The Ultimate Estate Executor’s Checklist

Have you recently been named an estate executor? Our ultimate estate executor checklist will help you through the estate settlement process.

Posted on December 14, 2021 by Alex Gauthier
Estate Executor Planning

Introduction

An estate executor plays an integral role in the estate settlement process and is essentially responsible for honoring the deceased’s final wishes. Whether it is ensuring all assets are distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries, or making funeral arrangements according to the will, an estate executor has a lot on their plate as it is.

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Preparing yourself as an estate executor is an extremely important step in the estate settlement process and will ultimately save you time and money. Grieving the loss of a loved one is hard enough already. Arm yourself with all the estate settlement knowledge you’ll need to be an efficient and fair estate executor. From keeping beneficiaries in the loop, to settling all debts owed by the deceased, Clear Estate will be by your side throughout the entire estate settlement process. Settling an estate properly will offer you and your family some much-needed closure and give you the opportunity to focus on what matters in the aftermath of the death of your loved one.

Here is our ultimate estate executor’s checklist!

What is an estate executor?

Simply put, an estate executor is tasked with administering the estate of a deceased person. Typically, the executor will settle the estate in accordance to the will of the deceased, ensuring all their wishes are met. When there is not a valid will, the estate is settled according to the relevant jurisdiction.

Many different executor duties exist, including but not limited to, submitting the will for probate, making funeral arrangements, advertising for creditors, distributing assets to beneficiaries, paying all debts owed by the estate, and much more.

Seeking professional counsel is of paramount importance in settling an estate and could make a world of difference. Clear Estate is here to simplify the process for executors of the estate, offering transparency and expert advice along the way. Book a free consultation with Clear Estate for more information on how we can help.

Why are estate executors important?

Being named an estate executor may seem overwhelming at first, however, you nonetheless hold a crucial role in overseeing your loved ones final wishes. Establishing an executor of the estate before death eliminates confusion and offers your loved ones a clear roadmap for settling your estate appropriately.

If no estate executor has been named, the probate court will take charge of the situation and select an administrator of the estate. Typically, it will be the next of kin or spouse, however, they will have limited influence over the estate settlement process as the deceased will have been deemed to have passed “interstate”. Subsequently, the distribution of assets will be done according to a formula laid down by the provincial or interstate officials. Indeed, naming an estate executor avoids this and guarantees the deceased’s wishes are followed.

Leaving behind an unplanned estate will also trigger more fees and taxes throughout the estate settlement process. As illustrated above, the time the probate court takes to delegate an administrator will cause delays and result in more fees. Naming an executor of the estate beforehand and planning your estate alongside them is the best way to leave your loved ones in the best possible shape.

Estate executor fees are another consideration to make when settling an estate. Estate executor fees ultimately depend on the size of the estate, typically compensating the executor a percentage of the total amount. In Ontario, for example, executor fees are 5% of the estate’s value.

Finally, an estate executor is also responsible for communicating with beneficiaries and providing them with an accurate timeline of the distribution of assets. This helps prevent friction among family members and a completely transparent estate settlement process.

Estate Executor Checklist

Now that you know the crucial role estate executors play and what roles they play in the estate settlement process, let’s break down all the different executor duties.

1. Locating the will and other important documents

The first step on the estate executor checklist is to locate the deceased’s will – that is, if there is one. A valid will will expedite the estate settlement process and helps avoid unnecessary costs and unexpected delays with legal proceedings. Once the will has been located along with any additional copies, validating it comes next.

The will, however, is not the only important document you will need. This includes deeds, insurance policies, safety deposit boxes, partnership agreements, bank statements, and more. Having updated records of these documents will make assessing the value of the assets much easier.

Assembling all documents beforehand is typically recommended in the estate planning process, saving executors of the estate countless hours.

Clear Estate’s Digital Vault is a great place to start, offering estate executors a single point of reference for all documents and digital assets.

2. Set up joint accounts.

Setting up joint accounts before your loved one passes is yet another item on the estate executor checklist. This, however, only applies if they are planning on leaving their assets to their spouse. Opening a joint account with both names on it will ensure the transfer goes smoothly, offering the spouse equal access to the financial assets they are about to inherit. Take full advantage of this to name beneficiaries to your pension, retirement accounts, and insurance policies.

3. Create an Inventory of Assets and liabilities

Creating an up-to-date inventory of all assets and liabilities beforehand will ensure an efficient estate settlement process. Simply keep a detailed record of all pertinent accounts, including investment accounts, chequing accounts, savings accounts, and anything else the deceased is leaving behind. Clear Estate’s inventory service is especially helpful in this regard, providing executors of the estate and beneficiaries a detailed overview of the deceased’s financial picture.

Once all assets and liabilities have been documented, it can be submitted to the probate court for independent evaluation. Grieving the loss of a loved one is challenging on its own – gathering all pertinent information beforehand will save you significant time and most importantly, will allow you to spend time with your family in your most difficult of moments.

4. Create a detailed record of all digital accounts

The next consideration to make beyond financial assets are digital accounts and online subscriptions. This includes social media profiles, streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, as well as other online vendors such as Amazon and Paypal. Closing these accounts as soon as possible will not only avoid unnecessary costs, but also represents a first step towards closure.

5. Keep track of items of sentimental value

The probate process is designed to validate the will and offer an objective evaluation of the estate's assets. One crucial responsibility the estate executor serves is ensuring the estate is divided evenly among beneficiaries. This is especially difficult as it relates to items of sentimental value, including heirlooms, and any other items that have been passed on from generation to generation. Assigning a financial value on these items simply does not apply and should be done independently of the estate settlement process. We recommend keeping a detailed list of them with intended recipients clearly marked. This will clear up any potential confusion among family members, ensuring no needless drama in a difficult time.

6. Assess the assets and liabilities

Appraising all assets and liabilities of the estate is another crucial task the estate executor must oversee. Typically, this is done once the asset inventory is submitted to the probate court where they are independently evaluated. This includes but is not limited to real estate, stocks, bonds, debentures, household goods, and any bank accounts such as investment accounts, pension plans, and more.

In instances where assigning a financial value on an asset is not clear-cut, a professional appraiser or estate accountant can be called upon. Clear Estate’s inventory service simplifies this step, offering executors of the estate and beneficiaries instant access to qualified estate professionals, accountants, and administrators to help with the assessment. Our online platform will only give beneficiaries access to the assets they will inherit and is constantly updated.

7. Take care of administrative details

Executor duties also include taking care of all administrative details throughout the estate settlement process. From opening the estate account immediately after your loved one passes, to paying all outstanding debts, the estate executor checklist is a lengthy one. Executor responsibility typically begins with applying for probate and validating the will in court.

Once all assets have been evaluated, the estate executor could advertise for creditors. Simply put, the executor duties encompass paying all debts and taxes owed by the deceased from the estate. If the estate executor neglects one and a creditor later comes forward, the executor assumes liability and must pay the debt. Keep in mind that there is unlimited liability. In other words, there is no cap on how much the executor of the estate must pay.

Advertising for creditors protects the estate executor from liability, offering peace of mind. With this step completed, the executor of the estate could then pay all remaining debts and taxes owed directly from the estate with no fear.

8. Distribute the assets

The final step on the estate executor checklist is arguably the simplest one. Once all debts have been paid, executor duties include distributing all assets to appropriate beneficiaries and ultimately closing the estate. The tricky part here is managing beneficiary expectations along the way and in many ways is one of the untold challenges of being an estate executor. The estate settlement process can be a long one and beneficiaries should be aware of this. Our beneficiary portal is designed for this purpose and provides inheritors with a detailed timeline to avoid drama. Every time an asset is distributed, our portal will be automatically updated, keeping all relevant parties in the loop every step of the way.

Getting closure and moving forward

Being an estate executor can prove especially challenging, especially if it is your first time. Clear Estate is here to help expedite the process and save you time and money. In fact, the national average for estate settlement fluctuates between 14 and 18 months. Clear Estate, by contrast, can reduce that timeline to less than a year.

Our automated platform, executor checklist, inventory service, and beneficiary portal among other resources simplify the estate settlement process, arming you with all the tools you need to settle your loved one’s estate efficiently and affordably. If ever you have any other questions, you can always book a free consultation with Clear Estate or visit our blog for more information before embarking on this process.