Estate administration in 7 steps
This guide contains general information about estate administration in Western Australia. Every estate is different and, where necessary, you should seek professional advice.
1 Who takes charge
The executor named in the Will is responsible for administering the estate. As executor you may administer the estate yourself, retain a lawyer to assist you with all or any part of the process, or renounce your executorship.
You may need to apply to the Supreme Court of Western Australia for a Grant of Probate.
If the executor of the Will is no longer alive, or is unable or unwilling to act, they may renounce their right to obtain probate of the Will. In this case those named as the major beneficiaries in the Will may apply to the Court for a Grant of Letters of Administration with the Will Annexed.
If there is no Will a family member generally manages the estate. It is generally prudent to apply to the Court for a Grant of Letters of Administration.
2 Things to do promptly
There is no need to arrange for a formal reading of the Will, nor is it necessary to attend to all of the estate administration tasks urgently. However, as executor, there are a few things you should do promptly.
You have authority to arrange a funeral and pay the reasonable funeral expenses according to the deceased's station in life. Check the Will for funeral instructions. Most funeral directors expect payment immediately, but will, if necessary, wait until estate funds are available.
Although not obligatory, a notice in the newspaper advises those interested of the death.
You must take reasonable steps to protect valuable assets. Make sure the car, house, contents and other valuables are safe and properly insured. Advise the insurance companies of the deceased's death. Deal appropriately with animals and perishables.
Advise relevant financial institutions of the deceased's death to guard against unauthorised use of bank accounts.
If the deceased’s dependants lack money to carry on after the deceased’s death you will need to consider seeking emergency assistance to help the family. Banks may advance money from the deceased's accounts for living expenses, funeral costs and legal fees.
Inform the beneficiaries of their entitlements under the Will. Residuary beneficiaries - those who remain after specific gifts are distributed - are entitled to a copy of the Will. If there is no Will, the beneficiaries of the estate will be the relatives specified in section 14 of the Administration Act 1904 (WA).
If appropriate, advise Centrelink to avoid overpayment of benefits.
Redirect mail as necessary.
3 Gather information
Gather information so you have a complete understanding of the deceased’s financial affairs, including assets and liabilities; for example:
- Assets – real estate, motor vehicles, household contents, shares, bank accounts, superannuation, life insurance policies, managed funds, unpaid wages and benefits, loans due to the deceased, personal effects and furniture.
- Liabilities – loans secured by mortgage, personal loans, credit card debts, outstanding bills.
Write to financial institutions and other entities holding relevant information - enclose a copy of the death certificate and request account balances at the date of death and their requirements for release of the asset or further information.
If there is no Will, compile a family tree of full names, addresses and dates of birth of all close relatives of the deceased.
4 Apply for a Grant
In general, you will need a Grant of Probate or Letters of Administration if:
- the estate includes real estate – unless owned as joint tenants with surviving owners;
- the estate includes financial assets, such as bank account, valued at more than $20,000; or
- there is any uncertainty as to the validity of the Will or potential for a dispute to arise.
Use our simple online questionnaire to determine if your need a Grant.
5 Collect the assets
You will need to take control of the assets of the estate. As a general rule, you should terminate accounts with financial institutions and sell other assets; however it may be best to distribute some assets to beneficiaries without sale. You must act in best interests of all beneficiaries of the estate. Seek legal advice if you are unsure.
Open a bank account in the name of the estate. Deposit all estate income and asset sale proceeds into this account.
The deceased's superannuation entitlements will be dealt with in accordance with the rules of the superannuation fund. As a general rule, these funds will be paid to nominated beneficiaries or dependants and will probably not form part of the estate.
Apply for a tax file number for the estate from the Australian Taxation Office if the estate earns income above the tax-free threshold.
6 Pay debts
As a general rule, superannuation and life insurance monies that are paid into the estate should not be used to pay the estate's creditors. You should seek legal advice if super or life insurance is paid into the estate.
Once funds are available in the estate’s bank account, pay the estate creditors and reimburse any person who has paid the estate’s expenses or liabilities from their own funds; for example, funeral costs.
You may pay your reasonable costs and out of pocket expenses, including legal costs, out of the estate. Unless authorised by the Will, the beneficiaries or the Court you are not entitled to be paid for your time and effort; however, you may retain professional assistance if you require it.
You are required to advertise for creditors of the estate.
You may need to complete and lodge income tax returns for the deceased up to the date of death and for the duration of the estate. Consider seeking advice as to whether there is any capital gains tax payable in relation to the sale of assets.
Finalise the estate by distributing the estate’s net assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the Will.
Upon request from a beneficiary, you must account to them and fully disclose all transactions.
Although you should wait 6 months before making any distribution (to allow for claims against the estate), thereafter you must complete your duties within a reasonable time having regard to the complexity of the estate.
Arrange payment of the funeral bill
On request, many financial institutions will release funds from an estate account to pay the funeral director’s invoice. Our fixed price services include making this request for you if you require it.