From Documentation to Action: A Checklist for Executors
Presented by Tim Weller
Administering and distributing the assets of an estate is a big responsibility. This checklist aims to help you, as executor of an estate, stay organized and thorough during the process.
Documents to gather first
- Original will
- Certified copy of death certificate
- Trust documents
- Stock and bond certificates
- Copies of real estate deeds
- Personal property titles (e.g., car, motorcycle, boat)
- Insurance policies
- Pension, profit-sharing, or other retirement plan records
- Social security and Veterans Administration (VA) records
- Decedent’s most recent federal income tax return and, if applicable, gift tax returns before death
- Brokerage account statements
- Bank statements
- Records of business interests (e.g., ownership or buy-sell agreement, debt records)
- Credit card statements
- Personal loan or note documentation
- Mortgage documents
- Divorce and stipulation agreements
- Medical and hospital expense records (particularly for last illness)
- Information regarding unpaid taxes
- Funeral expense records
- Outstanding household bills (e.g., utilities, phone)
- Other general obligations
- Safety deposit box numbers
- List of digital accounts and their custodians (such as Google or Facebook)
- Usernames and passwords to digital accounts (if available)
- Copies of digital custodians’ access-authorization allowances (if available)
Personal information: decedent
- Full contact information (name, address, telephone number)
- Date and place of birth
- Date and place of death
- Social security number (SSN)
- Employer and occupation
- Funeral home
- Veteran’s status (and eligibility for VA benefits)
Personal information: decedent’s family members
- Surviving spouse’s SSN and date of birth
- If no surviving spouse, name and date of death; if divorced, ex-spouse’s name and date of divorce
- Beneficiaries in will: names, addresses, phone numbers, SSNs
- For intestacy: start by listing children, parents, siblings, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews
- Assist with funeral arrangements.
- Petition to open probate estate and file will with the court.
- Ensure that the family’s immediate financial needs can be met.
- Obtain employer identification number (EIN) for the estate.
Safeguarding tangible and financial assets
- Notify the decedent’s banks and other financial institutions of his or her death.
- Open an estate bank account for depositing income, paying expenses, and transferring balances.
- Notify credit card companies of the decedent’s death and cancel the cards.
- Notify the mortgage company of the decedent’s death.
- Engage a financial advisor to review the suitability of investments held and to perform ongoing investment management.
- Verify that adequate insurance is in place to protect estate assets (e.g., home, car).
Safeguarding digital assets
- Review the will for language covering digital assets (e.g., “digital device” or “social media accounts”).
- Determine whether the decedent used the digital custodians’ access-authorization tools (e.g., Facebook’s “legacy contact” feature) for how such accounts should be managed.
- Verify whether the decedent granted access to the content of his or her digital accounts to anyone.
- If anyone has the right of access, work with each person to delete any remaining online accounts. The following list provides an overview of access rights available on popular social media and other websites:
- Facebook: Account owners can designate a legacy contact, or they can request their account be deleted once Facebook receives notice of death.
- Google: Account owners can have Google alert designated individuals if their account is inactive for a predetermined amount of time. (Remember, these people may not include the executor.) The account owner can also specify whether any of these people could then access the content or make it so the inactivity triggers the deletion of the entire account.
- Twitter: Twitter allows a verified immediate family member or estate representative to delete an account with a death certificate.
- LinkedIn: A verified next of kin can delete an account.
- Snapchat: A verified next of kin can delete an account by providing a death certificate.
- Instagram: A verified family member can delete an account.
- Tumblr: A verified next of kin can delete an account.
- Yahoo: An immediate family member can delete an account.
- Microsoft: An immediate family member can delete an account.
- AOL: An immediate family member can delete an account.
Please note: The above information is accurate to the best of our knowledge as of this writing, although it will likely evolve. Further, there is a difference between next of kin and immediate family. Next of kin is the closest living blood relative, while immediate family typically includes a spouse, parents, grandparents, children, and in-laws.
- Record the value of all estate assets on the date of the decedent’s death.
- Investigate all debts owed by the decedent.
- Contact the decedent’s former employer for pension plan, qualified plan, and life insurance information.
- Apply for and collect life insurance.
- Obtain valuations for any collectibles owned by the decedent.
- Assist in establishing trusts stipulated in the will.
- Identify debtors and assess assets available to pay debts.
- Maintain estate property until it is distributed from the estate (e.g., household).
- Engage a tax professional to prepare the decedent’s final income and estate tax returns.
- Pay all outstanding income, estate, and inheritance taxes.
- Confirm that legal expenses, professional expenses, debts, and other administrative fees are paid.
Working with beneficiaries
- Communicate directly with all beneficiaries and set expectations.
- Provide regular updates regarding the status of estate administration.
- Provide required notices and accountings in a timely fashion.
- Communicate your actions for the distribution or sale of estate assets.
Working with custodians of digital assets
- Ask custodians what administrative fees they will charge for disclosing digital assets.
- Confirm whether custodians will provide full access, partial access, or a “data dump.”
- If the decedent granted the executor access to digital assets, carry out his or her wishes for their preservation or deletion.
- Complete the account termination process.
Making distributions from an estate
- Initiate the sale of assets and title transfers.
- Distribute specific bequests.
- Distribute assets to beneficiaries in accordance with decedent’s will or state intestacy statutes.
- Obtain receipts from all beneficiaries.
- Close estate accounts.
- Prepare a final accounting of all assets, liabilities, expenses, and distribution of assets for beneficiaries.
- Obtain approval from each beneficiary (or guardian).
This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax advisor, or lawyer.
Tim Weller is a financial professional with Weller Group LLC at 6206 Slocum Road, Ontario, NY 14519. He offers securities as a Registered Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC. He can be reached at 315-524-8000 or at email@example.com.
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