If you're named the executor in a will left by a deceased resident of British Columbia, Canada, you're also the person who must initiate the probate process. That's the process of having the deceased person -- or decedent's -- last will declared valid by the Probate Registry of the Supreme Court. It requires filing a great deal of paperwork. Relevant forms are not available at the Supreme Court's probate division, but you can access them online.
Because probate can become quite complicated, especially with larger estates, it's wise to hire an estate attorney to deal with much of administration. You may also need to hire an accountant to file the necessary tax returns -- these items are part of the executor's fiduciary responsibilities to the estate. The estate's assets pay for professional services.
Your first task is finding the will and then proving to the court that it is indeed the decedent's final will and that you are the executor. Check with the British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency wills registry and fill out the "Application for Search of Wills Notice," the results of which must be filed with the probate application. The first form you must submit to the court is Form P2, the submission for the estate grant.
The executor or the estate's attorney must notify all beneficiaries in writing that an application is made for the estate grant, including probation of the will. The beneficiaries must also receive a copy of the will.
Not all of the decedent's assets must go through probate. Real estate held in joint tenancy with another person -- such as a spouse -- doesn't go through the probate process, nor do jointly-owned motor vehicles or bank accounts. An official death certificate is usually sufficient for the surviving owner to have the title transferred to sole ownership. Life insurance is another asset that doesn't pass through probate.
Stocks and Bonds
If the decedent owned stocks and bonds, the transfer requirements depend on the individual financial institution. Some brokerage firms or mutual fund companies may require that the executor file a representation grant for official recognition as the estate representative.
Once the court accepts the will for probate and formally recognizes you as the executor, your duties include:
- Inventorying and valuing all estate assets.
- Cancelling pensions, credit cards and similar personal business.
- Taking control of assets, including title transfers.
- Collecting debts owed to the estate.
- Paying estate creditors.
- Filing the decedent's final tax return and the estate tax return.
Even if the estate is relatively simple, you should wait at least six months from the probate grant before distributing assets to beneficiaries, if the decedent was married or had children. That's because the "Wills Variation Act" allows a spouse or child to challenge the will's terms within that six-month time period. You can distribute assets earlier if any claimant signs a release, but as the executor, it's your responsibility to ensure the right person receives their inheritance.
Before asset distribution, make sure the estate receives a tax clearance from the Canada Revenue Agency. Without that certificate, it's possible the CRA could come after the estate for taxes of which you were unaware.