Jun 10, 2022
How long does an executor have to settle an estate in Ontario?
Settling an estate is a challenging responsibility that can often take between six months to a year in Ontario. Here’s what you need to know.
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There are certain moments in life that no one wants to go through. This can include getting let go from a job, going through a breakup, or losing a loved one, whether that be a family member or a close friend. The pain of having a loved one pass away can be consuming, exhausting, and sharp.
The problem is that life around you doesn’t stop when tragedy hits. Your loved one’s finances and possessions need to be dealt with, their will needs to be read and carried out, and all of the thousand banalities of life—including magazine subscriptions, phone plans, and appointments—need to be cancelled, notified, and suspended. If you’ve been named an executor of your loved one’s estate, you’re dealing with grief amidst many administrative and legal tasks, the majority of which you’re probably facing for the first time.
And while it’s a tough process, it’s very necessary. Without an appointed estate executor, your loved one’s estate can get tied up in nebulous, long-winded court proceedings. In the worst-case-scenario, the estate would land in the hands of the probate court, which will then fall back upon established guidelines on how an estate is divided up if no will or executor is found.
So whether you’ve suddenly found yourself shouldering the burden of settling one of your relatives’ estate with little forewarning, or have been mentally preparing yourself for this task for months or even years, the truth is that there will be plenty of surprises and obstacles that you may not have anticipated. So we’re here to tell you what it’s really going to be like.
We regularly share relevant information about wills and estates.
The average cost of settling an estate is about 5% of the estate’s value. Lawyers, accountants, court fees… that can add up pretty quickly. And while an executor is usually compensated for their time and energy via the estate, there are still plenty of out-of-pocket costs that can arise. Perhaps you need to make multiple trips to visit a beneficiary and have to pay for the transportation costs yourself, or someone contests the will, thereby creating an expensive, drawn-out legal battle. Whatever the case may be, be prepared for certain additional costs.
Finding that one document, filling it out properly, realizing there’s a new version of it, and submitting it to the right authorities can be challenging enough. Now imagine doing that ten or twenty more times. With basically the exact same document, that needs to be sent to multiple places. And signed and dated. And filled out, again, after you’ve already filled out some variation of it 20 times before. Being an executor means exercising a lot of patience. We heard meditation can help—as well as having a dedicated partner like ClearEstate who’ll take care of the exhausting paperwork for you.
Unfortunately, settling an estate has become more difficult than it needs to be, particularly because it’s become almost impossible to go through probate without a lawyer or to file the final taxes without an accountant. This is especially true if you’re dealing with an estate that’s more complicated—meaning that there’s real estate involved, as well as multiple accounts and complicated assets like businesses or corporations. This can get expensive as well as convoluted: The average estate lawyer in Canada with less than one year of experience charges $213 per hour. Lawyers with more than 20 years of experience charge $437 on average.
One of the big responsibilities you’ll have as an executor is to keep all beneficiaries in the loop and oversee the distribution of assets to the relevant parties. While this may sound simple in theory, the truth is that death, grieving, and unresolved family issues can create a cauldron of bubbling resentment and frustration that can boil over at any moment. Depending on the size and complexity of the will as well as the relationship between benefactors, wills can suddenly become contested, heirlooms rejected or demanded, the beneficiaries can begin mistrusting you, and costly legal battles can arise.
Where does this mistrust come from? In most cases, it’s because all parties involved—beneficiaries and executors—are unclear or confused about certain parts of the settlement process and aren’t able to properly explain or understand what’s currently going on. Add onto that a lot of complicated legal and tax issues, and you’ve got a lack of transparency overshadowing the entire proceedings. Even families with the best relationships might find themselves tested under such circumstances. So it’s no wonder that any personal financial circumstances beneficiaries might currently be experiencing can exacerbate any mistrust or resentments that may be simmering underneath the surface.
One of the best ways to avoid this? Creating full transparency for all beneficiaries involved. With the help of ClearEstate’s beneficiary portal, you can ensure that all beneficiaries are able to view the progress of the settlement, receive a summary of what assets they’re entitled to, and keep detailed records of all communications. Building trust and maintaining transparency is key for a smooth process.
You might think that once an estate is settled and the probate process is officially over, the beneficiaries will receive a wire transfer with their inheritance and any parts of the estate that have been transferred over. The truth is that, once again, it’s not that simple. In fact, it can take anywhere from 6 months to over a year for beneficiaries to start receiving their inheritance, but this varies depending on the complexity of the estate. A good tip for yourself and for future beneficiaries? Just because you’re set to inherit $200,000, doesn’t mean that it’s in your bank account just yet. That down payment on a house you were planning to use your inheritance on? Don’t spend money you don’t physically have yet.
Another thing to keep in mind is that we’re currently in the middle of a pandemic, which means that everything is going to take even longer than usual! Because of COVID-19, a lot of legal proceedings are now conducted remotely. This includes the execution of the will, the granting of power of attorney, the official naming of an executor by the probate court, and so on. Civil courts across many provinces and territories also have suspended regular operations and have fewer time slots available to process cases. Plus, the digitalization of the bureaucracy surrounding the probate process hasn’t always been as efficient as it could be. In Ontario for example, probate can last up to 6 months under normal conditions. During these unprecedented times, a wait of up to ten months isn’t unheard of. Also keep in mind that these delays can exacerbate already existing tensions that have flared up during the probate process.
A lot of estate settling advice rests on practical matters, which is good, because there are a lot of tasks and responsibilities that an estate executor takes on. But there’s also the more emotional aspect of settling your loved one’s estate: Settling an estate is part of the grieving process. You’ll be going through your loved ones personal belongings, documents, and records of their life, which can be an emotional experience. Be prepared for this process by ensuring you have a good support network, and perhaps think of enlisting a therapist or grief counsellor to help you through this difficult time. However, keep in mind that this doesn’t have to be a negative experience; you may unearth never-before-seen pictures, or family histories you were unaware of, or be flooded with memories and emotions at the sight of a beloved heirloom. Estate executors who settle their loved one’s estates often find surprising new information, unearth cherished memories, and a new understanding of who the deceased person was. This is all part of the grieving process.
Ultimately, settling your loved one’s estate is a great honour: You’re carrying out their last wishes and ensuring everything they owned gets taken care of in the way they envisioned it. It’s natural for stress, grief, and frustration to creep in. But keeping your eyes on the bigger picture and planning ahead with the help of an experienced partner like ClearEstate will help you navigate this process more smoothly and efficiently.