Being named an estate trustee (or executor) feels like a great honour, particularly for the “first-timer”. Ask someone who has acted as an estate trustee what the experience was like and you will quickly learn that there is a great deal of responsibility and work involved.
Estate trustees have a broad range of responsibilities, including:
- Filing taxes and obtaining clearances;
- Managing trusts;
- Disposing of estate assets (including real estate);
- Settling debts of the estate; and
- Making interim and final distributions to beneficiaries.
In fulfilling his or her duties, the estate trustee must manage the expectations of the beneficiaries in addition to meticulously documenting all transactions, communications and other estate administration work completed. Prior to making final distributions, and sometimes on an interim basis, the estate trustee is expected to provide beneficiaries with a full accounting of all work completed in administering the estate.
Needless to say, taking on the role of estate trustee may at times feel overwhelming. There is a substantial time commitment and learning curve when acting as estate trustee. Retaining a lawyer as soon as possible will significantly reduce the time you expend in fulfilling your duties, as well as your exposure to claims from beneficiaries and other third parties, including the Canada Revenue Agency.
Your lawyer will advise you of your duties as well as alert you to possible issues that may arise. Often most issues can be avoided with careful forethought and planning. Your lawyer will discuss your responsibility vis-à-vis the beneficiaries and assess the possibility of competing interests and what you can do to mitigate same.
No two estates are the same. Some estates take longer to administer, while others are straightforward. Complexity depends on a number of factors, including family dynamics, the size of the estate, the number of estate trustees, the number of beneficiaries, the types of assets, etc. A lawyer will help you understand the breadth of your role. You can then decide how much of a time commitment you are able to make, and conversely, how involved you need your lawyer to be. A lawyer can assist you with the administration of the estate or simply act as a quarterback, providing input and advice as needed or requested.
Being appointed estate trustee reflects an important trust relationship between the testator and the estate trustee. It is understood that the estate trustee will use his or her best efforts to ensure that the wishes of the testator are fulfilled; however, there is the added concern to ensure that the best interests of the beneficiaries are protected in the process of administering the estate. Retaining a lawyer will ensure that you have discharged your obligations in the most efficient manner, thereby upholding the wishes of the testator and managing the best interests of the beneficiaries.