Where to begin when you are tasked with finalising an estate

The loss of a loved one can be a devastating time for all involved. Finalising a loved one’s affairs is often the last thing a person wants to do in this time of grief. During this emotional time, knowing what to do and where to begin this unfamiliar process can be extremely daunting.

Tonkin Drysdale Partners understands that often, these matters can be an extremely difficult time for clients. With this in mind, below we look at a few important factors to be considered as you begin this process.

Determine if the deceased left a valid Will

Determining if the deceased left a valid Will is an important first step. In some circumstances, this may be a simple, for example, if the deceased has written a Will and left instructions on where it is stored.
If this is not the case, you will need to undertake reasonable searches to locate formal or informal Wills. There are a number of common places a Will may be located such as amongst the deceased’s paperwork, electronic files, with a family member, bank, or the deceased’s solicitor.

In the event a Will does exist

If the deceased has left a Will, it will commonly appoint an Executor, who will be accountable for administering the estate. In some cases, the Executor may need to obtain a Grant of Probate, this certifies that the Supreme Court recognises that the Will is valid and gives the Executor permission to administer the estate.

In the event a Will does not exist

In the event the deceased has not left a Will, or has left an invalid Will, it is a good idea to seek legal advice as to the next steps and who the beneficiaries of the estate will be, in accordance with relevant legislation.
Depending on the nature of the deceased’s assets and liabilities, you may need to apply for Letters of Administration.

Arranging the funeral & obtaining a death certificate

If the deceased left a Will, check to see if there are any directions in relation to funeral arrangements. It is also important to investigate whether the deceased purchased a pre-paid funeral plan.

The funeral director will usually help with ordering a death certificate from Births, Deaths and Marriages – a document which is crucial in administering an estate.

Investigate assets and liabilities held by the deceased

The Executor should sort through the deceased’s records and papers carefully to identify and form an inventory of assets and liabilities such as property, bank accounts, personal belongings like furniture, boats and cars, shares, tax liabilities, insurance policies and superannuation.

Gathering the assets

Following receipt of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration the Executor should gather all the deceased’s assets. This could include obtaining an Estate Tax File Number, contacting banks to find out account balances and unpaid interest, getting in touch with their prior employer regarding unpaid entitlements, and contacting the deceased’s superannuation fund and insurance providers.

Settling the deceased’s debts and expenses

The deceased’s current debts, such as credit cards, electricity etc need to be covered, as well as estate expenses such as Court fees. The Executor should also file appropriate tax returns such as Income and Estate Income returns.

Finalising the estate

Once all the deceased’s debts have been settled, the Executor can distribute assets to the beneficiaries in line with the instructions in the deceased’s Will.

If you require advice in the Wills and Estates area, our experienced team is here to help. Our services include:

  • Preparing Wills
  • Powers of Attorney
  • Appointments of Enduring Guardians
  • Estate Planning and Asset Protection
  • Applying for Grants of Probate
  • Applying for Letters of Administration (where a person dies intestate, i.e. without a valid Will)
  • Challenging/defending Wills
  • Testamentary Trusts

Find out more here.