This is the second of a series on the duties of an executor. Think of it like a checklist, with everything an executor needs to take care of. To make this list as comprehensive as possible, we’ve divided the series into 12 parts.

 To view the series in its entirety, follow this guide:

The role of an executor is two-fold.

When a person passes, it’s your job to take care of all of the administrative work that comes with it - whether that means making sure their estate is distributed according to their wishes or their taxes are paid when tax season comes.

You also take on the role of organizer-in-chief, ensuring everything is taken care of. This might include planning a funeral and notifying family members.

It’s a big job - one that requires trust, care and attention to detail.

Thinking ahead

The work of an executor truly begins long before someone passes away.

Often, a trusted family member, or two, will be named executor(s) of the estate. In the best cases, you will be able to work with your loved one before they pass to corral all

If your loved one is in failing mental or physical health, be sure to act as quickly as possible to get all of the necessary information from them while they are still able to share it.

That means making sure you know where the will is kept and you’re in touch with any person or group (legal team, bank, doctors) who may have information you need about your loved one.

Organization is key. It’s important to keep all important documents in one place, with backed up digital copies whenever possible.

Review the will

Prior to death, it is at the discretion of the person creating a will (also known as a testator) to decide who to share it with.

As executor, you will likely be privy to the location of the will and may even be given the final copy while the deceased is still living. 

There can be risks associated with sharing multiple drafts of a will over time. Family members may try to contest the will with an earlier version they have been given. That’s why an executor needs to have the final copy in hand.

As the executor, you have a duty to uphold the testator’s wishes. In general, you are expected to respect the privacy of the person who created the will and not disclose the contents until it’s time to distribute the estate - or during court proceedings.

Ensure you review the will thoroughly and keep track of all of the accounts, funds and possessions outlined, matching them to assets you’ve been able to secure within the home and accounts. Review thoroughly, keeping an inventory to ensure nothing bequeathed in the will is missing from the testator’s estate.

Obtain the death certificate

Much like birth, death is a matter of record.

A death certificate is an official document, which declares cause, death and time/date of death, as well as other personal information about the deceased.

It’s most often used for legal purposes, as proof for obtaining benefits, like pension and life insurance. Death certificates are also used when foul play is suspected in a death.

The death certificate is signed by a coroner or physician, who verifies the cause of death and identity of the deceased. Death certificates are often required before cremation or burying a body can take place.

The ability to obtain a death certificate varies by region. In Canada, death certificates can be obtained by contacting provincial Vital Statistics offices by paying a fee and filling out request forms. For example, in British Columbia it is $27 to obtain a copy and $60 to have a copy delivered by courier.

In the United States, different states have varied laws around who can obtain a death certificate. In states with a stricter policy, only a legal representative, like a spouse, parent, child, or sibling of the deceased may obtain the death certificate.

You can also obtain a Proof of Death Certificate from the funeral home itself. It’s recommended to request multiple copies, so you’re able to provide every entity, like insurance companies and banks, with a copy.

The death certificate is an essential item for all of the ensuing legal matters associated with executing an estate.

Funeral Planning 101

If you’re looking for more detailed information on how to plan a funeral, we’ve created a few guides to help you along the way:

Planning a funeral is a big job.

Apart from a wedding, it’s often the largest event a person is part of - even if they are only present in death.

There is a lot to think about and often, it’s too much work for one person to take on. Funerals are most often held within 7 days of someone passing, which means a lot of tasks can pile up at once.

Often, your loved one will have provided plans for what they want their funeral to be like. Providing financial resources are available, these are the plans you should follow. Focus on what they would have wanted, which can make things easier if family politics come into play. At the end of the day, it’s about the person whose life you’re celebrating.

First and foremost, you’re going to want to work with a funeral home. The funeral director can help guide you through the process - every step of the way. Often, they are able to help you plan beyond just organizing the ceremony and preparing the body. They can suggest a schedule for the day, along with recommending providers for things like flowers.

To help make the process of planning run more smoothly, look to other close friends and family members to see who you can appoint to help.

Give people specific tasks, like ordering the flowers or writing the obituary, and specific times in which those tasks need to be completed. Check in regularly and keep a running list of tasks to ensure everything is done. A funeral director can be a great resource here, helping you double-check your list.

The financial side of funeral planning

As executor, your job is to keep track of all expenses associated with funeral planning - right down to keeping receipts for photographs printed.

In this role, you also have a better financial picture of the resources available to pay for the funeral. This is something to keep in mind at the outset. You should know what the budget is and ensure planning falls within it.

The average funeral costs between $8,000 and $12,000 - depending on where you live and whether you go with a burial or cremation. Keep a record of all costs, especially if you have family members helping you plan the event who might also be incurring expenses. 

Next in the Executor Duties Checklist, notifying accounts and collecting information.