Do I have to accept being an administrator of a will?

Fast & CompanyEstate Administration, General

If you are named as executor of someone’s estate, that is an indication that the person had great confidence in you and your ability to carry out his or her wishes. But while it may be considered an honour, it is also a big responsibility.

Some people who are named as executors wind up renouncing those duties. There can be many reasons for that, such as the person not having the time or being elderly or ill. Some simply might not feel up to the task. In those cases, the executors can sign a Renunciation of Probate form that’s filed in the court and allows an alternate executor to step up.

Small estates with few beneficiaries can be relatively simple to administer. Other than paying off a few debts and filing a final tax return, there may not be many other duties to fulfill other than distributing the remaining assets. But not all estates can be handled that easily. A few indicators that an estate may be potentially more difficult to administer include:

  • The decedent owned one or more businesses, or had an ownership interest in a business enterprise.
  • There are numerous beneficiaries.
  • A trust exists.
  • The will is being contested.

If a friend or relative approaches you and asks for your permission to be named as executor of his or her estate, you may turn him or her down. It’s also permissible to resign as executor after the person dies even if you previously consented. But there is a caveat — the person seeking to resign cannot have already “intermeddled” in the estate.

In these cases, where a co-executor has been named, that person or an alternate executor then takes over. When no co-executor or alternate was named, someone must then apply to be appointed as estate administrator.

When estate administration questions arise, seeking legal guidance is a good idea before proceeding.