Updated: Mar 30
Your gut reaction might be to say “yes” right away. Instead, take a moment to ask yourself these five urgent questions before agreeing to be an executor.
An executor plays a crucial role in every estate plan. Being named as someone’s executor is a great honour—but it is an honour that comes with a great amount of responsibility. As an executor, typically you will distribute the deceased person’s assets, and arrange for payment of estate debts and expenses. However, the role of executor varies depending on the complexity of the individual’s estate.
Your gut reaction might be to say yes immediately after you’re asked—but it’s important to thoughtfully consider if being an executor is right for you.
Here are five questions to ask yourself before saying yes to being an executor.
1. Do I have the time to be an executor?
The responsibilities involved with being an executor can take up a lot of time and can last for months and even years in worst case scenarios. If you’re someone who works long hours or has other time intensive commitments, it may not be a role you can fully commit to. It’s not always possible to foresee all challenges involved with an estate and even the most well-planned estates can get tied up in court. Having an honest and open conversation with the person asking may give you a better idea if there will be a larger time commitment involved.
2. Do I have the skills to be an executor?
An executor should be organized, objective, and financially savvy. If your organizational strategy for your own important papers can best be described by the words “organized chaos'', you may not be the best person to go through other people’s important documents. It’s important to remember that the law takes the role of an executor very seriously, and that failing to document accounting information properly could leave you open to legal implications.
This is a particularly important question to ask yourself if the estate involved is complex.
Your Aunt Peggy who was never married, has no children and has meticulously prepared the up-to-date documents in her estate plan?
That’s a best case scenario.
Your cousin Austin who’s been married 3 times, lives abroad, has children and step-children, investments he keeps forgetting to write down, and a will he hasn’t updated in years?
Well, that might be a little more complicated.
3. Do I have the emotional energy to be an executor?
Unless you’re an estate professional, if you’re settling someone’s estate as an executor it probably means that someone you care about has died. Throughout the process, you will constantly be reminded of the person you’ve lost —which can be emotionally exhausting. Acting as an executor may also involve getting in the middle of challenging family dynamics, especially if the deceased’s will goes against what the family expected or think they deserve. As an executor, your job is to follow the will, no matter how upset some people may be.
4. Do I live close enough to the person asking me to be their executor?
There are no rules against being an executor for an individual who lived in a different province or territory from you. However, keep in mind that you will probably be required to physically travel to the deceased’s residence in order to settle their estate. If you don’t have the time or financial resources to travel, you may want to say no to being an executor.
Also, keep in mind that as an executor, if you’re a U.S. citizen living in Canada, you may need to file an extra tax return.
5. Am I saying yes to being an executor because I’m afraid to say no?
This is the toughest question because it means being brutally honest with yourself. If you answered “no” to most or all of the first four questions, it may be in everyone’s best interest to decline. While it is a great honour to be named as an executor, there is no shame in saying no if you don’t feel comfortable or up to the challenge of settling an estate one day.
So, are you ready to say yes?
Being an executor is an important and honourable role. That’s why it’s so important that, if asked, you thoughtfully consider if you’re able to fulfill the duties involved before you agree.
Life is constantly changing and while you may have been in a position to be an executor at one point in your life, you may not be anymore. If after reading this blog you’ve realized you’re no longer in a position to be someone’s executor, it’s best to let the person know so they can update their will. There’s no shame in changing your mind, and it will give them an opportunity to choose the right person to carry out their final wishes. If you’ve said yes to being an executor and need help navigating the often overwhelming world of estate planning—we’re here for you! Our new Executor Guide includes a step-by-step checklist that you can reference as you settle the estate. Download the guide here.
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While we’re passionate about all things estate planning, we’re not professionals. We recommend speaking with your lawyer or financial advisor when putting together an estate plan.