I’ve been named an estate trustee in a will. What do I have to do?

When a person makes their will, they usually name someone to be their . The person may or may not have talked to the estate trustee about this.

Estate trustees are also called executors, representatives, personal representatives, estate administrators, or liquidators. Their job is to carry out the directions in the will after the person dies.

What estate trustees do

Estate trustees have an important job that comes with a lot of responsibility. As an estate trustee, you have to:

  • arrange for the funeral and burial or cremation
  • stop payments that end on death, like CPP, OAS, social assistance, and disability insurance payments
  • cancel driver's licence, social insurance and OHIP cards
  • find and value all in the estate
  • apply for probate if needed
  • pay any taxes and that are owed
  • file tax returns
  • distribute the property in the estate based on what the will says

The process you follow is called “administering” or “winding up” the estate. It usually takes one to 2 years to administer a simple estate.

If more than one person is named as estate trustee, check to see what the will says about how decisions about the estate should be made. If the will doesn't say anything, then all estate trustees must agree before any decision is made.

Find the will

The person who made you their estate trustee may have given you a copy of their will or told you where to find it. If they didn't, some common ways to try and find the will are to:

  • Look through personal papers at home or in a safety deposit box.
  • Ask family and friends.
  • Ask anyone who has a Power of Attorney.
  • Ask professional advisors, including lawyers, financial planners, and accountants.
  • Ask caregivers, including nursing home staff.
  • Check the court records in the estates courthouse closest to the person's home.
  • Place an advertisement in the Ontario Reports and local newspapers asking if anyone knows about the will.

Get legal help

An estates lawyer can explain your duties as estate trustee and help you administer the estate. You may want their help if the:  

  • estate is complex,
  • don't agree on some issues, or
  • estate seems to have more debts than assets.

In general, if you need professional advice from a lawyer or financial advisor, their fees and costs are paid from the estate if they are reasonable.

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