Checklist for the Texas Surviving Spouse, Trustee, or Executor – Part 5

Memento mori – “Remember that you have to die”

This is a five-part series designed to assist the surviving spouse, executor or trustee. The series is presented in a checklist format. Each checklist can be used independently and can also serve as a reference for successor executors and trustees.

Every estate or trust administration is different. This list is not intended to be a list of everything you will encounter in a Texas trust or estate administration and is for informational purposes only. The list is not intended to be specific legal advice for you. Estate administration is work, and it takes time. Finally, you should read the entire checklist, events and actions in a probate may not follow the order as set forth in this checklist.

The Probate or Trust Administration Phases

Over the next few posts we will examine in checklist format the following phases of the Probate or Trust Administration Process:

In our final segment, we will discuss administration.

Part 5 – Administration – Probate & Non-Probate

Please feel free to use our interactive checklist, in order to help you along your emotional and complex journey.

 Acknowledgment: Administration is the phase of probate that involves gathering information and estate assets, paying necessary expenses of administration, valid estate debts, and administering and distributing assets according to the terms of a Will or Trust. Administration in Texas for most probates are independent of court supervision (“Independent Administration). If you are involved in a Dependent Administration you cannot act outside of court supervision. Non-probate assets can also be involved in administration – although the Executor is not in-charge of these assets – their disposition is governed by the contract between the institution and the decedent.



 Contact Financial Advisor & Insurance Agent

 Contact Tax Advisor

Begin Claims Process for Assets that have Beneficiary Designations Other than the Estate (Tip: Non-Probate Assets can be handled before the Qualification of an Executor):

 Claim Life Insurance Death Benefits

 Claim Annuity Payments or Death Benefits

 Claim Pension Benefits

 Claim VA Benefits

 Claim Wages owed by Employer

 Claim Account Survivorship Benefits (JTWROS or TOD) (Tip: you may be able to transfer jointly owned assets outside of formal probate)

As the Personal Representative (Executor or Administrator & even as Trustee), follow this checklist:

 Qualify as Executor or Administrator (i.e. see above & go to court)

 Take possession of Estate Assets and Information (important papers)

 Set up a Record Keeping System

 Get an Estate Tax ID Number

 Set up a Separate Estate Account (never co-mingle estate assets with your own)

 Review if Separate Trust Accounts and Trust Tax ID Numbers are required

 Determine if Tax Elections are Required (Tip: Consult with a Probate Attorney who understands Federal Tax Law or your CPA – not all accountants have experience with estate and trust taxation or accounting)

 Keep Accurate Accounting Records (Tip: Use an accounting system like QuickBooks to keep accounting records)

 Make sure Estate Property is Insured & Protected

 Keep Track of Your Time and Expenses (Tip: Keep Receipts for Everything) (Tip: You can get Reimbursed for Ordinary and Necessary Expenses incurred within the Administration of the Estate)

 Consider if you can get paid an Executor or Trustee Fee. Generally, you should look at the Will or Trust compensation provision. Normally compensation is based upon a reasonable fee. The compensation you receive is taxable and will be reported on your income tax return. There is a compensation formula in the Texas Estates Code if the Will is silent on compensation. (Tip: You should review this matter with your Probate Attorney)

 Keep Beneficiaries Informed (Tip: Frequent Communications often help with the Personal Representative Beneficiary Relationship)

 File a Form 56 with the IRS

 Administer Estate According to Terms of Will or Trust

 Forward Mail (Tip: Use of an Estate P.O. Box during administration can be a great way to segregate estate mail and isolate junk mail)

 Keep an Updated List of Assets and Debts & their disposition

 Gather photos, personal effects, and family mementos. Use of a service to preserve and digitize photos, family video and other documents can be an efficient and equitable way to preserve family history (Tip: Photos and other family documents may already be digital, need to consider checking computers, applications and other storage devices)

 Obtain Appraisals of Property (Real and Personal) if necessary. Be careful of the quick sale of Estate Real Property – you will get a lot of initial offers and most are way beneath true market value – use of a realtor can be invaluable.

 Return any Leased Equipment

 Review Bank Accounts for Automatic Payments (Tip: Review whether payment is necessary)

 Stop Subscriptions

 Care for Assets (i.e., yard care, pets, utilities, maintenance and upkeep)

 Dispose of Hazardous Materials (i.e. paint, gasoline, old computer equipment)

 Dispose of Bulk Trash, Estate Property that has no value, papers, debris.

 Pay Expenses of Administration & Valid Debts (Tip: Not all debts are valid, you should not automatically pay debts, but review matter with your Probate Attorney)

 Confirm Tax Returns have been filed (Tip: Need to be Mindful of Tax Return filing dates)

 File Required Tax Returns (State or Federal)

 Notify Local Taxing Authority regarding Property Tax Exemptions (May need to update or remove current exemptions)

 Cancel & Close Accounts

 Credit Card Accounts

 Cancel Unnecessary Bills (Cell Phone, Subscriptions – electronic or otherwise, Cable TV)

 Notify Health Insurance & Life Insurance Company

 Cancel Driver’s License

 Notify Election Board

 Notify Credit Reporting Agencies

 Cancel Memberships

 Cancel E-mail & Website Accounts – when appropriate

 Make Distributions according to terms of Will, Trust or Court Order

 Consider that the Decedent may have left a letter to the Executor or Trustee regarding the disposition of Personal Property

 Facilitate an Estate Sale of Personal Property, if necessary. (Tip: Often the items you think will sell do not (clothes, big furniture, furs) – at times household items such as used cleaning products, scrap metal, wires and utility items will sell first – be careful what you want to throw away).

 Recycle Items, if appropriate

 Donate Unclaimed Items of Personal Property

 Make sure if Asset has a Title Document that Title has been legally transferred. A Deed is used to Transfer Title to Real Property. (Tip: It is your responsibility to make sure property has been distributed according to the terms of the Will and titled correctly).

 Check Unclaimed Property Records for any State Where the Decedent Resided

 Obtain Receipts from Beneficiaries

 Have a Closing Meeting with Probate Attorney (Tip: Provides Closure for You and the Probate Attorney) (Tip: It also identifies any loose ends).

 Make sure you retrieve any original documents you have left with the Probate Attorney

 Preserve a copy of estate records (including tax returns and basic information). Make records digital for future record keeping.


This series illustrates that even a basic probate is not as simple as first appears. Therefore, you are well advised to seek the assistance of a Texas Probate Attorney to help with the probate process. For questions regarding this topic or other probate or estate questions please contact The Wright Firm, LLP – Board Certified Texas Estate Planning and Probate Attorney & CPA – Paul F. Wright at (214) 780-9696 or

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