The Learning Centre:
ESTATE PLANNING: It’s not what you know, it’s whom you know.
Some people play a key role in your life. Your granddad, teaching you how to fish. Your parents, showing you how to save. Your math teacher, showing you that yes, you can understand algebra.
The people you choose for your estate plan also play key roles.
After all, what’s more important than making sure your wishes are carried out when you’re not here … that your spouse continues to live in the home he or she loves, your children get the education they planned on, your business continues to thrive, and the things you loved are passed on to those who love them too?
Estate planning includes appointing individuals or organizations to act as your Executor, Power of Attorney, Guardian, and Trustee. No Executor named in your Will? Your estate could be frozen (and your family left without funds for paying for your funeral and other bills) until the courts appoint one. In Ontario an executor is also called an estate trustee. No Power of Attorney for Personal Care? You’ll be adding worry and stress at a time when your loved ones are at their most vulnerable.
How do you go about choosing the people you’ll need?
Although the roles are different, the people you choose for them will have attributes and abilities in common. Here’s a checklist for you to use when choosing an Executor, Power of Attorney, Guardian or Trustee. The candidates should:
1. Be people you trust.
You must be able to trust that those you choose will act in your best interest and carry out your wishes as stated. Trust is number one, even more important than having specialized knowledge of the law or taxes. Your executor, for example, will be able to access any specialized expertise he or she might need.
2. Have the time required to fulfill their duties.
Being an executor is like having a part-time, temporary job: it’s not unusual for it to take 1 ½ to 2 years to distribute an estate. The length of time required by a Power of Attorney, Guardian, or Trustee can be much longer.
3. Agree to the job beforehand.
This is not something that should come as a surprise. It’s important to talk to the person you choose beforehand about your wishes and what the job will entail, to see if they’ll take it on. Should he or she refuse the job when you die, the court will appoint another.
4. Live in the same area as you.
It can be hard (but not impossible) to deal with assets and issues from a distance.
5. Be the right age.
They must be at least 19 years of age. (The exception is the attorney you choose for your Power of Attorney for Personal Care, who can be 16.)
6. Be well organized.
Some jobs will be quite detailed and require organizational skills.
7. Be able to communicate and deal with people well.
This has two levels. First, they should be able to communicate with professionals such as lawyers and accountants, and organizations such as insurance companies or Canada Revenue Agency. Second, they should be able to deal with the potential of upset family members and making their way through emotional discussions.
Your Executor: more to know
The executor’s main duties are to arrange the funeral, memorial, cremation or burial; identify and manage assets; locate beneficiaries; put the Will through probate; settle bills and taxes; and distribute assets. However, this short list doesn’t do justice to the detailed work that may be required.
Click here to get information from the federal government about what needs to be done after a death.
Other qualities to look for: Clearly, in addition to the qualities in your checklist, it would be a big plus if your Executor were comfortable dealing with lawyers and accountants, and have the patience to deal with government agencies (especially tax departments). He or she should not be afraid to ask for professional help when needed.
If you appoint more than one executor, called co-executors, who have equal responsibilities. In this case, make sure your co-executors get along, and live close enough for convenience. If you appoint just one executor, you must also appoint an alternate executor, who only comes into the picture if the first-named executor has died.
Husbands and wives often name each other as their executor, but aren’t sure who to appoint to act when both of them have passed away. A solution that is becoming more popular is to name a trust company to do the bulk of the work, together with one of the children.
Your executor is just one of the people you may need to help you distribute your estate. For more information on Powers of Attorney, Guardians, and Trustees – and how to choose them – go to: “ESTATE PLANNING: Powers of Attorney, Guardians and Trustees”.