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I. Initial Procedures

  1. Obtain and review last wills and testaments as well as codicils.
  2. Select and hire an attorney to assist the executor.
  3. Gather information.
    1. Obtain death certificate.
    2. Collect personal information and papers (including financial information).
    3. Obtain names, addresses, and telephone numbers of beneficiaries and heirs.
  4. Probate the will.
    1. Give notice of probate proceedings.
    2. Admit the last will to probate court by applying to the court that handles probate matters.
    3. Apply to the court to appoint the executor.

II. Gathering Assets

  1. Open a checking account for the estate.
  2. Obtain a Federal Identification Number from the IRS. (Form SS -4)
  3. Notify the IRS of the authority of the executor to act for the decedent. (Form 54)
  4. Contact employer to obtain final paycheck and any insurance.
  5. Contact life insurance provider.
  6. Determine which assets are subject to probate and which pass automatically.
    1. Joint property passes to the surviving joint tenant.
    2. Life insurance and retirement benefits pass to their specified beneficiaries.
    3. Totten trusts ("payable-on-death" accounts) go to their specified beneficiaries.
  7. Take physical custody or control of the probate assets and safeguard them.
  8. Obtain valuations and appraisals of assets, as necessary.

III. Payment of Debts and Expenses

  1. Pay decedent's current debts such as utilities, medical expenses, credit cards, etc.
  2. Estate expenses, such as court costs, executor and attorney fees should be paid.
  3. File appropriate tax returns.
    1. Federal estate tax return.
    2. State inheritance or estate tax return.
    3. Decedent's final income tax returns (federal Form 1040 and applicable state return).
    4. Gift tax return (if decedent made substantial gifts - Form 709).
    5. Estate fiduciary income tax returns (federal Form 1041 and state).
    6. Trust fiduciary income tax returns (federal Form 1041 and state).
    7. Business and/or employment tax returns (for business interests).

IV. Closing The Estate

  1. Distribute assets.
    1. Specific bequests of cash and/or property should be distributed.
    2. Sell property which must be liquidated.
    3. Establish any trusts provided in the will.
    4. Distribute any remaining estate assets.
  2. Obtain tax clearances from appropriate government agencies.
  3. File final report/accounting of all receipts, disbursements, and activities of estate and executor.
  4. Close estate account and pay any final expenses.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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