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The job of an executor is no easy task; it can include a number of different responsibilities as the executor prepares the estate for distribution to its beneficiaries. Many executors agree to take on the role without fully understanding the responsibilities and duties that it entails. After the executor begins to administer the estate, many executors find that they are overwhelmed and feel as though they’ve taken on a second full-time job. At this point, executors are sometimes left wondering if they can quit and make someone else the estate’s executor to finish the job. When an executor wants to quit or resign, their options can be very limited if they have already started their duties.
In short, no – executors can’t usually quit before they finish the job once the administration process has begun. Generally, the only way an executor will be relieved from their obligation after the estate administration process has begun is when a petition for removal is allowed by the courts. If the executor has a valid reason for requesting removal, courts can grant it. An example of a valid reason could be an extreme personal health emergency. Changing your mind halfway through the administration process because it’s too difficult or you do not have time for the responsibility is not a valid reason to be granted removal as executor. If the courts are going to allow a petition for an executor to be removed, the executor must provide a detailed account of everything that has gone into and out of the estate. Essentially, the estate has to be left in a way that another person could step in and easily finish where the executor left off.
If the executor is in the middle of administering an estate and wants to quit, there are options available other than resigning. Many executors choose to hire professionals to assist them. Depending on the specific issues the executor is having with the administration, accountants or lawyers can be very helpful. While the executor has the authority to handle the estate’s assets, they can always have friends, beneficiaries or professionals help them along the way.
If you are an executor who wants to quit amidst your duties, giving up and simply stopping administrating the estate is not a good option as it can result in the executor being held liable. Beneficiaries of the will can take action to force the executor to speed up the process. If the executor continues to unduly delay the administration of the estate, they can be removed and held personally liable for any losses suffered by the beneficiaries as a result of the mishandling of the estate. Leaving the executor’s duties untouched is never a good option for an executor, and an executor who finds themselves at their wits end should seek professional assistance with their duties.
Before being legally appointed executor of the will, the named executor can resign from their role. As described in section 104 of the Wills, Estates and Succession Act, this is called renunciation of executorship. The executor does not need to provide any reason for resigning; they simply must file an official document with the courts. After renunciation of executorship, the executor can’t “go back” and try to gain executor status at a later time. If there is an alternate executor named in the will, they will be appointed the duties of executor. If there is not, an interested party can apply to be the administrator, similar to the process of an executor being chosen in an intestate estate.
When the will-writer is still alive, it’s easiest to simply notify them that you do not want to be their executor after they pass away. This way, the will-writer has the option to name someone else who they want to be their estate’s executor, avoiding a lengthy renunciation of executorship and reappointment process after their death. You will not have to file any official documents with the court if the will is changed to name someone else as the executor.
If you’ve been named as an executor of an estate and you do not want to take on this role, contact an experienced lawyer today. We can work to ensure that you are lawfully removed as executor when it’s an option, or help to make the administration process as easy as possible.