Many people think being named executor on a will is an honour. But Lesley Russell, a CBM Lawyers Associate who specializes in Wills/Estates/Trusts and Personal Planning (Powers of Attorney and Representation Agreements), says it’s a big responsibility too.
“It’s a lot of work. Executors are responsible, legally, for clearly identifying the liabilities and assets of the person who’s passed away. In a best-case scenario it takes between four to six months to be granted probate from the court, but sometimes the process takes a lot longer.”
Of course it’s still important, necessary work, so if you’ve agreed to take on the administration of a loved one’s estate Lesley has a simple recommendation: hire an expert to help!
What is probate?
When a person has a will, in most cases the executor of the estate must ask the court to verify that the will is valid.
“You provide the court with the required information and if all is in order, they put their stamp of approval on the will — that’s a grant of probate. You can then give a court-certified copy of the probate grant to banks, to the Land Title Authority of BC and any other agency that requires it to allow the executor to deal with the assets,” Lesley says. “Some assets are able to pass straight to beneficiaries without getting probate, but things like property and bank accounts in the deceased’s own name have to go through the probate process first.”
There’s no legal requirement to hire a lawyer for probate, but doing it on your own is an extremely challenging process that may not save much money in the end.
“The forms are all available online, but they’re not user-friendly. And the court is unable to help you — if any part of your application is missing or incorrect they’ll just tell you what is wrong and what needs to be addressed.”
Time, patience and administrative skills
The easiest estate to administer would be one where a person has sold all their property, consolidated all their accounts into one bank, wrote a clear will and left all their assets to a single person (who’s also their executor).
“That type of estate rarely happens,” Lesley says. “The person who’s passed away may still own a primary residence or be carrying debt. Their will may have issues — if it’s homemade, has been written on, or they may not have a will at all. Some of the beneficiaries may be difficult to track down, live outside of Canada, be minors or are incompetent.”
Even in an ideal situation, the process takes time, energy and extensive administrative skills. An estate lawyer can track down documents and approvals during business hours, and brings years of expertise that can simplify your responsibilities.
“There are a lot of steps, both legal and administrative,” Lesley says. “This is what I do day-in and day-out. In addition to my years of experience, I also have the support staff and resources to process things as quickly as possible.”
The person behind the application process
While some lawyers focus solely on obtaining the grant of probate, Lesley offers much more guidance because she wants to ensure her clients are well-informed of their responsibilities, and help make the process easier. She also appreciates making connections with her clients.
“It’s not just a bunch of documents — those documents represent a real person who meant something to my client,” she says. “And I think there’s value in taking some time to get to know my clients as we will be working together for quite some time.”
Legal fees related to the administration of the estate can be charged to the estate, and Lesley is clear about which services are covered. She also takes the time to explain parts of the process that her clients can take care of themselves — how to find out the value of property on the date of death, when to talk to a real estate agent or a tax accountant.
“If I was going through this I’d want someone to make sure I was aware of all these things. It can be an overwhelming time and my goal is to try to make it a bit easier.”