estate executor checklist

Executor Checklist: 7 Tips to Help You Administer an Estate

If someone has chosen you to administer their estate after they’re gone, it’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed. Being the personal representative of an estate comes with many responsibilities. Luckily, the experienced team at Phelps LaClair is here to help you feel more at ease with the role. We put together this estate executor checklist to help you understand how to administer an estate. 

Executor Checklist: Seven Tips for Administering an Estate

1: Consult an Estate Planning Lawyer

Although hiring an attorney isn’t required to settle an estate, it is strongly recommended. There are many rules to follow when administering an estate, so it’s a good idea to talk to a professional. The estate planning attorneys at Phelps LaClair can help you understand everything you need to know about the administration process and assist you with carrying out your responsibilities.

2: File for Probate if Necessary

Some estates must go through probate, which means that the court must oversee the administration of the estate. However, not all estates are subject to probate. 

In Arizona, an estate only requires probate if:

  • Any of its assets do not have a beneficiary designation made through a will, trust, transfer on death deed, or other legal document
  • The combined assets in the estate are worth over $75,000
  • The estate includes real estate property valued at over $100,000

If the decedent’s estate requires probate, then, as the executor, you will need to file a petition to open probate. You must file for probate within two years of the decedent’s death. 

3: File the Will and Send Notice to the Beneficiaries

Whether or not an estate requires probate, you must file the will with the probate court. If probate is opened, you must publish a notice of probate in the local paper. You must also send notices of probate to the decedent’s beneficiaries and creditors. 

Even if an estate does not require probate, the executor still needs to notify the heirs that they are beneficiaries of the estate. The beneficiaries have two years to contest the will. If someone contests the will, the executor appointment, the decedent’s death, or any other part of the estate administration process, all other beneficiaries must be notified. 

Keep in mind that the beneficiaries have the right to any information about the estate, including which assets were left behind and any debts belonging to the estate. It’s part of your duty as executor to regularly communicate with the beneficiaries about the administration process, and to answer any questions they have about the estate.

4: Gather Important Documents

Finding and organizing essential documents ahead of time will help you carry out your duties efficiently. It’s a good idea to create a filing system to help you keep track of all important documents related to the estate. Make sure to include notes on your communications with the beneficiaries and the court, as well as copies of any documents you send out. 

Here’s a list of the documents every executor needs to administer an estate:

  • The legal pronouncement of the decedent’s death
  • The decedent’s birth and death certificates
  • A copy of the will or trust
  • Investment records, bank statements, and other financial documents
  • Marriage certificates and divorce decrees, if applicable
  • Vehicle and other asset titles
  • Property deeds

5: Collect, Evaluate, and Manage All Assets and Debts

Another important duty of the executor is to locate, evaluate, and manage the decedent’s assets as well as their debts. You should be able to locate the assets with the help of the will, the decedent’s lawyer, and/or their financial statements. Next, you must get appraisals for assets such as real estate and vehicles to determine their current value. You will also need to pay the decedent’s outstanding bills, cancel their subscriptions, terminate leases, and notify their bank of their death. 

6: Set Up a Bank Account and File Taxes for the Estate

As the executor, you will also need to create a bank account and get a tax identification number for the estate. Any money owed to the decedent as well as any of their accounts without a named beneficiary will go into the bank account. You will also need to file the decedent’s final tax return and pay any taxes owed by the decedent or their estate. 

7: Distribute Assets and Close the Estate

The final step to cross off your executor checklist before closing the estate is the distribution of assets. The executor supervises the distribution of property to the designated beneficiaries. The distributions will either follow the instructions given in the will or trust, or follow the laws of intestate succession if no designations were made. After you have distributed all of the assets and paid all the taxes and debts, you can ask the court to close the estate. 

Estate Planning Attorney in Arizona

We hope this checklist helps you feel more comfortable in the role of executor and with the responsibilities of settling an estate. If you have any questions, or would like assistance with administering an estate, the lawyers at Phelps LaClair are here to help. Give us a call at 480-892-2488 today to schedule a consultation.

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (6/24/2022). Photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash

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