequently, they may enlist the help of a wills lawyer, accountant or other specialized personnel to complete the process.
Legal support may be necessary for resolving disputes between beneficiaries, an accountant for tax-related issues and a valuator for the property sale. The estate will likely bear the cost of added support.
The executor’s year
Executors have one year from a testator’s date of death to settle an estate. While the time is considered adequate for most estates, complex cases can take longer. The executor’s year is not cast in stone but serves to prevent actors from unduly delaying the settlement of estates. Therefore, beneficiaries have the right to take legal steps to have the estate administered or the executor removed if an executor has not settled an estate after the prescribed year.
Wills and estates lawyer in Surrey
Settling an estate with or without a will can be a challenge, even without potential risks and liabilities. You don’t have to do it alone. If you are the executor of a will and need help navigating the process, reach out to us at Nirwan Law Corporation. Our wills and estate lawyers in Surrey will support and guide you through the process. Reach us by phone at 604-372-0253 or contact us online for a free consultation.