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Executor Guide

Have you been named as an executor of a loved one's estate? It's a great honour, but it comes with great responsibility too.


If you're not sure what to expect (or even where to start), download our Executor Guide Checklist for a step-by-step walkthrough, from gathering the will to distributing assets.

Frequently Asked Executor Questions

What does it mean to be an executor?

Broadly speaking, as an executor you will be distributing the deceased person’s assets, and arranging for payment of estate debts and expenses. However, what it means to be an executor, and what the role will consist of varies depending on the complexity of the individual’s estate. Make sure you fully understand the magnitude of the job you’re taking on before you accept the role. 

What are my legal responsibilities?

As an executor you are legally responsible for the finances of the deceased. This includes making sure debts and taxes are paid, and the remaining estate is properly distributed to the named beneficiaries. A full list of duties can be found below in the Executor Checklist, but in general you must carry out your duties in a diligent, impartial, and honest manner.

What is my personal liability?

As an executor you are personally responsible for any losses caused to the estate. If you are negligent, slow-moving, or reckless with any assets of the estate that cause a loss in monetary value, you are personally responsible for repaying that loss. This also includes charging the estate for illegitimate estate expenses such as avoidable mistakes, meals, unnecessary personal items, etc.

How can I protect myself from the risk?

When settling an estate make sure you are honest, communicate with beneficiaries and family members regularly, and move things along as quickly as reasonably possible. Ensure that you keep good records with documented proof of why you took the steps you took. When in doubt it is always a good idea to consult experienced professionals such as accountants, lawyers, realtors, and appraisers.  

What if I cannot take the job?

As long as you have not started acting on the estate you can renounce your role.

  • In Quebec you can also resign during your role.

  • An alternate executor or court-appointed administrator can take no the role

  • If you wish to renounce it is recommended that you seek legal advice

Can I do anything to prepare?

To prepare for your role as executor you can review the will together, and ensure all of their important documents are organized and accessible. Some folks may be uncomfortable with this conversation, which is where EstateBox will help! As long as they have fully completed their EstateBox you will be able to quickly locate all of the important documents and information you need. 

What is probate and how do you apply for it?

Probate is the legal process that grants the Executor permission to administer the estate. The court must formally accept the will, verify that the testator has passed away, and that they were the author of the will. Even if the deceased did not have a will, the estate must still go through probate.


In order to apply for a grant of probate you will need to provide supporting documents, which are dependent on where the executor is and where the deceased is located. In Canada, the probate process varies for each province and territory. There are also fees associated with probate, you can find information on the provincial/territorial fees here.

Executor Tips

  1. In Quebec only holographic wills and wills made in the presence of witnesses must be probated by the court.

  2. If you are waiting for the will to be probated by the Court you can arrange settlement of non-estate assets.

  3. Check if the deceased was an executor, power of attorney, or substitute decision-maker for someone else.  (Hint: check their EstateBox!)

  4. Keep receipts from distributed assets.

  5. Communicate regularly with beneficiaries.

  6. Beneficiaries are entitled to a full accounting of the estate settlement, the transaction history of an estate account, and a listing of estate assets.

  7. Remember, the executor has full decision making authority.

Each province and territory in Canada has their own wills variation legislation. Find the legislation relevant to your province or territory here.

Executor Definitions


An estate consists of the individual’s assets and liabilities at the time of death that passes through their will or intestacy laws if there is no will. It may include their bank accounts, investments, real properties, vehicles, etc.

Estate settlement

Simply put, estate settlement is the process of carrying out the final wishes of someone who has passed.


An executor is a person named in a will, to administer an estate. Where multiple people are named, they are considered ‘co-executors’. 


A beneficiary is a person receiving estate assets under the will or on intestacy (estate assets with no will). It may also refer to the person who is to receive the funds from RRSPs, RRIFs, TFSAs, insurance policies and pension plans.

Estate assets

Estate assets are assets which the deceased had control over. For example; bank accounts, investment accounts, real estate and other personal belongings. 

Non-estate assets

Non-estate assets are assets which the deceased had control over, but are not considered estate assets in the legal sense. These might include insurance policies, assets held in Joint Tenancy, and certain financial accounts registered under tax law. These assets are not a part of the executor’s responsibilities.


Probate is the legal process that grants the Executor permission to administer the estate. The court must formally accept the will, verify that the testator has passed away, and that they were the author of the will. Further information about the fees associated with probate can be found here.

Feeling overwhelmed? Download our Executor Guide Checklist for a step-by-step guide to being an executor.

This resource contains information only and should not be treated as legal advice on any subject matter. Please contact an industry expert if you require legal advice.

We endeavour to provide accurate information, but if you should notice an error, please email us at so we may correct it!

Last updated July 2022

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