At some point during the probate of an estate, the estate’s personal representative ceases to act as the executor and becomes the estate’s trustee. This usually happens once all of the personal representative’s duties have been met.
Trustees are responsible for maintaining the assets of the decedent’s estate once all legitimate debts have been paid. According to the Law of Trusts in Canada, there are three primary obligations of trusteeship:
- Trustees aren’t allowed to delegate their roles to others;
- They are not allowed to personally profit from their actions with the estate’s beneficiaries, in managing the properties of the trust or in their role as trustees;
- Trustee must always act with honesty and the measure of prudence and skill that is expected of reasonable business persons administering their own affairs.
Small estates usually require very little of personal representatives and trustees throughout the probate process. However, even small estates with few assets can run into problems with skirmishes among beneficiaries over items of the estate that may have little cash value but are imbued with enormous sentimental value to the heirs.
It is always useful to seek the counsel of an estate administration lawyer whenever problems arise or are even anticipated. This allows the trustee to base decisions for the estate on solid legal rulings and can be a barrier against allegations of impropriety or unfairness. This can go a long way toward preserving family harmony during the probate process, as often feelings run high after a death.
Trustees can be sure that their decisions will not expose them unwittingly to liabilities for their handling of the estate by retaining competent legal representation.
Source: Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia,, “Core duties imposed by the Common Law,” accessed Feb. 12, 2016