This is an overview of the estate settlement process. Every estate is unique in its details, so this list will include items that may not apply to your estate, and your estate may involve steps that are not noted here. The steps may also occur in a different order, depending on the circumstances.
Most importantly, this list excludes all legal conflicts that can arise in an estate. Conflicts can arise at any of the stages set forth below, involving lengthy and costly court procedures. Skillful management of the process can often prevent such conflicts.
1. Gathering information about the decedent and their assets.
2. Gathering information about the family.
3. Obtaining one or more affidavits to explain the family relations.
4. Obtaining the original will.
5. Checking court for any will on file.
6. Discovering whether there were any other versions of the will, or any codicils or trusts.
7. Reviewing the will for validity and content:
-- a. Was it signed, witnessed and notarized correctly?
-- b. Who are the beneficiaries, executors, trustees?
-- c. Who is disadvantaged by it?
-- d. Are there ambiguities?
-- e. Are there other parties who must receive notice (e.g., charitable beneficiaries,
personal representatives of deceased or incapacitated beneficiaries)?
8. Obtaining the original death certificate.
9. Preparing, sending and receiving Waivers and Consents from all family members.
10. Preparing, sending and receiving Renunciations from any executors nominated in the will
11. Preparing the Petition and all supporting materials.
12. Filing the Petition.
13. Responding to questions or further requirements from the court clerks.
14. Receipt of Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration.
15. Receipt of Letters of Trusteeship for any testamentary trusts.
1. Reviewing Letters Testamentary / Administration / Trusteeship for any limitations on
the fiduciary's authority. Developing a plan of action with respect to any limited
2. Securing the home (e.g., changing the locks).
3. Releasing the legal seal on the home if death occurred at home.
4. Submitting claims for the beneficiaries of all retirement accounts, pensions, annuities
and life insurance policies.
-- a. Determining and arranging for the optimal method of distribution for tax-deferred
5. Preparing a ledger to maintain a comprehensive and accurate accounting of all estate
assets, payments and transactions.
6. Maintaining detailed records of all out-of-pocket expenditures for reimbursement.
7. Obtaining tax ID for the estate.
8. Opening an estate bank account.
9. Obtaining tax ID for any trusts.
10. Opening trust bank accounts.
11. Coordination with trustee as to funding trusts and ongoing procedures of trust
12. Discovery of all estate assets, debts and other open items of business.
-- a. Contacting, or authorizing attorney to contact, all financial institutions and other
third parties for inquiries.
13. Preparation and delivery of an estate Inventory to the court.
14. Liquidating all financial accounts and depositing proceeds in the estate account.
15. For any personal property of value (e.g., antiques, art): obtaining appraisals, arranging
for sale or other disposition.
16. Determining whether the estate is solvent - i.e., whether there are sufficient assets to
cover all obligations.
-- a. If not, or uncertain, determining how assets will be applied to the estate's
obligations, in accordance with legal priority of claims.
17. Payment of all legitimate debts and obligations of the decedent.
-- a. Negotiation to reduce any amounts subject to collection.
18. Filing appropriate documents to transfer ownership of any asset passing in-kind to a
19. For an owned home:
-- a. Obtaining tax clearance for the sale or transfer of the house.
-- b. Clearing the house of its contents.
-- c. Arranging for storage if necessary, and developing a plan to minimize estate costs
--- d. Delivering items of personal property to appropriate beneficiaries.
-- e. If house is to be transferred to a beneficiary: filing appropriate deed; documentation
and execution of any arrangements among the beneficiaries in regard to the property.
-- i. If house is to be owned by multiple family members, the negotiation, drafting
and execution of an appropriate agreement about the use and upkeep of the
-- f. If house is to be sold, listing the house for sale with an appropriate broker.
-- g. Arrangement for payoff of any mortgage or home equity line
-- h. Making any necessary repairs, rectifying any building violations.
-- i. Conducting a closing with proper payment and documentation of taxes, settlement
of mortgage or equity line, broker commissions, etc.
-- j. Deposit of net proceeds in the estate account.
-- k. Documentation and reporting of capital gains, including allocation of gains to the
20. Maintaining complete records of all actions noted above.
1. Payment of decedent's final full-year income taxes by April 15 of the year of the death, if not
2. Payment of decedent's partial-year income taxes by April 15 of the year after the death.
3. Payment of estate taxes within 9 months after the date of death, if applicable.
4. Reporting and payment of income taxes by the estate and any trusts, year by year, for any
income within the estate or trusts.
16. Assembling a comprehensive accounting of all assets, payments and transactions in the estate.
17. Ensuring that all estate obligations have been paid, or that appropriate funds have been set
aside for any unsettled obligations, and that the statutory period for the filing of claims has
18. Calculation of distributions in exact accordance with the will or applicable law.
19. Preparation and execution of Receipt and Release agreements from each beneficiary.
20. Delivery of distribution to each beneficiary.
21. Assembly of all estate documents into an orderly file for future reference.