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.
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 as your executor in the will. 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 will locate all of your property, pay any debts and funeral costs, prepare the final tax return, and distribute the rest of the estate as your will instructs. How much time this takes depends on how complicated your affairs are.
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.
What to consider 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 is 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 have just 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
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.
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.)
Other factors to consider
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.
- An executor can be one of your beneficiaries.
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 1. 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.
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 2. Prepare your will
After choosing an executor, see our guidance on preparing a will for the steps involved.
Step 3. Take other steps to make the job easier for your executor
You can help your executor by taking these steps:
- Register your will, and 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 estate, 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.
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.
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 offer free assistance with preparing certain types of simple wills to qualifying clients.