Smooth Estate Administration: 8 Essential Steps

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One of the most generous gifts a person can leave their surviving friends and family is a clear and cogent estate plan.

At an emotionally turbulent time, your loved ones will be more thankful than you imagine for the certainty that comes with a well-drafted will.

Sadly, I know from my many years in practice that there are no guarantees an estate won’t run into difficulties at some point, but I have also learned there are certain best practices that encourage the speedy and efficient distribution of a deceased’s assets.

Follow my eight-step guide to boost your own chances of a smooth estate administration.

Step 1: Get a will

The single most important thing you can do to ensure the smooth administration of your estate is to make a will — preferably one drafted by an experienced estates lawyer who can turn your wishes into a set of straightforward instructions to be carried out by an executor.

Otherwise, it’s down to the court and the law to determine what happens. The deceased gets no say since B.C.’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act sets strict rules for the distribution of assets in the case of an intestacy, and the whole process can take a great deal of extra time and expense to complete.

Step 2: Choose a suitable executor

You should choose someone you trust for this critical job, but that’s not the only criterion that matters for a job as important as an executor. Not everyone has the knowledge or the wherewithal to handle the myriad challenges that come with winding up an estate, from sources as varied as financial institutions, the court and clashing beneficiaries.

Step 3: Confirm expectations

Having gone to the trouble of identifying someone who can do the job, you must also ensure they are willing. An appointment as executor is not like a jail sentence: your choice is under no obligation to act.


The best way to avoid a time-wasting (and costly) renunciation is by letting your choice of executor know in advance why you have picked them and what is expected of them. You can also sweeten the deal by letting them know that executors are entitled to compensation for performing the role — typically between two and four per cent of the total estate value.

Step 4: Divide duties

Those with complicated estates should consider lightening the load by splitting duties between multiple executors. Still, you should consult a lawyer to make sure yours is an appropriate case for appointing a team of trustees, since there are risks to consider, including the possibility that estate administration could grind to a halt because of a disagreement.

Step 5: List your assets (and liabilities)

At its core, estate administration is the process of distributing a person’s assets and settling their debts. Without a clear picture of what the deceased owned and what they owed, the executor’s job only becomes more difficult.

That’s why I advise clients to put together a list of all their assets and liabilities, including their location, registration and any associated documentation. The more detailed you can make the list, the easier your executor’s task will be

Step 6: Stay on top of your taxes

Even in death, there is no escape from taxes. Probate can not be obtained before the estate has filed a tax return and paid any amount owing.

You can play your part in a smooth estate administration by keeping your taxes paid and up to date while you are still around. If your finances are at the more complicated end of the scale, you could benefit from the advice of an accountant in addition to your lawyer to assist with tax planning to minimize the tax burden on your estate.

Step 7: Update your will

Drafting a will is only part of the job of ensuring your wishes are carried out after your passing. As time passes and situations change, your original choices of beneficiaries and executor may no longer make sense, so you should regularly review and update your will.

If you’re struggling to find a place in your schedule, use major life events — things like the birth of a child, marriage, divorce or the purchase of a significant asset — as triggers to revisit your estate plan and check that it still reflects your intentions.

Step 8: Keep your documents in order

One of the first tasks for an executor to carry out after a person’s death is locating their will. You don’t need to give it to them in advance, but it will make things run smoothly if the executor knows where your will and other key documents are stored and how to access them.

Your chosen location should be secure enough to prevent others from gaining easy unauthorized access, but not so hidden that your executor will have trouble getting in. Many people store their will in a personal safe or locked cabinet in their homes.

If you have questions about estate planning and would like to discuss your options, schedule a consultation with one of our experienced estate lawyers. We would be happy to help you.

*This post is not intended to be legal advice and should not be taken as such. Please contact McConnan Bion O’Connor & Peterson if you have any questions regarding this post or require assistance or legal advice regarding estate planning and administration.