| Being the administrator of a decedent's estate can be a daunting task and can require a
great deal of effort, worthy of initial planning. We recommend to anyone charged with
winding down the estate of another to first create a checklist of things to do, and then to
share that checklist with all interested persons, including other beneficiaries, heirs, and legal
representatives. A little preparation, organization, and good communications can spare a
great deal of aggravation, expense, and conflict.
These are possible items for your checklist:
- Arrange appropriate care for any person over whom the decedent had custody.
- Notify decedent's friends, colleagues, and relatives, and consult with them for any
information you may need.
- Determine whether decedent arranged an anatomical gift of his or her body or
organs, checking estate planning documents, powers of attorney, and driver's license.
Arrange for disposition.
- Determine whether decedent arranged for a funeral or cremation and make
appropriate funeral arrangements.
- Place appropriate notices in newspaper and fraternal and other organizations'
- Make immediate arrangements to preserve any perishable property or manage
ongoing and immediate business concerns.
- Obtain death certificates (these may be made available by a funeral director).
- Locate will, trust, and other documents and deliver those documents to the executor,
trustee, or executor’s or trustee's attorney.
- Gather tax returns, which are a fertile source for crucial information on assets.
- Gather all keys, paying special attention to whether any keys may be to safe deposit
boxes where important papers, possibly including a will or trust, may be kept.
- Search every nook and cranny for cash, cashier’s checks, traveler’s checks, bonds,
securities, pass books, bank statements, brokerage account statements, valuables,
and other assets or indication of assets owned by decedent. Note that some people
“hide” valuable assets in old coat pockets or other obscure places, so thoroughly
check all such items before discarding anything.
- Copy the will and file the original with the clerk of the appropriate court (you may wish
to avoid taking the will apart when you copy it).
- Secure all real estate owned by the decedent, taking all necessary steps to prevent
potential damage or waste.
- Secure any other property which might be subject to loss.
- Locate insurance policies and take steps to prevent lapse.
- Notify insurance companies of the decedent’s death and ensure any transfer, if
- Secure sufficient funds to administer these items, petitioning for an administrator to
collect if necessary.
- Pay any wages owed by decedent.
- Evaluate will, anticipating any probate problems.
- If necessary, locate witnesses and discuss their live testimony, or arrangements for
affidavits or deposition.
- If witnesses are dead or otherwise indisposed for testimony, locate witnesses to attest
to their handwriting.
- Obtain names, addresses, social security numbers, and dates of birth of all heirs,
legatees, devisees, trustees, and executors, determining whether each is competent,
of age, or in military service.
- Obtain a copy of any antenuptial agreement signed by decedent, or any divorce
decree or separation agreement, determining any rights of any surviving spouse or ex-
- Determine whether the estate must be probated.
- Determine who will act as administrator or executor.
- Inventory decedent’s real and personal property with a complete description and
location of each asset.
- List all of decedent’s creditors, with addresses, amounts due, due dates, and all other
- Determine all claims against the estate and all defenses to those claims.
- List the names, addresses, and phone numbers of decedent’s advisors, including
lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, bankers.
- Obtain all details regarding decedent’s interests in closely held companies including
corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, and sole proprietorships.
- Determine whether decedent held property in another state and, if so, how to proceed.
- Notify the postmaster of forwarding information.
- Check with decedent’s employer for unpaid wages, salary, profit sharing or bonus.
- Go through decedent’s residence carefully.
- Terminate utilities if appropriate and necessary.
- Obtain and destroy all credit cards and close all credit and margin accounts.
- Go through decedent’s correspondence, personal papers, invoices, and other
documents, checking for any indication of any assets and disposing of any that will not
- Cancel any pending contracts.
- Obtain decedent’s income tax returns for the past three years, and any gift tax returns
which decedent may have filed.
- Claim any burial benefit from social security, veteran’s administration, or other agency
- Check to see whether decedent was a surety, guarantor, co-signer, or had any other
kind of liability.
- Determine whether decedent was a party to any litigation.
- Check any outstanding contracts, leases, or other agreements and determine whether
any action needs to be taken.