Probate Issues: An Executor’s Checklist

John Randolph Smith

Many people avoid preparing for estate matters; however, setting up an estate plan to include a will, power of attorney and advance medical directive will assist loved ones after you’re gone. The executor is the person that will be appointed by the court to administer your estate. As you can see in the list below, the executor’s responsibilities can be time consuming and tedious. The executor’s job is made harder if information has not been gathered together or decisions made by the decedent in their estate plan prior to their death. The following is a list of responsibilities the executor must complete for the estate:

  1. Obtain certified copies of death certificates.
  2. Meet with the decedent’s attorney or hire an estate attorney. The attorneys at Smith, Barden & Wells are experienced in estate administration.
  3. Probate Appointment: Contact the Circuit Court in the county in which the decedent lived at the time of their death and make an appointment to present the will and become appointed as the executor.
  4. Notify Social Security and any pension plans—if a payment is made after the date of death, they will debit the account to recapture the amount paid.
  5. Pay the final funeral expense and any last medical expenses.
  6. Contact the financial advisor who manages the stocks, bonds, or mutual funds. Notify the advisor of the death and file a claim.
  7. Retirement Accounts: Determine if the decedent had any IRAs, 401(k)s or other retirement accounts. Notify the financial institutions of the death and file a claim.
  8. Bank: Take the death certificate to all banks where the decedent had a bank account, whether checking, savings, money market, CD or IRA. Most accounts will have a payable on death designation but ask the bank to provide you with this information.  You should also cancel direct deposits and automatic withdrawals, re-establish safe deposit box and apply for credit life insurance proceeds on loans for mortgages or cars, if any.
  9. Credit Card: Any liabilities must be paid to creditors before any distributions can be made to beneficiaries. The executor should also apply for credit life insurance proceeds, if any.  If any credit card accounts are held between the decedent and a survivor, remove the decedent’s name.
  10. Department of Motor Vehicles: Take title, registration and certified copy of the death certificate to DMV to change the title to all cars, trucks, vans, campers, boats, motorcycles.
  11. Life Insurance: Determine if the decedent had any life insurance plans and file the necessary claim forms.
  12. Other insurance: The following insurance providers also need to be notified of the death –
    • Medical insurance
    • Homeowner’s insurance
    • Car insurance
    • Retirement annuities
  13. Benefits: Determine if the decedent was the recipient of any of these benefits and file the necessary claim forms –
    • Civil Service
    • Railroad Retirement
    • Social Security
    • Veterans Benefits
    • Pension Plan
  14. Personal Property: Create an inventory of the personal property and determine who should receive the items. Donate any unwanted items.
  15. Receivables: Collect any debts owed to the decedent.
  16. Business: If the decedent owned a business, the executor will need to arrange for management of the business.
  17. Income Tax return: The decedent will need to file a final tax return for the year in which they die. “Deceased” should be written at the top of the return so the IRS knows not to expect a return the next year. There may also be an estate income tax return if the estate earns enough income to meet threshold for filing.
  18. Estate Tax Return: An Estate Tax Return is due nine months from the date of death, but this is only necessary if the value of the gross estate is above the current exemption amount. Consult with an attorney or CPA to determine if there is a filing requirement.
  19. Voter Registration: Notify so the deceased’s name is removed from the files.
  20. Real estate: The disposition of real estate and how it is handled depends on the contents of any will the decedent had. You should consult with an attorney regarding the real estate.

If the estate does not have enough money to pay its creditors it will be considered an insolvent estate. You should consult with an attorney on insolvent estates as there are many traps that can result in personal responsibility for the decedent if they do not know the laws and correct procedure.

The above list is not meant to be an exhaustive list and executors should consult with an attorney to determine they are fulfilling all of their responsibilities.

The attorneys at Smith, Barden & Wells, PC will give advice on how to properly plan for the eventuality of death and ensure that the executor’s job is as streamlined as possible.

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