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Richmond BC Probate and Estate Administration Blog

Estate administration: How to know if one is up to the task

Some people are born to greatness; others have greatness thrust upon them, a famous saying has it. In a sense, the same is true for estate executors. Most executors know well in advance that they have been chosen for the job, while others may not find out until the testator's wishes are revealed after his or her passing. Estate administration in British Columbia can be a major undertaking, and anyone chosen to be the executor may be forgiven for taking a moment to consider whether he or she wishes to accept the responsibility.

Even if it's known that a person is going to be the executor, he or she may not feel up to the task. If the will was made a long time ago, the chosen person may no longer be physically or mentally capable of performing the duties. Overwhelming feelings of grief could also be enough to prevent a person from being a capable administrator. A change in the makeup of the family, such as a divorce or remarriage, can change the family dynamic, and the appointee may no longer feel comfortable in the role of executor.

In some cases, probate may not be necessary in British Columbia

An appointment as executor of an estate means a difficult process is about to begin, likely during a time of great emotional stress. Going through the stages of probate and estate administration in British Columbia can be a complex task even for a professional. The good news is, there are circumstances under which probate may be minimized, or bypassed altogether.

The purpose of probate is to confirm an executor as having the legal authority to administer the estate. The executor then has the proven right to deal with third parties such as financial institutions and transfer agents. Probate also creates a time limit for claims against the estate.

Preparing the executor for estate administration

Very few executors are surprised to find out they were named to the position, having typically been informed during the estate planning stages. Given the prior knowledge of the eventual responsibility, it might not be a bad idea for the executor to prepare for the process of estate administration in British Columbia ahead of time. Here are some tips for the executor to aid with his or her preparation.

Acting as executor of an estate is often a time-consuming and difficult process. Some people named to the position opt not to accept the responsibility. If this occurs after the testator is deceased, it could cause complications. Should one feel they are not going to be up to the task, it may be better to inform the testator as early as possible.

Funeral costs are often the first matter of estate administration

There are many responsibilities suddenly heaped upon the executor after a person dies. The order in which these responsibilities need to be handled is not always readily apparent. However, one of the very first tasks of estate administration In British Columbia is arranging the funeral.

It is quite possible the deceased left instructions for his or her funeral in the will. It is the duty of the executor to ensure they are followed. In their absence, it still falls to the executor to make plans, although consulting with close family may help in determining the wishes of the deceased.

Why might a will be challenged during estate administration?

At the best of times, being executor for an estate can be time-consuming and emotional. All administrators hope for a smooth and expeditious execution of their duties. Unfortunately, there are times when surprises during estate administration can throw a wrench into the works. One such wrench is a challenge to the will, which can happen for one of a few reasons in British Columbia.

Typically, challenges to a will are presented before the estate is distributed, possibly during probate. One of the more common reasons presented is a claim of mental incapacity on the part of the decedent. It is a legal requirement that a person be mentally capable of making sound decisions when writing a will. If a will is changed later in life, a person who ended up with a smaller inheritance than expected may use that as grounds to claim mental incapacity.

Having no will leaves estate administration to the courts

Wills are the most common way for a person to decree how his or her estate will be handled after they have passed away. They can be set up to provide welcome gifts to grieving loved ones, or to make provisions for vulnerable heirs. However, they can only be effective if they are written, and many people in British Columbia either have no will, or have not kept theirs up-to-date. In some cases, this may mean estate administration becomes very complicated, or even left entirely to the courts.

The results from a recent survey show the majority of Canadians have not made a will. Of those surveyed, 62 percent reported they did not have a will made out, including almost half of all senior citizens. While the remaining respondents did have wills, 12 percent were aware their will was no longer entirely relevant to their current situation.

Making funeral arrangements is a part of estate administration

The executor of an estate has numerous duties, though many people may assume it is just a matter of probating the will and distributing the assets. While those are the two main tasks of estate administration in British Columbia, there are numerous sub-tasks and related duties, as well. For example, the executor may need to make many decisions concerning the funeral for the deceased.

Naturally, dealing with the funeral or memorial service will be one of the first tasks handled by the executor. How large a job this will be will depend on the degree to which the decedent pre-arranged his or her funeral. Information about a pre-arranged funeral may be contained within the will, which would greatly simplify the executor's task.

Check a will carefully before going through probate

There are many responsibilities thrust upon an estate administrator in British Columbia. Chief among them is putting the will through probate. This is an important process, and requires completion before the estate can be administrated. However, it may be that not all the listed assets will need probating. Here are a few things to look for before getting started.

Some assets may be owned jointly, and not subject to probate fees or taxes. Jointly held assets, such as bank accounts or property, typically transfer to the other holder when the testator passes. Still, it may be necessary to alert the appropriate institutions about the owner's death. 

A challenged will can upset the estate administration process

Generally, the task of an executor begins following an unfortunate loss. This may be a very difficult time for that person, and his or her only wish is likely to see the job of estate administration through as efficiently as possible. However, should a will be challenged, this can delay the process and make the task even more labourious. A trio of disgruntled heirs has filed suit against a large British Columbia estate and the battle has the potential to be extensive.

A prominent developer passed away in Jan. 2016, leaving behind an estate with an estimated value of $57 million.  In his will, the decedent bequeathed the entirety of his assets to his third wife. The will also appointed her executrix of the estate, which is comprised primarily of a large residential property and shares in an investment company.

Selling a home as part of estate administration

For many British Columbia estates, the asset with the greatest value is the testator's home. If there were no other occupants, and no other names on the title, the home is typically sold. This may be one of the more complicated aspects of estate administration as it combines estate law with real estate law.

As part of the probate process, the executor will need to acquire an appraisal of the home's value. Either a realtor or an accredited appraiser can provide this service. Technically, a realtor's assessment of a home's value is an "opinion of value", but in many cases this will be sufficient to satisfy the courts. An accredited appraiser will likely charge for his or her services, but the result is always valid during probate.

Marie-Louise Fast Marie-Louise Fast Lawyer & Notary Lawyer Profile

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