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The Executor's Guide to Estate Administration


Consult with your attorney, tax professional, and Stifel Financial Advisor. Although you do not have to be a legal or financial expert to adequately serve as executor, you need the help of experts in navigating the process and fulfilling your fiduciary duties to the beneficiaries.


Locate any and all relevant estate planning documents. You may need to check with the decedent’s attorney to ensure that you have the latest documents.


Determine if probate is necessary. Probate is the legal process through which the validity of a decedent’s will is established and his or her estate is administered. Generally, unless a decedent’s property was owned as joint tenants with a right of survivorship, held in a revocable living trust, or subject to Transfer on Death, Payable on Death, or other valid form of beneficiary designation, it is subject to probate.


File a petition for probate, the most recent will, and the decedent’s death certificate with the appropriate probate court. In most states, you are required to open probate within a prescribed period of time, generally less than one year from the date of death. You may be required to post a bond unless waived in the will.


Notify all interested parties that probate proceedings have begun. Notice must be sent through the U.S. mail and published in a local newspaper in accordance with local law.


Locate and administer the decedent’s assets. Many courts will require you to submit an inventory of the decedent’s assets. In order to properly administer the decedent’s assets, you will likely also need to establish an estate account at a local bank or financial institution.


Arrange for preparation of the decedent’s final tax returns. Federal and state income tax returns must be filed on behalf of the decedent for the year of death. Often, the decedent’s estate and/or trust must also file federal and state income tax returns. If necessary, a federal estate tax return (Form 706) must be filed within nine months of the decedent’s death. Even if a decedent’s estate does not owe estate tax, a federal estate tax return must be filed if a surviving spouse intends to make a portability election. This election will allow the surviving spouse to use any of the decedent’s unused federal estate tax exemption. A state estate tax return may also need to be filed if the decedent maintains residence or owns property in a state with an estate tax.


Pay all debts, expenses, and taxes. Some courts will also require you to file a list of creditors’ claims that have been approved and denied.


Distribute property according to the decedent’s will. Some states require you to file a petition before distributing the assets to beneficiaries. Keep detailed records of all property that you have distributed to creditors and beneficiaries.

STEP 10:

Close the estate. This is accomplished by filing a final accounting and a closing statement with the court. You must also file final federal and state income tax returns for the estate. You may request that all beneficiaries sign a document verifying that they received their share of the assets.

Executor's Timeline After Death of Decedent

2 Months 3 Months 4 Months 9 Months
Consult with professionals Notify all interested parties Arrange for preparation of decedent's final tax returns Distribute property
Locate documents Locate decedent's assets Pay all debts, expenses, and taxes Close estate
File petition for probate      

Stifel does not provide legal or tax advice. You should discuss your particular situation with your professional legal and tax advisors.