1. If you are appointed as an executor, you are responsible for many different tasks in dealing with the assets, accounts, and debts of someone that has died.

    As an executor, some of the first things you might do include:

    • finding out what's involved with being an executor 
    • finding the will
    • deciding whether to accept the role
    • finding the contact details of beneficiaries 
    • The executor of a will carries out the wishes of someone that has died. The role of the executor is to manage the estate within the terms of the will and to protect the assets of the estate. 

      Executors are named in the will, and their responsibilities include:

      • finding the will
      • making funeral arrangements
      • arranging burial or cremation
      • getting the death certificate 
      • listing assets and liabilities
      • protecting assets, business interests, and property 
      • assessing the value of the deceased's assets
      • obtaining probate (if required)
      • paying the person’s debts, income tax, duties and funeral costs
      • distributing the assets according to the terms of the will
    • If the person has a will, you may be able to find it:

      If you don’t know the name of their solicitor, try calling ones in their area. When you are asking, provide them with the following details:

      • their full name
      • their address
      • date of death
      • information about your relationship to them (eg. that you are their spouse)
    • If there isn’t a will, you cannot be appointed an executor, and you can’t apply for a grant of probate. 

      There’s a different process for people who have died without a will and who have assets in NSW. This process involves the next of kin applying to the NSW Supreme Court for a grant called called Letters of Administration.

      Letters of Administration allows an administrator (who is usually the next of kin) to distribute the assets of the person that has died. 

      If the person died without owning property, or they only had small amounts of money, you might not need to be apply for Letters of Administration. Check with the person’s bank to find out what’s needed to close their account.

      Although an application for Letters of Administration is usually made by the person’s next-of-kin (their closest relative), there is an option for the NSW Trustee & Guardian is appointed as administrator.

    • If the person that has died owned a pet, they might have included information in their will about who will take care of it. 

      If they did not include information in their will, you should consider getting legal advice. 

    • If you want to renounce the role of executor, it is better to do this as early as possible, and before you apply for a grant of probate or start collecting assets.

      In some situations, an executor is not able to act. For complete information what happens when an executor is not able to act, see LawAccess NSW.

    • An executor can apply to the NSW Supreme Court for compensation for the time and effort involved with administering an estate. This kind of payment is called "commission", and is paid from the estate.  

      Generally, if there is more than one executor or administrator, they will make a joint applications for commission.

  2. When you are acting as executor, there are different types of support to help you with administration, costs, and understanding what to do. 

    • While some tasks are the responsibility of the executor, some can be shared amongst family and friends. These include:

      • finding organisations
      • organising the funeral
      • contacting people about the death
    • Grief support services can help people to understand and process the death of someone close to them. 

      Getting grief support can involve talking to a: 

      • psychologist
      • grief counsellor 
      • psychiatrist 
      • support group with someone who has had a similar experience 

      You can access these services in different ways, including through:

      • one-on-one counselling
      • support groups
      • online or telephone support

      Your GP (General Practitioner) can give you care and advice about grief support. They can also refer you to specialist services if you need them.

      For an overview of these services, see the Centre for Grief and Bereavement.

    • An executor can apply to the NSW Supreme Court for compensation for the time and effort involved with administering an estate. This kind of payment is called "commission", and is paid from the estate.  

      Generally, if there is more than one executor or administrator, they will make a joint applications for commission.

  3. Beneficiaries are people who are entitled to get money or property from the estate of someone who has died.

    Beneficiaries can include:

    • people named in the will
    • people who are close to the person that has died

    As an executor, part of your role is finding and contacting beneficiaries. This can be difficult if there are lots of people named in the will, or there are no recent contact details for them. 

    • As an executor, part of your role is finding and contacting beneficiaries. This includes beneficiaries that have been directly named in the will, and immediate family members.

      If there are many people named in the will, or there are no recent contact details, or if beneficiaries live in other cities, this can be difficult. 

      Some places you might find contact details:

      • in personal documents of the person who died (home office, address book) 
      • phone book look up
      • social media or email

       

    • When you are contacting beneficiaries, provide them with information about what has been left to them in the will.

      The executor will need to provide financial information at different points throughout administering the estate, particularly if selling assets or distributing property.

  4. Executors are required to find and protect all assets that were owned by the person who has died. 

    If you are applying for a grant of probate, you will need to have a list of these assets before you submit your application.

    • As an executor, you will need to find all assets and debts that belong to the person that has died.

      Assets can mean:

      • real estate property
      • money, shares, bank accounts
      • other property such as car, clothing, household furniture and pets.

      Debts are what a person owes, such as:

      • loans (home, personal, credit cards)
      • wages and other business debts

      Once you have gathered all the information, you will need to work out the value of the assets owned by the deceased.

    • Executors are responsible for protecting the assets of the estate.

      This may involve:

      • storing valuables
      • investing surplus funds 
      • getting insurance for property 
      • protecting business interests

      As an executor you can be held personally liable for any damage to property which has not been secured or insured.

    • When you apply for a grant of probate, you need to provide a complete list of assets and liabilities for the person at the date of their death. This only includes assets and liabilities that are solely owned by the person that has died. 

      It does not include:

      • assets that are jointly held with another person (which pass to the surviving joint owner) and
      • assets that are held in trusts, such as a family trust (which continue on after death).
      • superannuation death benefits  (unless they were left to the estate, executor, or administrator)
      • life insurance death benefits (unless they were left to the estate, executor, or administrator)
  5. Probate is a court order made by the Supreme Court of NSW which:

    • confirms that the will is valid 
    • permits the executor to distribute the estate as described in the will.

    Property can't be distributed until you are granted probate.

  6. Once you have been granted probate, you will be able to collect assets and pay off debts.

    This might involve:

    • setting up a bank account
    • selling property or shares
    • collecting interest 

    To make recording this easier, you can set up a single bank account in the name of the estate to deposit any money from sales or interest. 

    • Different organisations have different processes for releasing assets to an executor.

      Often you will need to provide:

      • a certified copy of the grant of probate
      • personal identification 
    • Sometimes the will might leave money to beneficiaries, rather than property. 

      In some cases, you will need to sell property or shares to make this possible.

      To make sure you are getting a fair price for any property you sell, it might be useful to talk to an independent valuator before the sale.

    • Before anything from the estate can be distributed to the beneficiaries, any existing debts need to be paid from the estate.

      This is the case whether or not probate or administration was needed.

      Debts might include:

      • loans (credit cards, mortgages)
      • funeral expenses
  7. Once all assets have been collected and all debts have been paid, the executor can distribute the estate.

    Distributing the estate involves officially signing over all assets to beneficiaries. 

    The process of signing over assets is different for real estate and personal property.

  8. Executors will often need to submit tax returns on behalf of the person that has died.

    Depending on how long it takes to collect and distribute assets, you might need to submit tax returns on behalf of the estate. 

    If you are both an executor and a beneficiary, you might need to declare the assets you receive as part of your tax return.

  9. Some of the reasons that someone might contest a will include:

    • they are a family member and don't believe they've been fairly considered as part of the will 
    • the will is not valid 

    If someone makes a formal contest to the will or makes a claim to the estate, you must wait until this is resolved by the court before distributing any assets.