What are my legal responsibilities and duties as the executor of an estate?

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An executor is a person named in a Will to deal with the Will-maker’s estate after they die.

They must gather up the estate assets, pay the debts of the deceased, and divide what remains of the deceased’s estate among the beneficiaries. As an executor, your duties are multifaceted. The executor of a Will has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the estate and its beneficiaries, which means that the law prevents you from acting in your own interest to the detriment of the estate.

First, executors must initiate the probate process by validating the existing Will, and they must locate and safeguard all assets owned by the deceased, such as personal property and real estate. Managing the financial aspects of the estate is another important executor duty, which includes taking control of all assets and paying all proven debts of the estate. These debts include amounts owing under the Income Tax Act (“ITA”). Section 159 of the ITA makes the executor of an estate jointly and severally liable with the estate to pay amounts owing under the ITA.

In other words, the executor may be held personally liable for these debts and taxes if they remain unpaid after the distribution of the estate. The joint and several liability of the executor is limited by the value of the property of the estate which he possessed or controlled during the time of his appointment. Executors must file tax returns for the deceased and for the estate, as well as obtain a clearance certificate from the Minister: ITA, s. 159(2).

Further, executors must appraise assets accurately and distribute them equitably among beneficiaries in accordance with the Will. Other duties include cancelling subscriptions, redirecting mail, and wrapping up other personal matters. Executors also owe a duty to account to all beneficiaries and any other persons with an interest under the Will, which means they must provide information about the status of the estate and its administration.