This is a checklist for individuals serving as executor, personal representative or administrator of an estate. To settle a deceased person's estate, you may need to take all of the following actions listed below and on the right side of this page. Some of the steps will not apply to all estates.
List of Steps for Executor to Settle an Estate:1. Collect estate planning documents and other important records of the decedent, such as:
Letter of Instruction;Last will, living trust, and any other trust documents;Death certificate;Life insurance policies and annuity contracts;Birth certificate and social security number;Marriage license, divorce decree, and property settlement;
Most recently filed tax return; and
Any papers relating to military service, such as serial number and veteranís discharge papers.
2. Collect or marshal all assets that should be in decedentís estate. Secure all valuables in a storage safe or safe deposit box, including property deeds, vehicle titles, bonds, and stock certificates.3. Notify Social Security administration of decedent's death or have funeral director notify SSA.4. Review finances of the estate. Create a rough inventory of property, accounts, and other assets and calculate approximate value of the estate.5. Determine if there is any property passing by will that is subject to probate. Find out if the estate is below the threshold amount for probate due to a small estates exemption. See probate of small estates. 6. If the estate is subject to probate, get information regarding the probate court that has jurisdiction. Obtain pamphlets, consumer information, forms, and related information available from the probate court. 7. Meet with a
probate lawyer and a tax advisor regarding your duties and legal obligations. If the estate includes substantial investments, also meet with a financial planner for guidance on managing estate property. 8. Review state will filing requirements and file decedent's will with the court if required. See file will of deceased. Petition for probate of the estate and
letters testamentary or letters of administration if recommended by a probate lawyer. 9. If the probate court requires you to post an executor's bond, contact an insurance company and request a probate bond application. See executor bonds. Submit the completed bond application along with a copy of the will, the probate court order, and any other required documents to the bonding company. The surety bond should be filed with the probate court.
Your Duties As Executor
The Executor Checklist shown above lists the actual steps that are typically required to settle an estate. However, there is another very important aspect of the role of executor. Before you agree to serve as executor or personal representative, you should become familiar with the fiduciary duty you will have in this role. If it is determined that you have breached this fiduciary duty, you could be held personally liable. To learn more about the fiduciary duty of executors, personal representatives, and trustees, see
Executor Checklist (continued)
10. Apply for insurance proceeds, employment compensation, government benefits, and other types of benefits that may be due, such as:
Final paycheck and employee benefits from decedentís employer;
Life insurance proceeds;
Annuity death benefits;
Social Security benefits; and
Retirement plan benefits.
11. Complete notifications of death to heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors or publish notice of death in local newspapers, depending on state law requirements for the type of estate you are administering.
12. Pay valid creditor claims. 13. If the decedent received an overpayment of Social Security benefits during the month of death or any months thereafter, complete the steps necessary to return such overpayment to the government.
14. If decedent had a living trust, complete transfer documents to transfer property in the trust to trust beneficiaries.
15. Transfer ownership and change title to property and accounts, such as:
Bank accounts and safe deposit boxes;
Brokerage accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, and other investments;
Cars, trucks, boats, and other vehicles;
Real estate; and Credit cards, loans, and mortgages. Comply with applicable federal and state laws regarding transfer of property in the estate that is regulated, such as guns. See Inherited Guns In An Estate.16. File all tax returns due for the decedent and the estate. Pay applicable federal, state, and local income taxes, inheritance taxes, and estate taxes. Use a tax preparation software program or retain a CPA to file all required tax returns. For an overview of required estate tax returns, go to
tax returns due.17. Complete distributions of estate assets. Send
Estate Distribution Letter if necessary.This is only a brief checklist. It is not a comprehensive list of the duties of an executor or personal representative. For more detailed instructions on executor duties to settle an estate, consult an attorney that specializes in trusts and estates.The steps required to administer an estate may need to be completed in a different order than shown above, depending on the circumstances. Consult a licensed probate lawyer regarding the duties of an executor, administrator or personal representative in the state where the deceased person was domiciled at the time of death.For more information on the steps an executor needs to take to administer an estate, refer to our overview of estate administration.
Inventory of Estate Property
As executor or personal representative, one of your duties is to marshal all assets belonging to the estate and create an inventory of estate property. Because the decedent may have many different items of personal property, it is often a challenge to create an organized record of items in the estate.
One way to create a rough inventory of estate property is to use an estate property form. Pennyborn.com offers free estate planning forms for use by executors, personal representatives, and trustees. To download or print a free copy of this form, go to
estate property form.
Free Probate Guide
If you are going through the process of estate administration for the first time, you probably have a lot of questions. If you have to answer to heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors of the estate, you need to make sure you understand how to fulfill your duties as executor or trustee. A good starting point is to review a manual on probate, so you can become familiar with the tasks you will need to complete and the forms you will need to use. Go to
Books About Probate.If the estate is small or does not have a substantial amount of assets, you may also want to know whether there are any exemptions from going through the formal process of probate.Our free probate guide provides answers to the most frequently asked questions about administering an estate, including questions about small estates. To browse the guide, go to
free probate guide.
If the decedent had a living trust, you may be serving in two roles, as executor of the estate and successor trustee of the living trust. Many aspects of living trust administration are very different from estate administration. For tips on how to administer a living trust and a checklist of duties for living trust administration, refer to our free Living Trust Checklist Form for successor trustees.