Executor of a Will Checklist: Your Step-by-Step Guide

After death, the executor of a will has a lot of duties. The executor is responsible for closing out the estate and carrying out the will of the deceased. If you’re named the executor (also called a personal representative), you’ll have many details to manage. This estate executor checklist for executing a will can help you more easily navigate the process while making sure none of your duties slip through the cracks.

Access the Checklist

Your Estate Executor Duties Checklist

1. Obtain a Copy of the Death Certificate

The first responsibility of an estate executor is to obtain copies of the death certificate. The funeral home will provide the death certificate; ask for multiple copies. You’ll need to provide a copy of the death certificate for a number of tasks, including filing life insurance claims and tax returns, accessing financial accounts and notifying organizations such as the Social Security Administration of the person’s death.

2. Make Funeral Arrangements

The will may include instructions for the funeral arrangements. As executor, these responsibilities could include communicating with the funeral home to ensure the wishes of the deceased are carried out.

3. File the Will in Probate Court

A copy of the will needs to be filed in probate court. In some cases, assets can pass to heirs without probate (or via a streamlined probate process), but the law in most states still requires filing the will in probate court.

4. Locate the Assets and Manage Distribution 

As executor, it’s your responsibility to control the assets until the estate is settled. You may have to make decisions about which assets to sell and which to distribute to heirs. If the deceased left a will, you’ll be responsible for contacting those named in the will to inform them about their inheritance and ensure they receive the designated property. Without a will, state law will determine who receives distributions from the estate.

5. Communicate With Appropriate Allies

You might need support from the estate attorney, accountant, investment advisor, insurance agent and others to access accounts and to file all of the necessary paperwork. The person’s credit card company, bank and mortgage company all need to be notified about the death. If the deceased was collecting Social Security, Medicare or veterans’ benefits, the Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs will also need to be notified. You may need to provide the death certificate to close those accounts.

6. Set Up an Estate Account

The estate account will hold all of the financial assets owed to the deceased, including paychecks, dividend payments and tax refunds. All payments (e.g., for burial expenses, to the IRS, to creditors) will also be paid out of this account.

7. Pay Ongoing Expenses and Debts

Paying ongoing bills isn’t mapped out in a will, so it’s something you may miss if it’s not part of your executor duties checklist. Until the estate is settled, you’ll need to continue paying the mortgage, utility bills, insurance premiums and other day-to-day expenses. In the process of reconciling the estate, you’ll communicate with creditors about outstanding debts and decide how those will be settled. All debts will need to be paid before any assets can be disbursed to heirs.

8. File a Tax Return

Finally, an income tax return must be filed for the period from the first date of the tax year until the date of death.

What’s Next?

Being named executor for a person you love can get you started thinking about your own legacy. Farm Bureau can help you build and protect your legacy. Contact your local Farm Bureau insurance agent to find out how to get started.