Difference Between an Estate Trustee and an Executor in Calgary Alberta

If you’re estate planning in Alberta, it’s common to hear terms like executor, trustee, and personal representative.

What do these terms mean and how do they differ?

Should you name an executor or trustee in your estate plan?

While executors and estate trustees both play an important role in estate planning, there are important differences between the terms.

Most people name an executor but an estate trustee is only necessary for some estate plans.

Assistance from an estate planning lawyer is necessary to draw up the relevant documents, even though the wording in the Wills and Succession Act and the Estate Administration Act has been simplified in recent years to make it easier to understand.

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Are executors the same as personal representatives and trustees?

An executor is the same as a personal representative but different from an estate trustee.

What does an executor do?

Executor Probating a will in Calgary, AlbertaAn executor is someone appointed in a will to manage the deceased’s estate. He or she usually carries out the funeral wishes of the deceased and manages the entire estate administration process, except if testamentary trusts have been created by the deceased.

The executor must follow estate administration law by locating all property and assets of the deceased, ensuring that it is maintained properly, notifying officials of the death, paying liabilities such as taxes, debts or support obligations, and distributing assets to the named beneficiaries.

Before this can happen, an executor must usually apply for a grant of probate, which validates the will and their authority to administer it.

Executor and executrix (female) are general terms for the role that is used around the world. In Calgary & the rest of Alberta, the person who manages a deceased’s estate is usually called a personal representative—as per the Wills and Succession Act and the Estate Administration Act.

The personal representative of the estate is effectively a trustee of the entire estate property until it is fully distributed.

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What does an estate trustee do?

Trustee is a term used in several different ways in Alberta:

  • Those who are appointed for specific roles, such as a trustee in bankruptcy
  • Those who are appointed in a will to hold title to certain assets on behalf of one or more beneficiaries (testamentary trusts)
  • Those who are appointed to act as executors when no executor has been appointed in a will or the appointed individual is unwilling or unable to assume the responsibilities

This article focuses on estate trustees, who are appointed to run trusts that were created by the deceased in the will (testamentary trusts).

Sometimes, when a person wants to pass on property or assets to a beneficiary but does not want to grant access to those assets immediately after he or she passes away, testamentary trusts can be formed.

For instance, trusts for minors will preserve property until an event specified by the deceased (e.g., the child turns 18), after which the property is transferred to the beneficiary. Other good examples of testamentary trusts include trusts for disabled people, spendthrift family members, or pets.

Executor of a will in and probating the will in Calgary, AlbertaAll trusts are managed by trustees. In living trusts, the trustee may be the person who creates the trust. In testamentary trusts, that is not possible so the creator of the trust must name a person to act as trustee after death.

After death, certain designated property of the deceased enters the trust. The estate trustee becomes the temporary owner of this property once it is received by the trust (transferred by the executor of the will).

He or she is then responsible for managing this property in the best interests of the trust beneficiaries and according to the wishes detailed in the deceased’s will. The trustee deals only with trust property. All other estate matters are handled by the executor or personal representative.

At any time, the executor may request an accounting of assets from a trustee to ensure that property is being managed responsibly.

After the property in the trust has been transferred outright to the beneficiary, the trust is terminated and the responsibilities of the trustee end. Some trusts, however, provide a long-term income stream for beneficiaries. These may need to be managed by the trustee for an extended period and the beneficiary may never own the property outright.

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What are the similarities between an estate trustee and executor?

Estate trustees and executors both help to manage the affairs of a deceased person. They both manage the deceased’s property for the benefit of others and have a duty to act honestly, in good faith, and in the best interests of the deceased/beneficiaries.

Both trustees and executors are accountable for the property and their actions and must keep accurate accounting records for beneficiaries.

This can get complicated and may become time-consuming. Many trustees and executors need assistance from an estate lawyer to assist with the estate administration process.

Can the same person be an executor and estate trustee?

Because of the similarities detailed, executors and estate trustees are often the same people.

When an individual creates a will, considerable thought should be given to who is responsible for fulfilling these roles. Estate and trust administration is not easy and the choices may be limited.

Do they have the necessary financial acumen to fulfill their duties? Are they reliable enough to carry out your wishes?

In many families, a person charged with both roles may start as an executor and then, when the responsibilities are completed, perform the role of a trustee.

Trustee vs personal representative

The main difference between a personal representative and an estate trustee is in the scope of responsibilities.

A trustee has a limited scope, managing only the trust and the assets it contains. The personal representative, on the other hand, must manage the entire estate of the deceased.

The potential duration of the role is also a key difference. The responsibilities of the personal representative generally end when the estate has been distributed and accounted for. Those of the estate trustee continue until the trust ends or the trustee passes away.

If you are planning a will or trust or require legal assistance in managing your responsibilities as an executor or trustee, start with an initial consultation with one of our experienced estate planning lawyers.

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