Choosing an Estate Trustee

An estate trustee (also known as an executor) is the person or trust company appointed by you in your Will who upon your death realizes your assets, pays off debts, and distributes your property in accordance with your Will. The estate trustee is chosen when you make your Will, but may be changed as circumstances require such as if the original Estate Trustee may no longer be able to act.

Choosing a Personal Estate Trustee

Most individuals choose an individual estate trustee, such as a friend or family member. This option is often preferred as they  know you and your circumstances and have your best interests in mind. Since the role of an estate trustee can be very demanding, you should be sure that the person is willing and capable of carrying out the responsibilities of executor.

In addition to choosing a primary Estate Trustee, you should also select an alternate in the event your first choice predeceases you or is unable or unwilling to act when the time comes.

Ideally, your estate trustee should be someone who is:

  • trustworthy
  • resides in Canada and near where assets are located
  • willing to act (and have the time to do so)
  • able to act neutrally towards all beneficiaries
  • able to make decisions in a timely fashion
  • able to resolve conflicts
  • background in business, investment, and administrative matters and
  • can get the job done

An estate trustee is allowed to hire outside services or agent as needed (though compensation would not be allowed for tasks that have been delegated) but some tasks cannot be delegated. Many law offices provide estate administration services, including estate accounting for preparation of passing of accounts. Trust companies similarly offer services in their capacity as Agent for Executor, where they assist with either all the executor duties or only those specifically chosen.

Choosing a Corporate or Professional Executor

A corporate or professional executor is a non-family professional that may be preferred where family and friends lack knowledge of estate administration, financial responsibility, or the time to administer an estate. A professional executor may be a lawyer or accountant with the expertise, experience and sensitivity needed for estate settlement and administration intricacies.

A corporate executor such as a trust company may be desirable where the estate is large or complex, a conflict within the family is likely, or if a long-term commitment is involved, such as administering a trust for children or a disabled beneficiary.  

You can also appoint a corporate or professional executor to work with your chosen personal estate trustee as co-executor or be appointed as alternate if the initial estate trustee is unwilling or unable to fulfill his or her responsibilities.

Final Thoughts

Several options are available and each individual will have a unique set of circumstances to consider. The complexity of your financial affairs, your personal circumstances and the availability of resources will affect your choice of estate trustee. The main thing is to make an informed decision.

We can help.


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