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Where there’s a will, there’s usually at least one executor – a critical role whose mandate is, as the title suggests, to execute your instructions on the distribution of your property after you die. This blog post is by no means intended to be legal advice but merely a call to use common sense when deciding on the future of your assets.

To be an executor is a serious and time-consuming undertaking that comes with fiduciary responsibilities and legal liabilities. Yet many people don’t take the time to truly consider if the person –or persons – they’ve chosen has what it takes to take on the consequential demands of the role. Is the person willing and able to perform the duties you are asking for?

Making the wrong choice for an executor may be a mistake you won’t live to regret. But the beneficiaries of your estate – and perhaps even your appointed executors – will most certainly wish you had made a better selection.

It starts with understanding

Most people know the general definition of the executor role and those who don’t have Google to help fill in the blanks. Few people really know what it takes to be an executor. What a lot of people don’t realize is the number of tasks and moving parts associated with being an executor. For example, there will be paperwork – a lot of it – because your executor is responsible for submitting your will for probate, accounting for your assets and debts, and filing your outstanding taxes. Your executor will also need to consult and coordinate with your accountant, lawyer and other advisors. Your executor may even be called upon to resolve disputes between your heirs.

Educate yourself (and the family) then identify the best candidates

Your eldest child may have done a great job of organizing family dinners and smoothing over sibling rivalries. Then there’s your business partner – an upstanding colleague with smarts and integrity. But before you start naming them as executors, ask your lawyer for an executor job description that details every possible task under this role. Then identify the skills, knowledge and character traits needed to carry out each task. You’ll find that many of the tasks require a level of financial literacy while others require careful attention to detail. Qualities such as good reasoning, sound judgment and fairness are also critical in this role, as is the ability to communicate and mediate between parties. As you match desired qualifications to your executor’s job description, you’ll likely start to make a shortlist of suitable candidates and perhaps scratch off a few of the names you originally had in mind.

Make sure you’ve got the right mix

If you’re appointing more than one executor, make sure you’ve got the right mix of people. This means ensuring your executor team will have the ability to talk through disagreements and bring a fair and united approach to ensuring your wishes are carried out. It’s also a good idea to set down some rules of engagement and decision-making. For example, will decisions have to be made unanimously, or will majority rule? Will one executor have veto powers? As you consider these points, you should also think about potential candidates for back-up executors in case the ones on your top list decline or are simply not available to take on this responsibility.

Consider compensation

It can take years – and potentially a lot of stress – to carry out the duties of an executor. While your appointees may consider it an honour to be entrusted with such an important responsibility, they’ll likely also appreciate some financial compensation for their time and effort. Talk to your lawyer about paying your executors, keeping in mind that compensation typically ranges within 2.5 per cent to five percent of your estate’s total value. This is especially critical if the size and makeup of your assets, or your family structure and dynamic, could make the distribution of your property complicated and challenging.

No matter what, have the talk

Yes, talking about your impending death can seem morbid and might cause pain for you and your family. But not discussing your estate plans today can bring even more pain for your heirs tomorrow. So have the talk with the people who stand to inherit your property, as well as with those you’d like to entrust with the responsibility of executing the terms of your will. This will give you a chance to explain why you’re making certain decisions for your estate, and to hear any concerns your family and appointed executors may have. You may be surprised by what you learn from these conversations and how these new insights can help ensure you’re taking care of the people you love, in exactly the way you want.

It’s taken you a long time to build your assets, and you may still have many years left to keep growing your wealth. Don’t let all your hard work go to waste when you’re gone. Don’t risk the harmony in your family. Take the time to ensure your estate plan is built on a solid framework that includes the right executor and all the required conversations. Not talking about the problem, will definitely not make the problem go away.

Let’s start the conversation. Contact us today at or 647.349.7070 to get the conversation started.

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