How to Organize the Estate Administration Process

Estate administration is a detailed process with a lot of paperwork and rigid deadlines. The executor of an estate should keep organized and thorough estate records from the decedent’s death onward. Creating calendars, a filing system, and to-do lists can save hours of time as you prepare the estate tax returns and answer questions about the estate.

Create calendars to remember estate deadlines

Create a calendar with all your estate’s important dates. Insert estate deadlines as soon as you become aware of them. Devise a system to remind you of upcoming deadlines and tasks. These deadlines are specific to your estate and depend on whether the estate is going through probate, and the decedent’s state of residence.

It might be a good idea to have two calendars:

  • Calendar for probate/non-probate administration: List all the tasks to be done with regard to both the probate and the non-probate estate in chronological order. You don’t want to miss a deadline. If you fail to prove to the probate court that you’ve notified all the beneficiaries by the deadline, for example, you may have to redo the entire notice procedure.

  • Calendar for tax deadlines: Keep track of the many tax deadlines applicable to the estate. Missing a tax deadline can mean that the estate is charged penalties and interest on any tax due. The probate court can hold you liable, and beneficiaries can sue you, over a missed deadline.

You may also want to create separate calendars for each type of tax: federal estate tax, state estate or inheritance tax, estate income tax, and final year(s) income tax return of the decedent.

Set up a filing system for estate records

An organized filing system is essential to the estate administration process. You may choose to organize as much as you can electronically, but you still have to deal with plenty of paperwork. You should have a file that locks to keep the estate paperwork, which is confidential, safe.

You can create a file for the estate with separate file folders within the file for each topic. Folder titles for the estate administration file might include:

  • Correspondence and memos. Make a note of every phone call you make or receive and meetings you have relating to the estate and file it in the appropriate folder. Date the record and note the name of the person(s) you spoke with and the main points covered.

  • Federal estate tax return.

  • State inheritance tax.

  • Probate pleadings (or probate court paperwork).

  • Life insurance.

  • Retirement benefits.

  • Decedent’s income tax returns.

  • Estate income tax returns.

  • Decedent’s debts and claims against the estate. Keep a separate record of the decedent’s debts, your evidence of the debt, and an ongoing record of your payment of debts.

  • Estate assets.

These are just some examples of possible folders for your estate file. You could also have folders for any issues that arise particular to the estate you’re administering.

To-do lists can help keep you focused on both what you have to do today, including the best order in which to accomplish it, and what you need to accomplish long term. You may want to have multiple lists, one for daily, one for weekly, and one for monthly tasks.

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