Being an Executor or Executrix is likely something you have never done before. You don’t know what you don’t know, and no one hands you a manual with clear steps to take, because every Estate is different. There are people in business to make you feel you need their help, and sometimes you do.
Sure, there will be some similarities in completing an Estate, like filing a Terminal Tax Return with the Canada Revenue Agency for the deceased and being formally released from your role. But do you know how long it takes to complete this job? Do you fully understand the potential pitfalls of saying “Yes?”
Before you say “Yes:”
1. Are you willing to invest your time to fully understand the role of Executor / Executrix and what the job entails including your legal responsibilities and the consequences if you miss a step?
2. Do you want the job and have the time to do it well?
If you got past the first two questions and said “Yes” to both, here are a few more questions to consider:
3. Do you understand with clarity the instructions that the Testator (the person who is naming you Executor / Executrix in their Will) is leaving for you, including what they want done with their body?
4. How comfortable are you at asking direct questions to gain clarity about their instructions if the instructions are not clear?
5. Are you willing to “be with” any emotional responses your questions may evoke to get the answers you need, including anger? What about emotional outbursts from the Beneficiaries?
6. How committed are you to meet with the Testator, annually, to ensure everything is still up to date, including details about the Testator’s financial situation?
7. Do you know the location of all the important documents you will need to settle the Testator’s affairs and how to access them?
8. Can you cover any costs that you may incur to fulfill your role until the Estate matters are complete? If not, how will you address this? Do you know what those costs might be?
If your answer is “No”
An honest “No” now is much more important than a polite “Yes” hoping to avoid short term pain for both you and the Testator. Why? Because even though you may feel honoured about being asked to step into this weighty role, you are being asked because the Testator believes you are the best person for the job. They are counting on you to carry out their wishes and to stand strong against opposing opinions that may place demands upon you to do something different.
If you do not feel up for this role, you are doing the Testator a favor by saying “No” now, so they can find the best person to carry out their instructions. This does not mean you are a failure. It’s not personal, or at least you shouldn’t take it as personal. It is the most responsible thing to do to say “No” now if you do not feel fully capable or willing to take on the task.
From my experience of going through the Court to be granted the role of “Administrator,” (my mom did not name an Executor), the next steps I needed to take became clear after each step was taken.
My Mother did not leave clear instructions, and for the most part I was working in the dark figuring out what would be the best course of action, even though several lawyers were working on this file. The bullying from other family members felt overwhelming! So many times, I just wanted to quit or pull out my hair!
This was a complex situation for a lot of reasons, and in most cases, it should not take that long, but remember, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you should expect to encounter a curve ball here and there along the way. Having conversations with the Testator now will go a long way to having the clarity you need to complete your lawful tasks.
In the end, the expense to my Mom’s Estate was over $18,000, and cost me on many other levels, including having to move back to Nova Scotia to get the job done.
I am happy to say that finally, after 7 years, everything got completed to the satisfaction of the Court, Revenue Canada and me. I feel I am a stronger, and perhaps wiser, human being for stepping up to the plate. I made sure my Mother was honoured through this process.
There will likely be no one at the end of your job that will say “Thank you” for your work. You will have to carry the thanks forward from the Testator and find personal satisfaction from the effort you put into a job well done.
My best advice – be honest – first with yourself and then with the Testator, about whether you want to accept this role on their behalf. If your answer is “No,” say it, just as soon as you know.
If your answer is “Yes,” good on you for making an informed decision!