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Don’t Know What to Do? Here’s an Estate Administration Checklist

Don’t Know What to Do? Here’s an Estate Administration Checklist December 10, 2013 —

When someone dies, there is a ton of stress on a family, without creating more through an estate administration quagmire. Knowing what will happen ahead of time can  help greatly in relieving stress and conflict, and preserve assets and legacy. That is why it’s enormously important to have an estate plan in place going in. But the estate administrator or executor has a massive job ahead of them, at what might be a very emotional time for them, as well.

The administrator essentially gathers together the information and documents that matter to the estate and make clear the contents of the estate. They also hire an estate attorney, open a bank account in the name of the estate, and pay bills and taxes. While each estate is technically different, there are a number of things that are common to all estates. The following checklist serves as a general idea of what you’ll be dealing with. This can also be helpful in determining whether or not you can do the job if asked.

Within the First Month After Death:

  • Hire an estate attorney, if needed.
  • Either you or an attorney you hire will complete probate filing requirements, if there are any.
  • If this is an issue, you’ll want to confirm citizenship of the decedent and surviving spouse. Determine domicile of decedent at death.
  • If it’s needed, you’ll have to apply for a federal tax ID number for the estate or trust.
  • You’ll want to contact the decedent’s most recent employer, if applicable, in order to collect their personal effects. and collect any death benefits that are due.
  • You’ll need to recover decedent’s mail or have it delivered to you.
  • In addition, you’ll need to access the decedent’s email accounts, and take control of his online accounts, especially those that may have money in them.
  • Arrange to obtain several certified copies of the death certificate, because you’ll need them for court filings, to obtain insurance payouts and investment filings.
  • You’ll also need recent tax returns, including any prior gift tax returns.
  • Arrange to open any safe deposit boxes, if applicable.
  • Contact health insurance company to continue coverage for surviving spouse and children.
  • Change auto registration and insurance to new owner’s name.
  • Cancel credit cards, or change the accounts over to the name of surviving spouse, if necessary and if advised by the estate’s attorney.
  • Notify the social security administration and other applicable governmental authorities.
  • Prepare an expense budget for the surviving spouse.
  • Open up lines of communications with heirs, and set up a timeline for updates regarding the status of the estate. This lets them know this will not be a quick process, and removes a lot of tension from the process.

Within the First Three Months After Death:

  • You’ll want to do a complete inventory of all assets. If the decedent has done his job, he should have most of that information available for you. Most states require this within about 90 days, but the sooner the better. This inventory should include everything you can find about assets, debts, taxes, life insurance, personal finances, and estate plans.
  • You need to contact life insurance companies for information regarding insurance policies owned by the decedent, or on the decedent’s life. You’ll then collect the proceeds and give them to the beneficiaries or deposit them into the estate account.
  • Determine sources of income and financial needs for dependents.
  • Review the decedent’s homeowner’s insurance policy to make sure there is adequate coverage.
  • Arrange for maintenance, insurance, and security of estate property such as home or other tangible property.
  • File for Social Security death benefits, survivor’s benefits, and Veteran’s Administration benefits, as applicable, for those applicable, such as the surviving spouse and children. Also, arrange for the required minimum distribution required for some retirement benefits by December 31st of the year of death.
  • Check the state treasurer’s abandoned property for anything that might be there.
  • Transfer bank and investment accounts from deceased’s name into name of the estate, where applicable.
  • Review and pay decedent’s bills as advised by your attorney, where applicable.
  • Hire an appraiser to value property and possessions as of the date of death.

After That:

  • Prepare state and federal estate tax returns and pay tax when due, in most cases, within nine months after death. Keep in mind, if the decedent owned property in more than one state, multiple state estate tax returns may be necessary.
  • You’ll have to determine if there are sufficient assets to pay all debts. If assets are insufficient, determine if court approval is needed before discharging any debt.
  • After taxes and expenses are paid, then it’s time to distribute estate assets according to the details of the will, if there is one.
  • Meet with a financial advisor to structure and implement investment plan(s).
  • Update and reevaluate the survivor’s estate plan.
  • Carefully review retirement assets to determine “designated beneficiaries” and the need for “separate accounts”. Important deadlines occur on September 30th and December 31st of the year following the year of death.

This can be complicated. Extreme stress, conflict and inexperience can be tremendous burdens and, for some estates, have a paralyzing result. This checklist offers a basic structure but does not anticipate complications when it comes to the inventory of assets or individuals with more complex assets such as businesses, online transaction accounts and so forth.


This article was provided by Family Archival Solutions, Inc.  The article is not intended to provide legal or other advice and readers are strongly encouraged to seek professional guidance in connection with estate planning and preparation.  Family Archival Solutions offers a wide range of family preparation services. Copyright © 2013 www.familyarchivalsolutions.com. All rights reserved.