It’s a common call to our front-desk. A wife, husband, child, or other relative dealing with the loss of their loved one, with no idea what they, as an executor, have to do next.
If you find yourself in this situation, know that while there are steps you can take, there’s not a lot you need to do in the first week. Take time to process the situation, arrange the funeral, and deal with your loss. After the week is over, you can then begin looking at what needs to be done.
You’ll be able to get the Death Certificate from the funeral director within 7 – 14 days, and without this, it’s impossible to start dealing with assets.
Once you’ve got that you or your solicitor can start the process of dealing with the Estate. Until then, focus on funeral arrangements and don’t feel pressured to contact a solicitor in the first week – often if we’re holding a Will, we’ll contact you.
In the ideal scenario, you already know where the Will is. If that’s the case, you can retrieve it and start the next step. If you don’t know where the Will is kept, or don’t know if there even is a Will, there’s a couple of things you can try:
Hopefully, after going through these steps you will have found one! But if you’ve searched everywhere and you still can’t locate one, you can apply for Letters of Administration.
So now you have a Death Certificate and a Will – what next? Well, at this point you and/or solicitor needs to figure out whether you need to apply for Probate.
Probate is a process of validating a Will – that means ensuring that it’s a legitimate Will with legitimate Executors.
But you don’t always need to apply for Probate. You can get an idea of whether or not you’ll need to by looking at the assets:
If there’s one or more of the above, you or your solicitor can start preparing the documents to apply. You’ll need to do an inventory of assets (bank accounts, property and the like) and liabilities. You can find more information on the Supreme Court Website.
If you’ve already had the conversation with your loved one about the assets they own and their debts, this job becomes a lot easier!
Once you’ve sent the documents down to the Land Titles Office be prepared to wait – it can take up to six months to be issued!
Bank accounts are usually pretty straightforward – once you provide them with a certified copy of Probate (if necessary), a certified copy of the death Certificate, and the bank’s own completed and signed estate withdrawal forms, they will process the application and release the funds held by them. This process normally takes between 3 to 4 weeks.
As for a house or other property, if you’re a joint owner (usually spouses are) it’s a pretty simple process of doing an Application by Survivorship (something a solicitor can help you with). Probate is not necessary for lodgement of an Application by Survivorship dealing with property held in joint names.
We recommend you revisit your own Will, especially in the case of married couples, and look at how you hold your real estate and make sure that everything is in place for when you pass away – any changes are best made during your life time to make it easier for your executors to deal with your assets.
If you’re not on the property title, the process is a bit more complicated. Often you will be selling the property on behalf of the deceased and before this can occur, you need to be registered on the title deeds. This cannot occur until Probate has been obtained.
If the house is sitting vacant, it is your responsibility to ensure that the insurance company has been advised and that the premiums are up to date. It is your role to contact agents and instruct them to sell the property or properties, negotiate the sale price, and instruct your solicitor/conveyancer to convey the property to the purchasers.
Once all the assets have been realised your solicitor will prepare an estate asset and distribution statement setting out what funds have been received from banks, sale of shares, sale of property and what funds have been paid out and to whom the balance funds are to be distributed, in accordance with the terms of the Will. As Executor, it is your responsibility to confirm the Statement and provide instructions to your solicitor as to how you wish these funds to be distributed, ie by mail, by cheque directly to the beneficiaries, or by direct deposit into their accounts. You will be guided in this process by your solicitor.
If you’ve read until this point and are thinking “that sounds like a lot to do!” you’re not alone. Although there are a lot of resources online which you can turn to for guidance, the documents are not always easy to prepare!
That’s why a lot of executors engage a solicitor to help administer the Estate. At Bishops, we administer Estates every day, so we can walk you through the steps you need to take from start to finish.
However, if it’s still too much, in an extreme case, you can renounce your right as executor. You’ll find that a lot of Wills name a substitute executor which means that they’ll take over your duties. If you’re the only executor named, you can apply for Letters of Administration and then the next person who’s eligible to apply can.
If you’re an executor, the best thing you can do is prepare for the day you’ll need to deal with the estate. In most cases, your loved one will inform you that they’re making you the executor in the Will, and write a letter to say where everything is.
At Bishops, we get people to complete an “Estate Directory” where they write out where their super is, who their banks are, and where their property title is held so that you, as an executor, have somewhere to start.
So, although it’s a difficult subject to broach, it’s good to discuss where someone’s property is before they pass away to avoid the tough job of trying to find it when they’re already gone.
Things to ask when you’re made an executor are:
If you don’t know these key details, you’ll be in for quite a process. You may have to hire a private investigator and someone has to pay for this! Eventually, the money will come out of the Estate but until that can happen, it’ll likely be you that has to fork out in the meantime until you can be paid back.
A word of caution: the title “executor” is not just an honour. It also carries a big responsibility. Don’t overly worry about being an executor, but keep in mind that there are consequences for not doing the job properly – for instance, the beneficiaries could sue you for improper handling, or if bills come in after you’ve already administered the estate, you might be liable to pay. So if you’re uncertain or feel you need assistance in dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, make sure you seek legal advice and avoid trouble in the long run.
Administering an estate can take more time than you’d expect. Even a straightforward estate takes from 3-6 months to finalise because of the amount of work required; you/your solicitor has to write to people to confirm the assets, prepare documents, and have them signed.
Documents may have to be sent to the Probate Registry who can take from 3-18 weeks to finalise them (and that’s only if there aren’t any errors on the forms!). And if anyone disputes the Will, that can draw out the process even further
So be patient – it’s a process that takes time. You may feel like it’s moving too slowly, but don’t rush and risk cutting corners. Your solicitor can keep you updated so that you know where things are sitting at all times.
There’s no doubt that losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things a person can go through. And on top of that, dealing with an estate can seem with an impossible task. But with the amount of resources and help available, it doesn’t have to be.
Take it step by step. And if you have any questions or need assistance in any way, contact estate professionals who can guide you through the process. It may not be easy, but carrying out the task entrusted to you by your loved one is ultimately one of the most meaningful things you can do for their memory.