Choosing an Executor

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This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Stephen Hsia in January 2019.

The executor is the person you name to carry out the instructions in your will.

The role of the executor

Your executor locates all of your property, pays any debts and funeral costs, prepares the final tax return, and distributes the rest of the estate as the will specifies.

Your executor may need to probate the will. This is a legal process that confirms the will is legally valid. To apply for probate, the executor needs to submit the will and certain forms to court. If everything’s in order, the court issues a grant to the executor. Now the executor can legally deal with the estate assets.

Estates that involve a small amount of money (under $25,000) may not need to go through probate. It’s up to the outside parties who hold your assets (such as a bank) whether they’ll give the executor those assets without a grant.

What to consider when choosing your executor

Most people ask a family member or close friend to be their executor. You can also ask a lawyer, a notary public, a private trust company, or the Public Guardian and Trustee.

Important qualities to look for when choosing an executor include:

  • Willingness: The person you’re thinking of appointing should confirm that they’re willing to take on the job.
  • Trust and familiarity: An executor should be someone you trust to carry out your wishes. It’s best if they’re familiar with your situation.
  • Time and ability: Being an executor takes time, energy, and attention to detail. The job will be more demanding if your affairs are complicated — for example, if you have a lot of investments or debts, or if the will includes a trust. It helps if the person you choose is organized and a good communicator.

Other factors to consider in choosing an executor

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Also keep in mind that:

  • Your executor should be someone who’s likely to outlive you. It’s not recommended to appoint someone under age 19. If they aren’t yet 19 when you die, probate may be delayed.
  • Your executor can be someone who lives outside the province, but this isn’t ideal either. All procedures to settle the estate will be done in British Columbia. So it’s more convenient if the executor lives close by.
  • It’s simplest to appoint someone who lives in Canada. There are significant tax consequences, for example, if the executor is living outside the country.

You can name more than one person to act as executor

Two or more people can be appointed to act jointly as your executors. Generally, they’ll have to make decisions and act together. They’ll have to agree on many things, such as the selling price of your home or who gets the family photo albums. If one of them dies, the other may be able to act alone, if your will allows it.

If you choose three executors, your will should be clear on what happens if they disagree. You can include in the will a “majority rule clause.” In that case, if there’s a disagreement, the executors can vote and the majority decides. Or you may insist all decisions be made unanimously.

How you can make the job easier for your executor

You can help your executor by taking these steps:

  • Register your will, and tell your executor where the original will is kept. It should be easy for them to access.
  • Keep an up-to-date, detailed record of everything you own and owe. For example, record your bank accounts, retirement benefit plans, insurance policies, real estate, and pension benefits. Note any items owned in joint tenancy or that name a specific beneficiary. The executor won’t have to manage these assets.
  • Explain your plans to family members, the beneficiaries, or anyone who may be legally entitled to a share of the estate. Talking with them now may prevent problems later.
  • Review your will and your choice of executor every few years, and consider updating it when your circumstances change.

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