I. Initial Procedures
- Obtain and review last wills and testaments as well as codicils.
- Select and hire an attorney to assist the executor.
- Gather information.
- Obtain death certificate.
- Collect personal information and papers (including financial information).
- Obtain names, addresses, and telephone numbers of beneficiaries and heirs.
- Probate the will.
- Give notice of probate proceedings.
- Admit the last will to probate court by applying to the court that handles probate matters.
- Apply to the court to appoint the executor.
II. Gathering Assets
- Open a checking account for the estate.
- Obtain a Federal Identification Number from the IRS. (Form SS -4)
- Notify the IRS of the authority of the executor to act for the decedent. (Form 54)
- Contact employer to obtain final paycheck and any insurance.
- Contact life insurance provider.
- Determine which assets are subject to probate and which pass automatically.
- Joint property passes to the surviving joint tenant.
- Life insurance and retirement benefits pass to their specified beneficiaries.
- Totten trusts ("payable-on-death" accounts) go to their specified beneficiaries.
- Take physical custody or control of the probate assets and safeguard them.
- Obtain valuations and appraisals of assets, as necessary.
III. Payment of Debts and Expenses
- Pay decedent's current debts such as utilities, medical expenses, credit cards, etc.
- Estate expenses, such as court costs, executor and attorney fees should be paid.
- File appropriate tax returns.
- Federal estate tax return.
- State inheritance or estate tax return.
- Decedent's final income tax returns (federal Form 1040 and applicable state return).
- Gift tax return (if decedent made substantial gifts - Form 709).
- Estate fiduciary income tax returns (federal Form 1041 and state).
- Trust fiduciary income tax returns (federal Form 1041 and state).
- Business and/or employment tax returns (for business interests).
IV. Closing The Estate
- Distribute assets.
- Specific bequests of cash and/or property should be distributed.
- Sell property which must be liquidated.
- Establish any trusts provided in the will.
- Distribute any remaining estate assets.
- Obtain tax clearances from appropriate government agencies.
- File final report/accounting of all receipts, disbursements, and activities of estate and executor.
- 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.