Choosing the right executor

A bad executor for your will can waste your time & money



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Q: I have to choose an executor for my will. What qualities should I look for and should it be a family member?

—Nick P., Waterloo, Ont.

A: Choosing executors is an important decision everyone needs to make. Costly mistakes can hurt your family and your money. And getting rid of rotten or hostile executors is difficult and expensive. So you need to protect your loved ones from bad executors. They can rob your estate, destroy your family and cause costly legal battles.

Why? Because bad executors can waste your life’s savings. Trustworthy family members, even those without experience, are good choices. Why? Because family members are:

  • Also beneficiaries;
  • Won’t ask to be paid;
  • Will act efficiently and economically.

And for tax reasons, your executors need to reside in Canada.

10 tips for choosing an executor wisely

  1. Family comes first—unless you have good reasons to avoid them. Still, make sure you ask them if they want the job.
  2. You name executors in your will, which is a legal document you sign. You cannot do it any other way.
  3. Always include a backup executor if your first choice is not available.
  4. Don’t name someone much older than you. Health and willingness to work are important.
  5. Persons who live nearby are better. They can act quickly.
  6. Trustworthiness is more important than expertise. Executors need honesty, not experience.
  7. Get advice for your choices from lawyers with estate experience.
  8. Trust companies are excellent choices for complex estates. They may also be the only safe long-term solution.
  9. The executor you choose today may be the wrong choice tomorrow. Continue to review your choice of executors.
  10. When it comes to numbers, two executors may be better than one. More than two is difficult to manage.

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Ask a Will & Estates Expert: Leave your question Ed »

Ed Olkovich is a Toronto lawyer and certified specialist in Estate and Trusts Law

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5 comments on “Choosing the right executor

  1. Thank you for posting such important information. I had a terrible experience with my brother ,the executor of my late father. He choice to work with out a lawyer or legal advice.
    And proceeded to NOT to follow the Will; he was very a very un- reasonable man to deal with. I ended up taking this issue to court , and won , I was granted my inheritances. At the end of the battle the bad executor costs the estate $30T, plus family conflicts. Saying this, some executors do the job just for money.
    As ever.
    . Dawn


  2. Timely topic. Renewing mine and my wife’s will and have no obvious selection for executor.
    Having acted as executor for two brothers I can tell you it is a time consuming and emotionally draining experience.
    I would prefer to go with a 3rd party executor to avoid conflicts and ensure my wishes are respected – who would I consult for this service..?
    In my case the estate would be straight forward – no complex investments, business partners etc.


    • I’ll be interested in how you answer Don. Our family is very small and the only members who are the right age live out of the country. Our estate is also going to be straightforward. How do we select an executor?


      • Hi Susan – I thought this was a forum where questions left would be replied to by a MoneySense representative – it looks like that is not the case.
        Good luck with your search..


  3. Would-be executors beware: The pitfalls and abuses of JOINT ACCOUNTS. No one, not a creditor, and not an “executor” (or estate trustee), not the bank, probably not even CRA, can challenge the presumed rights of survivorship of a joint account. Not without a long and expensive legal battle involving interpretation of legal precedents, and still success is by no means guaranteed. The ‘RIGHT’ EXECUTOR can be ‘left’ holding the bag (not the money bag). While a surviving joint account holder can freely take all account cash, with no estate liability so long as they do not share any of the estate debts ‘on paper’. All this can be done with the bank’s blessing – even if the bank holds the estate debt themselves! As the “executor”, what would you do? (Renounce if you still can?) Creditors? (Stiffed?) Wishes of the dearly departed? (Irrelevant?) Fair? (Well, this is law; not justice.) The moral? When choosing an executor, set them up with truly liquid assets to work with, that are not subject to such potential abuses. But this is only one potential problem; there could be many! So, enjoy life but try to keep your affairs in good order – pay debts and distribute gifts – while you are alive. And assign beneficiaries where applicable. For the rest: Get professional advice. If money is involved, then once you are gone you can (sadly) bet that at least one person will be tempted by greed. One is all it takes, and if things ‘go south’, even the right executor could be powerless. The average person does not have the time, expertise, or resources to fight.
    PS. On the other hand, a joint-account could be a efficient way to shield assets for a spouse or dependent, at least until the rules change. Now maybe there’s a story for MoneySense!


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