The Executor's Checklist: What's Next?

If you have been selected to serve as the executor of someone's will, it's certainly an honor. It can also be a lot of work. You will have a number of important responsibilities, including gathering the deceased's belongings as well as tracking down the beneficiaries named in the will.

Fortunately, you are entitled to hire a probate attorney to guide you through the probate process. They are hired at the expense of the estate.

Executor Checklist of Basic Tasks

When it is time for you to fulfill your role, you will have the authority and responsibility to act on behalf of the estate. Below you will find an executor checklist that takes you step-by-step through the probate court process.

  Notify Necessary Entities of the Death

  • Obtain a copy of the decedent's death certificate. The death certificate will include the decedent's date of death, which you will need.
  • Send copies of the decedent's death certificate to the decedent's utility companies, insurance companies, the IRS, Social Security Administration, and credit card companies.

  Begin the Probate Process With the Court

  • Obtain a copy of the will and any other estate planning documents. Read the will so you understand the instructions it provides.
  • File the will and a petition with the court to admit the will into probate.

  Gather Assets

Depending on your jurisdiction, the next step will be to receive a court order and testamentary letters appointing you as the estate's executor or personal representative. Now you will have the authority to perform the following tasks:

  • Create an Estate EIN number and open an estate bank account
  • If the decedent had a safe deposit box, take possession of it and its contents
  • Check for cash and other valuables that may be hidden around the home
  • Locate and inventory all real estate deeds, mortgages, leases, and tax information
  • Assemble bookkeeping records
  • Determine liquidity needs
  • Stop any subscriptions and unnecessary recurring expenses like gym memberships, video streaming services, or recurring donations
  • Inventory real property and arrange for appraisals
  • Collect all of the decedent's financial assets, including life insurance policies, pensions or retirement accounts, and social security death benefits
  • Collect any debts owed to the deceased
  • Check whether they had any interests in estates of other deceased persons
  • Review investment portfolios. Transfer dividends and interest gained from securities into the account of the estate
  • Determine the value of the estate's assets and the estate's liabilities -- You will need to provide this information to beneficiaries and family members
  • Sell appropriate assets

  Assess Businesses and Rental Properties

Locate and safeguard all:

  • Business interests
  • Valuables
  • Personal property
  • Important papers
  • Homes
  • Out-of-state properties

As executor, you have a fiduciary duty to protect the value of these properties by ensuring proper maintenance. If there are any rental properties owned by the estate, you must provide immediate management.

  Pay Debts and File Taxes

Prior to closing out the estate, the following items will need to be addressed:

  • Pay all debts including those for funeral arrangements and burial or cremation
  • Pay valid claims against the estate
  • Reject improper claims against the estate and defend the estate in court, if necessary
  • File income tax returns for the decedent's last year of life and for the estate
  • File the federal estate tax return and state death and/or inheritance tax return.
  • Pay any state and federal taxes that may be due.
  • Pay attorneys' fees and executor's fees.
  • Prepare a statement of all receipts and disbursements.

You also need to determine whether the estate qualifies for "special use valuation" under:

  • Tax laws (IRC §2032A)
  • Qualified family-owned business interest deduction (IRC §2057)
  • Deferral of estate taxes (IRC §§ 6161 or 6166)

  Transfer Assets to Beneficiaries

Once the estate administration process is complete, the final step will be to close out the estate.

  • Transfer specific bequests to their beneficiaries
  • Transfer the remaining assets to the beneficiaries following the terms of the will
  • Obtain tax releases and receipts as directed by the court

For more information about the duties of the executor, see:

Need Legal Help? Talk to a Probate Lawyer

If you've never acted as the executor of an estate before, you may find the process intimidating. You don't have to do it alone. Contact a local probate attorney for guidance.

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Complex probate situations usually require a lawyer
  • A lawyer will take these matters seriously and enforce protections
  • Get tailored advice and ask your legal questions
  • Many attorneys offer free consultations

If you need an attorney, browse our directory now.