Complete Deceased Estate Administration Guide Overview

When a loved one dies, there is overwhelming grief and a sense of loss that follows. However, there is also plenty of administrative work to do, including funeral arrangements and taking care of the deceased estate.

If you’re ever in this position and feel stressed and discouraged, you can use this administration guide overview, or our comprehensive deceased estate administration guide as a resource. This is especially helpful if you want to get an overview of all the steps and help you determine if you will take the DIY approach or seek support along the way.

Table of Contents

Step 1: Immediate Steps After a Death
Step 2: Notify Family, Friends & Care Services of a Death
Step 3: Seek Help and Assistance After a Loss
Step 4: Locate the Will & Insurance Information
Step 5: Determine the Executor or Administrator of the Deceased Estate
Step 6: Organise Transportation of the Body
Step 7: Organise the Funeral
Step 8: Apply for the Death Certificate
Step 9: Request Allowances and Government Support After a Death
Step 10: Source Other Relevant Documents
Step 11: Prepare the Relevant Documents and Certified Copies
Step 12: Notify Government Departments and Service Providers of the Death
Step 13: Determine the Beneficiaries
Step 14: Pay Bills, Mortgage and Other Debts of a Deceased Estate
Step 15: Prepare an Estate Assets and Liabilities Spreadsheet
Step 16: Clear the Deceased Person’s Home or Residence
Step 17: Property Valuation for Deceased Estate & Arrange for Rent or Sale
Step 18: Value, Sell and Transfer a Deceased Person’s Car
Step 19: Deal with the Deceased Person’s Bank Accounts and Finances
Step 20: Review Business Dealings, Trusts and Shares After a Death
Step 21: Check and Redirect Mail of the Deceased Person
Step 22: Cancel the Deceased Person’s Contracts, Subscriptions and Memberships
Step 23: Deal with the Deceased Person’s Social Media and Online Accounts
Step 24: Claim Superannuation Benefit
Step 25: Claim Insurance and Other Benefits
Step 26: Finalise Assets and Liabilities Inventory
Step 27: Apply for Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration
Step 28: Request Inheritance Tax Advice for Effective Distribution
Step 29: Open a Testamentary Trust Account
Step 30: Prepare Estate and Request Transfer of Assets
Step 31: Pay Reimbursements and Executor Services
Step 32: Prepare and Lodge Tax Returns
Step 33: Inform Beneficiaries of Assets and Liabilities, Implications and Investment Options
Step 34: Finalise and Distribute the Estate to the Beneficiaries
A Final Word
Where to Start Questionnaire

Step 1: Immediate Steps After a Death

After a death takes place, some crucial tasks include:

  • ensuring there is an official declaration of death by an authorised medical practitioner
  • checking if the deceased person is registered in the Australian Organ Donor Register
  • deciding on whether you want to have the body transferred to a funeral home
  • seeing to it that the deceased person’s body is cleaned or washed as needed
  • making a decision regarding familial access to the deceased
  • communicating any religious or customary wishes to relevant parties

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Step 2: Notify Family, Friends & Care Services of a Death

After making the necessary preliminary arrangements for the storage of the body and whilst waiting for the official registration of death, make sure you notify family members and close friends of the death.

You also need to gain access to the deceased person’s home and notify the following persons:

  • Any care services used by the deceased for help in the home or other forms of assistance
  • The employer or partner if the deceased person was still employed before passing away

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Step 3: Seek Help and Assistance After a Loss

Throughout the estate administration process — whether you are the Executor, Administrator or Next of Kin — make sure you take care of your health and wellbeing.

  • Reach out to your family and friends and seek the help of people experienced or specialising in estate administration.
  • Get medical attention if you feel unwell or overwhelmed.
  • Try to stick to your fitness routine and engage in social activities to decompress.
  • Ensure you have sufficient sleep, rest and nutrition.

Check if you can take a bereavement leave to reduce your physical and mental load.

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Step 4: Locate the Will & Insurance Information

One of your most important tasks is finding the Will (if it has been ascertained there is one), as it contains the final instructions of the deceased person. You also need to check if the deceased made funeral pre-arrangements or has funeral insurance or a prepaid funeral plan in place.

This is also the time for securing other important documents of the deceased (see Step 10 for further documents).

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Step 5: Determine the Executor of a Will or Administrator of Estate

If a valid Will is located, your next steps include ascertaining who the named Executors are and checking if they are willing to fulfil their role. If multiple Executors are named, you may act or decide jointly with the other Executors in authorising one Executor to act on everyone’s behalf.

If no Will exists, find out who the available senior Next of Kin is and check if they are able and willing to perform the role of Administrator.

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Step 6: Organise Transportation of the Body

Once the Executor or Administrator of the estate has been determined and any pre-paid/arranged funeral details have been found, you may proceed to do the following:

  • Agree on whether the family wants to conduct a viewing of the deceased and where.
  • Check with the family and agree on whether the body should be taken to a funeral home or a licenced storage facility.
  • Decide on the transportation details or service.

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Step 7: Organise the Funeral

As the Executor or Administrator, your tasks related to organising the funeral include considering the wishes of the deceased if there is a Will. If there is no information concerning how the deceased would want their funeral to take place, check with the family if the body is to be buried or cremated.

Once funeral-related decisions and arrangements have been made with the family and funeral director, you may send out invitations.

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Step 8: Apply for the Death Certificate

The death certificate is a crucial document you need in dealing with government departments, companies and organisations.

Generally speaking, an application for the Death Certificate is made by the funeral director, so make sure to check with them first.

If no funeral director was used or an application wasn’t made, ask the Executor named in the Will or Next of Kin to complete the application with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

The Medical Certificate of Cause of Death should’ve been provided to the relevant registry by either the medical practitioner or funeral director.

Once the Death Certificate has been issued, make certified copies for use in transactions involving the deceased’s estate.

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Step 9: Request Allowances and Government Support After a Death

Aside from being an emotionally difficult time, the death of a loved one can also lead to financial challenges, especially if the deceased had a spouse and or children that were financially dependent.

As the Executor, Administrator or Next of Kin, you need to check this and see if there are financial allowances the dependents may benefit from for their living expenses, as well as amounts to cover the costs of estate administration. You may also advise affected persons to take time off work as needed.

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Step 10: Source Other Relevant Documents

To get a good overview of the deceased person’s affairs, review any files, documents, post and emails you have access to, including their dealings with government entities, companies and organisations.

Also, be on the lookout for documents that will help you administer the deceased estate, such as bills, loans or mortgages, insurance policies, subscriptions or memberships and any payments that need to be made (check Step 14 before making any payments). File away any identification documents of the deceased, whether as a member, registered individual, employee (or employer), etc.

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Step 11: Prepare the Relevant Documents and Certified Copies

To ensure seamless communication with government departments, companies and organisations regarding the deceased estate, it’s best to prepare specific documents of or about the deceased person, as well as certified copies of these. Also, always bring original and certified copies of your proof of identity and authority.

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Step 12: Notify Government Departments and Service Providers of the Death

After collating all necessary documents for your dealings with government departments, companies, service providers and organisations on behalf of the deceased, you have to notify these establishments of the death to initiate any formal process, such as: 

  • requesting bank statements and freezing or closing accounts, subscriptions and memberships 
  • request statements as of the date of death to understand the value of the estate
  • getting refunds for prepaid amounts 
  • claiming insurance and superannuation benefits, etc.

For the most efficient use of your time, contact each establishment ahead or check their website to familiarise yourself with the process and any paperwork required.

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Step 13: Determine the Beneficiaries

If there is a Will, it may be easier to identify all eligible beneficiaries. If there is no Will, you may need to seek legal advice to understand intestate rules for each relevant state or territory to identify all eligible intestate beneficiaries, who may make a claim.

Once all beneficiaries are identified, meet with all of them, discuss the estate administration process to set expectations and provide reassurance that you will be acting in the best interest of the deceased estate and will administer it in accordance with the laws of the state or territory.

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Step 14: Pay Bills, Mortgage and Other Debts of a Deceased Estate

To have a clear understanding of any amounts owing, consider all debts and liabilities as well as estate administration expenses.

Tip: Hold off on making any payments until it is clear whether the estate is solvent or insolvent. You should contact any creditors to whom money is owed explaining the situation and asking for an extension until you have clarity.

If the state is solvent, work on making payments and keep a record of estate administration-related expenses paid by you (acting as Executor or Administrator) for reimbursement once the estate funds are available. In case the estate is insolvent, you may seek legal advice and familiarise yourself with the state or territory legislation concerning the payment of debts in such cases to avoid being out-of-pocket.

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Step 15: Prepare an Estate Assets and Liabilities Spreadsheet

To determine how much of the estate will be distributed to the beneficiaries, keep a record of deceased assets and liabilities or an inventory of all that comprises the estate, as well as its value. Make sure to update the inventory any time there is a change.

Tip: An inventory showing the total estate value will be needed when you prepare your application for Grant of Probate (if there is a Will) or Letters of Administration (if there is no Will).

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Step 16: Clear the Deceased Person’s Home or Residence

You may arrange for clearing the last residence of the deceased after taking stock of all items therein — that is, if the deceased person lived alone. If the property was rented by the deceased, the property manager should be notified of the death and the residence handed back to the owner or property manager to stop rent payments. If the deceased owned the property, it may need to be valued.

Tip: Be sure to keep the property insured to avoid any personal liability from damage or theft.

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Step 17: Property Valuation for Deceased Estate & Arrange for Rent or Sale

Now’s the time to decide on how the real estate assets will be dealt with in accordance with the Will (if there is one) or according to relevant intestate laws. In any case, you will need to decide if the owned property will be kept vacant, rented (may incur tax) out or sold.

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Step 18: Value, Sell and Transfer a Deceased Person’s Car

If the deceased owned any vehicles (including car, motorbike, jet ski, motorhome, campervan, boat, trailer etc.), refer to the Will if there are instructions regarding their distribution. In case there is no Will, the relevant laws of intestate will apply. You may have to decide whether to keep or sell the vehicle(s).

Tip: Be sure to keep the car insured to avoid any personal liability from accidents or theft.

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Step 19: Deal with the Deceased Person’s Bank Accounts and Finances

When you hear back from the banks and other financial establishments you contacted earlier, you have to focus on getting the total value of all bank accounts, mortgages, loans and credit cards, and arranging for any bank-related matters on behalf of the deceased estate.

You will also need to open a bank account for the deceased estate for the release of funds. This is when you may have to provide the bank with certain documents, including the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration if the estate assets are worth generally $50,000 or more.

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Step 20: Review Business Dealings, Trusts and Shares After a Death

If the deceased person owned a business or held shares of a business, had a trust or held company board positions, you will need to determine what next steps should be taken. This may mean selling shares, continuing the business through succession or closing the business.

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Step 21: Check and Redirect Mail of the Deceased Person

Aside from checking the deceased person’s letterbox or any post office (PO) boxes, you may request a post redirection service to your address. This way, you can keep track of correspondence at your convenience and act upon any communication accordingly.

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Step 22: Cancel the Deceased Person’s Contracts, Subscriptions and Memberships

To reduce estate expenses, work on cancelling subscriptions, memberships or contracts for products and services that are no longer required.

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Step 23: Deal with the Deceased Person’s Social Media and Online Accounts

If the deceased person had social media and other online accounts, you might need to decide how these will be managed. Ensure you check for any information that may have to be removed and decide whether any accounts will be closed or retained for remembrance.

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Step 24: Claim Superannuation Benefit

If the deceased had a superannuation, check if there are named beneficiaries and if the super payment forms are part of the estate. Also, note if there is more than one superannuation account (or any lost or unclaimed superannuation) as well as any related services such as death insurance that may be claimed.

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Step 25: Claim Insurance and Other Benefits

As part of identifying all assets and liabilities of the estate for distribution, you need to find out what insurances the deceased person held, ascertain the total value of all benefits in relation to the deceased person and contact the insurers to initiate claims.

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Step 26: Finalise Assets and Liabilities Inventory

At this stage, you may already have all the information necessary to determine the total assets and liabilities of the estate. Before finalising the inventory, make sure you review all files, forms and other documents, cross-check all entries and items or make the necessary notations.

Tip: If you need help, ask a family member or Accountant to review the inventory with you prior to finalising it for lodgement.

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Step 27: Apply for Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration

Depending on certain conditions, such as the size of the estate, you may have to apply for a Grant of Probate (when there is a Will) or Letters of Administration (when there is no Will) to the relevant Supreme Court to properly administer the deceased estate.

Know what documents you need to furnish beforehand to ensure the process is facilitated seamlessly.

Tip: Letters of Administration are generally more complex as the nomination of the Administrator and distribution will be determined by intestate legislation and rules. We recommend you ask for support from a Probate lawyer near you.

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Step 28: Request Inheritance Tax Advice for Effective Distribution

As Executor or Administrator, you also need to have a firm grasp of the tax implications relating to the deceased estate. As much as possible, get professional tax advice to know the types of taxes that may apply to the estate and its distribution. This will help you and the Beneficiaries to best structure the distribution, including decisions if property should be sold for cash proceeds to be distributed or if the property should be transferred to a Beneficiary.

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Step 29: Open a Testamentary Trust Account

This may be considered an optional step. A trust account may be created if required in the Will, if it is the best option for the beneficiaries (even if not mentioned in the Will) and if the advantages of creating one outweigh the setup and maintenance costs.

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Step 30: Prepare Estate and Request Transfer of Assets

Once you are clear on how the estate distribution will be done, you can make the required preparations for the estate to receive all assets held in the name of the deceased person. A huge part of this is the preparation of all necessary documents and certified copies of the Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration to facilitate the transfer and release of assets to the estate.

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Step 31: Pay Reimbursements and Executor Services

While working on protecting the best interest of the deceased estate, find out if you may be eligible to be paid. Even if you (or any Next of Kin) voluntarily paid for relevant services out of pocket, you need to see to it that you are reimbursed. Your record of expenses should come in handy during this time so you can discuss reimbursements and payments with the beneficiaries or make a compensation claim to the relevant Supreme Court.

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Step 32: Prepare and Lodge Tax Returns

With all the estate assets together and all outstanding debts paid, you can move on to completing the necessary tax returns. Again, if need be, get professional tax advice to determine what tax returns must be lodged.

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Step 33: Inform Beneficiaries of Assets and Liabilities, Implications and Investment Options

Before moving on to the last step of distributing the shares to beneficiaries, make it a point to inform them of the total assets and liabilities (still subject to final changes) and discuss how each Beneficiary plans to do with their inheritance. Encourage all beneficiaries to seek financial and tax advice to make the most of their inheritance.

If you feel any pressure to distribute the inheritance immediately, hold firm, ask them to be patient and remind them of the process as well as your role in the administration of the estate.

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Step 34: Finalise and Distribute the Estate to the Beneficiaries

Finally, you’re at the last step of the estate administration process. You now have finalised the inventory of assets and liabilities and are ready to transfer these to the beneficiaries. Therefore, you can now inform each Beneficiary of their final inheritance, distribute the deceased estate and close the estate accounts.

Tip: We recommend consulting with a probate lawyer to identify any risks. It may be worthwhile asking one of our trusted lawyers to draft and issue Deeds of Settlement to each Beneficiary before distributing. This is customarily done to reduce the risk of personal liability. Remember that your duty is to manage the estate according to the law and any legal costs relating to the estate administration will be covered by the estate.

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A Final Word

Note that certain steps may be done together or almost simultaneously, depending on the circumstances. Treat this as a general guide providing you with an overview of the estate administration process.

There may be complications along the way, so it helps to partner with professional legal advisors well-versed with estates, trusts and Wills.

Of course, you’re always welcome to browse through and use simplyEstate’s deceased estate administration guide, checklists and tools.


Find out Where to Start

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