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After a loved one dies, if there is a Last Will & Testament, the appointed executor generally has a list of things to take care of. Whether the deceased person had a large or small estate, the executor of a Will’s duties ensure the deceased person’s final wishes are carried out.
What does an executor of a Will do?
An executor of a Will’s duties begin as soon as the person has died. The executor takes ownership of the deceased person’s estate administration and makes funeral arrangements. When there is no Will, an Administrator (usually the senior Next of Kin) is appointed to fulfil these duties.
It can take months, sometimes even years, for the executor of a Will’s duties to become complete.
12 most common executor of a Will duties
An executor is responsible for taking ownership of the deceased person’s estate and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with their Will. Here are the most common executor of a Will duties:
- Locate the original Will and notify beneficiaries
- Arrange the funeral
- Arrange for care of any pets
- Obtain the death certificate
- Apply for a Grant of Probate
- Cancel services and utilities
- Determine assets, debts and liabilities
- Notify Centrelink and apply for bereavement grant
- Redirect mail
- Distribute assets to beneficiaries
- Notify the ATO and lodge tax returns
- Close the deceased’s bank accounts
1. Locate the original Will and notify beneficiaries
It’s the executor of a Will’s duty to find and contact all beneficiaries (people who are left something in the Will). This includes anyone who may be living interstate or overseas. Each beneficiary should be notified of their gift.
2. Arrange the funeral
As an executor, you will also be responsible for arranging and paying for the funeral and other administrative expenses of the deceased. Firstly, you should establish if the deceased person had a pre-arranged or pre-paid funeral plan in place. Check if there were any funeral instructions or wishes outlined in the Will or Advance Care Directive.
If no funeral intentions are known, you will need to consult the Next of Kin or family, and use your discretion to make arrangements with a chosen funeral provider.
If you would like to arrange a funeral with Bare Cremation, you can call us any time of day or night on 1800 071 176, or fill in your details on the Bare Cremation website.
3. Arrange for care of any pets
If the deceased person had a pet, you’ll need to ensure they continue to be cared for. If you, the executor, are also the deceased person’s partner or spouse, you might already be the best person to continue to care for the pet. Otherwise, the deceased person may have appointed a guardian for their pets in their Will.
If their wishes are known, that makes things a lot easier. If not, you’ll need to arrange for someone to provide ongoing care for the pet.
4. Obtain the death certificate
The executor will need the death certificate to apply for a Grant of Probate and for much of the estate administration process. The funeral provider will generally register the death with the Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages on your behalf. Then the death certificate will be posted to you from the Office of Births Deaths and Marriages.
5. Apply for a Grant of Probate
Where larger amounts (usually $50,000 or more) are needed to be transferred or claimed on behalf of the deceased person’s estate, the executor usually must apply for a Grant of Probate. This can be done through the relevant state or territory’s Supreme Court.
A financial organisation – like a bank, superannuation or insurance company – will need a Grant of Probate to authorise approval for the executor to properly administer the estate.
6. Cancel services and utilities
If the deceased person lived alone, you may need to cancel services or utilities like power supply, rent, subscriptions, mobile phone and internet contracts. Consider the appropriate time to do this. It may be best to wait until the end of the estate administration process before cancelling some services, for example if insurance is needed to cover property and other items bequested in the Will, or if the mobile phone is needed to access the deceased person’s online accounts.
7. Determine assets, debts and liabilities
It’s the executor of a Will’s duty to understand the total value of the estate. To do that, you’ll need to ensure that all expenses and liabilities (also referred to as debts) are paid. This includes settling debts owing to the deceased and paying the deceased’s debts from the assets of their estate.
You’ll need to value, and where required, sell any real estate and property.
8. Notify Centrelink and apply for bereavement grant
If the deceased person received any government or Centrelink payments, pensions or other benefits, through the Department of Human Services (DHS) or Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA), the relevant departments must be notified and benefits cancelled.
The deceased person’s dependants may be eligible for bereavement benefits and other government assistance if the eligibility criteria is met. For further information, contact your nearest Centrelink office on 132 300 or visit the Services Australia website.
9. Redirect mail
If the deceased person wasn’t living with a spouse or partner, it’s a good idea to redirect their mail to your address. Free Australia Post mail redirection for up to 12 months is available to those in charge of a deceased estate within Australia.
Applications need to be made in-person, at any Post Office in Australia. You can find out more information about mail redirection here.
10. Distribute assets to beneficiaries
Once all debts from the deceased person’s estate have been finalised, and Probate has been granted, the executor can distribute the deceased person’s assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of their Will.
Depending on the circumstances of the deceased estate and beneficiaries, the executor may also be responsible for establishing and managing trusts.
11. Notify the ATO and lodge tax returns
If the deceased person has ever submitted a tax return and has a Tax File Number, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) will need to be notified of their death. An executor is also responsible for lodging a tax return for the deceased person and their estate for the financial year.
For more information on tax returns, call the ATO on 13 28 61.
12. Close the deceased’s bank accounts
If all debts and liabilities have been paid and the deceased estate has been fully distributed, you may close any of the deceased person’s bank accounts held solely in their name, and other accounts used during the estate administration process.
Final thoughts on executor of a Will’s duties
In addition to the above list of an executor of a Will’s duties, there may be other aspects of a deceased person’s affairs to take care of. These can often include making insurance claims, defending the estate against legal action, resolving disputes between beneficiaries, and obtaining advice from a legal practitioner if required.
Remember, each estate administration process will be different depending on individual circumstances. In some cases, the executor’s responsibilities may be more complicated and the process can take longer.
An executor of a Will’s duties can be overwhelming, particularly for those without legal or business knowledge. If your circumstances are complicated, consult a solicitor or estate administration expert.
Administering an estate usually takes months and can be rather time-consuming, so it’s important to remember you are grieving and your priority is to look after YOU.
Whether you just need a free Will or an entire estate planning kit, we have a package that suits your needs. Give our estate lawyers a call on (03) 6118 7131 for a no-obligation consultation, or
If you need some help at any stage of the estate administration process, our team of estate lawyers at Bare Law are here to help. Give us a call on (03) 6118 7131 for a no-obligation consultation, or visit the website barelaw.com.au.
This article is not legal advice. You should chat with your solicitor or accountant for specific advice on your personal or financial situation.