An Executor’s Guide to Estate Administration

At Bradley Allen Love we understand that being the Executor or Administrator of an estate, particularly of a recently deceased loved one, can be both stressful and challenging. To simplify the process as much as possible we’ve developed the following guide, which explains the key terms and outlines several steps that the Executor or Administrator should follow.

Role of the Executor and Administrator

An “Executor” is a person appointed by a will to manage the deceased’s estate and carry out their wishes as set out in the will.

If the deceased left no will, an invalid will, or an incomplete will, an “Administrator” is appointed by the Court to manage the deceased’s estate and distribute according to law.

Although a willmaker can choose whomever they want to be the executor, it is standard practice to appoint someone who is going to be a major beneficiary under the will. If, on the other hand, the Court appoints an administrator, they have complete discretion in selecting their appointee.

Being the Executor or Administrator is a position of trust and responsibility, and comes with duties and obligations that can be quite time-consuming. The Executor or Administrator is entitled to seek legal advice in the course of carrying out their duties, with such advice paid for by the estate. Accordingly, you should not be personally out-of-pocket as a result of being the Executor or Administrator. If you have any concerns about your rights and obligations as an Executor or Administrator, please seek legal advice.

What to do before receiving the Death Certificate

A Death Certificate is typically issued approximately two weeks after the funeral and will be posted to the person who completed the death notification for the funeral director. This period of time can be particularly frustrating for many executors and the family, because little progress can be made while waiting for the Death Certificate. However, the executor or proposed administrator can take some preliminary steps, such as:

  1. satisfying themselves that the will is the last will and then locate and hold on to it;
  2. creating an inventory of assets, paying particular attention to those assets that are solely owned (Estate Assets) and jointly owned (Non-Estate Assets);
  3. gathering together contemporaneous documents related to assets (e.g. holder/dividend statements for shares, recent superannuation statements, and recent bank statements); and
  4. gathering together the contact details for beneficiaries and immediate family members.

You should also consider obtaining legal advice during this time.

How long is this all going to take?

Completing the estate administration is likely to take until the end of the current financial year, though can take until the end of the next financial year in some circumstances. This is because the executor or administrator is obliged to file the deceased’s last tax return covering the period from that financial year until date of death and, possibly, an estate tax return from date of death to the end of the financial year as well.

You can expect to complete the estate administration, with prompt professional advice and assistance, within six to twelve months.

It is entirely possible for it to take longer, but this is usually the result of litigation, delays on the part of banks or other financial institutions, or difficulty selling a property.

Is there anything else I need to know?

There are a few key terms that you may not understand. An explanatory document with definitions of such terms can be found here.

You should also be aware that no estate is the same. Applying for Grants of Probate or Letters of Administration, properly attending to the estate administration and dealing with the tax issues that flow from it, dealing with estate litigation, and dealing with the beneficiaries is a difficult and time-consuming task.

Our point is that you should not take these things lightly, nor should you rely on advice from anyone other than specialist estate lawyers. Our team of expert estate lawyers are able to answer all your estate inquiries.