Executor’s Duty to Communicate

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Executors have many duties to the beneficiaries of an estate: they must act in good faith, to the standard of a reasonably competent person, they must keep an even hand between the beneficiaries, they must protect the assets, and they must make sure the taxes and debts are paid.

An executor also has the duty to communicate with the beneficiaries and to answer inquiries made of them by the beneficiaries.  Recently the Supreme Court of BC penalized an executor by making her personally pay some of the legal costs of the estate because the executor did not answer the inquiries of one of the beneficiaries.  There was distrust between the executor and her sister the beneficiary, and the lack of communication only exacerbated the distrust.

When choosing an executor, I advise clients to pick someone who gets things done, who is fair, and who is a good communicator.  The executor is entitled to hire a lawyer and an accountant to help them, so they don’t have to be able to do the legal and the tax parts of the job themselves, but they need to keep things moving in the estate, and they must be good at keeping the other beneficiaries informed.

Many of the estate disputes we see stem from lack of communication, first of all, from the parents to the children, and then after death, from the executor to the beneficiaries.

We are happy to help advise clients in their estate planning on how to best avoid disputes.