Checklist for Personal Representatives/Trustees

(Either Would-Be or Actual)

1. Pre-death Planning Techniques

  1. To Simplify Estate Administration Later
    • Obtain durable power of attorney to cover financial matters.
    • Locate and assemble all important records and documents and keep in safe place.
    • Prepare list of advisors’ names, addresses and telephone numbers (lawyer, stockbrokers, insurance agent, accountant and others).
    • Locate safe deposit box, if any.
    • Confirm adequacy of medical insurance for family.
    • Verify that premiums have been paid on life, medical and disability insurance and long-term care insurance.
    • Review Will and Trust for needed changes.
    • Review beneficiary designations on life insurance, pension plan, 401(k) plan, IRAs for needed changes.
    • Facilitate transfers to Trust of assets that should already be in living Trust.
    • Consider and make arrangements for donations of body parts.
    • If business is involved, arrange for continuation of management.
    • Clearly establish state of domicile.
    • In terminal illness situation, consider viatical settlement on life insurance to obtain needed cash before death.
  2. To Increase Estate Value
    • Increase salary amount to cause larger death benefits under employee benefit plans.
    • Check each insurance policy for waiver of premium clause to continue policy if insured becomes disabled; notify insurance company of insured’s disability and to request refund of premiums paid after onset of disability.
    • Consider converting whole life policies to extended term insurance to reduce future premium outflow, but keep full death benefit in force.
  3. To Reduce or Extend Estate Taxes
    • Make annual exclusion gifts to loved ones — $10,000/person/year plus unlimited amounts for education — to reduce estate size.
    • Confirm that estate is not the beneficiary on life insurance or employee benefits.
    • Review Will, Trust and asset titles to confirm qualification for marital deduction.
    • Consider immediate charitable gifts to reduce estate size and to obtain income tax deduction.
    • If business is involved, make arrangements for stock redemption to pay estate taxes if requirements can be satisfied (under Section 303 IRC).
    • Consider selling or gifting non-business assets to qualify business assets for installment payment of estate taxes (Section 6166) or reduced estate taxes (Section 2057).
    • Consider purchasing “flower bonds” for payment of estate taxes and determine if estate or Trust already holds such bonds.

2. Immediate Tasks After Decedent’s Death

  • Discuss with close family members (and make decisions on) possible donation of body organs.
  • Provide physician with accurate information for death certificate — request 10 copies from funeral director.
  • Ascertain whether burial or cremation desired.
  • Ascertain funeral home selected by family.
  • Ascertain who will make funeral arrangements; render assistance (notify clergy if not already informed).
  • Obtain deed to cemetery plot or make arrangements for cremation.
  • Help family prepare obituary and furnish to funeral director.
  • Consider whether autopsy should be performed.
  • Obtain information on all family members (names, addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers).
  • Arrange for security at homes of decedent and close relatives.
  • Meet with decedent’s family/heirs; offer assistance, information; obtain psychotherapeutic aid for them, if needed.
  • Collect keys (house, cars, storage, safe deposit box, desk, safe, trunks, etc.)
  • Arrange care for minors/family members unable to care for themselves.
  • Arrange immediate care/security for plants/pets/business and personal assets and documents and dispose of perishables.
  • Determine immediate cash needs of survivors and adequacy and sources of cash to meet future needs.
  • Tell friends and family members to give you receipts or other proof of payment of funeral-related expenses.
  • Arrange for decedent’s mail to be held at post office until your formal appointment; then arrange for forwarding. Stop newspapers and other deliveries, if appropriate.
  • Collect and organize important documents: Trust, Will, life insurance policies, fire and casualty insurance policies, deeds, stock certificates, bonds, business agreements, partnership documents, LLC documents, pension plan records and beneficiary forms, 401(k) and IRA records, prior 3 years’ tax returns (for decedent and trust, if any), all gift tax returns filed by decedent, financial records for businesses, bank books, bank statements and cancelled checks for last 3 years, checkbooks, brokerage account statements for last 2 years, past income tax returns; W-2 forms; marriage and birth certificates; military discharge papers, passport, naturalization papers, copyrights and patents, diplomas, licenses, auto titles and registrations; loan payment books, credit cards, bank cards, library cards, driver’s license.
  • Gather all current bills and check for credit life insurance.
  • Find home for pets.
  • Discard all medications.

3. Obtaining Appointment

  • Examine Will and Trust.
  • Select and meet with estate lawyer.
  • Meet with family to review Will and Trust and furnish them copies.
  • Notify bank or trust company — if named in Will as co-personal representative or trustee — of death; request immediate appointment of administration officer.
  • Advise decedent’s spouse of need to update spouse’s Will and Trust and right:
    • to hire own lawyer;
    • to elect against Will;
    • to disclaim property;
    • to exercise powers of appointment
  • Estimate decedent’s assets/liabilities.
  • Ascertain if probate estate qualifies for small estate procedure.
  • Request estate lawyer to prepare letter explaining estate settlement process and to send to each family member.
  • Request estate lawyer to prepare Petition for Appointment and Probate of Will and related documents.
  • Request family members to sign Waivers of Notice for hearing on Petition for Appointment.
  • File Petition, Waivers and original Will with clerk of court.
  • If necessary, attend hearing for appointment.
  • Sign and file with clerk of court Acceptance of Appointment as personal representative.
  • If necessary, arrange for bond.
  • Request issuance of Letters Testamentary to evidence appointment and obtain 10 certified copies.

4. Commencing Estate Administration

  • Meet with family members to distribute copy of Will and Trust, to explain estate settlement process, answer questions and receive input.
  • Facilitate distribution of heirlooms, and sentimental items and personal effects and make a record of distribution.
  • Notify known creditors (including credit card companies) of decedent’s death and how to file claims.
  • Request estate lawyer to publish “Notice to Creditors” in local newspaper.
  • Send notice of death, appointment of personal representative and change of address to all suppliers, vendors and service providers.
  • Request estate lawyer to apply for Tax Identification Number, as necessary, for estate and Trust (Form SS-4).
  • Request estate lawyer to notify IRS of appointment of personal representative and trustee (Form 56).
  • Open and inventory contents of all safe deposit boxes, vaults.
  • Obtain possession of decedent’s records and documents.
  • Notify holders of powers of appointment of existence of powers and effect of disclaimer or non-exercise.
  • Notify beneficiaries of right to disclaim and effects of disclaimers.
  • Notify all payors of interest and dividends of decedent’s death and of name, address and SSN or TIN of successor owner (joint tenant or estate or Trust).
  • Establish separate bank account for estate and, if needed, for Trust.
  • Make preliminary determination of whether Federal estate tax return (Form 706) will need to be filed and put due date on calendar.
  • Make preliminary estimate of amount of estate taxes that will be owing.
  • Identify sources for future payment of estate taxes.
  • Open new safe deposit box in name of estate or Trust to hold important documents, keys and valuables during administration.
  • If business is involved, arrange for continuation of management or begin negotiations for immediate sale.
  • Determine if ancillary (out-of-state) administration is necessary.
  • Determine extent of homestead allowance and family allowance.
  • Designate names of separate trusts and shares.
  • Review all Trust accountings and distributions that have taken place for the last five years (or since the Trust was established, if these records are available).

5. Taking Control of Assets

  • Obtain custody or control (and keys) of all tangible property of decedent and place valuables in safe deposit box or protected storage.
  • Inspect decedent’s residence(s) and other tangible property.
  • Secure decedent’s residence and real estate (change locks, winterize, hire temporary caretaker).
  • Cancel decedent’s credit cards.
  • Verify adequate fire, casualty and theft insurance and request written confirmation.
  • Collect sums owed to decedent and proceed with, adjust and settle claims and lawsuits.
  • Prepare and submit claims for death benefits on all life insurance policies (request Form 712 on each policy) and pursue claims to collection.
  • Notify Social Security Administration and VA of decedent’s death and assist family in filing for survivor benefits.
  • Return Social Security checks received after death.
  • Prepare and submit claims for death benefits or survivor benefits on pension, profit sharing and 401(k) plans, IRAs and annuities and pursue claims to collection.
  • Determine cash needs of family during administration and make arrangements to meet those needs.
  • Contact employer(s) and request unpaid salary/bonus/vacation pay/deferred compensation/pension/other benefits.
  • Write to all local banks, credit unions, brokerage companies to request verification of existence of safe deposit boxes and accounts and to request date-of-death values and possible joint tenancy or “payable-on-death” designations [do same in other areas where decedent lived during prior 5 years].
  • Conduct real property search for decedent’s name as grantor or grantee in all counties where decedent lived in prior 10 years.
  • Examine all tax returns, checks, statements, records and documents of decedent.
  • Close decedent’s bank and cash accounts and deposit into estate/Trust checking or savings accounts, as appropriate.
  • Place idle cash funds into interest-bearing accounts until invested or distributed.
  • Close decedent’s brokerage accounts and deposit stocks and securities into account in name of estate or Trust, as appropriate.
  • For rental property, arrange for security, management, collection of rents, care, payment of mortgage payments, taxes and insurance.
  • Seek out information on other possible assets.
  • Notify utility companies and landlord.
  • Value all stocks and securities at date of death.
  • Arrange for appraisals or valuations at date of death of: real estate, vehicles, valuable tangible property, business interests.
  • Prepare complete list of all assets at decedent’s death, showing description, date-of-death value and ownership.
  • Analyze stocks and securities to determine which to sell and which to hold.
  • Sell stocks, securities or other assets as necessary to raise needed cash.
  • Review all creditor claims and either reject or make payment.
  • Decide on sale or retention of business interests.
  • Prepare inventory of probate assets within 3 months after death; send copy to beneficiaries and, if necessary, to court.
  • Six months after death, re-determine value of all assets for Federal estate tax purposes.

6. Cash Requirements and Investments

  • Analyze cash needs for payment of family allowances, decedent’s debts, administration expenses and interim distributions to beneficiaries.
  • Evaluate whether stock options should be exercised.
  • Consider possible early distribution of S corporation shares from estate.
  • Identify assets to be sold and finish sales transactions.
  • Evaluate how liquid assets should be invested during administration.
  • Pay estimated income taxes for estate and Trust.
  • Set investment policy for estate and Trust.
  • Collect rents, interest and dividends.
  • Oversee family businesses.
  • Manage assets of estate and Trust for safety and preservation, but with reasonable income.

7. Tax Issues

  • Cause final income tax returns to be prepared and filed for decedent and pay tax due.
  • Cause required gift tax returns to be prepared and filed for decedent.
  • Select fiscal year for estate.
  • Consider whether Trust should be treated as part of estate for income tax purposes and, if so, prepare and file election (Section 645 IRC).
  • Ascertain if estate or Trust received any “income in respect of a decedent” (Section 691 IRC).
  • Consider whether hard-to-value assets should be valued high or low and possible effects on stepped-up basis.
  • Determine if Federal estate tax return should be filed.
  • Determine if administration expenses and losses should be claimed as income tax deductions or as estate tax deductions.
  • Cause income tax returns for each fiscal year to be prepared and filed for estate and for each separate Trust and pay taxes due.
  • Identify states where inheritance tax returns must be filed.
  • Determine qualification and advisability of filing various tax elections:
    • Alternate valuation date for estate tax purposes (Sec. 2032 IRC).
    • Special use valuation of farm or business real estate (Section 2032A IRC).
    • Full or partial QTIP election on marital trust (Section 2056(b)(2) IRC).
    • Qualified domestic trust treatment if spouse is not U.S. citizen (Section 2056A, IRC).
    • Reverse QTIP election for generation-skipping tax purposes.
    • Deferred payment of estate tax (Section 6161 or 6166 IRC).
    • Qualified family business deduction (Section 2057 IRC).
    • Redemption to pay estate taxes (Section 303 IRC).
  • Prepare necessary tax elections for filing with IRS.
  • Maximize GST (generation-skipping tax) exemptions by making election or re-allocating or re-distributing Trust assets.
  • Consider filing requests for extension of time to file Federal and state estate tax returns.
  • Ascertain if credit for tax paid on “prior transfer” is available to reduce estate tax.
  • Determine how estate taxes should be apportioned or charged against assets included in taxable estate.
  • Consider keeping estate open to hold S corporation shares.
  • Prepare and file Federal estate tax return and pay tax due or make installment election.
  • Prepare and file state inheritance tax return in each state where required and pay taxes due or make installment election.
  • Consider requesting prompt assessment from IRS of taxes on all tax returns filed and, if advisable, prepare and file requests with IRS (Form 4810).
  • Deal with IRS and state taxing authorities to obtain estate tax clearance and, if necessary, represent estate and Trust in all disputes (administrative and court) with tax authorities.

8. Completion of Administration and Closing of Estate

  • Prepare accounting of administration of estate and Trust and submit to court (if required).
  • Determine proper distribution of remaining assets.
  • If desired, cause estate settlement agreement to be prepared and submitted to family members and beneficiaries for signature.
  • Prepare statement of proposed distribution and submit to beneficiaries.
  • Pay estate lawyer’s fees and appraiser’s fees.
  • Request and obtain court approval of accounting and proposed schedule of distribution (or obtain beneficiary approval per settlement agreement).
  • Pay personal representative’s fees.
  • If applicable, establish testamentary trust(s).
  • Distribute remaining assets per schedule of distribution.
  • Close bank accounts for estate and, if applicable, for Trust.
  • Request and obtain court discharge for personal representative.
  • Assemble and organize all records and deposits with designated repository.