Executor duties: Where to start if you've been named executor of a will

‘I’ve been named an executor. Where on earth do I start?!’

Executor duties can be overwhelming. Where do you start? Here’s advice

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executor of wills and estates executor duties

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Q: We just placed my 99-year old bachelor uncle off his farm and into in a senior’s lodge. He seems to be going downhill rapidly.

My brother and I are executors of his will and have power of attorney. We are now going through his house and papers and don’t really know where to start. For example, does he have RRSPs, investments, etc?

Are there any places where we can go to track grown his investments, accounts, etc.?

—Arnold

A: It sounds like this was all pretty sudden, Arnold. I hope your uncle’s transition from the farm to his new nursing home is going as well as it can be.

I can understand where you and your brother are coming from right now. It can be stressful taking over the finances of a family member. It can also be tough for aging seniors like him without a spouse or children to manage their financial affairs and estate planning as they age.

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You and your brother have started in the right place going through some of his paperwork, but if it’s not very organized, there may be better starting points.

READ: 3 steps to choosing a legal guardian

I’d contact his primary bank, Arnold. Provide them with the power of attorney and that will give you access to his bank account to pay his bills and manage his day-to-day financial affairs. The bank account will also give you some insights. For example, he’s likely receiving Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) pensions but may be receiving other pensions. Those other pension plans will need to be notified eventually upon his death. They may or may not provide a death benefit or insurance payout at that time.

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Your uncle’s account may also show deposits from his Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF), which is what a Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) is converted into after the age of 71. There could also be other transfers or deposits from other financial institutions that could give you more clues.

Talk to his bank. If he had a relationship with someone there, they may have information about his finances beyond what is there at the bank.

Talk to his accountant. They too may have some insight to his finances. Tax returns would include investment slips like T3s and T5s for non-registered investments, bank accounts, etc. And they would also include T4RIF slips for his RRIF account. Other financial assets like rental real estate or business income from the farm or other assets would also be reported and his tax returns would have this information.

MORE: What to do if you don’t trust the executor of a will

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) may have data beyond your uncle’s tax return, Arnold. You should fill out a Form T1013 and provide a copy of the power of attorney to CRA to authorize yourselves to file his tax return. This CRA authorization will also enable you to ask them for details of tax slips associated with his social insurance number, some of which may theoretically not be reported on his tax return if he even he has forgotten about the accounts.

I’d like to think if he has lived at the farm for a long time and his address hasn’t changed, his mailing address would be up-to-date with any financial institution where he has accounts though.

There are also resources like those compiled by LegacyTracker found here. This includes Bank of Canada unclaimed balances held at federally charted banks as well as several provincial registries as well.

Tools like LegacyTracker, Onist and others help people like your uncle consolidate their personal financial information to make it easier for children or people named as power of attorney or executors to perform their duties.

Good luck to you, your brother, and your uncle, Arnold. Hopefully these tips will help you get your uncle’s affairs organized.

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Jason Heath is a fee-only, advice-only Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at Objective Financial Partners Inc. in Toronto, Ontario. He does not sell any financial products whatsoever.