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The Estate Executor's Checklist: Essential Must Haves

The Estate Executor's Checklist: Essential Must Haves

February 27, 2023

The Estate Executor's Checklist: Essential Must Haves

Being an estate executor is not easy and requires high organization, proactivity, and attention to detail. This is why it is essential to have a comprehensive checklist to guide you through the process and help you manage the responsibilities effectively. This guide will help you with the checklist for executors of estates. 

Executors close estates and carry out the wishes of the deceased. Understanding these responsibilities is the first step in administering an estate. Estate executors' many duties can persuade.

The deceased appoint an estate executor after death. This individual distributes the decedent's assets and pays off their debts.

"The Estate Executor's Checklist: Essential Must Haves" details the items every estate executor must have. We will cover everything you need to know to be a stress-free executor, from document collection to financial management. This guide will assist you in achieving success, regardless of your experience level in this role.

Essential Documents and Information

"Essential Documents and Information" are involved in estate management. The estate executor must have access to the deceased's assets, liabilities, and final wishes. This information will assist you in making informed decisions, carrying out your responsibilities, and managing and distributing the estate.

This section discusses the documents and information estate executors must collect and organize. We'll go over legal and financial documents. Understanding the necessary documents and information will help you deal with estate management issues.

Last Will and Testament

The deceased's Last Will and Testament specify asset distribution and the executor of their estate. It directs estate administration and distribution after death.

The deceased's assets, liabilities, and distribution instructions are listed in a Last Will and Testament. It names the estate executor, alternate executors, and guardians for minor children. Some wills contain trusts or other special provisions.

To obtain a copy of the deceased's Last Will and Testament, the estate executor should contact the deceased's attorney or the court where the will was filed. If no copy is available, the estate executor may request one from the court or through probate. 

To be legal, the original will must be filed with the court. To carry out the deceased's wishes, the estate executor must have access to the Last Will and Testament.

Trust Documents

Trusts are required for estate and asset management. A trustee holds and manages assets on behalf of one or more beneficiaries. Trusts can be established during the grantor's lifetime or after death through a will for estate planning, tax planning, and asset protection.

Revocable Living Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts, Testamentary Trusts, and Charitable Trusts may be encountered by executors. Revocable Living Trusts give the grantor control over their assets and the ability to change the terms of the trust. 

Instead of revocable trusts, irrevocable trusts are used for tax planning and asset protection. Testamentary Trusts are established through a will and take effect following the grantor's death, whereas Charitable Trusts benefit a specific charity or group of charities.

As the deceased's estate executor, you must know the trusts and their terms. This will assist you in managing and distributing the assets following the grantor's wishes. An estate executor must be familiar with trusts and their terms.

Life Insurance Policies

Life insurance policies are agreements between a person and an insurance company that pays out to beneficiaries in the event of the insured's death. The death benefit can pay final expenses and debts or support the beneficiaries.

The estate executor should look through the deceased's personal and financial records to see if there is a life insurance policy. Bank statements, tax returns, and other financial documents are examples. Inquire about life insurance policies through the deceased's insurance agent or company.

Because the death benefit may affect the estate's finances, the estate executor must understand life insurance policies. The estate executor must ensure that the beneficiaries on the policy are correct and that the death benefit is paid promptly and correctly. The insurance company may require proof of death and other documentation to pay the death benefit.

By understanding life insurance policies, the estate executor can assist beneficiaries in receiving financial support and distributing the deceased's assets.

Bank and Investment Account Information

Searching the deceased's financial and personal papers can reveal bank and investment account information. Bank, investment, and other financial documents may be included. Contact financial institutions directly to inquire about deceased accounts.

The estate executor needs the account number, financial institution, and account name to manage bank and investment accounts. The financial institution may require the estate executor to provide proof of death and other documents.

The estate executor must know account fees and other details because they can affect the estate's finances. Some accounts have annual fees or inactivity penalties, while others have distribution or transaction requirements. 

The estate executor can manage accounts and distribute assets according to the deceased's wishes by knowing these details.

Estate management requires finding and managing bank and investment accounts. The estate executor can manage and distribute assets to beneficiaries by understanding these accounts.

Property Deeds and Titles

Deeds and titles demonstrate real estate ownership. Deeds and titles contain information about the property's legal description, owners, and liens.

The executor should search the deceased's personal papers and financial records for property deeds and titles. The original deed, title, and recent mortgage or transfer documents are acceptable. The estate executor can also obtain deeds and titles from the county office where the property is located.

Property deeds and titles are essential to distribute the deceased's assets as an estate executor. The executor is responsible for selling or transferring ownership to the beneficiaries. This may entail submitting paperwork to the county clerk's office, paying debts or taxes, and resolving other property legal issues.

Business Ownership Documents

Business ownership documents include partnership agreements, articles of incorporation, and stock certificates. These documents outline the company's ownership structure, owner responsibilities, and asset management and distribution agreements.

The estate executor should search the deceased's personal and financial records for business ownership documents. Examples include business records, tax returns, and financial documents. The estate executor can also inquire about ownership documents and arrangements with the company.

Business ownership documents are essential for distributing the deceased's business interests as an estate executor. The executor runs the business and distributes the deceased's assets. Working with other business owners, filing paperwork with government agencies, and changing the business ownership structure may be required.

Administrative Tasks

An estate executor's duties and responsibilities include administrative tasks. These tasks include gathering vital documents, managing finances, settling debts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries.

Executors must be proactive and organized. Using a systematic approach and checklist, you can help manage the estate and honor the deceased's wishes.

An estate executor is responsible for settling debts, managing finances, and distributing assets. We will also talk about how to stay organized and prioritize tasks to make estate executorship less stressful. This guide will assist you in succeeding whether you are new to this role or have previous experience.

Notify Government Agencies

As an executor, you must notify government agencies of the deceased. The Social Security Administration, IRS, Department of Motor Vehicles, Pension or Retirement Plan Administrators, and Veterans Affairs are among the most notified agencies.

The estate executor must notify the Social Security Administration of the deceased's Social Security number, birthdate, and deathdate. Tax returns and obligations require similar information from the IRS. 

The estate executor must notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of the deceased's driver's license number, birth date, and death date to update any driver's license or registration information. 

The estate executor must notify the pension or retirement plan administrator of the deceased's Social Security number, birth date, and death date. Veterans' estate executors must notify the Department of Veterans Affairs and provide the deceased's military discharge papers, Social Security number, and death date.

The estate executor must notify all government agencies and provide them with the necessary information to properly manage the estate and honor the deceased's final wishes.

Notify Creditors and Debtors

Notifying creditors and debtors is part of estate administration. Creditors and debtors are entities that owe money to the deceased.

Notifying creditors and debtors aids in debt settlement and estate management. The estate executor can avoid legal and financial issues by notifying creditors and debtors and distributing assets following the deceased's wishes.

To identify creditors and debtors, the estate executor should review the deceased's bank statements, credit card statements, and other financial documents. Contact the deceased's creditors and debtors to inquire about any outstanding debts.

The estate executor must provide the deceased's name, birthdate, deathdate, and Social Security number to creditors and debtors. The estate executor may also require a death certificate, will, or trust documents.

Cancel Subscriptions and Memberships

The executor is responsible for canceling the deceased's subscriptions and memberships. Subscriptions and memberships that are frequently canceled include cell phone and internet service, credit cards, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, streaming services, gym or club memberships, and health insurance.

To cancel cell phone and internet service, the estate executor must notify the service provider of the deceased's name, account number, and death date. To cancel credit cards, the estate executor should contact the credit card company and provide the deceased's name, account number, and date of death.

Magazine and newspaper subscriptions can be canceled by contacting the publisher and providing the deceased's name, address, and death date. To cancel, contact the streaming service provider and provide the deceased's name, account number, and date of death.

Memberships are canceled by contacting the gym or club and providing the deceased's name, membership number, and date of death. Contacting the insurer and providing the deceased's name, policy number, and date of death results in the cancellation of health insurance.

To properly manage the estate and honor the deceased's final wishes, the estate executor must know which subscriptions and memberships must be canceled and follow the proper procedures.

Retrieve Mail and Forward to Beneficiaries

Access to deceased mail is required for estate management. The estate executor can forward mail by providing the post office with the deceased's name, address, and date of death. Change of address forms is accepted at the post office. 

If the deceased lived with family or friends, they might have been able to pick up the mail. The estate executor can also use a mail forwarding service to forward the deceased's mail.

The estate executor must access and forward the deceased's mail to ensure that important information is received and addressed. Bills, legal documents, and estate administration correspondence may be included. This task assists the executor in managing the estate and honoring the deceased's wishes.

Set Up an Estate Bank Account

Estate administration necessitates the opening of a bank account. The estate bank account oversees managing funds, bills, and beneficiaries.

An estate bank account keeps the estate's assets separate from the executor's assets, makes managing the estate's funds easier, and improves financial record keeping.

To open an estate bank account, the estate executor must go to a local bank or credit union and provide the estate's name, executor, beneficiaries, and a copy of the deceased's will or trust. The deceased's Social Security number and the date of death may be required.

An estate bank account aids in the management of the estate's assets and the fulfillment of the deceased's wishes.

Pay Debts and Taxes

Understanding your responsibilities as an estate executor when paying debts and taxes is critical. Funeral expenses, outstanding bills, taxes, and debts owed by the deceased are examples of debts and taxes that may need to be paid. 

To pay these debts and taxes, the estate executor must access funds in the estate bank account and may be required to provide proof of death and relevant information, such as the deceased's Social Security number and date of death. 

In some cases, seeking the assistance of a tax professional or financial advisor may be necessary to ensure that all debts and taxes are paid accurately and on time.

Manage Assets and Distribute to Beneficiaries

Executors are responsible for managing assets and distributing them to beneficiaries. Examine the deceased's will or trust to determine their asset distribution wishes. Real estate, bank accounts, life insurance policies, and other financial assets must be inventoried, valued, and managed for the estate. 

Funeral expenses, outstanding bills, and government taxes must all be paid. The assets should be distributed to the beneficiaries following the deceased's will or trust.

Executives must consider legal and ethical issues when managing assets and distributing them to beneficiaries. These include properly valuing assets, carrying out the wishes of the deceased, avoiding conflicts of interest and self-dealing, and being open and communicative with beneficiaries. Estate executors should also consider hiring professionals to help them with the process.

Legal Obligations and Considerations

When managing the deceased's affairs, you have several legal obligations and considerations to remember as an estate executor. Filing probate, paying debts and taxes, and distributing assets to beneficiaries are all examples of obligations and considerations. 

Understanding these legal obligations and considerations is critical to properly managing the estate and honoring the deceased's final wishes. 

In this section, we will go over these legal obligations and considerations in greater depth, including the importance of following the deceased's will or trust documents, avoiding conflicts of interest or self-dealing, and adhering to applicable laws and regulations. 

Estate executors can help ensure that the estate is properly managed and that assets are distributed in accordance with the deceased's wishes by understanding these legal obligations and considerations.

Fiduciary Duty

Fiduciary duty is a legal requirement that an estate executor acts in the interests of the estate and its beneficiaries. This means that estate executors must put the interests of the estate ahead of their own and must manage the estate's affairs with integrity, honesty, and transparency.

The following are some of the obligations imposed on estate executors by their fiduciary duty:

  1. Duty of loyalty: Executors must serve the estate and its beneficiaries without bias or self-interest.
  2. Duty of care: Executors must exercise extreme caution when handling estate matters. This includes making informed decisions, keeping accurate records, and adhering to the deceased's will or trust.
  3. Duty of impartiality: All beneficiaries must be treated equally by executors.

A breach of fiduciary duty can occur in several situations, including:

  1. Mismanagement of assets: Mismanagement of estate assets by an executor may constitute a breach of fiduciary duty.
  2. Conflicts of interest: If an estate executor self-deals or has a personal stake in a transaction, they may breach their fiduciary duty.
  3. Failure to follow the deceased's wishes: An estate executor may violate their fiduciary duty if they fail to follow their will or trust.

A breach of fiduciary duty can have serious consequences, including legal liability, financial penalties, and reputational harm. In some cases, a breach of fiduciary duty may result in the removal of the estate executor and the appointment of a new executor.

Executor Compensation

Estate executors can be paid in various ways, including fees and commissions. The following is a summary of the various ways estate executors may be compensated, as well as the factors that may influence the amount of compensation:

  1. Fixed fees: Estate executors may be compensated with a predetermined fixed fee. Fixed fees are typically a percentage of the estate's value and are determined by the size and complexity of the estate.
  2. Hourly fees: Estate executors may also be paid hourly for their time managing the estate.
  3. Commissions: Executors may also receive commissions or profits from estate sales.

The amount of compensation that an estate executor receives is determined by several factors, including:

  1. The size and complexity of the estate: Larger estates may require more time and effort to manage so that executors may be paid more.
  2. The responsibilities of the estate executor: Executors who manage real estate or complex financial transactions may earn more.
  3. The laws and regulations in the jurisdiction where the estate is being administered: Executor compensation can vary by state and jurisdiction.
  4. Market rates: Executor compensation may also depend on market rates.

Probate Process

Probate is a legal process involving transferring deceased people's assets to their beneficiaries. The estate executor oversees the estate's administration, including collecting and managing assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing assets to beneficiaries. 

Probate legally validates the deceased's will, ensuring that the estate's assets are distributed following the deceased's wishes. It also protects creditors by requiring debts to be paid before assets are distributed. 

However, probate is a time-consuming, costly, and public process, which means that the estate details are open to the public. Individuals can avoid probate by establishing a trust or naming a beneficiary for specific assets, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, which pass directly to the beneficiary without going through the probate process.

Legal Liability

There are several legal risks to be aware of as an estate executor, including liability for mismanaging assets, failing to pay debts and taxes, and breach of fiduciary duty. If estate executors act improperly, such as misusing estate funds, failing to pay debts and taxes owed by the deceased, or acting in their interests rather than the best interests of the estate and its beneficiaries, they may face legal claims. 

Estate executors can reduce legal risk by following the deceased's wishes, keeping accurate records, seeking legal advice, and acting with integrity and transparency. To help ensure a smooth and stress-free process, estate executors should avoid conflicts of interest or self-dealing and communicate openly with the beneficiaries. 

Estate executors can help ensure that the estate is properly managed and that the deceased's final wishes are honored by being aware of these legal risks and taking steps to mitigate them.

Hiring an Attorney or Professional Executor

Seeking professional assistance can provide estate executors several benefits, including legal advice, protection from legal liability, and assistance with complex tasks. When it may be appropriate to seek professional assistance:

  1. Complex estates
  2. Legal Requirements
  3. Personal circumstances

Attorneys and professional executors can offer a variety of services, including:

  1. Legal advice
  2. Probate and trust administration
  3. Asset management

When selecting a professional executor or attorney, the following factors should be considered:

  1. Experience
  2. Reputation
  3. Cost


Serving as an estate executor can be a complex and time-consuming, but it can be completed smoothly and efficiently with the right knowledge and resources

The estate executor must be aware of the various estate management steps, such as notifying government agencies, canceling subscriptions and memberships, accessing mail, opening an estate bank account, paying debts and taxes, managing assets, and understanding the probate process. 

Estate executors face legal risks if they make mistakes or fail to fulfill their responsibilities, and they must take steps to mitigate these risks.

Diddel & Diddel is a law firm specializing in estate planning and administration and can be extremely useful for estate executors in need of guidance and support. 

The firm provides various legal services, including assistance with probate and estate administration, drafting of wills and trusts, and representation in estate-related disputes.

If you are serving as an estate executor or need estate planning services, we encourage you to contact Diddel & Diddel today. 

Our skilled attorneys can guide you through the maze of estate administration and look out for your best interests at every turn. If you want to succeed, don't hesitate to take advantage of our knowledge and experience.