When a loved one dies, certain procedures to settle his or her testamentary wishes must be started relatively soon after death. In Texas and elsewhere, when a loved one dies leaving assets, the first thing that the family must do is to locate the most recent will -- if, in fact, one exists. If the decedent regularly consulted with an estate planning attorney, the process will probably flow more smoothly because counsel will likely have a record of all pertinent documents. Assuming there is a will, the original will must be filed in the appropriate office in the county courthouse. This will begin the estate administration process, also referred to as probate.
In the will, there will likely be a clause appointing an executor, executrix or personal representative. These all refer to the same thing: the one person designated by the decedent to handle the estate's affairs and to ultimately close it out successfully. The estate representative collects the decedent's assets, pays the bills and distributes the net proceeds, if any, to the designated heirs.
Where there is an estate plan in place, finding the assets will be easier because there will typically be a listing of them in a central location in the decedent's home or in a specified location. Counsel will also have a list, with detailed information concerning each account. The accounts are usually closed, and the funds placed into an estate checking account in order to process the receipts, bills and distributions.
In Texas and elsewhere, the estate representative prepares and files any required state or federal tax returns. Also, the representative prepares a final accounting for the court that lists each asset, its monetary value and the interest accrued to the date of death. The accounting will include an itemized statement of each expenditure on behalf of the estate, including bills paid, administrative fees, filing fees, tax payments and any other necessary payments. The accounting will state the net balance after all expenditures, and it will list the amounts to be given to each beneficiary per the terms of the will. To end the estate administration process in most cases, each beneficiary will get a copy of the final accounting and will release the estate and the personal representative from future liability; thereafter, the court typically approves the final accounting and authorizes final distributions to the estate's beneficiaries.
Source: wealthmanagement.com, "Estate Settlement: Setting the Process in Motion", Paulina Mejia, Sept. 9, 2015