General Responsibilities of an Estate Administrator

When a person dies, a probate proceeding may be opened. Depending on state law, probate will generally open 30 to 90 days after the date of death. One of the probate court's first actions is to appoint an estate administrator.

An estate administrator is the appointed legal representative of the deceased. The legal representative may be a surviving spouse, other family member, executor named in the will or an attorney.

In general, the estate administrator:

  • Collects all the assets of the deceased
  • Pays creditors 
  • Distributes the remaining assets to heirs or other beneficiaries

Probate Court

Your first responsibility as an estate administrator is to provide the probate court with an accounting of the assets and debts of the deceased.

You'll need to:

The probate court will issue Letters of Testamentary or a similar document, authorizing you, the estate administrator, to act on behalf of the deceased. You'll need Letters of Testamentary to handle their tax and other matters.

Filing and Tax Returns

The tax return for the deceased and their estate are separate. To meet filing requirements, you may need to file different types of tax returns.

Some or all the information you need to file income tax returns for the deceased and their estate may be in their personal records. If you need other items, we can help provide copies of:

  • Income documents (Forms W-2 or 1099 for example) 
  • Filed tax returns
  • Tax transcripts

Before submitting any information request to the IRS, see request deceased person's information.

Income Tax Returns of the Deceased

File income tax returns for the deceased on Forms 1040, U.S. Individual Tax Return or 1040-SR, U.S. Tax Return for Seniors. You're required to file a return for the year of death, and for any preceding years for which a return was not filed, if their income for those years was above the filing requirement. For help, see the file the final tax returns.

Income Tax Returns of the Estate

File income tax returns for the estate on Form 1041. You'll need to get a tax identification number for the estate called an employer identification number (EIN). An estate is required to file an income tax return if assets of the estate generate more than $600 in annual income. For example, if the deceased had interest, dividend or rental income when alive, then after death that income becomes income of the estate that you need to include on an estate income tax return. For help, see the file the estate income tax return.

If the estate operates a business after the owner's death, you are required to secure a new EIN for the business, report wages or income under the new EIN and pay any taxes due. See Publication 1635, Understanding Your EIN PDF.

Estate Tax Returns

File an estate tax return on Form 706, United States Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Tax Return. Estate tax is a tax on the transfer of assets from the deceased to their heirs and beneficiaries. In general, estate tax only applies to large estates.

For help determining if you need to file an estate tax return and how to file it, see the estate and gift taxes.

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