Estate Settlement Essentials
Dealing with the death of a loved one is a challenging time. If you’re an executor or trustee, it can be even more complicated. This guide can help you navigate the estate settlement process.
What to do now
Notify closest family and friends
Ask them to start a phone tree to help you notify others.
Check on a surviving spouse
If needed, contact a professional support agency for assistance.
Consider dependents and pets
Make arrangements for their care, as needed.
Contact decedent’s employer
Request all benefits information, including details on employer-sponsored life insurance.
Contact decedent’s attorney and estate attorney
Determine any special considerations that will require assistance.
Notify the decedent’s doctor
Obtain copies of all pertinent medical records.
Contact the funeral home
Request at least 10 copies of death certificate.
Reach out to banks and financial institutions
Contact the financial institutions where the decedent had holdings, accounts, or safe deposit boxes. Research options for any qualified plans, including IRAs, and updating beneficiaries.
- Notify closest family and friends
- Check on a surviving spouse
- Consider dependents and pets
- Contact decedent’s employer
- Contact decedent’s attorney and estate attorney
- Notify the decedent’s doctor
- Contact the funeral home
- Reach out to banks and financial institutions
What’s your role
1. Transferring probate assets
You must marshal assets the decedent owned in his or her own name (also known as “probate assets”) and transfer them to:
- Beneficiaries named in the decedent’s will.
- The decedent’s heirs, as determined by state law, if the decedent didn’t have a will.
- The decedent’s creditors.
2. Handling nonprobate assets
- Assets held in joint names normally pass directly to surviving joint owner(s).
- Assets held in accounts with beneficiary designations may include life insurance, qualified retirement accounts, transfer-on-death accounts, and pay-on-death accounts.
- Trust assets pass according to trust document terms.
3. Managing business interests
If the decedent was actively involved in any businesses, those entities may need to be reviewed. You may need the help of an attorney and tax professional, especially when a business partner or co-owner may be involved.
4. Caring for children
If minors are involved, you must work with their named guardian on how and when to distribute estate assets according to the will or any trusts.
- If special-needs children are involved and a Special Needs Trust has not been established, consult a Special Needs Trust attorney to help you determine whether such a trust is advisable.
See the full guide for more details.
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1. Managing a trust property
You’ll need to check trust documents for directions, ensure that appropriate insurance is in place, determine who has keys, and change the locks when appropriate. Until you and your attorney have determined whether the property will be distributed to beneficiaries or sold, you are responsible for maintaining it.
2. Managing business interests
The trust’s interest in closely held businesses, partnerships, or other business interests may be subject to co-owner or partnership agreements. Work with your estate attorney and tax advisor and other business advisors as appropriate to determine right courses of action.
3. Caring for children
If the decedent is survived by minors, work with their named guardian to determine their needs and distribute trust assets.
- If any of the children are living with special needs and the decedent did not establish a Special Needs Trust, consult a Special Needs Trust attorney to determine whether the establishment of such a trust is advisable.
4. Working with a corporate trustee
Individuals may name a corporate as well as an individual trustee. The corporate representative and the individual trustee will work together to meet the best interests of the beneficiaries.
5. Working with an executor
If you do not also serve as the executor of the will, the person serving in that capacity will have separate and specific duties and the two of you should collaborate closely.
See the full guide for more details.
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Who can help
- Reviews and interprets financial statements
- Organizes and maintains records by providing account statements
- Conducts portfolio review of investment assets
- Helps gather necessary tax information
- Reviews financial statements and prior year’s tax returns
- Identifies and prepares required tax documents
- Estimates and advises on cash needed for tax payments
- Counsels on business-related tax implications
- Provides guidance in the event of state or IRS tax audit
- Advises on overall strategy
- Interprets will/trust directives
- Drafts legal documents
- Represents you in probate court
- Serves as a buffer between family members
- Consults on the payment of debts and expenses
- Represents you in state or IRS tax audit or other estate litigation
- Prepares asset (personal, business, and real estate) appraisals for estate and income tax purposes
- Ensures property is secure
- Keeps real estate assets in good repair
- Handles collection of rents and payment of expenses
- Negotiates leases and contracts
Real estate broker
- Drafts real estate documentation, if selling
- Identifies repair needs
- Coordinates and arranges inspections/reviews
- Recommends buyers, if assets need to be sold
Estate advisory specialist
(assigned if Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., is engaged as executor, trustee, or agent for executor or trustee)
- Negotiates fee agreements with and coordinates activities of all professionals
- Reviews will and trust provisions with the family
- Assists with court administration services: Probates the will, provides notice to creditors, and prepares inventory and accountings
- Marshals and safeguards assets and arranges for asset valuations
- Manages tax submission process
- Arranges payment of administration expenses and creditors
- Keeps beneficiaries informed via monthly account statements and coordinated communication plan
View the full guide
Download the full PDF for a complete guide to the estate settlement process, including:
- Handling digital assets
- Protecting yourself from personal liability
- Communicating with beneficiaries
- Preparing and filing estate taxes
- Tax election options and tax requirements
- Managing family dynamics
- When the court can help
- Common estate settlement challenges
Connect with us
If you need assistance settling the estate: Wells Fargo Estate Services can provide trust and probate settlement services for large estates or trusts including those with complex assets. Services can include estate planning document review; probate and trust administration; fiduciary investment management; business advisory services including business valuations and closely held asset management; oil, gas, and mineral rights management; real estate asset management; and post-mortem fiduciary tax preparation.
To learn more, contact your advisor or the Estate Services Liaison Team at 855-355-8088 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For help with savings, checking, and other bank accounts:
Call Wells Fargo at 800-869-3557 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
If you have questions about a brokerage relationship:
A recent account statement from Wells Fargo Advisors may have the name and number of the decedent’s financial advisor, or you can call 866-281-7436. Investment professionals will make sure you have a complete inventory of investment accounts and explain your options for liquidating them or updating ownership information.