How to avoid mistakes and create better estate plans
OTTAWA - When Leanne Kaufman asks people who have acted as an executor for a loved one if they'd do it again, the answer is almost always no.
“People don't know what they don't know when it comes to the role and if they had known how much work and how hard, and potentially what damage it could do to their family situation, they never would have done it,'' said the CEO of RBC Royal Trust.
Naming an executor in your will is an important decision because it will be up to them to ensure that your estate is wound up properly and your wishes are fulfilled after you die.
Many name a close friend or family member as executor, but experts say that you might want to consider naming a corporate executor to manage your estate in a bid to avoid burdening a grieving loved one with a task that can amount to a part-time job that may take years to complete.
There are dozens of tasks involved in winding up an estate including managing investments, paying off debts and selling real estate - but also include more mundane jobs like cleaning out your fridge and cancelling subscriptions.
Corporate executor services are generally offered by trust companies and can fill the role of an executor in your will.
Generally the more complex the estate, the better suited a corporate executor is likely to be. If the estate involves trust accounts, a corporate executor can also act as trustee and oversee the accounts that may continue for years if they have been established for a child or a disabled family member.
Naming a corporate executor may also protect a loved one, who through inexperience, might make a mistake in managing your estate that ends up with them being sued or held liable.
A corporate executor is also unlikely to die before you do, and will not get cold feet and decide they can't or don't want to do it when the time comes to wrap up your estate.
For those who don't want to lose the personal touch, a close friend or family member could be named a co-executor alongside a corporate executor who brings the expertise needed to handle the estate.
“If you are going to name a loved one, let them know that they can get help and they have your permission to do it to,'' Kaufman said.
If there is a potential for fights between beneficiaries, a corporate executor can help offer an unbiased approach that is untainted by family dynamics.
Melanie McDonald, vice-president and regional director at BMO Trust Co., says if an estate isn't handled properly, it could cause irreparable damage to a family ending up with people not be talking to each other at holiday dinners.
“And now the other reality is families are getting more complex with blended families,'' she said. “When the main glue that held the family together is no longer there, especially in second or third marriages it could unravel the family dynamics.''
Choosing a corporate executor is not without cost. Generally the price is based on the size of the estate and the complexity, McDonald says, ranging from two to five per cent of the value of the estate.
But she says a corporate executor isn't just for rich people with large and complex estates.
“I think it is something every person should consider because, you know, regardless of the size, the tasks are the same and the issues are the same,'' McDonald said.
“No matter how expensive the house is, it still needs to be sold and cleaned out.''