The following estate administration checklist will help you if you are the executor or administrator of a will. The following items must be done whether or not you are applying for probate.
(Note: the term “personal representative” is the current legal term used to refer to an executor/executrix, administrator/administratix, and judicial trustee.)
Locate the Will and Codicils (if any)
You may have the will in your possession, which makes this easy. Otherwise, check with the deceased's spouse and lawyer. If the will is kept in a safety deposit box at a financial institution and you are the personal representative appointed in the will, you should be able to have the box opened and access the will as long as you have the key to the box, your ID, and the death certificate.
Do the Immediate Paperwork
Complete a Registration of Death form. This can also be done by the spouse, next of kin, or anyone else who knows the facts of the situation. Your funeral home will provide the form and send it off to the registry. It will be used to produce the death certificate(s).
At this time, the personal representative or executor is legally responsible for arranging for burial or cremation. The deceased may have left instructions for what they want in the will. These instructions do not have to be followed. The executor is legally allowed to decide.
List the Estate's Assets and Debts
Go through the deceased person's documents and contact applicable organizations for information. This includes reviewing tax returns, contacting current and former employers to see about pension plan or insurance benefits, and getting all title documents. You should also advertise to let any creditors you're not aware of know to contact you.
Make a list of all the assets and liabilities. List all property, real and personal, all debts, including when they must be paid, and all beneficiaries of the will, including what they are to receive. Be sure to include registration information, interest rates, maturity dates, certificate numbers, and payment frequency. This is also the time to meet with your wills and estate lawyer to talk about probate and other issues, and to ensure you've considered all assets and liabilities.
Ensure the Assets Are Secure and Being Managed
In some cases, this is a relatively straightforward task. But depending on the situation, it can be challenging. For example, if the deceased person was a business owner, a major task on the executor checklist is ensuring the business has proper management. If the deceased was renting and lived alone, the personal representative is responsible for dealing with the landlord and emptying the property.
Other things you may have to do include storing valuables in a safety deposit box, ensuring the deceased's home and vehicle are safe and being maintained, and cancelling health insurance, credit cards, subscriptions, utilities, etc. You should also open a bank account for the estate to deposit any income that comes in in the future.
Notify the Beneficiaries
All beneficiaries and anyone else who may legally have a claim on the estate must be notified by the personal representative. Include a copy of the notice of application for probate if you have to apply for probate.
Find Out If Probate is Necessary
Probate is not always necessary. If the estate is not large (say less than $25,000) or the property is all jointly owned with a surviving spouse, you may not have to apply for a Grant of Probate. If the only asset is a bank account, the financial institution may transfer it without probate. To determine if probate is necessary, you'll need to talk to the institutions that hold the deceased person's assets.
If there is any chance the will is going to be contested, you should probably apply for probate. You can do this on your own. Your lawyer can also help you. Be sure to fill out the forms completely. Once you receive the Grant of Probate, you can proceed with your other executor duties.
Wait Six Months Or Get Releases From People Who May Make a Claim
The law allows certain people to make claims to change a will in the six months after probate is granted. You don't want to get into a situation where you have distributed the assets and now have to distribute them in a different way if the will is successfully contested. You have the option of waiting six months or asking those who can make a claim for a release.
Collect and Sell All Assets
Your estate lawyer can provide a checklist to go through to ensure you have collected all assets. You will need to transfer registered assets, such as vehicles, real estate, and bonds, to yourself (as the executor) before they can be transferred to a beneficiary. Securities may be sold or transferred. Keep impeccable records while doing this for your own protection and so you can be reimbursed for expenses.
Take Care of Income Tax, Debts, and Funeral, Probate, and Legal Expenses
If there is not enough money in the estate to take care of everything, talk to your lawyer immediately. You don't want to become personally liable for any outstanding amounts.
Once you've paid all income tax, you can apply to the Canada Revenue Agency for a Clearance Certificate. You should have this before you begin to distribute the estate.
Distribute the Estate
Distribute the legacies and bequests as per the terms of the will. Legacies refer to cash. Bequests refer to gifts of personal items. Get receipts for everything distributed from the beneficiaries. If trusts are to be set up, it is the executor's job to do so and possibly to oversee those trusts. The Office of the Public Trustee can provide guidance for incapacitated beneficiaries or for minors.
At this time, you must prepare an accounting of assets, debts, income, expenses, and distribution. The beneficiaries need to review and approve this financial statement.
The estate bank account can be closed after all the cheques have cleared. A report regarding the estate administration must then be prepared and given to all beneficiaries.
There may be other things you need to do to finish the process. Give us a call if you'd like to discuss your unique situation. Always remember to check with your estate lawyer to ensure you are doing everything you need to do as an executor.