Choosing an executor

What are my rights?

Can I choose more than one person to act as my executor?
  • Yes
  • No

In your will, you must name a person ⁠— the executor ⁠— to carry out your instructions. There are a number of things to consider in choosing an executor.

What you should know

An executor carries out the instructions in your will

The executor is the person you choose to carry out the instructions in your will. You do this by naming them in the will as your executor.

Technically, there are actually two roles involved. The executor is responsible for administering the estate, and the trustee is responsible for administering any trusts created under the will. The two positions are usually held by one person acting in both roles (or two or more people acting in both roles).

The job of executor is a big one. They make the funeral arrangements, locate all of your property, pay any debts, prepare the final tax return, and distribute the rest of the estate as your will instructs.

Being an executor takes time, energy, and careful attention to detail. An executor can get help from friends and family members and also from professionals such as a lawyer or accountant. However, the buck stops with them. They bear the legal responsibility. 

Your executor may need to probate the will

Your executor may need to probate the will. This is a legal process that confirms the will is legally valid. With a grant of probate, the executor can legally deal with the estate assets.

Estates that involve a small amount of money (under $25,000) may not need to go through probate. It’s up to the outside parties who hold your assets (such as a bank) whether they’ll give the executor those assets without a grant.

You have options in choosing your executor

"I don’t have a family of my own, so I want to leave everything to my siblings. I’ve always been closest to my brother Jeremy. He’s charming and funny, but he’s a rule-breaker, and really stubborn. He’s also not on great terms with our sister. If I had chosen him as executor, he might just have done what he thought was fair (instead of following my wishes). In the end, I chose my friend Jenna as my executor. She’s reliable, responsible ⁠— and impartial!"

– Zoe, Prince Rupert, BC

An executor should be someone you trust to carry out the instructions in your will. Most people ask a family member or close friend. 

You can also appoint a lawyer, a notary public, or a private trust company as executor. The Public Guardian and Trustee may agree to be appointed executor in some circumstances.

You can appoint two or more people to act as your executors. Usually, the co-executors must act jointly, unless your will says otherwise.

Steps to choose your executor

Step 1. Make your choice

Important qualities to look for when choosing an executor include: 

  • Willingness. The person you’re thinking of appointing should confirm that they’re willing to take on the job.

  • Trust and familiarity. An executor should be someone you trust to carry out your wishes. It’s best if they’re familiar with your situation. 

  • Time and ability. It helps if the person you choose is organized and a good communicator. The job will be more demanding if your affairs are complicated. (For example, if you have a lot of investments or debts, or if the will includes a trust. A trust sets part of the estate aside to provide ongoing income for someone.)

Also keep in mind that:

  • Your executor should be someone who’s likely to outlive you. It’s not recommended to appoint someone under age 19. If they aren’t yet 19 when you die, probate may be delayed.

  • Your executor can be someone who lives outside the province, but this isn’t ideal either. All procedures to settle the estate will be done in British Columbia. So it’s more convenient if the executor lives close by. 

  • It’s simplest to appoint someone who lives in Canada. There are significant tax consequences, for example, if the executor is living outside the country.

  • Your executor can also be a beneficiary under the will, and often is.

Naming an alternate

It’s important to name at least one alternate (that is, a backup) executor in your will. If your first choice isn’t able or willing to act, the alternate can step up.

Step 2. Talk with the person you’ve chosen

First, ask the person you have in mind if they’re willing to be your executor. Once they’ve agreed, give them a copy of your will. Discuss your wishes with them. This includes your wishes for organ donation, burial and cremation, and your funeral service.

Your wishes for burial or cremation

Where your will sets out your preferences for burial or cremation, those preferences are binding on the executor. That’s unless they’re unreasonable, impracticable, or cause hardship.

Step 3. Prepare your will

After choosing an executor, see our guidance on preparing your will for the steps involved.  

Step 4. Take other steps to make the job easier for your executor

You can help your executor by taking these steps:

  • Register your will. You can do so by filing a wills notice with the province's wills registry. As well, tell your executor where the original will is kept. It should be easy for them to access. You may also want to give them a notarized copy of the will.

  • Keep an up-to-date, detailed record of everything you own and owe. For example, record your bank accounts, retirement benefit plans, insurance policies, real property, and pension benefits. Note any items owned in joint tenancy or that name a specific beneficiary. The executor won’t have to manage these assets.

  • Explain your plans to family members and other beneficiaries. Talking with them now may prevent problems later.

  • Review your will and your choice of executor every few years. Consider updating it when your circumstances or wishes change. Tell your executor about any changes.

Who can help

With preparing a will

Logo for BC Notaries Association
Notaries Public
A notary public can help with making most types of wills.
Access Pro Bono logo
Access Pro Bono Wills Clinic
Help for low-income people over 55 and those with terminal illnesses in preparing a will.
LSLAP logo
UBC Law School's Student Advice Program
Clinics offer free help preparing certain types of simple wills to qualifying clients.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in April 2020
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Stephen Hsia, Miller Thomson

Stephen Hsia

Also on this topic

Still not sure what to do?

If you're looking for advice specific to your situation, there are options for free or low-cost help.

Options for legal help

Copyright 2022 People's Law School

Powered by contentful

We are grateful to work on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, whose Peoples continue to live on and care for these lands.