As an executor, you are responsible for making sure all assets are accounted for, all debts are paid and all beneficiaries receive their inheritance as outlined in the Will.

We recommend following these steps.

The Will might contain funeral instructions or there may be urgent estate matters.

Do not staple, clip, pin or attach anything to the Will.

This can lead to serious legal complications when applying for probate.

You must write to the deceased person's:

  • financial institutions
  • insurance companies
  • utility companies
  • relevant government agencies.

You should also check records to see if they owned any other assets (such as land - this can checked through the Land Titles Office).

You should also prepare an inventory of household furniture and personal effects.

You must collect and protect all of the deceased person's property as soon as possible.

This might involve putting valuables into storage - like a safety deposit box with a bank - or investing surplus funds.

Make sure all property (including cars, antique furniture, jewellery or paintings) is insured - as the executor, you are responsible for the security of these assets.

A grant of probate is a formal document issued by the Supreme Court. It grants you the right to administer the estate as the executor.

The application for probate is done online through the Courts SA portal.

You will need to complete the online application, providing details of the assets and liabilities at the date of death. A scanned copy of the death certificate will also need to be uploaded. Once the application is completed, the original Will must be provided to the Probate Registry.

Until probate is granted, you don't have the legal authority to take any further action in terms of administering the estate.

See the Probate Registry website for more details on this process.

Make sure all bank accounts in the deceased person's name are closed, and sell or transfer shares, property and collectables.

You must make sure all of the deceased person's debts, liabilities and outstanding taxes are paid before any assets can be distributed to beneficiaries of their Will.

The deceased person's tax affairs need to be finalised - including their personal income tax return.

The deceased estate is a separate tax entity and will require it's own tax file number. Trust tax returns will need to be prepared and lodged, if relevant.

You are required to manage any issues relating to the sale or transfer of estate assets and make sure beneficiaries are provided with any relevant capital gains tax information relating to assets that have been transferred or sold.

Once any debts have been paid, you must distribute the remaining assets according to the instructions in the Will.

This can only take place if there are no further claims against the estate, and the following steps have been completed:

  • the grant of probate has been received
  • you have gathered all the assets of the estate
  • you have sold any assets, shares or property as directed by the Will - or as needed to fulfil the requirements of the Will
  • all debts and liabilities have been paid
  • where required:
    • the final tax return has been prepared and lodged
    • you have received the Australian Taxation Office's assessment
    • you have paid the tax bill, if relevant.

Where specific sums of money are left to certain beneficiaries, these must be paid first.

You can then distribute specific bequests of personal effects and transfer cash or assets to the beneficiaries in the Will.

You must keep full and accurate records of all transactions from the date of the death to the conclusion of the administration.

If you become aware of additional assets or liabilities after you have completed the administration, it is your responsibility to administer them in accordance with the instructions contained in the Will.

This may include further disclosure of the additional assets and liabilities to the Probate Registry before they can be dealt with.

Can I refuse to be an executor?

A lot can happen in the time between writing a Will and administration of the estate. You might find you are unwilling or unable to undertake the duties and responsibilities of being an executor.

You are not legally obligated to take up the appointment of executor – even if you agreed to do it while the person was alive.

It’s important to remember that even though the person who has died specifically asked you to be their executor, it’s highly unlikely they would have wanted to put you in a difficult or stressful situation.

Our office can help you if you decide to authorise the Public Trustee to act as executor.