Canada: The Role of an Estate Trustee

Last Updated: January 13 2011

Article by David Steele and Heather Hisey

What Is an Estate Trustee?

The estate trustee (also known as the executor) is the representative specified in an individual's will to carry out the terms of the will. The role of the estate trustee is onerous and requires sound judgment, patience, tact and empathy. The estate trustee's responsibility should not be taken lightly: a potential trustee should not accept the role without weighing the time, commitment and tasks involved. When you are making a will, you should choose an estate trustee carefully, considering the candidate's suitability for this demanding position.

The role of the estate trustee is to wind up the affairs of the deceased. The estate trustee collects, manages and invests the assets as required, pays debts and then distributes the assets to the persons entitled to them (the beneficiaries). The estate may be immediately distributable, or some or all of the property may have to be held in trust until a specific event or for a stated period of time. The estate trustee is responsible to the beneficiaries of the estate.

What Are the Duties of an Estate Trustee?

An estate trustee derives authority to act from the will and has certain statutory rights and obligations. In a well-drawn will, the beneficiaries and their interests are clearly defined, which ordinarily makes the task of distributing the assets straightforward. An estate trustee should commence his or her duties immediately upon the death of the testator. Having a will probated by the court merely confirms the estate trustee's appointment and establishes under the seal of the court that the written instrument is the last will and testament of the deceased person. An estate trustee who is not willing to assume the duties of office, however, may formally renounce the right to act.

The estate trustee carries out the following duties:

  • Arranges for the proper funeral and burial of the deceased (contrary to what many people believe, these arrangements are not made by a surviving spouse or other family member).
  • Determines that the will that appointing him or her as the estate trustee is the last will of the deceased.
  • Determines the names, addresses and ages of the beneficiaries and notifies them of their interests.
  • Determines the nature and value of the assets and debts of the deceased and compiles a detailed inventory, which includes the contents of safety deposit boxes.
  • Ensures that property is protected (e.g., that real property has sufficient insurance and appropriate supervision).
  • Continues and oversees the operation of any business interests.
  • Opens an estate bank account Retains a lawyer to advise and assist in the administration of the estate.
  • Instructs the lawyer to prepare the documents necessary to apply for a Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee With a Will (formerly "letters probate"), if required.
  • Arranges for the payment of debts and contests debts if not convinced of their validity,
  • Prepares and files the necessary tax returns in all relevant jurisdictions and pays any tax owing.
  • Maintains proper accounts.
  • If required to do so, provides the beneficiaries and the court with an account of all dealings with the estate assets during the term of administration.
  • Sets up and administers any trusts established by the will.

Distributes the assets according to the terms of the will and obtains releases from the beneficiaries. A lawyer may be retained to advise the estate trustee and to offer assistance as required, but all decisions must be made by the estate trustee, who cannot delegate this decision-making responsibility to others. The estate trustee will often look to the lawyer to

  • advise on all legal matters involving the interpretation of the will and the administration of the estate;
  • prepare and file the application for the certificate of appointment of the estate trustee with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice;
  • prepare the advertisement for creditors if the estate trustee wishes to advertise for claims against the estate;
  • assist the estate trustee in the transfer and/or sale of assets by preparing any documents required for that purpose;
  • assist the estate trustee in maintaining bookkeeping records;
  • assist the estate trustee in preparing the accounts for audit by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice if the estate trustee is required to present the accounts for a formal audit (called a "passing of accounts"); and
  • prepare documents for the beneficiaries to sign to acknowledge that they have received their entitlement under the will and to release the estate trustee from liability.

Is an Estate Trustee Entitled to Compensation?

Under the Trustee Act (Ontario), an estate trustee is entitled to a fair and reasonable allowance for his or her "care, pains, trouble and time" spent administering the estate. If the beneficiaries are all adults, they can agree upon the terms of compensation. If the estate accounts are audited, a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice may award compensation. The estate trustee's compensation entitlement may also be specified in the will.

Generally, the maximum amount of compensation awarded to the estate trustee is about 5 percent of the aggregate value of the estate. Any compensation received by an estate trustee is taxable income and must be declared in the recipient's income tax return.

Who Should Be Your Estate Trustee?

Who May Serve?

Any individual who is of sound mind and at least 18 years of age may serve as an estate trustee. A testator may choose to appoint multiple estate trustees who will act together; a variety of perspectives and skills may help resolve difficult estate administration issues.

A testator may appoint a trust company as an estate trustee of his or her estate. There are advantages and disadvantages to appointing a trust company as an estate trustee. A trust company may provide a higher level of experience in matters of investment, estate accounting and other estate administration tasks and may have greater resources than most individual estate trustees. A trust company also offers permanence, which may be desirable if the will provides for trusts of potentially long duration. On the other hand, trust companies are sometimes perceived as inflexible and less responsive than individual estate trustees. A testator may appoint a trust company and an individual to serve as co-trustees.

What to Consider in Choosing an Estate Trustee

In choosing an estate trustee, a testator should consider the following factors:

  • the age and health of the prospective estate trustee
  • where the prospective estate trustee lives
  • the honesty, capability and responsibility of the prospective estate trustee
  • the familiarity of the prospective estate trustee with the testator's assets and family situation.

The role of the estate trustee is usually time-consuming and laborious; the office is by no means an honorary or a nominal one. You should select an estate trustee who is likely to be physically and mentally prepared for the job.

Ideally, an estate trustee lives reasonably close to the testator so that he or she can perform estate-related duties conveniently and cost-effectively. If the chosen estate trustee resides outside Ontario and outside the Commonwealth, he or she must provide security (e.g., a bond) before being granted a certificate of appointment by the court.

The law requires that the estate trustee demonstrate care, diligence and reasonable prudence in carrying out his or her duties. The estate trustee should be organized, responsible and capable of making financial decisions. The level of financial or business skill required of the estate trustee will depend to a large extent on the nature of the assets that make up the estate. If a large part of the estate consists of an interest in a family business, you may wish to appoint an estate trustee with a more sophisticated business awareness than would be necessary if the estate consisted of only a principal residence and some Canada Savings Bonds. An estate trustee should also be familiar with the testator's family circumstances. This may be particularly desirable if the testator has established continuing trusts under the will for various family members or others.

Honesty is an essential trait of an estate trustee. This person must act in the best interests of the beneficiaries and must, at all times, avoid favouring his or her interests over those of the beneficiaries.

You should provide at least one alternative estate trustee who will be able to serve if the first named estate trustee is unwilling or unable to act or continue to act, or dies before the testator dies or before the completion of the administration of the estate.

After considering all the factors and choosing an estate trustee, you should ask the prospective estate trustee if he or she would be willing to act. If the person is not willing to act, choose another estate trustee.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Devry Smith Frank LLP
O'Sullivan Estate Lawyers LLP
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Devry Smith Frank LLP
O'Sullivan Estate Lawyers LLP
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions