An executor appointed in a will is the personal representative of the deceased. It is an important role that comes with a lot of responsibilities. The executor’s tasks include handling the funeral, paying estate debts, locating beneficiaries, filing income tax returns, and distributing estate assets. It takes time to perform these tasks, and to do the job properly. But how long is too long to settle an estate? If you are an estate beneficiary, you may be growing impatient. Is there a time limit on the executor to fulfill their duties and finish the job?
Here’s a checklist of tasks that an executor in British Columbia, Canada, may need to complete:
It’s worth noting that the specific tasks required may vary depending on the complexity of the estate and the instructions laid out in the will. It’s also important for the executor to act with honesty, integrity, and transparency throughout the process.
Because each estate is different, there is no hard deadline or time limit. The estate settlement process can take longer if the estate is complicated, or if issues arise (e.g., a challenge to the validity of the will, or a wills variation claim by a disappointed beneficiary).
No. Regardless of how simple or complex the deceased’s estate may be, an executor must not “unreasonably delay” in settling the affairs of the estate. In fact, an executor can be personally responsible for loss caused by inaction or undue delay. So, when beneficiaries think that things are moving too slowly, the question is why is it taking so long to wrap up the estate. Is the delay unreasonable in the circumstances? Was the delay caused by something the executor did or failed to do?
While there is no strict deadline, there is a general rule of thumb. In BC, an estate trustee has one year to gather the estate assets and settle the affairs of the estate. This is known as the “executor’s year.” It begins to run from the date of death, or from the date the probate application is granted (if it is necessary to apply to probate court).
During the executor’s year there is no obligation on the executor to distribute estate assets or any income earned on estate assets to beneficiaries. During that year, beneficiaries can’t compel an executor to pay cash gifts set out in the deceased’s will.
As mentioned, the role of an executor comes with a long list of responsibilities. The executor must take charge of the estate assets, apply to probate court if necessary, advertise for creditors, pay estate debts, notify beneficiaries, ensure investments are authorized, coordinate with banks and financial institutions, and keep accounts of the estate’s revenues and disbursements throughout the estate settlement process. The rule of thumb “executor’s year” recognizes that all these steps time, and that snags can arise that slow the process down through no fault of the estate trustee (e.g., dealing with foreign assets, real property sitting on the market with no offers, delays in processing probate court applications).
Another very important reason for the executor’s year is that BC’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act (“WESA”) imposes a 210-day waiting period during which an executor must not distribute the estate without beneficiary consents or a court order. The waiting period is needed to allow time for any claims for maintenance from the estate—also known as a wills variation claim—to be brought. These claims can be brought by the deceased person’s spouse or children if they believe that the will fails to make adequate provision for them. A wills variation claim must be started within 180 days from the date the representation grant is issued and served on the estate executor no later than 30 days after that. If the executor distributes an estate before the 210-day waiting period has passed, he or she is exposed to personal liability if a maintenance claim is later brought. If the deceased’s will is challenged, the estate administration process is put on hold and the executor must not distribute the estate without the court’s permission.
Ideally, the executor will keep beneficiaries informed as to the status of the estate’s administration. Not all executors follow this good practice. If the estate administration process takes longer than one year, and beneficiaries are not satisfied with the level of communication or with the executor’s performance of their duties, there are options:
The estate settlement process can be sped up by good estate planning. There are many simple and effective steps that can cut down on how time-consuming estate settlement will be. “Inter vivos” transfer of real property or a bank account into joint tenancy is one option; these assets will automatically transfer to the surviving joint tenant after the death of the first joint tenant. If this is done during a person’s lifetime, there is no need for a probate application to transfer that property after their death. The use of trusts is another estate planning strategy that can streamline the process. Assets that are placed in the trust are owned by the trust, not the deceased’s estate.
The estate settlement process can be time-consuming and stressful for both executors and named beneficiaries. Our team of estate planning lawyers and estate litigators can help you navigate the process. Contact us today for practical advice and effective solutions.
Onyx Law Group represents clients in family law, estate and trust litigation, estate planning and probate matters. Consult with our experienced team at