Settling an Estate in the Time of COVID-19: Tips & Resources

Updated: Apr 30

Being an executor of someone’s will is much harder than most people realize. The honour of being named by a loved one is quickly replaced by the stress of having to figure out your various responsibilities.


Restrictions imposed by COVID-19 haven’t helped matters. You are likely working from home trying to figure out Zoom, chasing deadlines and are adversely impacted by reduced hours of most suppliers and the complete unavailability of others.


By now you are well aware that the COVID-19 pandemic is not only a cause of concern to your physical health but also, and in many ways more, to your mental health. Feeling stressed and frustrated is not uncommon for most of us right now, and especially so if you are an executor.


Here are a few tips to help you make headway in the right direction without getting too overwhelmed:

1. Get a certified appraisal of the personal property

Getting a certified appraisal of the personal property will keep you safe in your probate filing responsibility to the heirs and yourself, and will set the groundwork for knowing how much effort or risk the contents represent for you.


A certified appraiser is able to work safely in the current environment. They can typically attend the premises of the deceased without supervision or at the very least in a way that allows for observing safe distancing and practical COVID19 safety measures.


Once you are apprised of the value of the goods, you may want to install or upgrade a security system at the premises. Ascertaining the value of the contents of the house can help with estate distribution and making liquidation decisions regarding assets that won’t be retained by the family.


2. Get a certified third-party real estate appraisal


An appraisal from an independent Certified Property Appraiser will allow you to fulfill your probate responsibility and keep you safe in filing. A property appraisal can also be performed without you having to meet anyone at the property.


View also: FAQ Spotlight - Appraisals - Do I need them?


Before COVID19 and previous to the government increasing executor’s liability regarding these issues, executors would often gather a few real estate agents' “opinions” of the value instead.

With the changing scenario, and for the modest cost of an independent professional appraiser, you can get an unbiased appraisal of the property’s value and keep yourself safe with far less traffic at the premises.


3. File probate


With the above documents in hand, you can now have the estate lawyer file probate. Probate is not always a mandate in Ontario, but it is required for most estates with property or bank accounts, and it provides protection for you, the executor.


Even before COVID19, many Ontario jurisdictions take several months to grant probate. Remember, you may not be able to transfer the title to a property until you have probate, though there are exceptions and your lawyer should guide you there.


The sooner you file, the sooner you’ll be able to move to the next step. Probate filing can be started with a few phone calls and electronic signatures, although your lawyer may prefer sitting down for a discreet, safe in-person visit.


4. Consider appointing a professional Agent for Executor


If you are considering your options in this regard, most trust companies offer Agent for Executor services. Engaging one can considerably reduce the things you have to do yourself. Doing so gives you the freedom to choose how much or how little you’d like to delegate, and fees are negotiable.


According to Pamela Wheeler, Director - Trust Services, BMO Wealth Management, services to engage an Agent for Executor are ongoing through the COVID-19 situation and require little or no in-person meetings to set up.


5. Hire a professional property checker to do insurance checks


As the executor, one of your responsibilities is to protect and preserve the assets of the deceased. Checking on the estate house 3 times a week is often a requirement for the insurance to stay valid. However, even if the property is close to where you are, going out to check it regularly might be an activity you’d like to pass on. Sharon Cleverdon from While Away services offers this service for most of GTA.


6. Consider Estate Executor Insurance


For those who are too distressed by the resulting risks of being designated executor of a loved one’s estate, you may consider Estate Executor Insurance. Both ERAssure or Executor Protector are good options. Costs vary depending on the circumstances.

7. Consult with a Certified Executor Advisor

According to Mark O’Farrell, President of the Canadian Institute of Certified Executor Advisors, there are 17 different professional disciplines represented among their 1100 members across Canada.


Barry Gordon, Partner at Gordon’s Downsizing and Estate Services is a Certified Executor Advisor and has more than 40 years of experience working with executors across Ontario. He has vast experience in dealing with estates of all sizes and various levels of complexities.

You can reach him directly at barry@gogordons.com or call at 1-800-267-2206 to speak to him during office hours. Barry is also available for a Zoom video call if you prefer. All consultations at this time are free of charge.


Finally, always keep in mind that when you, as the executor of an estate, engage one or more third-party professionals to provide services to the estate, the estate pays for those expenses.


Now more than ever, it is crucial that you reflect on what you do yourself and what other responsibilities you are able to delegate on your behalf. The deceased is gone and they left you in charge. You can’t look after their health anymore but you have a responsibility to yours and your family’s. For most of us, it is clear that health is everything.


Get in touch today!