What Does An Executor Do?

An executor is the person (or people) nominated by a willmaker responsible for managing distribution of assets and carrying out directions when someone passes away. Below is a step-by-step guide of the duties of an executor. 

20 steps for executors

1. Decide if you wish to take on the role of executor

Being an executor is not just an administrative role but also a deeply personal one where you will be required to make heart-led decisions on behalf of the deceased person.

You are not legally obliged to take up the appointment of executor - even if you agreed to do it while the person was alive. To renounce your role as executor you must work with a lawyer to complete the appropriate paperwork before taking on any executor duties.

The reasons people renounce their role as executor are wide and varied but may include a potential or existing conflict with other executors named in the will, geographical distance from other executors, the expectation to carry out duties that don't align with your personal values, or a lack of time to commit to the role.

2. Locate an original will

An executor is responsible for locating and requesting an original will.

An unsigned copy of the will can usually be found amongst the deceaseded person's important documents, this will often include the location of the orignial will, which could be held either in a lawyer's office or another safe place.

If the executor has access to the original will it's important that the condition of the will is not altered in any way including removing staples, adding paperclips or writing on the will. Doing any of these things will cause complications in administering the estate or an application has to be made for a Grant of Probate.

3. Ensure children, people with disabilities, and/or pets are protected

If the deceased has children or dependents (including pets) who require care the excecutor must arrange for them to be cared for by other family members or trusted people. Long term care arrangements should be carried out as outlined in the will.

4. Make funeral arrangements

The will often includes a clause relating to funeral arrangements or the deceased may have outlined their wishes for their funeral in a separate Letter of Wishes.

Funeral arrangements should be made in accordance with the deceased's wishes in the Will or following consultation with the family. Most wills outline that funeral expenses are to be paid for by the estate and the funeral director's invoice can be paid directly from the deceased person's bank account.

5. Identify and protect assets

Identify the assets of the deceased and take appropriate measures to ensure they are safe and adequately protected including making sure they are insured at their full value. As the executor, you are responsible for any loss or damage to assets before being distributed to the beneficiaries named in the will. Collect any portable valuables (cash, jewellery, etc) and keep them safe (ensure you document any items you have removed from the deceased's property).

6. Apply for a death certificate

Provide details required by the funeral director to complete the death certificate. As the executor you are responsible for ensuring all the details on the death certificate are correct. The information included on the final death certificate can impact the administration of the estate. If you are in doubt over any information, including the cause of death, relationship status, place of residence or any other information contact a lawyer for advice.

> Read more about the personal information required here.

A death certificate won't be issued for up to 4 weeks following the funeral of the deceased person. Estate administration can't proceed until an original death certificate has been received.

7. Review the contents of the will

Meet with any co-executors to review the contents of the will and have discussions with relevant family members. Where applicable, business partners and beneficiaries should be identified and advised of their entitlements under the will.

Arrangements may need to be made to attend to any matters that require immediate attention.

8. Notify the deceaseds bank and Centrelink

The executor must notify Centrelink and banks of the death as soon as possible.

It's illegal to access or use the funds of a person after they're dead, even if you held the position of Enduring Power of Attorney in the deceased's lifetime, are an executor, or are expected to be a beneficiary of the estate you are unable to continue using the bank account or credit card.

Any direct debits or payments linked to the deceaseds bank accounts will be stopped following their death.

Jointly held bank accounts can still be accessed by the surviving account holder.

9. Compile a list of assets

The executor will need to provide a comprehensive list of assets of the estate, including:

  • Bank accounts;
  • Investments;
  • Cars;
  • Properties;
  • Shares;
  • Crypto Currency;
  • Personal effects;
  • Debts owing to the deceased and;
  • Debts the deceased owes other people.

10. Apply for a Grant of Probate

If the estate includes real estate, a nursing home Refundable Accommodation Deposit (RAD), or other substantial assets, it will be necessary to apply for a Grant of Probate. We recommend you instruct a lawyer to act on your behalf in making your application to the Supreme Court. Find out if you need a Grant of Probate HERE.

You are free to use a lawyer of your choice to do this, and you do not have to use the lawyer who prepared the will, unless a particular lawyer, trustee company or Public Trustee is nominated as the executor of the estate.

11. Cover any expenses after death

Executors are responsible for all 'posthumous admin' which may include payment of final medical or pharmacy bills or expenses incurred to prepare a property or assets for sale.

Any expenses incurred by the executor will be reimbursed before the estate is distributed based on records and receipts submitted.

12. Prepare final tax return for the deceased person

Any outstanding taxation affairs of the deceased person need to be attended to. The estate cannot be finally distributed until all taxation obligations have been satisfied.

13. Open a bank account for the deceased estate

If the executor is not using a lawyer to administer the estate they will need to open a bank account to receive and distribute monies on behalf of the estate. They will also need to satisfy taxation requirements for the deceased estate and if administering under Letters of Administration (ie if there was no will) they will need to complete reporting obligations set by the Public Trustee.

14. Call in assets, pay any liabilities and carry out 'posthumous administration'

When probate has been granted, assets can be sold or called in and all debts attended to (including tax obligations and reimbursements) before distributing to beneficiaries as outlined in the will.

Posthumous administration can include (but is not limited to):

  • Making long-term care arrangements for children and/or pets
  • Meeting with beneficiaries
  • Preparing a home for sale
  • Selling shares or investments
  • Closing real-life and online accounts
  • Cancelling memberships
  • Receiving advice around financial and tax obligations

As an executor, you can do this work on your own or we will work with you to carry some of the load. This part of the estate administration process can feel overwhelming and arduous and generally takes much longer than people anticipate.

15. Distribute to beneficiaries

The executor must ascertain if the beneficiaries wish to receive their inheritance within a Testamentary Trust (if provided for in the will) or outright.

If there are children or people with disabilities as beneficiaries their share of the estate under the will is to set up trusts for continuing administration by trustees.

If any of the beneficiaries wish to receive actual assets owned by the deceased they need to be valued and dealt with accordingly.

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