All About Estates

Administering an Estate: A Marathon of Responsibilities

We had a Zoom call with our adult children a few weekends ago. We talked about our son’s engagement, as our daughter hadn’t yet heard the details of how he had proposed. We also talked about our daughter’s recent 5K run at the Toronto Zoo and how it compared to the half marathon that our son had run a few years ago. This family discussion and a recent work discussion made me think of similarities between administering an estate and running a marathon. Just like a marathon, estate administration can be overwhelming at the start, followed by a middle phase of steady progress, and ending, hopefully, with a sense of accomplishment. Today’s blog will explore this idea further and highlight some of the key tasks and challenges that executors face throughout the estate administration process.

The Start

Both administering an estate and running a marathon can be daunting at the beginning. In a marathon, the mass start can be chaotic and slow as you’re stuck in a big group of runners. Once the crowd spreads out, it may be tempting to overcompensate and run fast. But pace is important as there is a lot of grueling work ahead to reach the finish line.

Similarly, an executor may feel unsure as they begin their role as there are so many initial tasks to be completed. Some of the crucial early duties for an executor may include:

  1. Making proper funeral and burial arrangements. Paying the funeral expenses directly from the deceased’s bank accounts, if possible.
  2. Addressing the immediate needs of any dependants and seeking appropriate advice.
  3. Handling perishable assets and securing and protecting all other assets, including business interests and rental properties.
  4. Reviewing insurance coverage and obtaining increased or additional coverage of the assets where necessary.
  5. Notifying government and private institutions of the deceased’s death, e.g. canceling Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan benefits, canceling the deceased’s passport, driver’s licence, health card, bank cards, and credit cards.
  6. Compiling a list of beneficiaries, their contact information, and ages. Where there are minors, obtaining dates of birth and contact details for their parent/guardian.
  7. Determining the nature and value of the assets and debts of the deceased, including those assets that are held jointly or where there is a named beneficiary, and compiling an inventory of the estate. Discussing with appropriate advisors whether valuations may be necessary.
  8. Documenting the contents of any safety deposit box.
  9. Keeping track of all expenses paid from the deceased’s bank accounts after death or by the executor or another person on behalf of the estate.
  10. Obtaining legal and accounting advice.
  11. Filing an application for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee (probate grant) as proof of the executor’s authority.

The Middle

After the initial flurry of tasks, there may be a bit of a reprieve while the executor waits for the court to issue the probate grant. But some steps can be taken in the interim, and then it is full steam ahead with the probate grant in hand. Next steps may include:

  1. Opening an estate bank account. The bank will generally allow deposits into the account, but not withdrawals until after probate is provided.
  2. Advertising for creditors.
  3. Arranging for the sale of assets to pay liabilities, taxes and legacies. Making investment decisions pending the distribution of the estate.

The End

I am told that long-distance running can get ugly. On marathon day, many runners will run out of energy, walk, stop, wobble unsteadily on their feet or even pass out on the side of the road.

Executors may face mental and emotional fatigue in administering an estate. Beneficiaries may often be frustrated with how long it takes for the executor to complete the administration of the estate. Generally executors and beneficiaries have the same goal, they both want to be finished. Some of the final responsibilities of an executor include:

  1. Arranging for the accountant(s) to file all necessary tax returns in all relevant jurisdictions, paying any taxes owing and obtaining tax clearance certificates.
  2. Preparing the estate accounts and having them approved, either by the beneficiaries signing a release or through a court passing of accounts.
  3. Making the final distribution of the residue of the estate to the beneficiaries.

Administering an estate is very much like a marathon, requiring endurance, patience, and perseverance. Just like the cheering crowd at the end of a marathon, the satisfaction of completing an estate administration and reaching the ‘Finish’ line is rewarding for both executors and beneficiaries. If you’re an executor, remember that you don’t have to run this marathon alone – seek guidance from legal and financial professionals to navigate the complexities and ensure a successful outcome.

Thanks for reading.

About Betty Laidlaw
Betty Laidlaw is a law clerk in the Trusts, Wills, Estates and Charities group at Fasken, with over 30 years experience. Betty has extensive experience assisting executors and trustees in managing complex, high-value estates and trusts. Betty specializes in the administration of estates and trusts and also focuses on estate accounting and estate litigation. Betty has received a Certificate in Estate and Trust Administration (CETA) from STEP Canada which denotes excellence in the industry. With this Certificate, Betty has received professional recognition as a specialist in estate and trust management. Betty is an affiliate member of STEP Canada and an associate member of the Institute of Law Clerks of Ontario. Email:


  1. Christie Geen-Difede

    March 15, 2024 - 1:29 pm

    Great article and analogy!

  2. David G. Tremblett

    March 15, 2024 - 3:08 pm

    Love it !!!
    Thank you Betty .

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