A will names a person, the “executor”, to carry out the instructions in the will. There are a number of things to consider in choosing an executor.
Understand what the role of executor involves
When you die, your property and obligations form your estate. The executor you name in your will deals with or “settles” the estate. The executor locates all of your property, pays any debts and the funeral costs, prepares the final tax return, and then distributes the rest of the estate according to the instructions in the will.
How much time this takes depends on how complicated your affairs are. For example, the job will be more demanding if you have extensive investments or debts, you own a business, or the will includes a trust, where part of the estate is set aside to provide ongoing income for someone.
Your executor may need to “probate the will”. Probate is a legal procedure that confirms the will is legally valid. In the probate process, the executor submits special forms and the will to court. If everything is in order, the court issues a "grant of probate".
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 executor is the person who is legally responsible.
What to consider in choosing your executor
An executor should be someone you trust and who has the ability to carry out the instructions in your will. It’s best if he or she is familiar with your situation and your wishes. An executor can be one of your beneficiaries. Most people ask a family member or close friend to be their executor.
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.
In choosing an executor, keep in mind that:
- Your executor should be someone who will likely outlive you.
- Your executor can be someone who does not live in the province, but all procedures to settle the estate will be done in British Columbia. It is more convenient to get documents signed and tasks done by an executor who lives close by.
- There are significant tax consequences when a non-resident of Canada acts as executor, so it's not recommended.
- Although not recommended, you can appoint someone under age 19 as executor. However, if he or she has not reached age 19 on your death, probate may be delayed.
- It helps if the person you appoint is organized and a good communicator.
- Most importantly, the person must be willing to take on the duties of executor.
It is very important to name at least one alternate or backup executor in your will. If the executor is unable or unwilling to act, the alternate can take over.
You can name more than one person to act as executor
You can appoint two or more people to act as your executors. It is important to be aware that if more than one executor is named, the co-executors must act jointly. Neither of them is the "lead" executor or "main" executor. They’ll have to agree on many things, from the selling price of the house to who is going to get the family photo albums.
If one executor dies, the other one can act alone.
Sometimes people choose three executors so that if there are disagreements, the executors can vote and the majority will decide. However, you need to say in the will that this is what you want; otherwise all decisions must be unanimous. You also must say that the executor who doesn’t agree with the other two will still go along with the decision and sign any necessary documents. This is called a "majority rule clause".
If you appoint more than one executor, consider if they will be able to work together. You should discuss your wishes with both of them. It’s best if you can do this with them together.
Step 1. Talk with the person you want to be your executor
First, ask the person you have in mind if he or she is willing to be your executor. Once they have agreed, discuss your wishes with the executor, including your wishes for organ donation, burial and cremation, and your funeral service.
Step 2. Make the will
After choosing an executor, see our guidance on making a will for the steps involved.
Some of the options for free or low-cost legal help may be helpful if you are making a will. For example, a notary public can help with making a will.
MyLawBC, an online resource from Legal Services Society (the agency that provides legal aid in British Columbia), enables you to make a simple will through answering a set of questions.
Access Pro Bono operates a clinic to help low-income seniors (ages 55+) and people with terminal illnesses prepare a will.
Clinics run by the University of British Columbia Law Students’ Legal Advice Program (LSLAP) offer free assistance to qualifying clients with some legal matters, including preparing certain types of simple wills.