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The Surprising Red Tape at the End of Life

How settling a loved one’s affairs will cost you hundreds of hours of time

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Losing a loved one is painful enough, but an estate’s executor — often a family member — must deal with the additional burden of settling the departed’s affairs in a lengthy, expensive process whose complexities come as an unpleasant surprise to all who shoulder it.

“You could go and buy a house tomorrow and close a deal within two weeks,” noted ClearEstate co-founder and CEO Davide Pisanu, “and estate settlement needn’t be any more complicated than a detailed deed transfer. But of course, it’s a nightmare, for individuals, financial institutions and governments.”

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Estate planning is recommended but it’s the settlement stage that’s most overwhelming, both emotionally for the executor and financially for the estate. That’s the problem ClearEstate is choosing to solve first.

Plan, If You Can

Knowing the complexities involved in settling an estate, it pays to better understand the implications of executorship and to consider the advantages of a service like ClearEstate. The settlement of affairs, from an assets and liability standpoint, tends not to be a priority for courts, often leaving family members deprived of resources and at the centre of a perfect storm of inefficiency.

The vast majority of Canadian estates name a family member as the executor. And as much as we want to honour the memory of a loved one, no one should have to deal with the added stress of superfluous red tape while they are grieving.

For starters, it's a complicated process, even when families use estate planning services in advance. Executors will have to go through finances, make funeral arrangements, send out notifications of death, cancel subscriptions and benefits, and contact beneficiaries, just to name a few tasks. It takes a very long time, there is a lot of paperwork and you’re doing it while grieving and negotiating complex relationships with relatives.

ClearEstate exists to cut through the red tape in jurisdictions across the continent. The team is especially skilled at helping executors in at-need situations; that is to say when clients are managing a recent death, or expect to imminently, and must hire lawyers and other professionals to navigate a complex probate system.

“A lot of these tasks are perfectly-suited for technology,” Pisanu explained. “Anything that's standardized or based on information that's well-categorized in the market: real estate, RSPs, bank accounts... It doesn’t have to be complicated. For me, the problem that must be addressed is why estate settlement needs to be so complicated.”

Our Executor Checklist, which you can download for free at, lists upwards of 50 unique tasks that most executors in North America will have to face throughout the process.

More Complicated Than Necessary

While the costs of estate settlement are often hard expenses that go unseen and unquestioned as they are typically absorbed by the estate, no one should not have to shoulder the cost of inefficiencies when they are in mourning. A typical North American estate will take about a year and a half to settle, and cost the estate upwards of $10,000.

ClearEstate co-founder and CPO Alexandre Gauthier has firsthand experience as an estate executor (or “liquidator” in his home province of Quebec) and does not wish it upon anyone.

“It's a very difficult thing. People are grieving, they have to take on a ton of paperwork, and no one wants to help you,” recalled Gauthier, who lost his mother in 2019. “It's just so painful. You’re distraught, you have a full-time job, and it's hundreds of hours of work.”

Gauthier remembers going through old photos and discovering things about his mom that he never knew. This is part of the healing process, he said, and the red tape cruelly takes away from that process.

“What we're doing is meaningful because there’s no one else actively trying to change the way estates are settled. We’re like a family, and ClearEstate’s mission is a huge rallying point for the team. It resonates because most of us will need to go through this cruel process at some point. Except that we get to help fix it once and for all.”

Programming Empathy

With the platform he began to envision following the loss two years ago, Gauthier is hoping to relieve the “pain points” — a management term that takes on new meaning for the ClearEstate development team — that plague executors. Once eliminated, people will be able to focus on what really matters: Peace of mind and overall well-being in times of personal crisis.

“Our team’s challenge is basically to program human compassion and competence,” explained ClearEstate co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Pascal Brisset. “We are honest with our clients: This is a long process, and we must keep them engaged to complete the tasks efficiently but, at the same time, we can’t be overbearing. It’s a delicate balance. A constant principle throughout is that the client always feels like they are held by the hand and supported the entire way.”

Programming the various processes and regulations across jurisdictions around the continent is “the challenge I’ve been waiting for,” Brisset added.

There are hundreds, sometimes thousands of possible paths to settle an estate. ClearEstate organizes the processes to give clients the most efficient and least burdensome path to settlement.

“It’s like we’re guiding the client through a not-so-enchanted forest with surprises at every turn, like unforeseen professional services fees, taxes or paperwork like probate that most people don’t know exists,” Brisset said. “Software can be used to make processes more efficient but it can also improve lives and empower people. That is a permanent part of our mission.”

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