Your Step-by-Step Guide to Closing an Estate
What is an Executor?
Being Chosen as an Executor
Understanding Executor Responsibilities
- Your knowledge of certain matters, including finance and business, or your capacity to oversee professionals tending to these matters.
- Your ability to devote time and energy to fully settle all debts and inheritances. An executor’s commitment may take up to a year.
- Your ability to make difficult decisions, act objectively, and deal with family and beneficiaries in such a way as to avoid or mitigate potential inheritance conflicts.
Settling an Estate
Step One: Find the Will and Review its Contents
- Locate and review the Last Will with a lawyer
- Determine if probate is necessary
- File the Will with probate court
Step Two: Make Funeral Arrangements
- Implement the wishes laid out in the deceased’s End-of-Life Plan, if one exists
- Make remains arrangements (cremation, burial, organ donation, etc.), if no arrangements have been made
- Plan funeral, if one has not been planned
- Arrange for guardianship of minor children and/or pets
- Obtain death certificate
Step Three: Secure Assets
- Keep assets safe by insuring valuables or property
- Conduct an inventory of items and get an appraisal, if needed. Determine if there are any non-probate assets included in the estate (such as trusts). This is property that can be transferred outside of the probate court.
- If assets are held jointly, you may arrange for the transfer of property to the surviving owner
- Notify beneficiaries as per your state requirements
Step Four: Manage Finances
- Cancel credit cards, bills, and subscriptions
- Freeze accounts and terminate contracts
- Inform banks, brokers, landlord, tenants, doctors/health care professionals, post office, Social Security Administration, and employer/employees of the testator’s passing
- Open estate account
- Collect benefits or outstanding payments
- Give notice to creditors and determine if claims are valid
- Sell assets or property if necessary
- Pay outstanding debts (including funeral costs)
Step Five: Wrap up the Estate
Step Six: Disperse the Estate According to Will
- Protect all assets until they are ready to distribute
- Donate to organizations or charities if called for
- Deliver gifts to individuals named in the Will
- Divide remaining estate among beneficiaries as specified in Will
Step Seven: Close the Estate
- Organize and file all receipts, records of activity, and evidence of disbursements
- Close estate account
- Provide beneficiaries with statements of estate activity
- File for tax release by the probate court
Fulfilling Your Executor Duties
Questions to ask the testator after you’ve been appointed executor:
- Where is your Last Will located?
- Where do you keep important documents, such as property deeds, marriage certificates, insurance policies, etc.?
- Are there co-executors? Did you designate an alternate?
- Who are your other representatives (health care proxy and/or attorney-in-fact)?
- Do you have a list of all your accounts and corresponding information? Where is this list located?
- Are there any specific valuable assets or trusts I should be aware of?
- Who are your beneficiaries?
- Do you have an End-of-Life Plan that sets out your wishes for your remains, funeral, etc.? Did you include preplanning arrangements in your Last Will or with a funeral home? What kind of funeral arrangements do you prefer?
- Do you have a lawyer or an accountant that you want to assist with your estate?
- Are there any other instructions I should know about?