The Importance of Opening the Lines of Communication with Your Executor

By Vanessa DeDominicis

My practice involves both the planning and the administration side of Estates. This gives me a unique insight into how important it is, not only to have an excellent written estate plan (which includes a Will, Trusts, potentially an Affidavit, and the important incapacity planning documents as well, such as a Power of Attorney and a Representation Agreement), but also a thorough guidance letter to your Executor(s) regarding how they should go about finding your assets and dealing with them……Where do you bank? What property do you hold? Do you own shares? Do you have investments? Where are they held? RRSPs? RRIFs? Have you named beneficiaries on your life insurance policies and tax free savings accounts? Who are your beneficiaries? What are the addresses of your beneficiaries? Do you have a safety deposit box? Where is your Will kept?

These are all questions that the Executor will need to know the answers to but may not know where to look when the time comes……and you won’t be around to ask. None of these questions are answered in the body of your Will. Yes, they are all an important part of the planning that goes into your Will, but they are not written in the Will. Knowing the answers to these questions can make the task of being Executor a lot less daunting. I have countless Executors in my office saying “I just don’t know where to start”. We can offer guidance of course, but the more you can do to assist your Executor ahead of time, the better.

That being said, privacy is an issue for some clients. They don’t want to let the Executor know those personal details too far ahead of time. The problem is, no one has a crystal ball. When is “time”? When is it appropriate to give your Executor all those vital details to assist them in a job that they have likely never done before in their life? There is no “school for Executors”; they are often family members, good friends, who feel obligated to take on this role when asked (if they were asked at all), with little or no experience whatsoever.

A simple letter of direction or letter of wishes can greatly assist your Executor to fulfill their role in the best, and most efficient way. The more your Executor knows about your Estate, the more he/she can gather the information themselves, without a great deal of expense incurred to your Estate during the information gathering process.

Serving as Executor doesn’t have to be a huge burden. When you are asked to take on the role, don’t blindly agree. Talk to the person who has made the request of you, and ask them for a detailed summary of their Estate. No private, personal information need be revealed. You don’t need account numbers and bank balances, but you do need to know where their investments are held, where they do their day to day banking, what type of assets they hold (property, shares etc.), where they hold those assets, who are the main points of contact who assisted them during their lifetime with these assets (their bank contact, their financial advisor, their lawyer who drafted their Will, their next of kin etc.).

Executors duties are vast……Executors have to deal with insurance, close bank accounts, pay debts, deal with CRA, deal with beneficiaries. Assisting your Executor with a letter of direction (which can easily be held with your Will at your lawyer’s office if you are concerned about providing too much information to your Executor ahead of “time”) can greatly ease this daunting task. Executors should know when to ask for help as well. Always consult a lawyer regarding the Administration of any Estate.

This information applies as a general rule but may change depending upon the specific circumstances of your own situation. You should consult a lawyer before acting on any of this information. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Vanessa DeDominicis directly on 250-869-1140 or dedominicis@pushormitchell.com Vanessa practices in the area of Wills and Estates with Pushor Mitchell LLP in Kelowna, B.C.