Larry Fisher. VOICE PHOTO

Larry Fisher’s time as his brother’s executor led to checklist creation

In 2010, Larry Fisher’s brother died unexpectedly at age 63. Prior to his death, Fisher’s brother had arranged his will and asked Fisher to be the executor. “I felt kind of honoured that he asked me,” says Fisher. “I also [believed] that it would be many more years into the future that I would deal with this issue, and I’d have lots of time to learn.”

But Fisher did not have lots of time. Shortly after his brother’s death, he went to his brother’s bank in Fenwick to retrieve account information so that he could begin to make the necessary arrangements.

“I was told that they would let me pay one month of my brother’s utility bills, but that the rest of the estate was going to be frozen.”

The bank manager contacted their Toronto office and decided to “probate” the will, meaning that it had to be legally verified. “The next day, I got a phone call from the bank’s office. They said, ‘We’re very sorry for your loss, Mr. Fisher, but would you like us to take over your responsibilities as executor?’ And when I realized that the minimum cost was going to be over five thousand dollars, I decided to do it all myself.”

Fisher, who grew up in Fenwick and now lives in Wainfleet, did do it all himself, and since doing so has devoted hundreds of hours to helping others do the same.

He developed a seven-page “Estate Planning Checklist” of 144 items, which he has since presented in more than a dozen seminars, and provides freely to anyone interested.

“I don’t charge for my time,” says Fisher, who is 69 and retired. “It’s just my way of helping the community.”

As Fisher sees it, the death of a loved one brings such emotional turmoil that executors often don’t know what to do. In addition to the checklist, he has also written a booklet called, “Understanding the Role of an Executor.”

In it, he writes of the importance of knowing the degree of responsibility of an executor.

“I don’t believe [most people] will be so honoured or excited about this unknown territory they will have to enter into. Most people take no action to try and learn the duties and requirements of an executor. Many people assume that it’s easy, that you read the Will and do what it says.”

He explains that the checklist “is so that people can have all of their affairs in order before they die, making sure that their executor has all the information that is needed. Executors have a right to know about what their job entails, and they shouldn’t be left with such a heavy burden.”

Fisher’s position on this is echoed by most experts on the matter. The author of the “Canadian Guide to Will and Estate Planning,” Douglas Gray, says that being an executor is “probably the most stressful experience you’ll ever have.”

The list’s 144 items vary widely, from the obvious items, including date of birth and Social Insurance Number, to others that most wouldn’t think of. Many of these obscure responsibilities have been added by Fisher in the years since his brother’s death, though some came directly from his experience.

“Some time after my brother died, I got a call from an old friend of his. She asked me if I knew that she had stored some things with him—an old telephone and three brass portholes. I had no idea, and was actually just about to have those things valued at about a thousand bucks each,” says Fisher, adding that such seemingly little things can become a major headache.

Fisher has spent countless hours researching and compiling this information, a daunting task for someone who is not legally trained.

“I’m always for the little person,” says Fisher. “And I don’t like to see people spending money on lawyers when they don’t need to.”

But despite this lack of legal training, Fisher was an experienced researcher before taking on estate planning. For years, he worked for the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union, mostly representing employees in arbitration cases on disciplinary action.

“I had a good record, too,” says Fisher. “The lawyers would have to take on three, four, maybe five cases a week, whereas I took on about one a week. I would spend a long time reading up and researching past cases beforehand.”

Though Fisher may have spent much of his career (and retirement) taking away work from lawyers, he says that he generally got along with them.

“For the most part, I respected them, and they respected me. There were some who didn’t like dealing with ‘laypeople.’ One time, a lawyer was giving me a hard time in an arbitration case. After we were out of the session, I went up to him and said, ‘Hey Frank, how long did it take for you to become a lawyer?’ And he said, ‘Oh, about five years of training.’ And I said, ‘that’s funny, because I only took a five-day arbitration course in 1983.’ I started walking away. Then I turned back and said, ‘Actually, we got out at noon on the Friday. So it was only a four-and-a-half day course.’”

Since his brother’s death, Fisher has put together 19 documents —some 400 pages—to inform people of the legal significance at difficult times of their lives.

“What You Should Know Before and After You Get Married and Separation and Divorce” is 50 pages that Fisher compiled, full of checklists and advice.

“When it comes to separation, one partner tends to keep the other in the dark until they’re in a really good position,” says Fisher. “They’ll have hidden money away, or done something else that will make things difficult for other partner.”

To Fisher, the emotional turmoil of such times inevitably makes it more difficult to navigate the legal labyrinth that follows a divorce or death.

“I’ve run several free seminars in Port Colborne,” says Fisher, “and I’d be happy to run one in Pelham too. I often have open sessions where people can ask me any questions that are on their minds. If enough people email me at [email protected], then we can arrange something in town.”