A relative has died in another city and I’m the executor. What do I do?

I was asked this question on Twitter recently and thought it was a good one to dedicate a blog post to. My parents have already passed away, but lots of people my age are finding themselves having to deal with a family member’s property, and often they lived in another city or province. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to go about selling a home when you don’t live nearby, and even more so if the property needs to be emptied.

First of all, you need to be the executor of the will to list the property for sale, or have a court appointment. You can’t just go in and start removing items or listing things for sale when you’re not the owner. This applies even if you are the sole beneficiary. So be sure to get legal advice if you’re not sure what this means: it’s more complicated if there is no will at all and if your family member died intestate. But assuming you have the legal authority to act, there are ways to make the process less stressful.

There are financial institutions like TD Wealth that have estate divisions that can help you. I have worked with their trust officers many times; they are terrific. They can pretty much take care of everything for you. They will go into the house, check for the tax returns and financial statements and monthly bills so that bills are paid and estate returns are filed. If there is a house full of contents to clear, they can arrange for that to happen too.

Here in Ottawa, the two trust officers I’ve worked with most closely (Heather Richardson and Dilia Ayotte-Mayost) usually arrange for an inventory to be taken of furniture by a local company  that specializes in this kind of thing  (they most often use MacLean and Associates) to determine what is of value and should be sold at auction and what should be disposed of or donated. MacLean and Associates are auctioneers and appraisers and deal with a lot of estates: they are excellent.

Sometimes a “remove junk” company is called in to take things away if MacLeans is too busy. These companies are amazing though: in a matter of days, they can clear even a hoarder’s house.

It is usually one of the TD trust officers who contacts me to ask for a letter of opinion of the value of the property; they also get an independent appraisal done. That sets the parameters for what price the property should be listed at. Once again, they can take care of all the steps required to get the house on the market, and depending on whether they are advising the beneficiaries, or acting directly under a delegated authority from the estate, they can select a realtor and sign the listing paperwork too. Working with beneficiaries every step of the way, they look after everything that is needed from managing insurance (insurance can lapse if a property is vacant for more than six months), arranging for the home to be checked daily, changing locks etc.

Sometimes, they have asked me to find trades to fix things that are broken or that might impede a sale; for example, getting an electrician in to pigtail aluminum wiring so that we won’t run into issues with buyers getting insurance. We often paint the property and do small things, like install new lighting, to make sure the property shows at its best.

I am not sure what their fee arrangements are, but I do know that TD has offices everywhere, so that’s where I’d start: I have found their trust officers to be professional, dedicated, and a pleasure to work with. The two trust officers I mentioned, Heather and Dilia,  travel to different parts of Ontario too, even though they are Ottawa-based: I know they handle business around  Kingston and North Bay and go as far north as Thunder Bay on occasion.

Feel free to contact me for details on how to reach them.


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