Who Wants To Be An Executor?

When an estate includes no complex assets and one beneficiary, you could train a monkey to do it. It’s just forms and time. Few estates look like that.

In the real world

  1. Heirs may have conflicts. What are you going to do when two of them want the family piano? Or Mom’s jewelry? Or the cottage?
  2. How do you find and account for all the assets? I had a lawyer friend trying to track down bank accounts for a client. At one time if you received less than $100 interest, the bank did not have to report to the government. He had found more than 60 accounts spread all over the county and beyond. How many were there? Maybe he could have left the estate unresolved for 10 years or so, until they started to appear in the Bank of Canada’s list of dormant accounts.
  3. Think about digital assets. Where are the family pictures, the paid for music, the crypto-currency. Who has passwords. Where is the back up.
  4. How do know about and take advantage of any tax options?
  5. What if you make a mistake? Are you personally responsible? You are if you make distributions without getting a tax clearance.
  6. Can you be sued? Possibly.
  7. Do you have any experience? Being an executor is like designing and writing software when you are learning on the job. If it looks easy, it’s hard. If it looks hard, it’s impossible.
  8. Amateur executors usually are not appointed by themselves. Appointing three children as executors is beyond dumb. Every group of three faces a two against one situation eventually. Not good for family harmony. Some lawyers favour the three children approach because they know it will generate legal fees eventually.
  9. Consider professional executors. In many cases they would be cheap at twice the price.
  10. Can someone make a lot of money doing it? The conventional executor fee is 5% of assets. I suppose if the estate is big enough, you could make a meaningful amount. Unfortunately all large estates are complicated. By the hour it might pay less than the minimum wage when you divide it among the group of executors.
  11.  Every estate at some point has a question requiring a judgement call. How qualified are your executors to get it right? Would you let them negotiate the sale of your business before you die?
  12. Amateurs take longer.

The bits to take away

Refusing to act as an executor is a thing. Be sure you have the time and skill to do a credible job before you accept appointment.

As someone making a will, do not think you are complimenting someone by making them an executor. Executorship requires skill and ideally experience. You may put your executor in an untenable position if they don’t want to act, yet your will might become invalid if they did refuse.

If your estate is even a little complicated, at a minimum create a corporate executor as being the executor if the primary executor(s) refuse to act.


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I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don@moneyfyi.com

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