I’m an executor – is it an honour or burden?

Many people seem to think that being named executor is a tremendous honour: “Aunt Betty CHOSE me. She must have really trusted me.” Maybe. Or maybe she just didn’t really like you.

Too many people find out too late that being an executor is more a burden than an honour. You have to find all the deceased’s assets and documents, get proper valuations, clean out their junk, sell their property, pay their taxes, negotiate with creditors, close all accounts, deal with accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, court staff, the CRA, creditors, bankers, valuators…oh and your personal assets are at stake if you screw up. That’s right, executors are personally liable for mistakes! All this, while fending off beneficiaries who are constantly hassling you about getting their money or why you gave Mildred’s tea set to Brian instead of Joan. And let’s not even start on if you have to be trustee for a long-term trust.

Say No

Being an executor is a job, plain and simple and should be treated like one. If you don’t think you have the time for a second job, then just say no. The first thing I tell potential executors when they come to me for advice is that they don’t have to accept. There is nothing wrong with renouncing the position. But you better renounce before you do anything as executor otherwise you’re stuck in the job.

Get Paid

But there’s good news (sort of): since it’s a job, executors are entitled to be paid for their work. The rule is they are entitled to reasonable compensation up to 5% of the value of the estate. So, a million dollar house nets the executor $50,000. That is until the beneficiaries complain about it and you have to go to court to defend your fee! I always tell my clients to set the executor compensation in your wills so everyone knows what you wanted and what you think is fair.

Get a Good Lawyer

If you do ever have the “honour” of being executor the first thing you should do is hire a good lawyer (like me) who can hold your hand and guide you through the maze – use a specialist, not just the guy who sold your house and handled your divorce. And you don’t have to use whatever lawyer your Aunt used to write the will – take the original will and go to whoever you want.


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